Decoding Dilution: How to Evaluate and Compare Chemical Costs in Commercial Car Wash Operations

A common misconception in the car wash industry is that a cheaper drum or pail of chemical results in a more profitable operation. You might be surprised to learn that you shouldn’t focus on cost per container, but diluted cost or cost per wash. To do this, you must first understand dilution. 

Overlooking dilution when choosing car wash chemicals and cleaners can reduce your wash quality and lead to unnecessary wear and tear on your expensive equipment. 

Worst of all, ignoring dilution can eat into your profits! 

With the right car wash chemical concentrates, dilution helps you squeeze the highest value from your chemicals. More concentrated car wash chemicals often have higher up-front costs but result in lower diluted costs and a reduced cost per wash. Best of all, they are often better cleaners, enhance customer satisfaction, and boost your profits. 

Let’s dive into the essentials of dilution, so you can unlock the surprising benefits when evaluating car wash chemicals. And, if you need help calculating dilution rates, you can check out our dilution rate calculator in the upcoming section. 

What is Dilution? And What are Dilution Ratios?

Dilution refers to the process of reducing the concentration of a substance. Water is most commonly used for dilution. In the car wash industry, the diluted solution is used to clean vehicles. 

But dilution is more than just mixing two substances. When you dilute a chemical, you’re aiming to strike the perfect balance: a solution concentrated enough to effectively clean, but not too strong where it could cause damage. Your diluted solution must be effective, while also being safe for vehicles, employees, and equipment. 

Now that you understand dilution, what is a dilution ratio? Dilution ratios are guides to mix the correct amounts of concentrated product and water. They are generally expressed as ratios, like 100:1. A ratio of 100:1 means you need to mix 100 parts water for 1 part of chemical concentrate. In some cases, a 100:1 ratio may also be expressed as 1:100. In this article, we will express ratios as “water:chemical”. 

In car washes, dilution is often done by automatic proportioning equipment such as hydrominders or dosatron pumps. 

It’s important to know that different chemicals and cleaning tasks often use different dilutions or dilution ratios. Dilution ratios are suggested by the chemical manufacturer and based on their formulation and your desired results. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Even if they use the same chemical, no-touch or touchless, soft cloth, and wand wash car wash systems often require different dilution rates. When comparing car wash chemicals, the more concentrated the chemical, the more you need to dilute it for end-use.

Car Wash Chemical Dilution Calculator

While most dilutions are done through proportioning equipment, you may want to determine dilution volumes to compare chemicals. Or maybe you want to understand just how far that drum of car wash chemical will go. 

You can calculate your own dilutions with this handy dilution rate calculator. To get the dilution ratio or percentage, enter your chemical and water volume. And if you want to know the volumes required, enter the dilution ratio or dilution percentage, along with one of the volumes. 

Dilution Calculator Dilution Calculator




Why is Dilution Important in Car Washes? And How Does Dilution Impact Your Car Wash Chemical Costs?

Cheaper car wash chemicals don’t go as far, resulting in higher diluted, or per wash costs. While they often have higher up-front costs, concentrated car wash chemicals are cheaper in the long run and more cost-effective to transport. The more you dilute the product on-site, the more you reduce your operational costs. You have plenty of water on site, so why pay for it in low cost, low dilution chemicals.

Learn more about the amazing savings concentrated car wash chemicals like NuTech Grand Slam, and NuTech Home Run offer in these case studies: 

Cheaper car wash chemicals don’t go as far, resulting in higher diluted, or per wash costs. While they often have higher up-front costs, concentrated car wash chemicals are cheaper in the long run and more cost-effective to transport. The more you dilute the product on-site, the more you reduce your operational costs. You have plenty of water on site, so why pay for it in low cost, low dilution chemicals.

Learn more about the amazing savings concentrated car wash chemicals like NuTech Grand Slam, and NuTech Home Run offer in these case studies: 

 

 

Here are three more ways concentrates reduce your total car wash chemical costs:

Reduced Shipping Costs

The less concentrated your car wash chemicals, the more drums or pails you need to buy and ship to your location. With increasing transportation costs and fuel surcharges, freight costs greatly increase your total chemical cost. 

