Most of you have probably seen someone on Instagram proudly post of a picture of their car clad in a thick layer of foam. Perhaps you’ve wondered why, and if you should be doing the same with your car.
It’s called ‘snow foam’, and it’s not a widely understood part of the car detailing process. With that in mind, we decided to have a go ourselves, and spoke to Lee Newell, director of Dream Detail Ltd, to find out more.
Here’s what you need to know:
A pressure washer isn't the only thing you'll need
A pressure washer is key for any budding foamer, but that won’t be enough on its own: you need a snow foam lance to generate the foam. These consist of a nozzle, a brass ‘body’ and a bottle to hold the solution, and will allow a certain level of adjustablity for the spray pattern and the thickness of the foam. They work by pushing the pressure washer’s water flow through the solution, creating all that lovely foam to be fired at your car. Expect to pay anything from £15 - £40.
Any car shampoo works, but seek out the proper stuff
In a one-litre lance bottle, you’re going to want to add around one - two inches of snow foam liquid, and then fill the remainder with fresh, warm water. A regular car shampoo will still work to some extent, but you’re more likely to get better results with products specifically made for the task.
“A proper snow foam formula will be design to cling to the car and work much better than a shampoo,” Lee explains, adding, “The chemicals need to be strong in order to soften and decompose the oils/bugs/general road grime”. It’s also important to go for a “true PH neutral formula,” he notes, to avoid damaging any parts of the car that are more delicate finishes. Anodised trim can be particularly susceptible to staining if you don’t use the right stuff.
The thickness is a delicate balance
The thickness of the foam layer you apply to the car can be controlled by a number of factors. It can be altered via the dial on the top of the lance, the ratio of snow foam solution to water you use, and simply how long you point the lance at the car.
The layer ‘our’ Hyundai i30 N long-term test car is wearing in the image above is probably too thin, but you don’t want to go too far the other way. “Lay enough on to cover the area but no more,” Lee says, adding, “Any more and you’ll just risk making the foam too heavy and it’ll fall away from the car. It’s a waste of product.”
You may not want to cover the whole car, either. “I only use foams on the lower halves of cars, as this is where the grime builds up. By focusing on the lower portion of the car, you tackle the most difficult bits while keeping away from areas that just don’t warrant lashings of foam,” Lee advises.
It should be considered a pre-wash treatment
Once you have your pressure washer and lance filled with a solution of snow foam formula and water, the next steps are pretty straightforward. You simply spray the car until it’s coated in foam, leave it for five-minutes (not in direct sunlight), then return to rinse it all off with the regular lance back on your pressure washer.
During those five minutes, the foam should lift off the nastiest bits of dirt, taking the grime with it when it’s power-washed off. If you have a decent layer of wax, the car may be clean enough to not warrant any further work, meaning you’ve achieved a ‘contactless wash’.
But snow foam can’t work miracles, and should always be thought of as a pre-wash treatment. You’ll almost certainly have to do a conventional contact wash after applying and hosing off snow foam. Crucially though, much of the abrasive debris that would have been getting stuck between your wash mitt and the paintwork - causing horrible swirl marks - will be gone, meaning that contact wash will be much kinder to your paint work.
This is the biggest benefit of snow foam. It’s not a short-cut to speed up your detailing sessions, rather an extra step to introduce if you really want to look after your ride’s paintwork.
What are you experiences with snow foam? Is it something you use in your detailing regimen? Let us know in the comments.