Everything you need to know about Snow Foam
Snow Foaming is a term people on the fringes of detailing may have heard of but are not 100% sure it means or what it involves. The opposite is true for those hard-core detailing fans, where the snow foaming process is a mandatory step before they even touch the car ( And rightly so if you ask me! )
If you ask a random person on the street what do they think of when you mention the word snow foam, they probably think of something like this.
So let’s go back to basics for the moment and break down what exactly snow foaming is, and let’s discuss why you snow foam a car and how exactly you would go about doing such a thing!
What is Snow Foam?
Snow foaming is a particular way of contactless pre-cleaning before washing the car with a wash mitt or similar. At it’s the most basic level, spraying suds onto your car using a snow foam cannon (Although Snow foam can be applied with a special sprayer, it works best when applied with a snow foam-attachment on a pressure washer)
Snow foam derives its name from the white-coloured foam that covers the surface it is sprayed on. Some snow foams can stay foamy for several minutes.
Snow foam will loosen up the dirt and will remove a lot of the heavy dirt when it is rinsed off. The first mistake many people make when cleaning their car is not to pre-wash. The risk of scratching your paintwork is high, as so much grit and large particles of dirt are sat on the car when you start.
Using Snow Foam at the beginning of the cleaning process helps to break down and remove dirt and grime which accumulates on your cars paintwork over time, making this a great first step to washing an excessively dirty car as you don’t have to make contact with the paint surface with a wash mitt.
Pre-Wash products such as snow foams help break down this dirt even further, resulting in minimal dirt left on the car so it is ready for the wash stage and is safeer to come in contact with the paintwork.
But, isn’t that what car shampoo is for some may ask? No, not really! Remember snow foam is not designed as a washing agent it a pre-wash agent. Snow foam is dedicated to the purpose of being on the car and softening dirt, car shampoo isn’t.
Why Should you Snow Foam a Car?
They say a picture paints a thousand words, right? Well if you want to keep your cars paint from looking like THIS, snow foaming a dirty car before even touching the paint is my #1 recommendation.
Pre-washing or snow foaming 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.
Trying to directly clean a car that is covered in dirt with a Wash Mitt is probably the biggest cause of swirl marks being inflicted on the paintwork. DO NOT take a sponge or wash mitt, straight to a dry, dusty, dirty vehicle.
Dragging any dirt across the surface of your paint is a guaranteed way to inflict micro-scratches and will ultimately affect the finish of the paint and create more work/cost for yourself in the future. A thick layer of snow foam left to dwell, soften surface dirt and rinsed off beforehand washing will make a big difference in the quality of your car wash and make cleaning that bit easier.
Convinced? Thought so! Ok – let’s dig a little more into the details shall we.
Recommended Reading – What is the best pressure washer for detailing?
What are the Different Types of Snow Foam product?
Snow foam comes in a few different varieties. Some claim to ‘cling’ to the paint better than others, some boast advance cleaning power, and others are promoted due to the different colours they are manufactured in.
- Decontaminating Foam
- Cleaning Foam
- Deep cleaning foam.
Decontaminating foam is normal snow foam that contains ingredients to loosen up tar and/or iron fallout. It combines the power to clean with the power to remove certain contaminants that are difficult to remove.
Cleaning foam is the most common snow foam, which is designed to loosen up general dirt and grime. It doesn’t hurt wax, sealants or other protective products.
Deep cleaning foam is a lot stronger than other foams and will remove all contaminants from the surface. It will remove “traffic film”, grime and almost all contaminants (however, it doesn’t always remove tar and/or iron fallout). because it is so strong, it will also remove most wax and sealants and can negatively affect coatings so be careful if you want to keep your protective coating of Wax intact.
Where to buy Snow Foam?
