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Workin’ at the Car Wash

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of the foam cannon. I’m always looking for new products to feature in the store and sometimes I end up on strange journeys — this has been one of them. Strange but good. It started with a desire for a better micro fiber towel and ended up with snowy foam (and who hasn’t said that before….)

I’ve always purchased the bag of micro fiber towels at Costco, but got to thinking there had to be a better option out there that wasn’t too expensive. That quest first took me first to Alibaba, where I quickly realized two things: 1. I don’t know enough about micro fiber to make an intelligent buying decision and 2. I don’t belong on Alibaba. If you want to buy a shipping container full of towels, that’s the place to be. To re-stock my shop, not so much.

So I turned to YouTube and found Pan the Organizer. Pan (I hope he doesn’t mind me using just his first name) has 170,000 subscribers who watch him detail cars. Since that’s 169,990 more subscribers than I have, I figured he must be doing something right so I started to watch some of his videos. That led me to discover The Rag Company. TRC has a vast selection of micro fiber towels for different uses, and a very informative website to help you choose what you need. (I met with them at SEMA last week and have set up an account so I can start selling their products in the store.)

Through Pan, I found many other videos reviewing various cannon, soaps, and pressure washers by other YouTubers. It seemed to me that many of them came to the conclusion that you had to spend a lot of money to get an expensive cannon and pressure washer. So I took that as a challenge: Could I get a good result for little money?

My research took me to find the Ryobi 1600 PSI Electric Pressure Washer which is about $100 at Home Depot, and the Twinkle Star Foam Cannon (yes, that’s really the name) on Amazon, which is about $25.

Armed with my low-cost rig, thought I’d try three different foaming soap products, representing three different price-points. At the high end is the one-two foamy punch of Griots Foaming Surface Wash ($49/gal) and Foaming Poly Gloss ($69/gal). Splitting the two is Adam’s Ultra Foam Shampoo ($59/gal). And as a control, I used Griot’s Brilliant Car Wash which I already had in the garage and is about $11/gal.

Since I’m washing the same car four times, I’m not going to find out how well the actually clean, but rather how well they foam. The idea behind foaming soaps is that by dwelling in their foamy goodness, they’ll lift and clean without the need for as much scrubbing which causes most paint defects. The more foam — the more lifting and lubricating. Or so that’s the sales pitch. Keeping in mind that you’ll also use more product and spend more on soap, you realize the manufacturer’s aren’t entirely altruistic.

For each of the soaps I used 2 oz of product mixed with 24 oz of warm water in the cannon. This is about half the recommended amount of soap from the manufacturers, but I figured it might give me a better idea of how each performs for someone trying to stretch their detailing dollar. I played with the two adjustments on the cannon (aperture opening and water volume) to maximize foam thickness for each product. The order of testing was Brilliant Finish Car Wash (control); followed by Adam’s Ultra Foam; then Griot’s Surface wash; and finally Griot’s Poly Gloss.

For each, I tried to capture three data points: 1. How thick was the foam when first applied? 2. How well did it cover the car once you got it on each surface? 3. How much remained on the car after 5 minutes of dwell time? That last test probably wasn’t a fair assessment.  By the fourth wash the car was so clean that I’m surprised any foam stuck to the surface so I may need to re-run that test with it on a dirty car each time. This first photo gives you some idea of how dirty the car was before the first wash.

Here’s the control (Brilliant Finish Car Wash).  This is normal, not too expensive, concentrated car shampoo. I usually put 2 oz of this stuff in a 5 gal bucket to wash a car. Any foamy soap should be better than this or it isn’t worth the extra cost.

It actually foamed better than expected. It provided good coverage, but was fairly dissipated within 5 minutes.  This is probably a good choice for a moderately dirty car that you know you’re going to wash with a wash mitt after this step anyway.

Next up was the Adam’s Ultra Foam Shampoo. I got several sample packets while at SEMA, plus a 20% off coupon (“GETSHINY” good through 11/15/18) so I was eager to try it out.

It had thick and snowy foam that provided good coverage and better dwell. Clearly a product that was better designed for this type of application. This is probably good enough for a maintenance wash without a wash mitt.

Griot’s Surface Wash. Griot’s took a lot of criticism for being slow to get into the foam market, but this is generally held as the gold standard.

This was the clear winner when it came to foamy goodness and coverage. Since I had used it before, I knew how well it normally performed in the dwell test, but because it dissipated so quickly, that got me to thinking that the test wasn’t as relevant on an otherwise clean car, something that was further demonstrated with the last product tested below. For a really dirty car, this is the best choice.

Finally: Griot’s Poly Gloss. Griot’s intends for this product to be used after the Surface Wash, so you really need to buy both.

Initial coverage was actually very similar to the much lower cost control. It does have a nice finish when dry, but not that different from using a hydrator or detailing spray while drying. I’ll have to do some more testing to see if this is really worth the extra cost compared to the other products.

So what did I learn from all this? Griot’s Surface Wash makes the best foam and smells like a piña colada. I think it will be a good choice for really dirty cars and winter applications given the salty roads around here. The Poly Gloss was a bit of a disappointment. It smells better than the Brilliant Finish Car Wash, but really didn’t perform that much better to justify the added expense. For this cannon and this pressure washer, I think Adam’s was the winner. I liked it so much I decided to buy some and was able to find a gallon on sale for less than $40.