Snow foaming your car not only looks cool, but is very important if you want to wash your car safely and dramatically reduce the risk of scratches and swirls. But there are some rules and tips you should know.
In this article, I will explain everything you could possibly know about snow foam and how to use it to get the best results. So let's get started.
What is snow foam?
Snow foam is used to pre-wash the car beforehand to remove as much dirt and grime as possible and minimize the risk of scratches when using the glove afterwards. The snow foam is applied to the car using a pressure washer, left for a few minutes and then rinsed off thoroughly.
Introduction to Snow Foam
Dirt is abrasive to your car's clear coat and every time it drags along the surface it has the potential to cause scratches and swirl marks. So to reduce this friction, you can pre-wash the car using snow foam.
Snow foams remove as much dirt as possible before you actually touch the paint using your wash mitt (contact wash). So when you do contact washing, there is less risk of dragging dirt along the paint and damaging a clean coating.
The thickness of the foam and the amount of dirt the snow foam removes depends largely on the product you use. Later in the article, I'll talk about my favorite snow foam and why it's so effective.
What you will need to make snow foam a car
To properly create snow foam in your car, you will need the following equipment:
- Snow foam cannon or lance
- Snow foam
- Pressure washer
If you don't have a pressure washer, it's still possible to foam your car with snow, but you'll need a cannon that attaches directly to the hose. If you don't use a pressure washer, this lather definitely won't be as thick.
Alternatively, you can use a foam pump sprayer to apply the snow foam, but this will be more time consuming. However, if you have a high-quality pump spray bottle, the foam can be really thick.
How to use snow foam
Here's how to use snow foam on your car.
- Fill the snow foam cannon with the ratio of snow foam to water as specified by the manufacturer (usually between 19:1 to 4:1 water to foam ratio).
- Attach the cannon to the pressure washer lance and turn on the pressure washer.
- Cover the car from top to bottom with snow foam.
- Allow the snow foam to remain for the specified contact time (usually 4-10 minutes) but do not allow it to dry.
- Rinse off the snow foam thoroughly with a pressure washer.
Do you need to wash afterwards?
You should always wash a car after snow foaming to remove remaining dirt and traffic film. Snow foam does not remove all the dirt on the car, so the car should be washed using a microfiber or lambswool wash mitt and car shampoo afterwards.
Snow Foam Variables
There are many variables in the snow foaming process that need to be considered that will affect the results, both in terms of the thickness of the foam and the cleaning power it has. Here's what to consider.
- The kind of snow foam
- Snow foam concentration (ratio to water)
- Residence time
- Type of cannon
Now let's take a look at them in a little more detail.
Types of snow foam
There are of course hundreds if not thousands of different brands that make snow foams and they are all slightly different. But these can be boiled down and divided into two main categories.
There are two main types of foam snow: alkaline and pH neutral. Alkaline snow foams have higher cleaning power but can have some wax stripping effects. While pH neutral snow foams are milder.
Alkaline snow foams are best when the car is dirtier and pH neutral snow foams are more suitable for slightly dirty cars because they retain waxes and sealants longer.
Personally, I use alkaline snow foam because I care more about the foam having good cleaning power than being completely wax safe. I would prefer to remove as much dirt as possible to reduce the risk of swirls and scratches during the contact wash and I need to apply a wax slightly more often.
Alkaline and pH neutral snow foams are similar in thickness. This really depends on the brand of snow foam you use, the concentration and the type of cannon.
What about colored snow foams?
Some snow foamers are designed to produce different colored foams, usually pink. There is no real advantage to using colored foam snow unless you prefer the look. You should also be careful not to let it dry either in your car or on your driveway as it can cause stains.
The amount of time you let the snow foam sit on the car before washing it off is known as dwell time. This affects the cleaning power of the snow foam, therefore, how much dirt remains on the car after washing.
Longer dwell time = more cleaning time but greater risk of drying out
It's really a balance. You want to let the snow foam have enough time to work, but not too long to dry (potentially causing soap stains).
You should always follow the instructions as specified by the manufacturer because all snow foams require different residence times and can vary quite significantly.
The specified contact time is usually given as a range. For example, many snow foamers recommend a dwell time between 4-10 minutes. The warmer the weather, the shorter the dwell time should be.