More concentrated chemicals mean fewer containers and shipments. This means lower total shipping costs. When transporting large quantities or shipping over long distances, these savings can add up quickly. 

Lower Storage Costs

Storage space is a valuable commodity in most car wash businesses. Mechanical rooms often lack storage space. Because you need fewer drums or pails to accomplish the same cleaning effect, you can carry less car wash chemical inventory.  

For example: 

Imagine you are buying a car wash chemical with a 250:1 dilution ratio and you switch to one with a 500:1 dilution ratio. 

At 500:1, the car wash concentrate lasts twice as long as the product at 250:1. This means for every two drums of the 250:1 product you only need 1 drum of the 500:1 product. 

In this example, you can keep the same inventory and it will last twice as long, or reduce inventory and save space. 

Less Packaging Waste

With concentrated car wash chemicals, you go through fewer pails and drums. This means less waste to store, handle, and dispose. All this adds up to lower disposal costs and reduces your environmental impact. We believe drums should be reused. If Guardian Chemicals is your supplier, our drum return policy means you can return empty drums to us. 

The Role of Dilution Systems

Many car wash businesses use automatic dilution systems to mix car wash chemicals and water at recommended ratios. Dilution systems vary. Some are simple and others complex. They may include flow controls, automatic shutoffs, and different sizes of metering tips or orifices. These systems make consistent dilutions and deliver consistent cleaning results.

Common Dilution Mistakes that Increase Your Car Wash Chemical Costs

Neglecting Ratios

Neglecting to follow the manufacturer’s recommended ratios can lead to solutions that are too diluted or too concentrated. This can impact cleaning effectiveness and profitability due to wasted chemicals and unhappy customers. Worse, if your car wash chemicals are not properly diluted, they can damage vehicles. Wasted chemicals, unhappy customers, and potential vehicle surface damage lead to increased car wash operating costs. 

Not Confirming System Calibration and Actual Chemical Dilution

Keep in mind automated systems need to be calibrated to ensure accuracy. Systems with metering tips do not dilute at the exact rate indicated. Viscosity and specific gravity have a significant effect on dilution rate. Thicker, more viscous, and heavier chemicals flow through metering tips more slowly. This means they are diluted at a higher rate than the metering tip indicates. 

The best way to determine and compare dilutions is to measure actual chemical use. Ensuring accurate dilutions is critical to managing total car wash chemical costs. 

Not Calculating Your Cost per Use or Cost per Wash

Do you know your chemical cost per wash? Or cost per minute? Testing at the wand or discharge point is the most accurate way to determine use dilution and use cost. Your Guardian Chemicals Representative can show you how to accurately measure chemical use and calculate cost per wash. Contact us and we’d be happy to help. 

Ignoring Water Quality

The quality of your dilution water impacts the effectiveness of your car wash cleaning chemicals. It can also affect your chemical consumption. Most commercial car wash chemicals are made for soft or softened water. Select the right chemical for your water type. If you use a “soft-water” chemical in hard water expect poor cleaning results, increased chemical usage, and increased costs. 

Not Training Staff and Inconsistent Mixing Procedures

Training your staff on the correct use of chemicals and dilution systems is key. Without proper understanding, staff may not mix solutions accurately, resulting in waste or poor cleaning results. This is especially true with stock solutions of powdered car wash chemicals. Here you need to make sure the right number of scoops or correct amount are added to the dilution water. Human errors in dilution and inconsistent mixing of stock solutions can increase your car wash chemical costs.

Be sure to avoid these mistakes and avoid common industrial cleaning myths for safe, efficient, and cost effective performance.

And, if you need help with training to ensure proper dilution—reach out to our industry experts.

Conclusion

Mastering the art of dilution in the car wash industry is more than combining water with concentrated car wash chemicals. Dilution impacts the effectiveness of your cleaning operation, the lifespan of your equipment, customer satisfaction and your bottom line.

In this guide, you learned the importance of dilution and dilution ratios—and how they impact your car wash operation. 

You also learned how focusing on cost per pail or drum can lead to higher chemical costs for your car wash operation. 

Remember to consider dilution and cost per wash when evaluating car wash chemicals. If you have questions about dilution or dilution rates and how they impact your car wash operation, we’d be happy to help. 

