Car wash

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A multi-bay self-service car wash, with an automatic "touchless" bay at the far left and manual bays on the right.

A car wash is a facility used to clean the exterior, and sometimes the interior, of automobiles.

There are many different types of car washes. Most belong to one of the three main groups:

  • self-service facilities that are generally coin-operated,
  • In-Bay Automatics consist of an automatic machine that rolls back and forth over a stationary vehicle while washing it,
  • "tunnel washes". which use conveyors to push or pull the vehicle through a series of fixed cleaning mechanisms.

In a modern car wash facility soaps and other chemicals used are based on milder acids and alkalies than at the beginning of car washing machines, when hydrofluoric acid, a hazardous chemical, was the most common cleaning agent used in the industry. Today, there is a strong move in the industry to use safer products and rely more on friction to clean a vehicles finish. Many car wash facilities are now required by law to treat and reuse their water, while driveway wash water simply ends up in the storm drain and eventually into rivers and lakes.

There are two types of foam: polish and wax. Polish is cheaper and may be harder to rinse off, sometimes becoming solid matter in its holding tank. Wax is more expensive, but rinses well and covers the vehicle with a lighter and puffier foam.

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