Soft Washing Contaminant Removal Without The Damage

Soft Washing Contaminant Removal Without The Damage

By Diane Calabrese / Published March 2024

Soft Washing Stock Image

Better for the environment. Better for the substrate. Better for the contractor.

Better at doing the most with the least (e.g., water, fuel).

The praise for soft washing comes from many directions. Does that mean it’s all upsides and no downsides?

No, of course not. There are potential pitfalls in any method. Most of them derive from failing to adhere to the protocols of the method, not due to the method itself.

With the help of some experts in soft washing—from both the manufacturer and the contractor perspectives— let’s try to identify the strengths of soft washing as well as any cautions attached to its application. For a consistent framework, let’s agree to use the term power washing as an umbrella for two approaches: pressure washing and soft washing.

Some jobs require more than a soft touch with a chemical to remove soiling. They virtually demand pressure.

“Jobs that require or clean better with a high-pressure rinsing, such as animal processing, gum removal, and industrial or construction equipment, are not appropriate targets for soft washing,” explains Linda Chambers, brand and sales manager at GCE/Soap Warehouse Brand in Norcross GA. But for every project that is not a good match, there are many more that are.

“Roof washing is the most popular application for soft washing,” says Chambers. And she gives us a significant reason why: Gloeocapsa magma.

G. magma belongs to the cyanobacteria group. It can photosynthesize and use the energy it produces to grow and multiply. Being green and often appearing filamentous, G. magma resembles an alga.

Eradicating G. magma, explains Chambers, requires an application of bleach and long dwell times. “Soft washing allows direct application of the bleach along with a thicker surfactant package and higher volume of water to be applied for a proper rinsing. The normal 20 percent chemical injectors cannot supply a high enough percentage of bleach to do the job, but the lower pressure, higher gpm water flow of a soft wash system is the most effective method.”

Roofs may be high on the list of substrates that are a good match for soft washing. But “any surface that requires delicate application, like solar panels, is a great candidate,” says Chambers. She also cites vinyl siding and “delicate surfaces like rubber flat roofs, stucco, tennis courts, and wood or Tyvek decking.”

The innovation that has rapidly occurred in the soft washing sphere opens many opportunities for contractors. “Chemicals with added thickeners or foaming capabilities are much more effective than normal house wash mixes that run off too quickly, needing multiple applications of bleach mix to dwell long enough to work,” says Chambers. “Also injectors, foaming guns, or guns that generate foam with the chemical mix are ideal to be used for soft washing.”

Moreover, a contractor can choose how much soft washing will fit into his or her business model. Chambers explains that with the addition of a few less-expensive accessories, it’s possible for a contractor to do some soft washing.

“Things like an X-jet, foam cannon, and high-volume shooter tips can be used to lower the psi and increase water flow to the maximum their machine can allow to do a satisfactory job,” says Chambers. “But if you want to make soft washing your main cleaning method, then you should invest in dedicated soft wash equipment.”


Soft washing has become such a trusted method for achieving desired results that it may be mandated. Just as homeowners’ associations (HOAs) prescribe other kinds of maintenance from painting to lawn care, they may dictate the kind of structural cleaning they expect.

“There are areas where it is required by the HOA,” says Pete Gustin, Comet/HPP product manager North America at Valley Industries in Paynesville, MN. “Specifically, coastal areas in the South are concerned about property values.”

There are many fascinating angles to the way soft washing fits into communities, says Gustin. “The unique thing about soft washing is it brings people together from many walks of life.”

And Gustin tells us about some of those walks. “Of course, there is the professional cleaner who learned about it through industry newsletters, shows, and equipment suppliers,” he explains. “But there are hosts of other avenues bringing people to the soft wash business.”

When a contract cleaner surveils the ever-bigger embrace of the soft washing method, one thing becomes apparent. “Cleaning professionals can either capitalize on the demand or give up some of their accounts to other contract applications,” says Gustin.

Contractors should be offering the widest possible array of soft washing services, explains Gustin. Other types of businesses may already be competing with them in their region.

“Real estate professionals, for example, go out for quotes to prepare a home for resale and realize how much money there is to be made,” explains Gustin. “Landscapers and pest control companies do very similar work and become interested in capitalizing on their existing relationships.”

Indeed, soft washing may be thought of as an aspect of pest control, says Gustin. “And let’s not forget the roofers who install shingles that might come with instructions to clean them with bleach every six months or so.”

The list continues. “Window cleaners, deck surfacers, painters, you name it, and there are a whole host of professionals being brought into the soft wash industry,” says Gustin.


Most contract cleaners could make more use of soft washing. “A good portion of the industry focuses solely on siding, roof, and flat surface cleaning, while there are many other profitable areas where soft wash can be utilized,” says Scott Myers, product manager at Veloci Performance Products in Burnsville, MN.

To realize the most expansive view of the utility of soft washing, Myers suggests a focus on one important attribute of soft washing. That is its gentle nature.

“When the term ‘soft wash’ is reduced to just ‘gentle cleaning,’ I think then the scope of possibilities is better realized,” explains Myers. “Just a few examples of where gentle cleaning could be applied: historical buildings, monuments, solar farms, cemeteries, and recreational vehicles.”