Snow foam should never be allowed to dry on the car, so wash the car after a shorter period if necessary and do not use snow foams in direct sunlight or when the panels are hot.
Concentration of snow foam
It is important to use the correct concentration of snow foam in the cannon to get the most out of the prewash process without wasting foam.
Almost all snow foam needs to be diluted with water in the cannon. Many manufacturers will give you the ratio to water to put in your cannon. But others make it a little more complicated.
Some manufacturers will specify the crash ratio of the table to be applied to the car. This is where things get a little confusing.
The panel impact ratio is often given as a percentage (usually between 1-5%). This is not referring to the amount of snow foam you put in the cannon, but the amount of snow foam that actually hits the car as it goes through the cannon.
To calculate the amount of snow foam to put in the cannon, you must first calculate the output of the cannon.
Fortunately it's quite easy to do. I created this very short video on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel to show how to calculate your Panel Impact Ratio (PIR). This is also sometimes called the final dilution ratio (FDR).
If you don't want to watch the video explanation, here are the basics.
Calculation of the impact ratio of the panel of a snow foam
- Fill the snow foam cannon with water.
- Dispense the cannon filled with water into a bucket.
- Measure how much water was dispensed.
- Calculate the desired PIR by calculating the percentage of water dispensed in step 3.
If you're having trouble working this out, then here's a link to a Google Sheets calculator I made so you can plug in the numbers and the formulas will determine how much water and snow foam to add to your cannon.
It works for both mL and oz, just make sure you use the same unit throughout.
PIR calculatorin Google Sheets
Type of cannon
There are also several types of snow foam cannons (aka foam lances). Here's how they all differ:
- Materials: some have brass/metal parts that are more durable than plastic parts.
- Customizability: some cannons allow you to control foam thickness and spray pattern.
- Compatibility: different cannons have different parts that can be changed for use in different pressure washers.
- Shape: some bottles have a uniform diameter and others are wider at the bottom to make them less likely to tip over.
- Price: Inexpensive snow foam cannons start at around $15 and can go up to more than $100.
Do you rinse first?
There's a bit of a debate in the detailing world about whether you should wash a car before the snow melts or just after. Here is my take on it.
It is important to lather a car with snow after first washing it with a pressure washer in two cases:
- If the car has a lot of dirt or slush that can easily be washed off with a pressure washer to make sure the snow foam has a thinner layer of dirt to lift.
- If it's a hot day, it's a good idea to rinse first because it cools the panels and stops the snow foam from drying as quickly.
Otherwise, you can simply apply the snow foam to a dry vehicle. This allows it to work more efficiently because it is not diluted by the water already in the panels.
It becomes a thicker foam
Everyone wants thicker snow foam. There's no denying that it looks cool, even if it makes the neighbors think you look a little crazy. But sometimes that super thick lather can be hard to achieve.
The thickness of the snow foam depends mainly on the cannon you use and the composition of the snow foam. More expensive cannons tend to produce thicker foam. And some foam snow products are just fluffier and thicker than others.
If you want the easiest way to get thicker foam then upgrade to a PA foam cannon and use a higher concentration of snow foam.
Looking for thicker snow foam? Check out mine8 top tips for thicker and better quality snow foam.
But remember, that the thickness of the snow foam is not everything. I would rather have a thinner snow foam that has great cleaning power and removes plenty of dirt, than an extremely thick layer of foam that has no cleaning power at all.
Sure, it looks cool, but it's actually not the thickness of the foam that makes the washing process safer, but the ability to remove film and dirt. So don't fall for this illusion that thicker lather = better prewash.
Snow foam without a pressure washer
If you don't have a pressure washer then it can be difficult to lather your car effectively, but there are still a few things you can actually try.
- Use a snow foam cannon that connects directly to your garden hose.
- Use a foam pump sprayer to cover the car manually.
Both are very good methods, but it can be difficult to get a thick lather of snow when using a garden hose, as the pressure is much weaker than with a jet washer.
Using a foam pump sprayer is a good option to get a thicker foam without using a pressure washer, however it can be time consuming to coat the entire car by hand and will require more snow foam product.
Disadvantages of foam snow
So the snow foam is very good. It makes the washing process much safer by removing a lot of dirt before contact washing so you really minimize the risk of damaging the clear layer. But there are some disadvantages and limitations of snow foam that you should be aware of.
