winter car wash

Guide to Winter Car Washes

Winter’s snow, ice, sleet and freezing temperatures affect all living things as well as many machines, industries and companies. Depending on where you are in the country, the seasonal sludge might last several weeks or could hang around for as many as six or seven months.

As we hustle and bustle through the holidays, then settle in for a long winter, some might be tempted to think, “I’ll just wait until spring to wash the car/truck/RV…” Anyone with a personal or company vehicle — and especially a fleet — knows they must regularly remove the seasonal sludge.

Everyone’s idea of regularly differs, but auto experts say a diligent, proactive approach would be once or twice weekly. Once a month is probably not often enough.

Still others suggest you wash vehicles however often a new weather event happens, and the road-clearing crews spread the salt, chemicals and sand that help everyone get traction. Since all the tires on the road tend to toss the seasonal sludge into the air, it soon covers every inch of traveling vehicles.

The storm-drive-wash process repeats itself each time Mother Nature sends more snow, sleet, freezing rain or other conditions that make for treacherous driving. Many people know that varying winter temperatures also cause melting snow to make new ice on roads that brings in more chemicals, even when the roads seem dry.

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Washing Your Car in the Winter Keeps the Chemicals off Your Car

Winter gives our vehicles a dusty-white appearance, familiar to anyone who has lived in a northern state or where it snows regularly. We’re tempted to overlook it or think it’s just simple dust, even as it disguises the car’s real color. In reality, we should go straight to the car wash in winter — and go regularly.

That dusty-white film contains a concoction of rust-causing chemicals:

  • Magnesium chloride (MgCl2)
  • Sodium chloride (NaCl)
  • Potassium acetate (KAc)
  • Calcium chloride (CaCl2)
  • Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA)

Most of the chemicals are salt-based. Some are liquid, while others are solids. Liquids are usually applied before a storm event as an anti-icing agent, and solids are typically applied as a de-icing agent after frozen accumulation has fallen and stuck to the road.

In addition to these, there are greases, fuels, oils such as tar, natural materials and other chemicals on the road that spray onto vehicles with any amount of moisture. If you live near the ocean or visit it regularly, the salt in the air can be just as damaging as the salt dropped onto snowy roads.

It all can corrode parts, create pitting and cause rust, especially if it sits on the thinly painted surface of an automobile for any length of time. Even cars that have mostly non-metal bodies are susceptible to expensive damage, because the undercarriage contains vital metal parts that also need to be cleaned of the harmful film.

The same concern applies to brakes, brake pads, suspension systems, transmissions and other essential equipment that can be affected by the grit and chemicals. A clean vehicle can directly relate to safety, since you’re bound to get better performance from any machine that is not coated with chemicals and packed with snow or ice.

Most rust that results from road salt is cosmetic, but people do not want to drive a car that has rusty wheel wells or running boards, a peeling tailgate or other apparent damage. That desire drives snaking lines at quality car washes throughout winter seasons.

Automatic Car Washes Are Most Popular in Winter

car wash use by season

When it comes to seasonal car-wash usage, winter tops the list:

And the dominant, winter-season number only stands to grow as increasingly more people realize that keeping vehicles clean involves many logical motivations and not just vanity or pride. A vehicle that doesn’t suffer from corrosive damage is safer, lasts longer and holds its resale value. For cars, the winter car wash is good, and the winter coat of chemical film is not.

Though car manufacturers have responded to calls for cars with more corrosion resistance, those measures can’t take care of it all, and they also increase manufacturing costs as well as consumer prices. Environmental authorities call for an overall reduction in the road salt used, but it is often the only substance that works. Highway crews will continue to drop millions of tons of it per year onto American roadways.

There are many groups, agencies and other authorities who acknowledge the damaging effects of salt. Collective estimates of road-salt damage number into the billions and not only because of harm to vehicles, but also degradation to roads, bridges, parking garages and public infrastructures such as storm-sewer and wastewater systems.

Road salt damage to cars can be costly to individual owners, since even a tiny spot of rust can mean replacing an entire quarter panel of the car body or an important, expensive mechanical part. And practically everyone knows that like some other professional services, quality body or engine work will be expensive. As environmental and transportation experts work on the overall conundrum, preventing rust on a car can be as easy as regular trips to the car wash.

Car Wash Business Forecast to Grow

car washes comprise an industry worth about $15 million

Industry research shows about a 3-percent rate of growth for the car-wash industry between 2010 and 2015, all types considered. Environmental regulations and growing amounts of disposable income make the outlook for wash businesses favorable for at least the next five years.

Historical trends also point to continued industry growth. For example, the number of drivers who report using a professional car wash has increased from 47 percent to 72 percent in the decade 1994 to 2014.

Car washes, including their parts and associated products, comprise an industry worth about $15 billion in the United States, with about 80,000 facilities powered mostly by independent owners who have one or multiple locations. There are also plenty of companies with 20+ employees that run both full- and self-service car washes.

In Europe, there are also about 80,000 washes, and the industry generates in the neighborhood of $7.1 billion. The count on cars washed per year is about two billion in America and one billion in Europe.

Many of the people producing those numbers think of washing as a regular part of auto maintenance. They seek a quality car wash to meet their needs and will patronize it regularly, even purchasing monthly or annual passes for it. Some people argue about the price of a good wash and hesitate to make the $7 to $15 investment $7 to $15 investment a few times each month. But it beats paying for damage from not washing often enough or the hundreds of gallons of water you’d use washing your car at home.

