This annual list of the best car wash franchises was revised and updated on April 29, 2022.
The car wash and auto dealing market is expected to be worth $13.7 billion in the US in 2022, employing 198,000 staff in 57,400 businesses. Of these billions, $258 million belongs to franchises, which employ nearly 3,700 staff in over 970 businesses.
Given America’s love of cars, and the country’s reliance on trucks for work and industry, it’s not surprising that cleaning and detailing automobiles is big business. Americans want to keep their personal vehicles presentable and in good condition as a matter of pride and practicality, while businesses need to keep them presentable to put on a good public face.
While many people clean their own cars, 72% of American drivers regularly use professional car wash services, and it’s hardly surprising that America has the largest number of car washes in the world, as well as 43% of the industry’s global revenues. There’s money to be made from keeping cars and trucks looking good, and franchises make up a significant part of that market.
Restrictions brought in to counter COVID-19, and the economic fallout from the pandemic, had a serious effect on the industry. Some operators temporarily shut up shop, others incurred extra costs on measures to keep employees and customers safe. Many saw the impact of reduced consumer spending, as people didn’t have the funds available for regular washes and detailing. This is an industry that is very vulnerable to declines in discretionary spending, and with people traveling less, automotive expenses were an obvious area to cut back. Industry revenues fell from $13.9 billion to $12 billion in 2020, a loss of nearly $2 billion.
The retreat of the pandemic, and the economic recovery that has followed, have been good for car wash and detailing businesses. Revenues are expected to rise 4.2% in 2022. The industry has returned to the strong growth it saw in the preceding decade, when it went from $10 billion to nearly $14 billion in just six years, thanks to rising disposable income and low gas prices.
However, other factors may slow growth. Rising oil prices make driving more expensive. This will push people toward public transport, decreasing their need for work on their cars. On the other hand, a wider shift from do-it-yourself to do-it-for-me services in the US economy, which has boosted services such as home cleaning, gives long-term support to car wash services.
There are no major players with more than 5% of the franchised industry, making this a good one for smaller players and new businesses. It’s also a sector that’s seeing increasing diversity, as businesses strive for attention and market share by catering to different niches. Some specialize in large scale business, through fleet cleaning or providing washes and detailing for dealerships. For some, it’s about what sorts of vehicles they work on, specializing in trucks over cars.
Eco-friendly services, and providers of eco-friendly products, are catering to an important new niche, as consumers try to minimize their harmful impact on the world. 35% of consumers are willing to pay significantly more for a greener clean. Critically, younger Gen Z consumers are willing to pay significantly higher on average to get a green clean, meaning that this sector of the market is likely to grow over time. While driving might not be the greenest activity, the future of car washing is green.
The way the wash is carried out varies, from self-service bays to in-bay automatic washing to hand washes. There’s a big difference, in terms of tools needed and time spent, between an external only clean and a full service clean, and these may appeal to different customer bases. In getting set up, it’s important to be aware of which service a particular franchise is offering, who it’s offering it to, and what sort of customers are available in your area. The need for car cleaning may be ubiquitous, but the standard expected is far from universal.
While regular old car washes are still important, a very different model is getting a lot of attention. Home cleaning services bring the cleaning to customers. Managed through apps, they’re making the most of the same technological infrastructure and app-based lives that have boosted the gig and delivery economies. For car owners used to going to the wash, this can be a good way of saving time, an increasingly scarce resource. For those used to cleaning their own cars, this can be the entry point into getting a professional clean, a smaller change they use once that turns into a long-term habit, dragging them out of the old-fashioned do-it-yourself culture of car maintenance.
The economics of car cleaning vary with the business model. An old-fashioned automated car wash might have high startup costs but low staffing expenses, whereas a detail-oriented fleet-cleaning outfit might see more long-term staff expenses, and a home cleaning service low startup costs. Water is an important ongoing expense to factor in for most car cleaning businesses, as it takes on average 38 gallons to wash a single car.
Where cash flow is concerned, it’s important to be aware of the seasonality of work. 32% of car consumers wash their cars in winter, because of mud, dirt, and the corrosive impact of road salt, while only 18% wash them in the fall. Work will vary over the course of the year, but careful use of marketing and enhanced services can help to balance the workload.
Americans show no signs of falling out of love with their cars. As long as that remains true, there’s going to be plenty of business in car washing, detailing, and all the associated services.
