Five Car Wash Construction Trends, The MDC Group

The car wash industry has grown in recent years due to greater service demand. Cars and trucks cost more yearly, and most people understand how regularly cleaning a vehicle, inside and out, preserves its value. Consumers turn to commercial car washes to save time, get a more thorough, professional cleaning, and wash responsibly.

  • Individuals concerned about the planet realize washing a car at home does more environmental damage than using today’s commercial car washes. According to the International Car Wash Association, you use between 80 and 140 gallons of water when washing your vehicle in the driveway. Other sources claim it can easily top 150 gallons.
  • Commercial car washes differ according to type, but most car washes typically use less than you do washing your car in the driveway. Sources differ but the range is 30 to 80 gallons per car. Car washes also reclaim some water and must treat the soapy water before it drains into sewers.

So, the car wash industry continues to grow and as more car washes have emerged, we’ve noticed five trends in their construction.


1- Independent Operations

The first trend is an increase in independent car wash businesses compared to chains. According to IBIS World, the top four companies in the car wash industry, which once dominated, now only account for 6% of the industry’s revenue. While chains and franchises are responsible for many new retail openings, smaller, independent operations are the larger trend in the car wash industry. Therefore, construction companies are designing and building more individual car washes to the independent operator’s specifications.

2- Sustainability and Green Practices

While the trend towards independent car washes might surprise you, a concern for the environment shouldn’t. Operators who care about the planet want to wash cars in the most responsible and sustainable way. Car wash businesses must treat the wastewater before it’s drained. They also tend to use less water due to water reclamation and computerized mechanisms that regulate water pressure and maximize efficiency.

The latest green technology for car washes includes energy-saving solar panels and more efficient water reclaiming systems. Car washes in colder regions use solar energy to heat concrete slabs to prevent ice from forming. Some use thermal solar to reduce natural gas use which also reduces emissions.

The newer reclaiming systems use tubes, pumps, and filters more efficiently to clean water to wash another car. In addition, new facilities may have larger water storage tanks to store the reclaimed water. While at one time, the final rinse station had to use fresh water to get a spot-free finish, some new technology can now completely recycle water, making it usable in the final rinse.

3- Renewed Demand for Detailing and Interior Cleaning

Car owners know more about the importance of car maintenance today. Time is also more precious than ever, so the demand for thorough interior cleaning and detailing has increased. A vehicle is seen as an investment to be maintained, and regular cleaning maximizes the trade-in value down the line. Carwash memberships have made regular cleaning, inside and out, routine.

In the past, consumers would often have the outside of a car cleaned and then pull up to the free or coin vacuums to clean inside their vehicles themselves. Realizing that free vacuums lose an operator money has meant fewer car washes offer them. Vacuums now available typically require a credit card or a car wash membership.

4. In-Bay Automatic Car Washes Conversions to Tunnel Washes

In-bay car washes are being converted to tunnel washes. Many existing car washes, especially those in small towns and rural areas, tend to be automatic in-bay wash types. A customer pays for a wash, usually at an unattended terminal, pulls the car into the bay, and puts it in park. The washing mechanism moves over the car, back and forth, while the vehicle stays in place. It uses either a roller system or soft cloths and pressurized sprays to clean. Everything is automated, so there’s no hands-on service or attention to detail.

In-bay systems also have other disadvantages. They are less efficient than tunnel washes, handling only between eight and 20 cars an hour, depending on the system. According to, tunnel car washes use less water than in-bay automatic car washes. A regular tunnel wash uses 30 to 45 gallons per car, whereas an in-bay uses 50 or more.

The major difference between in-bay and tunnel car washes is the vehicle moves along on a conveyer belt while different parts of the tunnel provide various cleaning services.

Builders can convert either in-bay type to a short conveyorized tunnel type car wash. Typically, the construction company would remove and re-pour the floor and install new equipment that can handle 40 cars an hour. With the industry’s increased demand, increasing capacity from eight to 40 per hour means tremendous profit potential.

5. Teardown & Rebuilds

While in the past, struggling, inefficient car washes were sometimes bought, cleaned up, painted, and rebranded, today, facilities are more often completely torn down and rebuilt. There was a time when adding new equipment to moderately improve performance might have been enough to save a failing car wash. Unfortunately, even with improvements and a facelift, an older car wash often can’t produce enough income to succeed in the long term.

A second reason old car washes must be replaced is an increase in the number of laws and regulations that govern car wash water usage and wastewater disposal. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act enforces regulations designed to increase facility water conservation and control pollution at commercial car washes. Car washing businesses have underground tanks to separate sediment from wastewater before a hazardous material company disposes of them safely. Many states, especially those that experience annual droughts, have passed additional legislation for water conservation. As a result, older facilities may have trouble operating to today’s standards.


Today, drivers want their cars professionally and thoroughly cleaned because they value their time and want to maximize the future trade-in value. They also realize washing a car at home has environmental disadvantages. Car washes use less water and are better for the environment because they treat and recycle wastewater responsibly. According to, “Commercial car washes are probably the most sustainable.” When you wash your car in your driveway, the sudsy water, and road dirt all end up in the storm drain.

The increased demand for professional car washing has triggered a few construction trends. For example, there have been more independent car wash operations recently and more concern about responsible water usage and disposal. Some in-bay operations are being converted to tunnel car washes, and more businesses are being completely rebuilt rather than refurbished.


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