Designing a Car Wash: Building, Planning and Design Tips

When you picture a car wash, you probably think of the drive-through models with those big blue foamy brushes and maybe even an old-fashioned hand-operated version. But that’s only part of the story. Today’s car washes come in all shapes and sizes to meet every owner’s individual needs, including indoor and outdoor configurations, high-end luxury models, hybrid versions that combine vacuum services with water for environmental sustainability, and even fully automated systems with fiber optic lighting. For most of us, the experience with car washes is limited to drive-through locations, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. People love getting their cars freshly cleaned and prepped for sunny days.

In fact, there are some who enjoy washing their own cars in their driveways, which means they don’t need an automatic car wash – just somewhere easy to park, enter, and exit a vehicle. Whether you’re building from scratch or retrofitting an old garage with a new car wash, there are numerous factors to consider when choosing the optimal design for your business. These design tips will help you create the perfect location for the car washes in your project.

Location, location, location

The first step to designing a successful car wash is deciding where to build it. This may seem like an obvious factor and we’ve mentioned this time and time again, but it’s one of the most important. Ideally, you want to put your car wash in a high-traffic area. Unfortunately, those are usually the same spots where other businesses want to set up shop, too. Look for underutilized sections of a city. Try to locate near residential areas that have commercial zoning. These neighborhoods are normally less-trafficked, which will help keep your cleaning crew more productive. In addition, you’ll be more likely to meet people who need your service especially if you stand out. 

Determining capacity: Guestimate then double it

In the early stages of designing your car wash, it’s a good idea to estimate how many cars you expect to book per day. If you’re planning a new car wash built from the ground up, make sure to sketch out the number of bays you plan to install. Keep in mind, the number of cars you can wash per day will vary based on the season and the weather. You may find that you need to add extra capacity during summer months when people like to wash their cars more often. Be sure to consider this when determining how many bays to install.

Drainage and foundation design

This is one of the most important factors of designing a car wash, because it is the foundation of your entire structure. A car wash is going to see a lot of water, and if it isn’t properly drained, you risk flooding your business. That’s why it’s important to consult a civil engineer when designing a car wash. They’ll be able to determine the best way to channel water from your building and ensure that it doesn’t end up flooding the streets. The other important part of drainage is deciding where you’re going to put the drain. Obviously, you don’t want it under the car wash simply because it’s the easiest place to put it. Instead, put the drain in the lowest part of your property so that water is directed away from your building.

Walls and ceilings

The walls and ceiling of your car wash are the first thing your customers will see, so they need to be appealing. While the exact design of these surfaces will vary from establishment to establishment, the general rule of thumb is to keep it clean, bright and modern, with plenty of visible light. Wall surfaces should be light coloured and easy to clean, with an easy-to-clean ceiling above. In many states, building codes require that car washes have a transparent roof to allow enough light to come in and keep employees and customers safe from falls. There are several car wash roofing materials that are designed to prolong the lifespan of your business. The walls inside your car wash can be decorated with images related to your company and cleaning services, as well as upcoming specials and events. In addition to traditional posters, you can use modern technology like digital signage to enhance your brand.

Ventilation and climate control

The biggest concern when designing a car wash is keeping the air clean and dry. A strong ventilation system will help remove moisture and reduce airborne particles, which are a main concern in indoor car washes. Air cleaners and filtration systems will also help reduce emissions and protect your customers, employees, and equipment. In an indoor layout, you’ll need to ensure that the air flow is being distributed evenly and effectively, so that all areas of your car wash are receiving sufficient ventilation. One challenge with car washes is that they’re open-air structures that require ventilation systems to remove excess heat, humidity, pollutants, and odors from the air. This is one of the reasons that light-gauge steel framed buildings are also one of the good options versus load bearing structures. In addition, the systems need to extract moisture from the air and send it outside the building to prevent mold growth and other health concerns.

Lighting and windows

A car wash needs plenty of light, both for aesthetic and functional purposes. A consistent flow of natural light will make your car washes feel inviting and friendly, which is especially important for an indoor location. You can install skylights, or choose fixtures with plenty of large bulbs to flood the area with bright light. Another important factor is controlling the light with curtains or blinds to ensure that the car wash is only exposed to daylight during operating hours. If you’re going for the luxury look, you might also want to consider installing tinting on the windows to reduce glare and provide some privacy.

In our years of experience, buildings made with aluminum framing with glass walls and windows are the best choice in attracting drive-by customers. Aluminum frames do not rust and they are movable in cases when you’d like to transfer your car wash location. 

Doors: Where are you going to put them?

One of the most important design decisions is where you’ll put the doors. Consider where customers will park and be sure to position your doors accordingly so that they can access the car washer without difficulty. A good rule of thumb is to place the entrance approximately 10-15 feet from the parking lot to make it easy for customers to get in and out, but far enough away so that the noise won’t disturb the neighbors. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your design is ADA compliant so that everyone can easily access your car wash. For example, you can install a ramp at the entrance so that customers in wheelchairs can access the facility. There are many other design factors to consider when building or retrofitting a car wash, but by keeping these tips in mind, you can create an optimal layout for your business.

 At Shinn Buildings, we are experts at the car wash and quick lube pairing – that’s what we do.  We can show you how to do it.  View our car wash construction projects or give us a call to discuss options.

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About the Author:

Stan Beck

Principal & CEO at Shinn Buildings, LLC

Stan oversees the entire workings of Shinn Buildings. Stan hones in on the Sales and Marketing Department for Shinn Buildings and its subsidiaries. Stan works closely with our engineers, and partners to bring accurate estimates to clients and prospects. He loves spending time with his family and working at the church during weekends.