Love the satisfaction of taking a dirty, worn-out looking car and transforming it into a sparkling and pristine looking set of wheels?
Then starting a car wash from home may be the perfect side business for you. The best part of this is that you can buy all of the equipment you need to get started (including a pressure washer) for less than $250!
This article will provide a step-by step guide to start you own car wash business, including (i) a detailed equipment list, (ii) how to set up your car wash business, (iii) how to figure out how much to charge, (iv) how to get customers, and (v) a summary of miscellaneous things you need to take care of like insurance, permits, and licenses.
A description of each of the 6 steps is below. You can skip ahead to any one of them by clicking on the appropriate link below (the full equipment list with prices and product links is in Step 3).
- Step 1: Establish Your Home-Based Car Wash Business
- Step 2: Create a Business Plan
- Step 3: Get Your Car Wash Equipment
- Step 4: Market Your Car Wash Services
- Step 5: Learn How to Wash Cars Like a Pro
- Step 6: Get the Right Licenses, Permits and Insurance
It’s a lot to cover so let’s get into it!
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The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not a recommendation to buy or invest, and it is not financial, investment, legal, or tax advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any investment or other decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
Step 1: Establish Your Home-Based Car Wash Business
If you want your home-based car wash to be more than just a glorified hobby, you need to actually set up the business. This includes selecting your name and logo, establishing your website, and setting up your business entity.
Name and Logo
The first thing you want to do is select a name and logo that you like.
Having trouble figuring out a name? Try Shopify’s business name generator. It’s free.
As for a logo, I have zero artistic ability and limited tech skills, so I like a simple and easy to use option.
One solid option is to go on Fiverr and hire someone to create your logo. There are tons of people who do this, and I have seen pricing as low as $5. For that price, you can probably try a bunch of folks and pick the logo that suits you best.
Or you can go with Looka. They are an AI-powered platform that will provide you a professional looking logo at reasonable prices. You can choose from hundreds of logo designs (based on parameters and preferences you select) before settling on one you like. You can also customize to your heart’s content. Check them out here.
Note: You want to make sure your name and logo are original to you and are not going to infringe someone else's intellectual property. If you are unsure, you can check the USPTO's trademark search tool as a starting point.
Set Up Your Car Wash Website (For Free)
When it comes to your website, it does not have to be incredibly fancy or cost a lot of money to set up. There are a lot of resources available to help you with this.
In fact, Google allows you to build your first business website for free.
It is also important to get your new car wash business on Google. You can do this by listing it on Google My Business. This way, people who are searching for car wash services in your area can find you.
If you want to learn more about how to do this, check out this tutorial from Google.
Set Up Your Business Entity
If your business is going to be a corporation, LLC, or some other business entity, you should establish that as well. Setting up a business entity can give you a range of benefits, including liability protection. You can hire a lawyer to help you, or you can use many of the online resources that can help you set up your business entity.
I like Incorporate because they can get you up and running quickly and easily. They also have some great resources to educate on what type of entity to choose and which may be the right state to choose for your new entity. If you want to learn more, check them out below.
You should consult with your accountant and lawyer before taking this step, so you understand the tax and legal consequences of setting up this type of organization for your business.
Step 2: Create a Business Plan
A business plan is essentially a roadmap for your business.
It organizes your thoughts relating to your business into an actionable plan. Some things to include in your business plan are budgeting, identifying your target market and competition, pricing strategy, marketing strategy, and growth projections.
Don’t stress too much about getting it perfect. I would use it more as an organizational tool at this point.
Another benefit of having a business plan is that it can help you raise money from banks and investors (If your business takes off and you want to grow it, you may need to get some financing). These folks will want to see a professional-looking business plan as part of their lending or investing process.
Don’t know how to get started? The Small Business Administration has a great tool to help you write your business plan.
Step 3: Get Your Car Wash Equipment
Alright, this is what you have been waiting for. As you can imagine, getting the right equipment for your home-based car wash business is essential.
If you are going to run this business from home, I am assuming you have access to a garage or at least a carport. This is important because you want to protect the car against the elements and from bird droppings and other debris while you are washing, drying and waxing the car.
I am also assuming you have an electricity source and water source. You'll need both to operate the pressure washer and shopvac.
The Equipment List
So, with that out of the way, let’s get into the equipment list.
The key is to get a good deal on the pressure washer and shopvac, which are the two most expensive items. But you can get both for a combined price of around $125-$135. The rest of the items you should be able to buy for under $100. Which will allow you to start your home-based car wash business for under $250.
Note: I provide price ranges for all of the items below (and a product link for each type of item). The ranges reflect prices I found looking at various retailers, but the actual price for the item in the product link may change from time to time (although it should stay pretty close to the range I provided).
- Pressure washer (this is the most expensive item on the list, but if you hunt around you can find one for around $100).
