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It has been used for cleaning everything from industrial ovens and factory floors to engines. And now the steam cleaning process is being touted for another use, cleaning your automobile. A growing number of companies across the country are using steam cleaning systems to clean both the exterior and the interior of cars, trucks and mobile homes.
Those singing the praises of steam cleaning include Dave Scott, owner/operator of Detail Buddy in Ladysmith, British Columbia. Scott, who uses an Optima DMF system, says one of the biggest selling points of a steam system like the one he uses is the fact that it is environmentally friendly, using a fraction of the water traditional car washes use.
Steam cleaning has a number of advantages.
“The Optima steam system’s biggest advantage is the ability to deodorize and sterilize surfaces without the cost and the fumes of harsh chemicals,” Scott says. The portability also appeals to him. “The system can be used at a stand-alone carwash or as we do in a mobile truck, bringing the detail shop to the customers’ work or home as we are fully self-contained.”
He believes steam cleaning systems would be a great addition to any carwash. “It cuts the costs down on cleaning chemicals and labor costs because the time spent cleaning is reduced using the high pressure of the steam to clean in those hard to reach cracks and crevices rather than doing it with detail brushes and chemicals,” he says.
Scott says there are some misconceptions out there about steam cleaning, the biggest of which is that a car’s exterior can’t be cleaned using a steam system.
“We use it year round cleaning the exteriors of cars and when applied with spray lubricant waxes it not only cleans it also gives the surface the best hot wax shine ever,” states Scott. “Steam also melts away baked on bugs from the front end of any car with just a rag and steam.”
The feedback from customers has been very encouraging. Scott says they love the fact that the process is environmentally friendly and comment on the deep shine it leaves.
Mélissa Lapierre, a spokeswoman for Tuyaux Flexibles Du Quebec, major distributor for Steamericas’ Optima portable steamers, says they are very versatile units.
“Each unit uses the latest technology, allowing for varied cleaning possibilities, such as the automotive industry, commercial cleaning, removing graffiti, sanitizing and many other uses,” Lapierre says. “But our main clients are carwash dealers because each car can be washed with a fraction of the water used by regular cleaning methods. And each unit provides two outlets, allowing two employees to use one machine.”
She also touts the advantage of the system’s portability.
“Since it’s powered by diesel fuel it can be used in any areas, mobile car washes, boat marinas and city bus facilities and is very effective for commercial and industrial cleaning,” notes Lapierre.
The Optima Steamers are manufactured in the Republic of Korea by the SJE Corporation and distributed by Steamericas Inc., a subsidiary, which services distributors like Tuyaux Flexibles Du Quebec.
Speaking from her Los Angeles office, Yujin Anderson, general manager of Steamericas, says the Optima Steamer has become the best selling machine in the world, exported to more than 120 countries.
(A) A member of the Detail Buddy crew uses an Optima Steamer to clean the interior of this vehicle. (Photo Courtesy of Detail Buddy)(B) Crews using an Optima steam cleaning system clean the exterior of this vehicle using a fraction of the water utilized in a traditional car wash. (Photo courtesy of Steamericas)(C) Steam cleaning systems work well on all aspects of the vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Steamericas)(D) Portability is a big feature of a steam cleaning system like the Optima Steamer which is easy to transport and can be used anywhere. (Photo Courtesy of Detail Buddy)
Why is it so good?
“We have a unique (patented) boiler system that allows quick preheating time, fuel efficiency and steam to be as dry as possible,” says Anderson. “In fact, our steamer can deliver all three stages of steam—superheated steam, saturated steam and wet steam. A reliable steamer for a carwash or detailing business should generate steam non-stop without any downtime, which is what the Optima Steamer was built to do. Lastly, but very important, the Optima Steamer has all major certifications required in the Americas.”
Anderson says they are a perfect addition for any carwash.
“If you have a tunnel wash, it can be used as a pre-wash system which will loosen hardened dirt, bird droppings, tar, and bug spots,” says Anderson. “Powerful steam is an excellent tool for removing brake dust from rims. My favourite application of steam for a carwash is cleaning door jambs and trunks. Traditionally this is all done manually, and the cleaning quality still isn't very good. With just enough pressure, steam gets through nooks and crannies. Detailers especially love our steamers for cleaning and restoring interiors where steam can save them hours of time that would have been needed to do the same job using a conventional method.”
Anderson says many of their customers started to add specialty services that can be easily achieved by the Optima Steamer to their menu for an easy upsell, such as car seat or stroller sanitizing, deodorizing and engine bay cleaning.
On the issue of misconceptions, she said the most common question is whether steam is safe on paint and exterior surfaces in general.
“The temperature of steam coming out from the Optima Steamer is about 100C,” says Anderson. “However, it can increase to 110C if you are using steam on one spot for a prolonged time at the point-blank distance. Normally, you will keep about 10-20 cm of distance between the steam gun nozzle and the surface you are cleaning. Because steam is a form of vapour, it loses its temperature and pressure fairly quickly. At this range of distance, the temperature of steam will be much lower, about 40-50C. Most paint jobs are heat treated if done right, and car paint has much higher melting point than the temperature it will be exposed to by steam.”
People also ask about water consumption.
Anderson says an Optima Steamer uses a fraction of the water used by hot water pressure washers.
“Using steam, you are saving over 98 per cent of water consumption,” says Anderson. “A seasoned steam car wash/detailing technician can wash a sedan inside and out with less than one or two gallons of water. And you save over 80 per cent of chemical consumption.”
No waste water run-off means operators no longer need to place a mat before washing and pump waste water into the recovery tank. That saves a lot of prepping and post-cleanup time.
Anderson says they have customers throughout Canada, most notably in the Toronto and Montreal areas.
The steam carwash movement started in East Asia and then spread into Europe. The Middle Eastern and Oceanian markets followed and the U.S. market then began to grow quickly in the last few years. In addition to the diesel-run units sold here, Steamericas also sells electric units to larger carwash operations that have sufficient three phase power available.
The following video links were provided by Steamericas to demonstrate how a steam carwash works and why it is a growing industry.
1. Jay Leno's Garage Video Segment; https://youtu.be/5bXmxRjjAw8
2. SJE/Optima Promo Video; https://youtu.be/a5yTiOgzqVo
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer based out of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. He can be reached at email@example.com