Car washing

Clean and Green

Gleaming vehicles: More efficient, environmentally friendly car washing thanks to LANXESS. As soon as the sun-filled spring days arrive, the waiting lines at car washes get longer. And they stay that way all spring and summer long. 

Washing cars – the right way

It’s no wonder: The layer of salt and dirt on cars that we put up with in winter weather suddenly looks terrible in the sunlight of March. It’s been a long time since seemingly every car owner in Germany spent their Saturday afternoons painstakingly washing their vehicles in the driveway, but today hardly anyone is willing to do without the quick trip to the car wash to get rid of dirt, pollen, soot, and oil film. And for good reasons: Regular washing doesn’t only make a car more pleasing to the eye; it also preserves the vehicle’s value. Those coatings of dirt and salt damage the paint and make rust spread faster. A dull paint surface and rust spots are the first minus points taken into account in every used car purchase. That’s true for private buyers and professional dealers alike. And anyone who takes pride in looking good also doesn’t want to be seen in a dirty or even rusty car.

There are many reasons why drivers are using big car wash facilities, which are becoming increasingly widespread, instead of taking on the job themselves at home with a water bucket and garden hose. In just a few minutes, without having to lift a finger, their car’s paint job is made gleaming and spotless — and more and more Germans are willing to pay the price of a few euros for the service. What’s more, washing your own car isn’t even permitted in some locales. Germany doesn’t have a nationwide law specifying if washing cars on one’s own property is allowed or not. A telephone call to city or town government offices reveals exactly what is permitted and where. But a growing number of municipalities are clearly saying “No” to such washing because of the strain it puts on the local wastewater systems. Washing vehicles in the street is considered a prohibited special use anyway, and a traffic regulation classifies the washed car and water puddles as a traffic obstruction. A guaranteed fine! Designated washing areas and commercial car washes with officially approved oil separators are definitely the safer alternative.

It’s not only traffic regulations and great convenience that are making car wash facilities more attractive, though. A professional car wash facility or drive-through car wash is also better for the paint job. As Carsten Graf from the technical center of Germany’s ADAC motorists’ association explains, many “do it yourself” washers frequently use too little water for the job. As a result, dirt particles remain in the sponge or on the car’s surface, acting like sandpaper to scratch the paint surface. It’s better to go to a self-service or drive-through car wash, where the vehicle should get a preliminary cleaning with a high-pressure cleaner before applying the sponge and brush, with plenty of water.

This protects not only the car’s paint job — it’s also much better for the environment. After all, in addition to using the required oil separators and gasoline separators that ensure oil or fuel residues don’t get into the wastewater, commercial car wash facilities and areas are surprisingly economical in terms of water use. Although tremendous amounts of water are used to very gently clean thousands of vehicles daily, a sophisticated water recycling system nonetheless ensures that a minimum of fresh water is needed. Only ten percent of the water sprayed out of the car wash nozzles is fresh water. And modern facilities work with even less. To do this, the car wash operators filter out suspended solids and dirt from the water in order to recycle it — to safeguard the environment, but also to reduce their own water costs.

With One Swipe
Baypure® for more cleaning power

Cleaning road dirt from cars calls for effective surfactants, the wash-active substances that lower the water’s surface tension and gently dissolve the oil, soot, dust, and dirt on the car’s paint job. For the surfactants to develop their full efficiency, however, complexing agents are needed. “These agents bind metal ions in water, like calcium, for example, which would otherwise react with the wash-active substances and reduce their effectiveness,” explains Dr. Ralf-Johann Moritz from the Rhein Chemie Additives business unit at LANXESS. “Unlike for example water softeners in dishwashers or washing machines, where soft water also is needed, the complexing agents develop their full softening effect extremely quickly and very strongly.” This is what enables the surfactants to provide their full cleaning power at the first swipe. The tetrasodium iminodisuccinate that LANXESS markets under the name Baypure® is the ideal complexing agent.

