How to use a Foam Cannon to Wash Your Car

How would you like to make washing your vehicle fun, fast and easy while preserving a swirl-free finish with the final results looking like you just waxed your vehicle when all you did was wash it?  If like most people you answered, yes, then you want a foam cannon.


What is a Foam Cannon?

A Foam Cannon is a specially designed spray head that attaches to a pressure washer to wash your vehicle.  After mixing a quality car wash soap in the foam cannon reservoir, when you pull the trigger on the pressure sprayer wand, the foam cannon will smother your vehicle with a thick, frothy layer of rich, high lubricating suds that will melt off any surface dirt, dust and traffic film. 

foam gun with cleaner

How does a Foam Cannon work?

The magic takes place in the mixing head where the soap solution is mixed with air and a high volume of pressurized water from the pressure washer.  When you pull the trigger on the pressure washer wand, water is forced through the wand into the foam cannon mixing head where it mixes with the soap solution and air to create foam.

 

The results are a thick, rich blast of sudsy foam bubbles similar to shaving cream that clings to vertical surfaces so the soap foam will dwell on the surface instead of running onto the ground.  This clinging and dwelling feature enables the soap to soften, loosen and remove any built-up layer of dirt, dust, pollen, and traffic film where next it can be blasted off with the pressure washer.

 

Quality car wash soap

Part of the key to creating rich thick suds is using a quality car wash soap.  There are plenty of options on the market today formulated specifically for use with foam cannons.

 

Pure cleaning soaps versus wash-n-wax soaps

Be sure to do your research and pick the soap that best fits your needs.  If you’re working on a well-maintained vehicle, then one option is to pick a car wash soap with a built-in wax.  This type of soap will not only clean your vehicle, but it will maintain the finish with a layer of wax protection at the same time.

 

If you’re working on a neglected vehicle, you’ll be better off choosing a car wash soap that is formulated specifically for cleaning only as you'll want a dedicated focus on cleaning.  Plus, the paint on a neglected vehicle is not in the correct condition to take advantage of the built-in wax protection offered by wash-n-wax type car wash soaps.

 

Two kinds of washing

There are two primary types of car washing.  One type is called the Maintenance Wash, this is where the vehicle in question is in new to excellent condition and the goal of the wash is to preserve the current finish condition in its swirl and scratch-free appearance.  

 

The other type of washing is called a Prep Wash.  A Prep Wash is the type of wash process you use to prepare a neglected vehicle for paint correction and detailing.  The Prep Wash is for vehicles that have swirls, scratches, water spots and oxidation and do not have an intact coat of wax, synthetic paint sealant and/or ceramic coating.  

 

For this condition of vehicle, you need to use a quality wash mitt to assist the foam to get the vehicle super clean.  Normally you cannot blow-dry paint in this condition because an air blower only works if water beading is present.  If the finish is not beading water, you’ll need to use a chamois or drying towel and dry the rinse water off by hand.



Maintenance Washing with a Foam Cannon

For vehicles that have an intact layer of wax, synthetic paint sealant or ceramic coating, and when wet shows good water beading, below are the steps to wash your vehicle without even having to touch it.

 

No bucket or wash mitt needed

If you regularly maintain your vehicle's finish with a coat of wax, a paint sealant, or a ceramic coating, in most cases, you won’t even need a wash mitt to clean your vehicle, the cleaning action from the foamed vehicle soap plus the powerful rinsing action from the pressure washer is all you’ll need.



Touchless drying

If you have an air blower of some sort, you can wash and dry your vehicle without ever touching the finish and this is the secret serious car enthusiasts use to maintain a swirl and scratch-free finish for that fresh off the dealership showroom floor appearance.   

 

The secret to washing without touching your vehicle’s finish with a wash mitt or a drying towel (besides having a foam cannon, pressure washer and air blower) starts with already having a good coat of wax, paint sealant or ceramic coating on the paint.  

 

Dirt does not want to readily stick to this kind of finish so you can wash without a bucket and wash mitt.  If the wax, paint sealant or ceramic coating on your vehicle causes the water to bead-up, then the rinse water will easily blow-off with an air blower.  Thus, it’s possible to wash and dry your vehicle without ever touching it.



