Auto Detailing - November 2001
Measures Of Success Accurate Product
Measurement and Mixing

by John Lamade

Value is more than perception. Products do differ in performance and the amount of labor required to produce the desired results. When you consider all the factors involved in selecting the best product for your application, you can make a reasonable assessment of its value to you.

Remember that value is relative to you. I really cannot stress this fact enough. Don't let anybody try to convince you about a product's value unless it is its value to you.

In previous articles, I discussed ways to understand the importance of a product's personal value, and I mentioned the role of accurate measurement in minimizing product waste. While I placed more
emphasis on the greater savings possible with using the labor savings offered by some products, I did state that managing waste could save you money as well. This month we will consider the benefits of precision product measurement and mixing.


The most obvious reason to measure products is to eliminate waste. Too many product users just pour product into a pail or trigger bottle, add water, and shake without really knowing how much product is available to do a job. There are usually two results:

1. Waste
2. Unexpected results

Pouring concentrate into a container and then adding water results in inaccurate mixing - either too much or too little product in the RTU (ready to use) or working solution. Just pouring
product can result in errors of more than 100 percent - especially if the user is "eye-balling" the amount of concentrate. The size of the error depends on the desired solution's concentration. For example, a 1:1 solution can produce an error of up to 25 percent.

Too much concentrate often does not produce better results. For example, an engine-degreaser-concentrate manufacturer recommends diluting the product 1:3 (one part concentrate to three parts water). To make one quart of RTU engine degreaser at 1:3, the user would need 8 fluid ounces of concentrate and 24 ounces of water. A 25 percent error in concentrate would be 2 fluid ounces of product. As a result, the final solution would be between a 3:16 dilution or 5:16. If too much concentrate was used, the error would cost the user $1.75 per gallon (based on a $7.00 cost of concentrate). If the user made the same mistake every time he mixed solution the cost of the error would be about $90 per year (assuming a gallon per week consumption and $7.00 per gallon cost).

The preceding example is for only one product. Larger errors would have even greater effects. For example, a car wash solution diluted 1:64 rather than 1:256 - that's a 400 percent error. Imagine the cost of that error spread over a year!

As you can see, waste can be expensive when you consume too much product. Using too little product can be even more expensive. Yes, you would use less concentrate and reduce material costs, but what happens when you use a solution that is too weak for the job? Most people would work harder or longer to obtain the desired results, or they wouldn't get the results they wanted and quality would suffer. And more labor, as we showed in previous articles, is extremely expensive. Think about it!

Unintended Results
The second effect, unintended or unexpected results, means that the RTU solution does not provide the results you want. For example, a wash and wax product, when too diluted, does not remove road film as well as a correctly mixed solution. The result is that more effort and time are required to make sure that the vehicle is clean. And if the solution is too concentrated, an unsightly, hard-to-rinse film can be left on the vehicle. In both cases, the results are less than desired, and more time is needed to correct the solution's deficiencies. The result is that you lose money!

When users run into these problems, they rarely question their technique or ability to follow directions. Most often, they react with: "The product is bad!" Rather than consider the problem's causes, the user tries another product, and guess what? The results are good for a while, because the user follows the mixing directions. But as time passes and familiarity increases, the user starts to "eyeball" the solution, and the problems return. The cycle repeats.

Is there a way to combat the problem of wasted material and time?


Yes, there is an answer. If you want to get the most value from your products, then you must learn how to mix the products safely and accurately. This is not difficult and there are many products available to help you perform this simple task.

The first thing you can do is to improve your mixing technique. Add concentrates to water. For example, if you are making a 1:3 solution in a 32 fluid ounce trigger bottle, use a graduated bottle and fill it with 24 fluid ounces of water and then add 8 fluid ounces of concentrate. Adding too much concentrate is difficult because you will exceed the bottle's capacity, and too little concentrate will be obvious because the level of solution fails to reach the 32 fluid ounce mark.