Just as with any method, though, precision of fit is a must. “Not all the varied services will use the same chemical, and some will require specialized training or a thorough understanding of the cleaning techniques and chemicals required, but the ability to expand into additional profit pools is what will set cleaning contractors apart,” says Myers.

Keep the focus on the method. “If soft wash can be viewed as a technique rather than for its reliance on sodium hypochlorite, then I believe soft wash could be appropriate for almost anything,” says Myers.

Again, innovation allows soft washing contractors to continue to identify and pursue new matches. And invention comes in many forms.

“In addition to high-quality stainless-steel quick couplings, variable degree spray nozzles and remote-controlled bypass systems for down streaming have both been welcome additions to the industry,” says Myers. “These products save both time and effort.”


Dumpster pad cleaning, graffiti removal, and a wide array of tough commercial jobs are among the services offered by Cyclone Eco Cleaning LLC in Sacramento, CA, a company co-owned by George Erskin; but soft washing is also in the repertoire.

Optimal approach is always the aim of professional cleaning contractors. That means soft washing complements other offerings.

Soft washing is “a gentle yet effective cleaning method,” says Erskin. “It’s designed for delicate surfaces where high pressure might be harmful, effectively removing contaminants without causing damage.”

Erskin’s company operates in the Golden State, which has the strictest environmental laws in the nation. Cleaning wastewater is part of every job. The company uses a system that filters wastewater to five microns.

“At our company we offer a wide range of exterior cleaning services, suitable for various types of properties,” says Erskin. “Our team is equipped with the best tools and eco-friendly solutions to handle diverse cleaning needs.”

The top priority for any company should be to ensure the method and the tools are a precise match for a job. That’s why soft washing now often finds a place on the roster of companies that do more commercial than residential cleaning.

“Soft washing is best used for surfaces that need a careful touch, such as wood and asphalt,” says Erskin. “Soft washing preserves the appearance and longevity of these materials, making it ideal for wooden decks, shingled roofs, and aged brickwork.”

Erskin explains that he appreciates the “versatility” of soft washing. The philosophy built into his company— and others in our industry— is to offer services that “maximize protection” of property. Achieving the best result possible with the lightest touch (of chemical and pressure) serves that end.


Not everyone in the industry agrees that soft washing is a novel approach. Some see it as more of an approach with a new name.

“There are a lot of contractors that have been in business for 20-plus years, including me, that believe the term soft washing is just a marketing term or brand that was created to differentiate a company from more common terms that have been used over the years,” says Henry Bockman, president of PowerWashCompany.com in Germantown, MD.

“The terms power washing, pressure washing, low pressure cleaning, soft washing, water blasting, and pressure cleaning all use water to clean surfaces,” says Bockman. “Most of these methods also combine cleaning solutions and dwell time.”

Bringing harmony to the terminology of an industry—be it low-pressure water tools, waterjet tools, or electronic devices (a pad vs. a notebook?)—isn’t easy. And it’s a challenge in every sector.

Bockman shares his perspective: “The term power washing includes the use of heat to clean surfaces, which is faster and more efficient than just using water pressure to clean. Using a minimum of eight gpm, hot water temperature depending on the type of surface, professional cleaning solutions, and dwell time is the best method in my opinion, as long as it is done correctly.”

Noting that the industry has changed a lot during the 36 years he has been a member of it, Bockman says the overarching principle is still that developed for a PWNA training program in 1998 (by him, Pete Marentay, Everett Abrams, Tony Szabos, and Doc Reisman). That is to “find the fastest and most efficient process, using the least amount of pressure and the least amount of cleaning solutions, to safely clean a surface.”

Contractors should know their equipment and method, says Bockman. “For example, I’ve washed houses with hot and cold-water equipment, 12-volt pump systems, IPS sprayers, pump-up sprayers, Roofsters [from Sun Brite Supply]—a gas-powered soft wash machine, a downstreamer I created that works with garden hoses from a hose bib or fire hydrant—and once I even used a super soaker squirt gun to get around a noise ordinance.”

Adapting and perfecting configurations is something that fully engages Bockman.

For instance? “I have 120-volt and 20-volt pumps that I use for some equipment that I custom designed to work with X-jets, down-streaming, misting systems, and other uses on special projects,” he explains.

[For another day is a question that Bockman both poses and answers: “Does using 12-volt soft wash equipment limit your capabilities and the types of services you can clean efficiently? Yes.”]

House washing and roof cleaning are the best targets for soft washing because of the capabilities of the equipment, says Bockman. “Even soft wash equipment that provides seven to 12 gpm can have difficulty reaching 35 feet in height without ladders or a lift.”

Bockman recommends not using soft wash to clean wood decks or concrete, to remove ferrous stains, or to perform restoration work. Why? “Those services require the use of acid-based cleaners.” Extreme care must be taken not to inadvertently mix sodium hypochlorite (an alkali) with acid in the process of switching, so as not to cause the release of poisonous gas or an explosion.

The bottom line? “No matter what you call your process, using the highest water volume possible and the right professional grade cleaning solutions is going to be the fastest way to clean,” says Bockman.

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