The Top Car Wash Franchises of 2022
DetailXPerts is a vehicle detailing company with three different franchise models, including a standalone detailing shop, a mobile-only operation that takes detailing to the customer, or a combination standalone detailing shop plus mobile detailing operation. Car washing and detailing services are available for both individual private vehicle owners as well as for commercial customers, including car dealerships, truck washing and detailing, vehicle fleet services, aircraft washing and detailing, and even commercial building cleaning.
The company uses a patented steam cleaning process that is very effective at achieving quality cleaning results with very little water consumption. In fact, the company claims it can thoroughly clean 15 vehicles using only two gallons of water. This is impressive when you consider the average automatic car wash tunnel uses upwards of 40 gallons of water on just one vehicle.
Founded by Emmanuel Williams Sr. in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2002 and franchising since 2008, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 38 in 2013 to the current total of 128, of which 36 are company-owned and 78 are located outside the US.
2. Tommy’s Express Car Wash
Tommy’s Express Car Wash locations have a splashy, distinctive look reminiscent of a 1950s diner, but don’t let that fool you. The company’s locations feature a state-of-the-art automatic car wash tunnel unlike anything most people have ever experienced. Instead of those awkward metal rails and being bumped along by a roller, there are two wide, flat conveyor belts onto which it’s easy to glide in, then put your vehicle in neutral and enjoy the ride.
Customers pay for and select which services they want at a drive-up cashier window or kiosk before entering the tunnel. Fans can also download and join the TommyClub app to manage their wash plan, payment preferences, and take advantage of special deals and discounts. TommyClub members have a special lane allowing them to go right around the kiosks for faster service. Like most car washes, Tommy’s has car vacuums and cleaning kit vending machines.
Founded by brothers Julius “Sonny” and Jacob “Jun” Essenburg in Holland, Michigan all the way back in 1969 but only franchising since 2016, the number of locations has expanded rapidly to the current total of 72, of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
3. Fleet Clean USA
Fleet Clean USA serves the commercial trucking industry by coming on-site to hand-wash fleets of trucks. There are four different levels of exterior washing services for trucks, including maintenance rinse, maintenance wash, semi-detail wash, and detail wash. Additional services include trailer washouts, interior cleaning, interior steam detailing, pressure washes, and dedicated truck cleaning services for large fleets. The core service of repeat business for any location is the ongoing maintenance wash on the same truck, in the same place, every week or two.
Fleet Clean USA has a strong commitment to eco-friendly truck washing, including an advanced mobile water reclamation system, proper disposal of reclaim filters, and the use of environmentally safe 100% biodegradable detergents. Bringing the washing services to the trucks instead of the trucks all traveling to a cleaning site is also good for reducing the environmental impact of truck fleet washing services.
Founded by Scott Marr in Melbourne, Florida in 2009 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations has grown to the current total of 45, of which nine are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Spiffy bills itself as “on-demand car care” with a dapper penguin logo and the enticing motto, “Imagine your car feeling new again.” The core offering is an eco-friendly mobile car washing service. Customers can schedule an appointment on the company website, by phone, or using the company’s mobile app. With the zero-contact option, a Spiffy technician arrives on-site with everything needed to wash or detail the customer’s vehicle and will text or call the customer to find out where the car keys have been left. Customers can digitally track, rate, and pay for each service.
There are four levels of washing/detailing, priced differently for sedans versus “not a sedan” vehicles. Add-on services vary by location but may include oil changes, vehicle disinfectant services, new tire installations, and windshield repairs and replacements through its partnership with Safelite. Spiffy also works with employers to offer mobile car-washing services to employees while they work. Also whole-fleet management services are offered, including a variety of in-fleeting, preventative maintenance, and out-fleeting services.
Founded by Scot Wingo and Karl Murphy in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina in 2014 and franchising only since 2020, the number of locations currently stands at 32, of which 24 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
5. Green Shine
Green Shine is a high-end car detailing service that puts its environmental commitment front-and-center. Services offered include basic cleaning, polish and wax, paint sealant, interior detailing, headlight restoration, engine detailing, seat stain removal, plastic restoration, motorcycle detailing, paint correction, nano ceramic coating, and mobile detailing options.
The company’s eco-friendly commitment includes water conservation, eliminating contaminated runoff, and using the best safe, biodegradable, organic products to deliver its detailing services. It has also developed its own Green Shine Smart Liquid alternative to the traditional detergents used in the car wash industry.
Founded by Juan Pablo Sagastume in Guatemala in 2005 and franchising since 2011, there are currently 15 locations, of which four are company-owned and 10 are located outside the US. International locations can be found in Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. The only franchised location in the US is in Miami, but more are in the works there and one is coming to Chicago.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.