When you’re ready, contact us to learn more about how you can Create a Better Future with concentrated car wash chemicals from Guardian Chemicals. 

Table of Contents

Frequently Asked Questions about Optimizing Car Wash Chemical Use and Costs

How Do You Calculate Cost Per Wash for Car Wash Chemicals?

To calculate the cost per wash, determine the total volume of chemical used per wash. The easiest way to do this is by putting the foot valve into filling a large, graduated cylinder with car wash chemical. Measure the starting volume before a vehicle goes into the wash. Once the wash is complete, record the final volume. 

Subtract the final volume from the initial volume to determine the amount of chemical used. Then, calculate the total number of washes from a container of concentrate by dividing by the amount of chemical used to wash one vehicle. 

Now, divide the cost of the container by the number of washes per container to get your cost per wash. 

Remember this is an estimated cost per wash. The amount of chemical used will vary from vehicle to vehicle depending on size. A more accurate cost per wash estimate can only be determined when you know the actual volume of chemical used and number of washes for a larger number of vehicles. 

Are Concentrated Car Wash Chemicals More Cost-Effective?

While concentrated chemicals often have a higher upfront cost, they are more cost effective and lead to long-term savings. You use less product per wash, resulting in more washes per pail or drum and a lower cost per wash. And, each container lasts longer, so you won’t need to reorder as often and save on freight costs. 

How Does Water Quality Affect Car Wash Chemical Dilution?

Water quality, including hardness and mineral content, can impact the effectiveness of your car wash chemicals. Hard water often requires more chemical to achieve the same result. That’s why, if your operation uses a water softener, it’s important to make sure it is working properly. Make sure your brine or salt tank is filled. And, if your operation doesn’t use a water softener, consider adding one to improve your cleaning results and lower your chemical consumption. 

Does Water Hardness Influence Car Wash Chemical Dilution Ratios?

Hard water often requires more chemical to achieve the same result. That’s why, if your operation uses a water softener, it’s important to make sure it is working properly. Make sure your brine or salt tank is filled. 

And, if your operation doesn’t use a water softener, consider adding one to improve your cleaning results and lower your chemical consumption.

How to Identify Improper Dilution in Car Wash Operations?

Signs of improper dilution include ineffective cleaning, damage to vehicles or equipment, and increased chemical usage.

Are Automated Systems for Car Wash Chemical Dilution Effective?

Automated systems precisely control dilution and ensure consistent cleaning. This reduces the possibility of excessive chemical consumption and damage to vehicle surfaces. And, a consistent and quality wash experience keeps your customers happy!

Does Temperature Affect Car Wash Chemical Efficiency?

Yes, temperature can impact the efficiency of your car wash chemicals. Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can reduce effectiveness. It’s important to store and use chemicals within the temperature range recommended by the manufacturer. If car wash chemicals are allowed to freeze, they may be damaged or may require mixing before use. If frozen, contact the manufacturer to determine next steps.

What Are the Environmental Impacts of Car Wash Chemicals?

Be sure to review the ingredients list on the SDS and choose options environmentally friendly options. If you need help interpreting the ingredients on an SDS and what they mean for your car wash operation, contact us and we’d be happy to help. 

Some chemicals can be harmful for your health and the environment. Avoid products with nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and where possible, avoid phosphates as these contribute to eutrophication (algae growth) in water bodies—however phosphates may be needed if you have very hard water. You can reduce the need for phosphates if your operation uses a water softener.

How to Ensure Compliance with Environmental Regulations in Car Washing?

Stay informed about municipal, provincial, and federal regulations. Choose products that comply with federal VOC regulations, and make sure your wastewater meets all local sewer-use bylaws.

How Should I Train Staff to Handle Car Wash Chemicals Safely?

For staff who handle car wash chemicals, start with WHMIS training. Make sure they understand the hazards, proper handling, personal protective equipment (PPE), storage, and emergency procedures. You should also make sure they understand the equipment used and proper dilutions for each car wash chemical in your operation.

How to Dispose of Unused Car Wash Chemicals Safely?

Follow local regulations for chemical disposal. Do not pour chemicals down the drain or into the environment. Contact the manufacturer or a professional waste disposal service if necessary.

Originally published July 20, 2023. Updated with additional content and FAQ January 29, 2024.

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