You still have to wash the car
It is very difficult to do a completely intact car wash and get it completely clean. Although snow foam removes the vast majority of the traffic film (if you buy high cleaning power snow foam), it does not remove everything and you will need to wash the car with a wash mitt afterwards.
If you don't wash the car afterwards with a mitt, when you come to dry it off, you'll end up swirling and scraping the paint with the drying towel. And if you don't dry the car, then you will be left with water spots.
It's not necessarily a disadvantage of foaming snow, but just a limitation to keep in mind.
It adds time to the washing process
Pre-washing the car with snow foam can add a lot of time to the washing process. In fact, when I wash my car, rinsing and lathering the snow probably takes as much time as the actual contact wash.
However, it makes the process much safer and minimizes the risk of scratching. So to me, it's worth the extra 15 minutes to lather the car. But it's often the reason you'll see manual car wash stations skip this step, because it's not an efficient use of their time.
If your car is very lightly covered in dust and this can be effectively removed with the rinsing step, then you may be able to get away with skipping the suds and saving some time.
But personally, I always lather the car, whether it looks really dirty or not, because it takes a lot longer to remove the swirl marks then lather the car.
It will dry out in warm weather
The biggest problem people have with snow foam is staining. But this is not due to the product itself, but simply to improper use.
If you let snow foam dry on your car then it can cause soap stains. That's why it's important not to leave it on for too long and always rinse it off thoroughly.
This becomes more difficult in hot weather. So be careful when the snow is blowing up in warmer climates. Always park your car in the shade and wait until early morning or evening when it is cooler outside. Also, always check to see that the panels are cool beforehand.
The best snow foam
So this is probably one of the most popular questions in the detailing world, and there are many opinions.
In my opinion, the best snow foam on the market is Bilt Hamber Auto Foam.
I'll start by saying that this is one of the thinnest snow foams I've tried, so if you're looking for super thick foam that sticks to the car for years, then this won't be the best choice for you.
However, what this snow foam does offer is ridiculously good cleaning power. After a few minutes of sitting and a good rinse, it will remove almost all the accumulated traffic film. This makes the washing process much safer and dramatically reduces the risk of swirling.
And that's more important to me than just having thick lather that doesn't actually clean much. It is also very good value for money. I use about 100 mL of the product diluted in 100 mL of water in the cannon. That means it costs about $0.42 per wash. You can also use it at a lower concentration if the car is not that dirty.
Snow foam alternatives
So what if you don't have snow foam and still want to pre-wash your car to remove as much dirt as possible before touch-washing to minimize the risk of scratches?
You have a few options here.
- Remove traffic film
- Use car shampoo instead
- Citrus pre-wash spray
Now let's look at them in a little more detail.
Traffic Film Removers vs Snow Foam
Traffic lane removers (TFRs) are strong alkaline cleaners that have greater cleaning power than snow foams, but are more aggressive. Therefore, they can cause more damage to the paint if allowed to dry and can promote corrosion and rust because they are caustic chemicals.
TFRs can be used to strip waxes and sealants because they are alkaline, but should be used sparingly to protect the paint.
Check out this in-depth comparison of itsnow foam vs. TFRfor more details.
Car shampoo vs Snow Foam
Car shampoo and snow foam are designed to clean and remove dirt and grime from the exterior of the car. However, they are worded differently. Snow foams do not contain lubricants like car shampoos, so when rubbed into the paint with a wash mitt, they increase the risk of scratches.
Snow suds are designed to dissolve dirt and grime so they can be washed off more easily or soften so they can be removed using a wash mitt during contact washing. Car shampoos are designed to clean and lubricate the paint to help the wash mitt glide over the paint more easily and reduce the risk of scratches.
You can use a car shampoo in a snow foam cannon, but it will be difficult to get the right level of foam thickness and cleaning power, as they are not designed to be used as a pre-wash.
Using snow foam in place of a car shampoo is more dangerous because snow foams do not sufficiently lubricate the paint like shampoos, thus increasing the risk of causing clear scratches and swirls in the coat.
Citrus Pre-Wash vs. Snow Foam
Citrus prewash products are often available in spray forms or used through a pressure washer in a cannon. They are alkaline chemicals that dissolve dirt and road grime so they can be easily washed off, making contact washing safer and less likely to cause scratches.