Types of  Car Washes You Can Run in Winter

Unless you’re lucky enough to own a car-wash business or have a heated garage with proper drainage and running water, you’ll need a car wash throughout the year. Your options include:

  • Self-serve — You pull into a vehicle bay and select options from a wall-mounted controller. Then, you wash the vehicle with a wand — sometimes a scrub brush — soap and water, along with various other choices such as tire degreaser, engine cleaner, wax and finishing rinses.
  • Full service — These are usually washes with an enclosed operation and attached building that may offer convenience items, a snack bar, games, reading material, TVs and more to occupy customers as they wait. The vehicle runs through an automatic process, with attendants at either end to start and finish the wash.
  • Tunnel/friction rollover — In a tunnel wash, you drive your car through a series of stationary arches. They do the washing and rinsing, and sometimes apply treatment. Then, you drive under a series of enormous dryers to blow off the excess water. Sometimes there will be attendants to help dry in addition to or instead of the dryers.
  • Automatic — These involve no people but usually a multi-stall facility where you pull up to a kiosk and enter your options. Then, you pull into a stall, and a movable arch-shaped or arm-like machine moves around your vehicle to apply and remove the soap, water and other products.

Some car washes are touch-free, while others use brushes or cloths for agitation. At many car washes, you can select wax, spot-free rinse, tire cleaner, engine degreaser, presoaks, carpet shampoos, air fresheners and more. There are also plenty of detailing and hand-washing businesses that offer well beyond basic cleaning, as well as special places sized for trucks and buses.

You might have many or few choices in your neighborhood when it comes to washing your car in winter, but it’s worth the effort to find the one you like best and does a good job. You want the one that most easily removes the grime and buildup.

So, which is most effective for removing the salty, seasonal sludge? Many can and will do the job, but people judge for themselves based on personal preferences.

For example, you might run your car through the cheapest place in town and maybe glance at it the next morning to see if it looks cleaner. A person with different standards might want a full-service, fully enclosed place that gets good reviews and offers green-treatment options. It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone who is particular to check the car by looking underneath and running a finger along painted parts to see if it feels clean.

Tips for Winter Car Wash Care

Besides “wash the car often and well,” industry experts give other pointers to prevent winter from getting the best of your automobiles:

  • Wash when the vehicle will have enough time to dry before sunset
  • Bring towels for exterior parts
  • Take care to open, close and hand-dry locks and door handles
  • Lubricate locks, latches and gas-cap hinges to prevent freezing (a can of WD-40 works well)
  • If at the self-serve wash, be sure to rinse the undercarriage thoroughly
  • Treat the windshield with RainX to help water bead and prevent snow and sleet from sticking
  • Wax regularly with a polymer-based product, especially before winter
  • Replace wipers at least yearly
  • Clean road dirt and salt from wiper blades
  • Treat the door and other seals with a silicone spray to keep them from sticking in below-freezing weather
  • Carry a can of de-icer for stubborn locks — avoid pouring water or using a flame on frozen locks
  • Consider having an undercoating applied by an auto shop to protect that important undercarriage from the road elements


Professional Car Washes Are Better for the Environment

Car washes became regulated in the 1970s with the establishment of the Clean Water Act, and they’re required to drain their water to approved facilities. Some bigger washes have on-site, self-sufficient reclamation systems that filter, treat and re-use the water.

These systems are the reason it is actually more environmentally sensible and sustainable to use a professional car wash or detailer than to wash your car at home. When you wash your car at home, you’re wasting water and sending detergents and other contaminants into municipal systems that are not designed to bear them.

professional car wash water usage

For example, a professional car wash uses about 32 gallons of water per car, while the same wash at home takes about 45 minutes and uses an estimated 300 gallons of water. Technology such as water-saving foam and sophisticated filtration make the commercial car wash much kinder to the environment than any other option.

Car washes have specialized equipment — such as high-pressure sprayers, effective soaps, mechanical power, heat and soaking agents — that are more efficient and effective than what we have at home. Plus, professional washes make it easy and convenient to get a car wash in cold weather.

Success Through Satisfaction, Quality and Performance

No matter what kind of wash you need, JBS Industries has the solution. We partner with owners of commercial self-serve and automated car washes and laundromats, as well as pet washes and facilities for cleaning airplanes and big vehicles.

Along with drivers and car wash owners, we know that success in the industry comes from quality car-wash performance. If customers are satisfied with their wash — the first time and consistently — they will come back and even wait in line.

People don’t often know as they emerge from their wash experience that JBS Industries’ products contributed to their car’s cleanliness. All they know is the car looks and feels clean. They’re happy and can put salt damage out of their mind until after the next snowstorm.

JBS Industries provides a full line of products to enhance the performance at any car wash, including:

  • Tire and wheel cleaner
  • High- or low-PH presoak solutions
  • Glass cleaner
  • Bug and grime remover
  • Bay-clean solutions
  • Carpet shampoos

You won’t find JBS products on any retail shelf, but you’ll know the difference in our products when you see how they perform at car washes throughout the country. Drivers and car-wash owners living in the “snow belt” worry for many months about the snow-salt-rust-car cycle that happens during winter months, and one of the objectives at JBS is to lessen that worry.

We want to make it easier to operate a quality car wash, as well as help people maintain their vehicles and beat the seasonal sludge. Ours is “just better soap” for car washes that meet demand during the busiest season. If you own a car wash, contact us today or fill out an order form to ensure you’re stocked up for the rest of the busy winter season.


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