Pre-Mix Solutions
The second way to reduce waste is to pre-mix common solutions and store them in bulk containers. Many shops have racks that hold a set of 5-gallon bottles or carboys with spigots. When you need a solution, all you need to do is pour off as much RTU solution as is required to do a job. In addition, you can prepare several different concentrations of solution to match specific cleaning tasks. Multi-dilution concentrates are useful, and you can run into wasteful applications if you only use one dilution for all jobs. Pre-mixing strong, medium, and mild versions allows you to match the cleaner to the task rather than stopping to pre-mix every time you need a product. For example, to make a 1:7 solution (one part concentrate to 7 parts water), you would need to add 17-1/2 quarts of water to an empty carboy and then add 2-1/2 quarts concentrate to the water. In addition to making the solution ahead of time, errors are more difficult to make because the quantities of solution are larger. Another plus of this approach is a reduction in the time spent preparing solutions one quart at a time. You save even more money! Can you do this for all of your solutions? Yes, but when you are looking at high-consumption items such as car wash concentrate or extraction cleaning machine solution, you might not want to bother with constant mixing or very large storage containers. For large volumes of solution, consider the benefits of a proportioner.

Proportioners are useful tools. They mix concentrate with water as it is dispensed. You start the proportioner and solution exits the hose. The heart of the proportioner is the eductor which uses the vacuum created by water moving past an orifice connected to a concentrate supply line. The moving water creates a vacuum, which draws the concentrate into the stream of water. For safety, most communities require an air gap in the eductor to prevent concentrate being pulled back into the shop's water supply. The amount of concentrate is controlled by the size of the orifice in the eductor. If a higher level of concentrate is needed, the orifice is usually larger. To help users tell the difference between orifices, they are usually color-coded.

Proportioners are simple, but there are some things that you should know before investing in these devices:

1. The viscosity of the concentrateinfluences mixing accuracy. Thick solutions are more difficult to draw up tubing to the eductor than water-thin products. When you are looking for a proportioner and products, work with your chemical distributor to select the right combination of products. Yes, you can experiment with different orifices, but you will save yourself much time and aggravation if you start with the right combination.

2. Make sure that you have a good water supply and that the concentrate can be kept close to the proportioner.

3. If you are going to use the proportioner to mix extraction cleaning
solutions, consider connecting the proportioner to a hot water line, or
if hot water could be a problem in your shop, consider a gas or electric demand hot water heater. Heating the water before use will save you downtime waiting for extraction cleaning solutions to reach optimum temperature.


Some of the most useful tools in the shop are small solution pumps, like those you see packaged with hand cream or in fast-food restaurants to dispense catsup and mustard. These are readily available, and you can purchase them to fit standard gallon bottles with a dip tube that can be trimmed. Most pump dispensers are available in one-half-ounce or one-ounce designs. One full movement of the pump delivers one fluid ounce of product. If you are making a 1:15 solution in a trigger bottle, add 30 ounces of water to the bottle and then dispense two one-ounce doses into the bottle. For larger quantities of solution there are dose pumps available for pails and drums of product. Talk to your distributor. Perhaps the best thing you can do, however, is to measure and mix accurately and follow instructions. Once you are familiar with a product, then you can create your own dilution levels and standardize them for your shop. Once you know how to mix accurately, then creating special dilutions is fast, easy, and economical.


Before I close out this month's column, I want to remind you all to attend NACE this year. If you care about vehicle appearance, NACE (International Autobody Congress and Exhibition) is a perfect opportunity. While the ICA's Car Care World Expo is very important (and you should consider joining the ICA), NACE provides a completely different perspective. Plan to attend. You will be glad you did!

One of my favorite topics is microfiber detail cloth. As I gain experience with these products, I have learned that when you wash the cloths it is important to make sure that they are thoroughly cleaned. If you use a cloth to remove wax haze, be prepared to find traces of silicone oils on the cloth, which could transfer onto glass if you use the cloth next time for glass cleaning. You may want to color-code cloths and wash them separately. For example, use blue cloths for glass, green for wax, and yellow for whatever. Also, invest in good cloths. I have not observed much difference in cloth performance between different weights or between woven or knit cloth. The big difference is in the hemming of the edges. If you want a maximum return on your microfiber investment, make sure that the edges of the cloth are securely hemmed.

John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at

AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7070 Fax: 1-201-592-7171