Citrus prewashes and snow foams are intended to remove as much dirt and grime as possible before contact washing to minimize the risk of damaging the clear coat. However, citrus products are more alkaline, so they often have higher cleaning power, but more potential for stripping waxes and sealants.
If you are dealing with a particularly dirty car, it may be helpful to pre-wash the lower panels (the dirtiest areas) using a citrus pre-wash, rinse and then snow lather the entire car. This helps deal with road grime, but without risking removing the wax in the cleaner areas of the car.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about snow foaming your car to get the best results.
How to use a Karcher Snow Foam Cannon?
Karcher snow foam cannons are simple to use and have only one control to adjust the thickness of the foam. Here's a quick video on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel to show how to use a Karcher foam cannon.
Can I use snow foam on a soft top convertible?
Most snow foams are safe to use on soft top convertible roofs as long as they are not allowed to dry out. Care should be taken with alkaline snow foams as they can stain if left on for too long.
Can I use snow foam on a ceramic coating?
Snow foam is safe to use on ceramic tile. It will help you remove as much dirt and grime as possible from the vehicle before using a wash mitt and minimize the chance of scratching during the wash process.
Can I use snow foam on a vinyl wrapped car?
Snow foam is safe to use on vinyl wrapped cars as long as it is not allowed to dry or remain on the car longer than specified by the manufacturer. The snow foam helps remove the motion film from the car before contact with the glove to prevent scratches during the wash process.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this article. Check out the rest of the site to learn everything you need to know about car details.
- How to make your tires look brand new
- How to properly prepare your car for waxing
We always recommend spraying snow foam onto a wet car. This way you can get most of the top layer of dirt off the car before the foaming starts. So fire up the pressure washer and give your motor a quick rinsing down.How long do you leave snow foam on your car? ›
Spray the Snow Foam directly on to the vehicle without pre-rinsing it – Snow Foam works best when used on a dry surface. Spray it all over the vehicle bodywork and allow it to dwell for about 3-4 minutes – you will see the foam start to change colour as the dirt is lifted away from the surface of the paintwork.Do you rinse after snow foam? ›
Unlike a car shampoo, snow foam doesn't contain any lubricant to help cloths glide over your car's surface, so wiping it off can cause scratches on your paintwork. Always rinse off your snow foam with a hose or a pressure washer.Do you mix snow foam with water? ›
Perhaps the most critical aspect of a snow foam is the dilution ratio. Whether it's coloured snow foam or not, you don't want to make the mistake of using an overly concentrated mixture. Most professionals will advise you to mix snow foam and water in a 1:10 ratio.Can you spray snow foam without a pressure washer? ›
So, can you use snow foam without a pressure washer? Typically, snow foam is applied with a pressure washer, but other tools can also be used in absence of a pressure washer. A handheld foaming pump sprayer or a foam cannon attached to a garden hose will achieve a similar effect.Should you clean wheels before snow foam? ›
But we all love playing with Snowfoam! Pre washing is a must to help keep the infliction of swirl marks, scratches and abrasions to an absolute minimum. The key is to remove as much dirt as you can before actually touching the car.Do you sponge after snow foam? ›
Snow foam needs to be sprayed onto your car and left to settle on its paintwork. You shouldn't try and wipe off snow foam with a cloth or wash mitt as it doesn't have any ingredients to help it slide over the car's paintwork, which can lead to swirls or scratches.What do you use after snow foam? ›
The formula in snow foam will immediately encapsulate small particles of dirt so the contaminants will simply run off the vehicle. But don't forget that snow foam is only a pre-cleaner. You will still need to wash your vehicle with water and car shampoo after rinsing off the snow foam.How much snow foam do you use per wash? ›
For cars that are extra dirty, try a shampoo like Zip Wax Car Wash & Wax. Step 6: Take your wash bucket, and mix in 10 ml to 25 ml of Snow Foam per litre of water, adding a strong stream of water to help mix the product.How does foam car wash work? ›
A foam cannon is a piece of car washing equipment that mixes the perfect amount of car wash soap, water, and air to generate thick suds, then shoot them all over your car using the power of a pressure washer. Pressure washers are awesome.