LANXESS is the only manufacturer in the world offering this successful complexing agent. And it’s needed for use in especially harmless cleaning products. “Unlike other complexing agents, used mostly in the industrial & institutional (I&I) cleaning industry, Baypure® is readily biodegraded and requires no special labeling,” says Moritz. That’s why the LANXESS product has received several awards. It is used today in household cleansers, stain removers, and in the “car shampoo” formulations at drive-through car washe stations. As a rule, Baypure® makes up about five percent of these cleaning agents’ ingredients. It is mostly used in dishwasher detergents for households and commercial car wash operations. Here the use of Baypure reduces the need for surfactants and for water pretreatment. At the same time, Baypure® is easily biodegradable, reducing the need for wastewater treatment.

Crystal Clear
Lewatit for pure water

Operators of car wash facilities have LANXESS to thank not only for fine-tuning the cleaning agents, but also when it comes to water treatment. With its Lewatit brand ion exchangers, the Liquid Purification Technologies business unit makes it possible to soften the water before it is used. The ion exchangers ensure that the calcium and magnesium ions that cause the water hardness are exchanged for “soft” sodium ions. “In many drive-through car washes the water is further desalinated by means of a very acidic exchange resin and a subsequent reverse osmosis before it’s used to rinse the car’s painted surface,” says Jean Moriau of the Liquid Purification Technologies business unit in Belgium, where he serves as sales representative for Europe. Moriau has a very in-depth understanding of the broad spectrum of Lewatit applications. Such a thorough desalinization is important above all when it comes to preventing unsightly water spots during the drying stage. “Some of the very upscale car wash facilities even go so far as using a mixed-bed ion exchanger,” says Moriau. “Here the softened water once again goes through a further special filter with a highly acidic cation exchanger and a highly basic anion exchanger, to also remove the last remaining traces of salt from the rinse water.” The result is a rinse water that doesn’t leave any traces, even on the black painted bodies of costly luxury cars. This special treatment comes at a price and is thus used only by very discriminating car owners.

LANXESS products are also used throughout Europe for treatment of wastewater. The Lewatit line of ion exchangers are used primarily for treatment of production water in power plant operation, in the chemicals industry, and for example in the electronics and optics industry, where ultra-pure water is required. But now they are also playing an important role in the purification of wastewater from car wash facilities. “They help to remove toxic heavy metals from the wastewater, for example,” says Moriau. Small amounts of zinc, in particular, but also copper and nickel, get into the water used in the wash cycle. The concentrations are too low, however, to be relevant to wastewater regulation. Nevertheless, car wash operators strive to further reduce the values by using Lewatit. The selective ion exchangers used for this purpose are therefore custom tailored for the job and reliably remove the residual metal molecules from the water. Crystal clear — good for the environment.

Tips from the Experts
Tips for washing your car

Whether you prefer to wash your car yourself by hand or have it washed fully automatically is a matter of taste nowadays. Today’s car wash facilities are as effective and non-damaging for the paint job as is washing the car by hand. But you can also achieve perfect results at self-service washing areas if you know certain special tricks, and especially if you use sufficient amounts of water for rinsing. Carsten Graf from the ADAC technical center nevertheless recommends that people with little experience in washing cars take their vehicles to a full-service facility, while also paying attention to key factors.

Graf provides three simple tips on how to select the right car wash facility for your vehicle:

  • Your car should always be pre-cleaned by hand if it is very dirty. Before going through the drive-through, one of the workers at the facility should first use a high-pressure hose to clean off the worst dirt. If this isn’t done, the brushes in the car wash facility might scratch the paint job. Cars that go through dirty facilities don’t emerge clean. If the brushes are grayish black, the walls and machines are dirty, or the facility smells of filthy water, it means the water recycling system isn’t in order. Go elsewhere!
  • The important thing is the final result. Take a look at the cars coming out of the drive-through facility to make sure they’re clean and unscratched. If you do, you’ll reduce the risk of a nasty surprise.

Water is a precious resource, and there is a growing need to use it frugally and efficiently. Wherever cars are washed, LANXESS products are helping to achieve the best possible cleaning effect, while also reducing fresh water consumption to a minimum.