- Shopvac – this is a dry/wet vacuum and is used to clean interiors, including carpets after shampooing. You can buy an affordable one for between $25-$35.
- Water hose – you need this is to connect the pressure washer to the water source. You can get a 50 foot hose for around $10.
- Microfiber mitts – you use these to cleaning the car after dunking them in a bucket of water with car shampoo. The mitts need to be microfiber to prevent scratching the car's paint. They range between $8-$10 for a pack of two.
- Microfiber towels – these are used to dry the car after you have washed it. Again, needs to be microfiber to prevent scratches. These are around $10 per pack.
- Microfiber waffle weave towels – for drying the larger areas of the car. They run about $10 each.
- Applicator pads – these can be found for under $2.
- Buckets (at least 3). These run for around $2-$3 each.
- Car shampoo (around $6)
- Bug and tar remover (around $5)
- Tire cleaner (approx. $5-$6)
- Glass cleaner (around $3-$4)
- Interior cleaner (around $5)
- Carpet shampoo (about $5)
- Tire shine (also around $5). Don't ignore this one. It's actually necessary – it puts a nice shine on the tires which completes the look of the fully washed car and leaves your customers feeling like they got a professional hand wash.
- Wax (this is also about $5)
- Extension Cord (depends on how long you want it, but you can get a 25 ft. one for about $10)
- Step Ladder (to clean and dry roofs of tall vehicles like SUVs and trucks). You can get one for between $15-$20.
Step 4: Market Your Car Wash Services
When you are just starting your home-based car wash, you may want to hone your skills with family and friends. If you do an excellent job, they will often be willing to give you word of mouth advertising. Continue to do a great job for people and the word will continue to spread.
You can also become a bit more organized around your marketing to grow your business. Some of these options cost a bit of money, so you may want to hold off until you have turned a profit and saved some funds from your business.
For online marketing, you can do the following:
- Set up a Google My Business, so that people looking for car wash services can find you. You want to encourage people to leave good reviews there for you if they like your work. Research has found a strong relationship between the number of online reviews a business and the revenue that it generates.
- Get a great website that draws traffic to your business (you can hire an SEO expert to help you do this)
- Get on Yelp for business and let your customers find you. They are an extremely well-known brand, and many people look there when searching for local businesses. Want to learn more? Check them out below:
- In addition to advertising on Yelp, you can buy online ads from other online and social media outlets (Facebook, etc.)
If you want to go old school, you can also advertise in your local newspapers, circulars, or through direct mail, etc.
Finally, you may want to do some “boots on the ground” marketing. Walk around your neighborhood and leave flyers. Talk to folks and see if they would be willing to give your services a try.
Ultimately, you want to experiment with various marketing strategies – you may be surprised at what works best.
How much should I charge for my home-based car wash services?
You should charge what the market in you area can support. In most cases, that can range between $30-$50 for an exterior hand wash and thorough interior cleaning.
Take a look at what other car wash services in your area are charging (not the machine car washes – the hand wash places). Try to be competitive (or even undercut their prices). You may need to experiment with different pricing to find the sweet spot.
Step 5: Learn How to Wash Cars Like a Pro
If you haven’t washed cars before, you can certainly get some experience by working for a hand car wash to see how the pros in your area do it. If there aren’t any that are hiring, you can teach yourself.
There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on how to wash cars. Just type in a search for “how to wash a car like a pro” and that should get you started.
Step 6: Get the Right Licenses, Permits and Insurance
This step is about getting your legal and risk issues squared away.
First, you should get insurance for your home-based car wash business. You will want to look into the following:
- General liability coverage (protects against third party claims for property damage and injury on your premises)
- Garagekeepers insurance (covers a customer’s vehicle when you are working on it)
- Workers compensation insurance for your employees (unnecessary if you are operating alone)
Now this are not an exhaustive list of insurance coverages you may want and I am not an insurance expert, so you should consult a qualified insurance agent to find out all of the available coverages for your car wash business.
In addition to getting the right insurance coverages, you will need to check with your state and local municipalities to see what type of permits and licenses you need to operate your business. A good place to start is your local county clerk's office. You may also want to check with your state's department of industrial relations to learn more about rules that may apply to your car wash business.
In many cases, you will need to get a general business license (which is usually not too expensive or difficult to obtain), but there may be other more specific permits or licenses required, depending on where you live and the scope of activities you plan to engage in.
For example, you may need a specific license to operate your home-based car wash, depending on the services you provide. And there may be car wash regulations that specify where you can wash cars, where you can discharge water, and what chemicals you can and cannot use. Source.
In particular, you may want to look into water reclamation and whether that applies in your area. Here's a helpful article on the topic if you are interested in learning more.
If you need help navigating all of this, you should hire a qualified lawyer to guide you through the process.
So, there you have it: 6 simple steps to start your car wash business at home for under $250.
If you are interested in exploring how to start a car wash business outside of your home, check out my article on how to start an automatic car wash business for passive income.