How to use a foam cannon to do a Maintenance Wash

For vehicles that are in new or like-new condition, below are the steps for how to use a foam cannon for a Maintenance Wash.  This section of this article assumes your vehicle is regularly maintained with a coat of wax, a synthetic paint sealant or has been ceramic coated.

 

Step 1: Mix your soap solution

Follow the directions for the soap you choose and mix it with water according to the directions for the foam cannon.  In this example, I’m using 3D Wash N Wax. with the 3D Foam Blaster.

pouring cleaner into foam blaster

Helpful tip:  Fill the soap solution reservoir with the recommended amount of water first and then add the vehicle wash soap.  By adding the water first you’ll create a full reservoir of perfectly mixed soap and water.  If you add the soap first and then add water, as the water fills the reservoir, it will tend to start creating suds and this makes it difficult to fill the entire reservoir with soap and water as you’ll end up with a reservoir half-filled with suds, which is soapy air.





Step 2: Power rinse the vehicle first

Using your pressure washer and wand, do a thorough pressure rinse of the vehicle to remove any loose dirt, dust, pollen, and any large debris like sticks, leaves and dead bugs.

spraying water onto car

spraying water onto car

spraying water onto car

 

Step 3:  Attach the Foam Cannot to the Pressure Washer Wand

Most pressure washer wands use a spring-loaded collar that snaps onto the fitting of your foam cannon.  Be 100% sure the spring-loaded wand tip is connected all the way onto the foam cannon fitting and the outside sliding collar has completely sealed onto the fitting after you release the collar.

adjusting nozzle on foam blaster

adjusting nozzle on foam blaster

attaching nozzle to foam blaster

attaching nozzle to foam blaster

Step 4:  Use the foam cannon to cover the vehicle with foam

Starting on one side of the vehicle and holding the foam cannon a few feet away from the side of the vehicle, pull the trigger on the pressure washer wand and cover the top, sides, wheels, and tires with foam.

spraying car with foam blaster

spraying car with foam blaster

Step 5:  Allow the foam to dwell

Allow for the cleaning agents in the foam to dwell on the vehicle and go to work softening, loosening, and dissolving any built-up layer of dirt, dust, pollen, and traffic film. 

car covered in foam

Step 6: Switch out foam cannon for 40-degree nozzle tip

While the foam is going to work cleaning your vehicle, take this time to remove the foam cannon from the end of the pressure washer wand and attach the largest spray pattern nozzle that comes with your pressure washer.  Most pressure washers come with these universal nozzle tips.

 

15 Degree nozzle 

25 Degree nozzle 

40 Degree nozzle 

Soap tip nozzle 

Turbo tip nozzle 

 

For safe but powerful rinsing the 40-degree nozzle tends to be the best overall option but feel free to experiment and use the nozzle that works best for our application and size, shape, and design of your vehicle.

adjusting settings on a power washer

adding attachment to nozzle

Step 7:  Power rinse to foam off the vehicle

After a few minutes but before the foam can dry, power rinse all the foam and dirt the soap has loosened off the top, sides, wheels, and tires of this first side.

Repeat this step to the other side of the vehicle.

spraying foam off car with water

spraying foam off car with water

spraying foam off car with water

spraying foam off car with water

spraying foam off car with water

Here’s our Ferrari thoroughly washed and rinsed using the Maintenance Wash style with a foam cannon.

clean wet car

Step 7:  Remove any standing rinse water with an air blower

Using your air blower, starting at the top and working your way down and around the vehicle, blow off any standing rinse water.  Pay extra attention to the areas between panels like the hood, fenders, doors, etc.  Also be sure to thoroughly blow-out all the rinse water off the wheels and tires.

blowing a wet car dry

Done!

If your vehicle has a good quality coat of wax, sealant, or ceramic coating, you should be seeing results that look like you just spent all day detailing your vehicle.

clean dry car

How to use a foam cannon to do a Prep Wash

For vehicles that are neglected and you’re going to do a Prep Wash to prepare the vehicle for paint correction and detailing, below are the steps for how to use a foam cannon for a Prep Wash.




