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Anatomy of the foaming brush

Jan 28, 2015
In self-serve car wash bays, most car wash owners rely on foaming brushes to cost effectively remove surface dirt, film, grit, and debris from customers’ cars and keep them coming back. This is particularly important when soapy water alone will not do the job.

Most owners, however, are unaware of the full range of available foaming brush options that can help optimize the self-serve wash, both for their customers and themselves.

A quick overview of foaming brush anatomy will help car wash owners to pick the foaming brush options that best serve their customers and themselves.  Ideally, this will be a foaming brush that is cost effective, durable, easy-to-use, gentle on paint, and well lubricated with good quality foam.

Foaming Brush Bristles
Since foaming brush bristles are what actually contact customers’ paint jobs, getting this right is key and there is a range of choices available.

“Materials from nylon, synthetic fill, and cloth fill to gentle foam and hog’s hair all have their advantages in certain situations,” says Dan Pecora, an expert on car wash supplies and CEO of Erie Manufacturing in Chicago, Ill., a supplier to the carwash industry since 1948.

“In general, the shorter the brush filament length and bigger the diameter filament, the harder it presses on the car; and the longer and finer the filament the more gently it presses on the car,” explains Pecora.  

According to Pecora, to reduce potential paint damage due to grit on the car or brush, it’s wise to post signs advising self-serve customers to “Use pre-soak wash option and pressure to remove grit from your car” and “Wash the brush before washing your car to remove any grit from the brush.”  This can be particularly important when using materials like nylon, cloth and synthetic fill, which tend to hold grit.

According to Pecora, while nylon brush filaments are less expensive up front, they are stiff and better suited for scrubbing off layers of dirt from older, unwashed cars.  With large-diameter filaments about 2-1/2” long, they tend to accumulate larger particles and debris like sand and grit that can scratch paint.  He advises against using nylon filaments on darker car colors, like black, since any marks on the paint are more likely to show.

Synthetic Fill
Synthetic fill filaments have properties similar to nylon, but are slightly softer than nylon.  With large-diameter bristles about 2-1/2” long, synthetic fill still collects grit unless the grit is washed out before use.

Cloth Fill
Soft Cloth fill, usually about 3-1/2” long, are a choice for car owners who want to avoid using filament brushes.  Cloth is inexpensive compared to hog’s hair and some people think that that it adds shine to a car.  However, cloth tends to accumulate grit.

Gentle Foam
Gentle Foam, about 3-1/2” long, is lightweight, less prone to accumulate grit, and similar in cost to nylon.  Some people think it adds shine to a car.  

The gentle foam, cloth fill, and nylon brushes are also typically available in an assortment of colors to match your car wash including: green, red, blue, black, and some are also available in other colors.

Hog’s Hair
Hog’s Hair bristles, usually from 2-3/4” to 5” long, are the number one self-serve foam brush choice, says Pecora.  Their finer, longer filaments do not scratch, accumulate less grit than others, and provide a softer, plusher wash.  Since each hair is tapered, they are much softer at the feathered tips for gentle washing but allow scrubbing when pressure is applied.  Since hog’s hair is durable, super soft, and resilient despite bending and prolonged use, it is the most profitable choice in the long run.  

Foaming Brush Head
Aluminum or Plastic
As a foaming brush head material, most self-serve car wash owners choose aluminum because it is durable and long lasting in a rough environment.  However, plastic foam brush heads are comparable in price to aluminum and less likely to scratch or ding your customer’s car.

Rectangular or Round
“In choosing a foaming brush head shape, rectangular brush heads can provide better, faster wash coverage of flat surfaces such as hoods, sides, doors, roofs, and trunks,” explains Pecora.  “Round foaming brush heads, in contrast, provide better wash coverage of wheels, hubcaps, nooks and crannies.”

“Some car wash owners have found that providing their customers with a choice of both a round and a rectangular head brush helps to separate themselves from their competition,” adds Pecora.  

Number of Foam Holes
In terms of foaming brush head design, the more holes available to dispense high quality foam, the more even the foam application along the entire length of the brush, and the better the wash and glide along the car’s surface.

If a foaming brush head has just two holes, the foam comes out in two spots and there isn’t enough foam for all the bristles.  This makes washing the car more difficult and marking the car paint more likely, particularly with stiffer filaments like nylon.

“For an even foam spread that covers all the brush bristles, you need more foam holes,” says Pecora.  “For instance, a 9” rectangular brush head should have at least 6 foam holes for the best wash and brush glide across the car’s surface.”

Foaming Brush Handle 
“As a self-serve car wash owner, you’re selling time with your equipment to car owners,” says Pecora.  “If you make the equipment as comfortable and easy to use as possible, they buy more time and you make more money.”

Handle Length
Longer foaming brush handles enable better reach, but are more tiring to use.  Standard foaming brush handle length is about 40”, but could range from 36”-44”.

Handle Swivel
“Every foaming brush handle should include a swivel screwed onto the end of handle because it prevents the brush hose from twisting or kinking,” advises Pecora.  “This inexpensive, sometimes overlooked device makes the foaming brush much easier and less tiring to use.  So your customer washes their car longer, gets a better wash, and gives you more business.”

Handle Grips
A slippery, foaming brush grip or lack of a grip can make the equipment difficult and tiring to hold.  To accommodate a full range of customers more easily, he recommends having a non-slip vinyl or foam coating over the entire foaming brush handle to provide a secure grip anywhere.  Two-point grips, in contrast, can be more difficult and tiring for the customer to use.

With an awareness of foaming brush anatomy, self-serve car wash owners are now prepared to pick the foaming brush options that best meet their operational goals and satisfy their customers.

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