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How to Heat Your Car Wash Bay

infrared tube heater in an automatic car wash bay

If you own a car wash business in a cold climate, you've probably faced the dilemma of keeping your wash bay equipment from freezing. The last thing you want are costly repairs from frozen fluids in your huge investment of hoses, nozzles, and electronics, to say nothing of possible vehicle damage from formation of ice on brushes or the downtime and lost customer revenue waiting for repairs to be made. So what's the best solution? In our opinion, nothing works quite as well as a gas infrared tube heater.

Why use infrared?

Because infrared, like the sun, heats objects and surfaces within the bay during busy wash cycles to keep ice from forming and hoses from freezing. During off hours, when automatic doors are closed, the thermostatically controlled heater will cycle on and off to maintain a temperature above freezing. In short, a tube heater can offer the protection you need day and night.

Are all tube heaters suitable for wash bay use?

No. Find one capable of handling wet and corrosive environments. This means that the control box should be tight to prevent moisture from affecting circuitry and other mechanical parts and the emitter tubes should be heat-treated aluminized steel or stainless steel, never hot-rolled steel.

Our UXR series tube heater (below) is ideal for wash bay applications. The burner housing is rubber gasketed and tubes are always heat-treated aluminized steel. Aluminum reflectors are normally sufficient.

UXR series wash bay burner with totally enclosed burner housing

You will also need a watertight thermostat mounted to one of the walls. This one has a rubber gasket between a plastic cover and the thermostat body to keep moisture out. Electrical wiring should be run through liquid tight conduit and fittings to prevent water from seeping in.

Watertight Thermostat

To help eliminate the guess work in selecting the right tube heater for your wash bay, we offer the following suggestions:

1. Make sure the heater has a totally enclosed watertight burner ​​housing (like the one shown above). Water and chemicals are harsh. Keep the water out. ​ 2. Make sure it is a "push" heater. This means that the blower fan, which forces the hot gases through the tube, is at the burner end (inside the control box), not a "pull through" tube heater where the fan is located at the exhaust end. Why? Exhaust fans located on the exhaust end of the heater are exposed to moisture and have a higher failure rate.

3. Make sure the emitter tubes are either heat-treated aluminized, or stainless steel, but never plain hot-rolled steel, which will rust out in very short order.

4. Standard aluminum reflectors are just fine. Aluminum does not rust.

5. Buy from a reputable distributor who stocks and sells wash bay heaters and parts. Remember, wash bays are harsh on everything. Knowing who and where to buy from can save you a lot of hassle when you need parts products in a hurry.

One common question I get asked is "should I buy a heater that is all stainless steel, including the burner housing, tubes, reflectors, etc.? That is certainly an option. High grade stainless steel lasts indefinitely. However, it is expensive - about 3 x the cost of a standard system with painted enamel control box, heat-treated tubing and aluminum reflectors, components which hold up well over time and the tube properties are acutally better for emitting heat energy than stainless steel. Our UXR series makes the best sense both financially and in terms of reliability and performance.

It must be noted that wash bays, by nature, are harsh environments and after about a year or two of use, the heater may not look brand new, for obvious reasons. But we're not as concerned about looks. What we care about most is performance and our UXR series has an excellent track record. Scott Workman is President of Infra-Red Products Supply, Inc. of Draper, Utah and has served the car wash industry since 1986.


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