Snow Foam - A Deeper - Safer Clean

Snow Foam - A Deeper - Safer CleanSnow Foam: A Deeper, Safer Clean
By: Jeff Brown @ Griot's Garage | 6-28-19

“Primum nil nocere” … this phase is Latin for “first do no harm” and while it’s a much hallowed, centuries old axiom for medical doctors, it should also be at the heart of the matter for all serious detailers. Car care done wrong can have dire consequences. Always consider the surface you’re working on and ensure the least invasive process is used because anytime you touch the surface you’re tempting fate. Even a task seemingly as simple as washing a car can have a trap door. The emergence of snow foam over the last five years has made getting a deeper, safer clean as easy as pulling a trigger. What makes foam a better solution?


The origin of the term “snow foam” is unknown. However, this technology and approach to car washing has been used for years in the tunnel car wash industry.

Employing pre-soaks, followed by a high pressure rinse, enables car washes to deliver touchless washes… or to ensure a deeper clean prior to mechanical agitation via brushes, microfiber, or foam agitators. Europe has been recognized for driving the transition of this technology into the automotive detail industry by introducing high-pressure foam cannons, special car wash tunnel inspired foam formulas, and unique application techniques.

Tunnel car washes also apply unique polymeric and hydrophobic formulas to protect and enhance all exterior surfaces and the detail industry has followed suit. Not only is snow foam a better solution for vehicle maintenance, it can also be an incremental profit center for detailers. Customers will pay more for a wash which avoids wash-induced scratches and, long-term, it means less paint correction and the retention of proper paint film thickness.

Traditional Wash Methods

Washing a vehicle to remove loose contaminants, using what is considered common best practice, will inevitably introduce scratches in the surface. Road contaminants composed of oil and grease from engines, transfer cases, rear ends, suspension, and transmissions can form an abrasive, grime-attracting film. This combined with ferrous particles emitted from brake friction materials, along with tree sap, bird droppings, and more escalate the need for a more frequent and robust maintenance regimen.

Optimal washing methods include: using two five-gallon car wash buckets, one for washing and one for rinsing; using a high-lubricity car wash; and employing premium microfiber wash tools. Techniques encompass washing the vehicle from the top down and using two wash tools dedicated to the belt-line up/belt-line down (upper and lower sections). The wash tools should often be rinsed throughout the process to free them from abrasives and contaminants.

There is an inherent flaw with this process. Prior to beginning the wash, the vehicle is typically low-pressure rinsed. This type of rinsing is incapable of breaking many abrasives and contaminants free from the surface. The purpose of high-lubricity car wash solutions is to lubricate the surface to reduce wash-induced scratches. However, the washing process mechanically breaks the abrasives free and moves them across the surface, inescapably imparting microscopic surface scratches. These build up over time and detract from the paint's clarity, eventually necessitating paint correction.

Pre-Washing Vs. Touchless Washing

The old adage, “pay now or pay later” comes into mind here. Investing 10 to 15 minutes more in your wash process will assuredly delay the need for paint correction and keep that flawless coated or sealed protection you’ve worked so hard to attain intact well into the future.

Employing a pre-soak of specially formulated cleaning agents followed by a thorough high-pressure spray, delivered via a pressure washer equipped with a 20 to 30° nozzle, can eliminate the need for mechanically breaking abrasives free from the surface via a wash mitt/pad.

This incremental step called Pre-Washing or Snow Foaming involves ridding the surface of abrasives and contaminants preceding a mechanical wash process. With regularly maintained vehicles, the snow foam treatment can deliver a “touchless” wash, thereby leaving the vehicle free of contaminants and ready to dry. The pre-wash involves applying a specially formulated, high-foaming surfactant to chemically soften and encapsulate contaminants. Then, by way, of gravity the encapsulated particles are carried to the ground. Following a brief dwell period, the surface is thoroughly high-pressure rinsed, leaving a deep cleansed surface free of grit and grime. The rinsing technique must be purposeful and thorough. Imagine you are painting the vehicle with a nozzle at a distance of one to two feet. Simply work from the bottom up, then top down with each pass methodically overlapping.

Surface Prep Vs. Surface Maintenance

Employ a surface prep pre-soak prior to a paint correction process to strip the surface of waxes, oils, silicones, and grease. Effective formulas utilize detergent builders to enhance the cleaning efficiency of surfactants by inactivating water hardness and promoting corrosion prevention for metals. Detergent builders, when used with surfactants, neutralize acidic soil, emulsify oil and grease, suspend removed soil, and prevent re-deposition. Avoid simple degreasers often used in this step, which are corrosive to the surface and impart unsightly white residue. When applied via a foam cannon, this treatment is superior for deep cleaning wheel wells, door jambs, filler compartments, and cracks and crevices. The high-pH formulas should not be used in maintenance regimens.

Surface maintenance must rely on a pH-neutral solution to ensure waxes, sealants, and coatings aren’t diminished. Optimal formulas employ readily biodegradable surfactants and co-surfactants to emulsify water with oil and dirt, allowing the contaminants to be rinsed away.

The Foam Cannon

There are many viable foam cannon options on the market. Most feature brass construction which can be susceptible to corrosion, especially when using high-pH detergents. The best utilize precision machined stainless steel components which delivers exceptional chemical resistance and durability. Leaking is another consideration. Designs that use open ventilation on their manifold are susceptible to leakage, so look for a cannon that features one way vents that will confidently contain liquid solutions within the cannon’s reservoir.

Traditionally, foam cannons require the user to pre-dilute 2 to 4 ounces of detergent with water prior to application. New innovations have come to market delivering auto mixing of concentrates that provide fast and efficient foam delivery. Regardless of your choice, be sure you properly maintain your foam cannon by thoroughly rinsing the cannon prior to storage. If solution remains in the cannon, it can eventually clog up and kill foam production.

Snow Foam Myths....Busted

Myth: Car wash soap based formulas which are specifically designed for hand washing and/or relabeled formulas marketed as snow foam will excel in a foam cannon application. Bust: These pretenders do deliver high-foaming and high-lubricity characteristics, but fall down due to their lack of dual-foam technology, cleaning properties, and vertical dwell time. When applied, they quickly slide off the surface, side stepping one of the biggest advantages of snow foam: the time to work.

Myth: Snow Foam can be rinsed off right away. Bust: If dwell times are limited and a snow foam is applied for a short period then immediately, haphazardly rinsed off from top to bottom it has not had the time for chemical softening to occur and the foam to realize its full effectiveness. Average dwell time ranges between 5 and 7 minutes. Note: It’s critically important to not allow the solution to dry on the surface.

Myth: Pre Rinsing before foaming sets the stage for success. Bust: This is a no-no. Snow foams require tooth or something to adhere to. Applying the detergent to a cool, dry, contaminated surface ensures the foam can “bite” so it can enjoy a full dwell and deliver maximum concentration of cleaners.

Myth: Overconcentration …you can’t have too much of a good thing. Bust: Surpassing a manufacturer’s recommended dilution on any concentrate is asking for trouble. The actives in concentrates, when used in over-concentrated form, will not perform as intended and may damage the surface. Going overboard with snow foam concentrates will likely lead to extensive rinsing, the formation of residue or film, and potential staining. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended dilution.

Adding a snow foam maintenance regimen or using this technology prior to paint correction will prevent wash induced scratches and deliver a deeper clean. This incremental step should be considered a viable high-value upsell. In addition, the ability to deliver high gloss and enhanced protection via a foam cannon and polymeric snow foam in minutes is an add-on value that can be easily and economically incorporated. Let the blizzards begin!

The Griot's Garage Foaming System