Foam Washing Material: 

The Revolution of Friction Washing In the first of a series of articles, author Mike Jacques discusses how today’s technological advancements clean cars safely and effectively without damages or scratches.

By Mike Jacques

Since the invention of friction car washing, there has been a strong move in the industry to offer safer cleaning options. We’ve seen many technological advances, but none have revolutionized friction washing more than foam washing material. It allows operators to provide a safe and effective way to clean vehicle surfaces without damages or scratching. To the delight of operators, the latest in chemical technology combined with foam material enhances the appearance and lustre of paint surfaces.

In this article, I’ll discuss the beginnings of car wash equipment and the science behind foam, bringing to light little known facts about how foam washing has revolutionized the car wash industry.

The beginnings of car wash equipment

The first mechanized car wash used brushes with nylon bristles. Although it cleaned well, it caused damages, scratches, and paint swirling that became noticeable over time. Bristle was replaced with cloth in the early ’80s, and although it was a much better solution, it also came with its challenges. Cloth was heavy when wet and had the potential to hold grit and dirt, causing scratches on vehicle surfaces. As any car wash operator knows, damaging vehicles is a sure-fire way to kill your bottom line. Heavy, wet cloth was notorious for grabbing mirrors, antennas and wipers. Something had to change.

In the late ’90s, foam washing material was introduced to the industry. Once operators saw how effective and safe it was, foam caught on quickly and replaced cloth material. Although cloth is used on certain components, we can thank the inventors of foam for allowing manufacturers to bring back components like top brushes.

The science behind foam

There is a lot of interesting science behind the process of making foam and why it has proven to be so effective. In its humble beginnings, foam starts out in a liquid form, is baked similarly to a loaf of bread, and then sliced into sheets. These sheets are then die cut in many different shapes and styles depending on the application. During the manufacturing process, certain ingredients or additives are put into the material. For example, calcium is a typical additive that provides desired rigidity or hardness, giving the foam strength and long life expectancy. Unlike liquid car wash chemicals referred to by volume, foam is measured by weight. In most cases, 7-8 lb foam is used for top and side cleaning brushes because it is lighter and not as aggressive on the surfaces. A heavier 13 lb weight is used on wheel cleaners and other components that get into the difficultto- clean areas of a vehicle like the wheel, tire, and the rocker areas. Heavier foam is designed to be more resilient and stand up to more abuse.

Solid foam is classified into two categories: open- or closed-cell. Open-cell foam is formed when gas pockets in the material are connected, allowing water to flow through them. Conversely, closed-cell foam is formed when gas pockets in the material are surrounded by solid material, preventing water, dirt, grit and other foreign substances from absorbing into the foam. Ideal for the car wash application, closed-cell foam allows dirt and grit to be easily washed away with rinse water, leaving the material clean and ready for the next vehicle. Because of its structure, closed-cell foam keeps the weight of the car wash equipment balanced, allowing components to perform as intended. The unique shape of foam is also important in the design and functionality of equipment such as top brushes. They would not be able to gently glide over the vehicle surface if it were not for the shape and the foam material itself. Because foam is lightweight, it provides a pleasant experience for the customers as they go through a wash as there is no heavy cloth dragging over or slapping the sides of the vehicle. The foam is quiet as it gently profiles the surface of a vehicle. The wedge-shaped fingers of the top brush combined with certain air pressure allow the brush to glide smoothly over the tops of virtually any surface without becoming core bound, a term used when the brush core comes into contact with the vehicle surface.

Chemistry is the harmony that unites the friction of foam and the power of cleaning solutions. Due to the non-aggressive nature of foam, it relies heavily on good chemistry and proper application strategies, starting from your pre-soaks all the way down to your final R.O. rinse application. Lubricating foams and soaps are essential in allowing the foam washing material to perform, especially in the areas of wrap around brushes, where the brush will maintain contact with the vehicle for longer periods of time as it moves across the front and back of the vehicle.

To date, foam has proven itself to be the best means of cleaning today’s vehicle surfaces. It has dramatically reduced damages associated with automatic car washing, has provided an effective and worry free way for operators to clean their customers vehicles, and as any technology, will most likely continue to evolve and improve.

Join me in the next article of my series where we talk about electrically operated equipment and why so many operators are making this the preferred choice on their equipment investments.

About Mike Jacques

After joining MacNeil Wash Systems as an inside sales representative in 2000, Jacques quickly became engrossed in the car wash industry, was promoted to sales manager for the Eastern United States, and is now the VP of Eastern Regional Sales. Bringing a great deal of technical knowledge and manufacturer/distributor-based business focus, Mike quickly increased market share and revenue for the company while developing long-term relationships with many of their professional and successful distributors. When he is not at his desk deeply entrenched in the car wash business, you can find him enjoying his lifelong passion, playing guitar.