Step 1: Mix your soap solution

Follow the directions for the soap you choose and mix it with water according to the directions for the foam cannon.  In this example I'm using 3D Pink Car Soap with the 3D Ultra Blast Foamer.

filling foam blaster with cleaner

Helpful tip:  Fill the soap solution reservoir with the recommended amount of water first and then add the vehicle wash soap.  By adding the water first you’ll create a full reservoir of perfectly mixed soap and water.  If you add the soap first and then add water, as the water fills the reservoir, it will tend to start creating suds and this makes it difficult to fill the entire reservoir with soap and water as you’ll end up with a reservoir half-filled with suds, which is soapy air.




Step 2: Power rinse the vehicle first

Using your pressure washer and wand, do a thorough pressure rinse of the vehicle to remove any loose dirt, dust, pollen, and any large debris like sticks, leaves and dead bugs.

spraying water on car with power washer

spraying cat with pressure washer

spraying cat with pressure washer

Step 3:  Attach the Foam Cannon to the Pressure Washer Wand

Most pressure washer wands use a spring-loaded collar that snaps onto the fitting of your foam cannon.  Be 100% sure the spring-loaded wand tip is connected all the way onto the foam cannon fitting and the outside sliding collar has completely sealed onto the fitting after you release the collar.

adjusting nozzle on foam blaster

adjusting nozzle on foam blaster

Step 4:  Use the foam cannon to cover the vehicle with foam

Starting on one side of the vehicle and holding the foam cannon a few feet away from the side of the vehicle, pull the trigger on the wand and cover the top, sides, wheels, and tires with foam.  Cover the entire vehicle including both sides, front and back with foam.

spraying car with foam blaster

spraying car with foam blaster

spraying car with foam blaster

Step 5:  Allow the foam to dwell

Allow for the cleaning agents in the foam to dwell on the vehicle and go to work softening, loosening, and dissolving any built-up layer of dirt, dust, pollen, and traffic film.

foam covered car

Changing things up

For a Prep Wash, here’s where things change.  At this step of the process, you now use a wash mitt to wash the vehicle.  Neglected vehicles need the physical agitation of a quality wash mitt, moved over the finish, to agitate and remove dirt from neglected paint.



Step 6: Start at the top

Normally, you start at the highest point of the car, which is the roof and then work your way down and around, using a clean, uncontaminated wash mitt, wash each body panel.  Have a bucket of soapy water and a grit guard insert ready to go and as needed, gather more soap onto your mitt as you work around the vehicle.

washing sudsy car by hand

washing sudsy car by hand

washing sudsy car by hand

washing sudsy car by hand

washing sudsy car by hand

washing sudsy car by hand

washing sudsy car by hand

Step 7:  Switch wand to 40-degree nozzle tip

Remove the foam cannon from the end of the wand and attach the largest spray pattern nozzle that comes with your pressure washer.   Power rinse the entire vehicle to remove all the dirt you’ve loosened with the foam from the foam cannon and agitation with the wash mitt.

adding an attachment to power washer nozzle

rinsing car with water

rinsing car with water

rinsing car with water

rinsing car with water

Here’s our Ferrari thoroughly washed and rinsed using the Prep Wash style with a foam cannon.

clean rinsed car

Step 8: Remove any standing rinse water with drying towels

Using your favorite drying towel, remove any standing water off the vehicle starting at the top and working your way down and around the vehicle.

drying car with microfiber towel

drying car with microfiber towel

drying car with microfiber towel

drying car with microfiber towel

drying car with microfiber towel

drying car with microfiber towel

Done!

This Ferrari is now ready for paint correction and detailing.

dry clean car

Summary

A foam cannon is a fun way to maintain a vehicle in factory-new condition or to prepare a neglected vehicle for paint correction and detailing.  The thick foam created by a foam cannon not only provides longer dwell time for the cleaning agents to loosen and remove any dirt build-up on your vehicle, but the foam also provides extra lubrication to make washing a finish in pristine condition safer by reducing the potential for wash-induced swirls and scratches.

 

When it comes to doing a Prep Wash for neglected vehicles, the foam cannon and the pressure washer enable you to get the vehicle cleaner than a normal water hose and bucket wash and a super clean wash job is the foundation for a professional quality detail job.

 

Besides these important aspects, a foam cannon simply makes washing any vehicle more fun and enjoyable.  If you have kids, they will love helping you to wash the family cars because everyone loves suds and bubbles when it comes to washing cars.

 

Mike Phillips

mike.phillips@3dproducts.com

772-310-9712