Use of water softener in mobile car detailing


What is considered hard water and what are the degrees of hardness? Well, very hard water would be 10.5 grains per gallon and 180 parts per million or more. But you have to realize that even moderately hard water at 3.5 to 7 grains per gallon and 60 to 120 parts per million will leave hard water spots. Slightly hard water, like 1 to 3.5 grains per gallon and 17.1 to 60 parts per million, won’t leave noticeably hard water spots that you can’t cure with a chamois. But really, as a professional auto detailer, you’re really looking for soft water that’s less than 1 grain per gallon and 17 parts per million.

What makes water hard?

Hardness in water is caused by calcium and magnesium ions that form insoluble compounds; sometimes iron and even aluminum. There are many ways to soften the water. Some are more complicated than others; Aeration, deionization or ion exchange, distillation, reverse osmosis or softening.

Softening through the use of a water softener is the simplest concept in use today; Water softeners replace hardness ions like calcium and magnesium with sodium or non-scaling ions. The ion exchange resin used in the process is periodically recharged with salt drawn from a storage tank. Many water treatment experts agree, and Lance Winslow agrees that softening can be most cost effective when the water is between one and five grains per gallon of hardness. Most mobile operators will be happy with one to three grains per gallon of hardness and probably won’t even buy a softening unit until the hardness is over five grains per gallon. His theory is well accepted because if the total dissolved solids (TDS) is that low, there will still be few water spots on cars.

One reason to install a water softener, even if your water is 5 gpg or less, is because you want to prevent scale from forming on your steam cleaner coils or store your pressure washer pump in your automatic cleaning equipment. On a cold water machine this is not as important because 5 gpg or less will not ruin the pump. More than five can over time.

The hardness also prevents the soap from doing its job. You may notice that your soaps are not cleaning properly. This is because they clean the water first and combine with the compounds in the water rather than the dirt on the car. You see, water hardness tends to neutralize those cleaning compounds, and you actually have to use more soap to offset the neutralizing effect of hardness minerals.

With hard water, you’ll use more soap and the cars still won’t be clean. I encourage you to talk to your soap suppliers for helpful advice on water chemistry and treatment requirements. Your soap strategy should be tailored to your city and the hardness of the water you put in your tank.

Most independent auto detailing professionals agree that hard water areas will also produce a film on cars that are washed without fabric softener. They also agreed at the annual conference that the decision to purchase a softener should be based on actual water testing. You may want to contact a water treatment dealer such as: Rain Soft, Culligan, Apollo, Calgon, Rayne water Systems, or Water Man in your area. They can help you by having your local water tested or asking your city water authority for information about your supply. Once you’ve made the decision to purchase a softener, selecting the right equipment is easy. Softener sizes should be based on two factors: flow rate (GPM) and grains per gallon (GPG).

The flow rate would normally be six to eight gpm (gallons per minute) with the hose at your residence. We recommend that you change your pressure regulator to 90-110 PSI (pounds per square inch). This would give you approximately ten gpm. Therefore, you need a water softener that is slightly larger than the basic model.

Water softeners are basically like refrigerators; says Car Wash Guys founder Lance Winslow;

“They could last two years or 20 years…and a lot depends on how much goes in and how often it goes out.”

This is why you should monitor your softening equipment. You can test the hardness with a test kit or just pay attention when you are washing cars. Steel softening tanks last for years. Fiberglass units also last well. Plastic units crack. You may need to change the resin every two years.

You will most likely choose to rent softeners for $30 per month and let the exchange company recharge them for you. Be careful when contracting with water softener providers. Ask us for help. You can even trade services for water softener rentals and earn money on the account because water softener rental companies have many delivery trucks. In either case, think about these issues when considering a water softening strategy for your mobile car wash or car cleaning business.