Nearly every detailing store will carry some sort of pre-wash or snow foam product. Here are some examples of snow foam products and pricing. If you are brand new to foaming, you can check out our other blog post on snow foam cannons and snow foam lances. Assuming you have something already to apply snow foam – here are some good product links on Amazon to get you started
How to Use Snow Foam on your car
Everybody has their methods to foam, but a pretty generic step by step guide would go something like this
To see some of the snow foam guns I recommend – you can check them out HERE
Step 1: Application of the Foam
Firstly you ideally need a pressure washer and foam lance for applying the foam, you can check one of the other DriveDetailed posts on Snow Foam Lances and applicators here, you may even be able to come up with a homemade snow foaming solution for applying the foam to your car
You are best off applying the Snow foam to the car whilst it is in a dry state, otherwise, you will find the snow will just slide off the surface of the car and you will end up foaming the floor below you instead!
Step 2: Getting The Snow Foam Mix Right
A common problem is getting the right consistency when applying foam to the car. If it is too diluted it will just slide off the car, therefore it won’t set and help to dissolve any dirt. With different formulas used by different snow foaming brands, it isn’t possible to advise on the correct formula to use.
Some Snow products require 1:10 mixture, others work best with 1:20. The dilution ratio is different with each product. It is recommended to read the label and if in doubt, ask the manufacturer what ratio you need to dilute the product with.
Step 3: Putting it all together
Pour the correct amount of the snow foam solution into the bottle and then top up with water and screw onto the snow foamer. On the foamer itself, there will usually be a knob which you can turn, this will adjust the amount of foam you get when using the sprayer. If you move the knob towards the (+) you will get more water, and if you move towards the (-) you get less water.
When you have less water you will have more foam so you get a stronger snow foam mix applied to the car surface. It’s best to experiment with different mixtures until you get a foam consistency that you are happy with and what is required for the job at hand. A severely dirty car will need a more concentrated application
Step 4: Let it snow, Let it, Snow!
You will want to use sweeping motions moving either up and down or side to side. This will ensure your car gets full and even coverage. If you are using an adjustable lance, using the wide spray means you need fewer passes to cover the car. Be careful using the jet spray setting because this can remove foam you already had set in place.
Now we wait
Let the Foam sit for about 10-15 minutes at least to let it do its job. If you try to wash it off too quickly, chances are it will not have had a chance to loosen any of the dirt on the surface of the car. The longer you leave the foam in place the more dirt it can pull away from the surface of your car.
The condition of the car will determine how long you want to leave the foam sit, because dirtier cars may require longer sitting time. If your car does not come away as clean as you expected, you can always apply a second layer.
Once you are happy with the final result, you can then proceed to rinse off the car fully and get ready for the wash stage now that it is safeer to come in contact with the paint using a mitt.
Some Additional Foamy Bits and Pieces :
- When buying a Foam, you don’t necessarily have to look for a snow foam that is Acidic in Nature, a PH Neutral product could easily be as an effective as an Acidic one. This is a very common misconception.
- Some people believe that unless a foam is very thick, it isn’t very effective. This is not true at all, I have seen foams that have very little thickness work just as well, if not better in some cases than the massively thick and sudsy foams. More foam often just means that it contains more surfactants ( the stuff that makes it foam up ). Don’t forget that the volume of the foam is parts of the product that are not touching the paintwork. The only part of the foam that is actively doing a job, is the part of the foam that touches the surface of the car.
- The time a product dwells does not always indicate how effective it is. Some products need much less dwell time. A certain snow foam might need 5 minutes, others might need 10 minutes or even 2 minutes to do its job. Read the label of the specific product you are using and it will give you a guideline to judge the time needed.
- Some Snow Foams can be very aggressive in their cleaning, even start to remove protective layers you may have previously applied to your paintwork. Some specific snow foams will straight up strip or damage the layers of wax, and in some cases even a sealant. It is recommended to read the label to see how wax safe the snow foam you are using is. ( Dilution ratios also make a difference )
- Snow foam can also be applied via a pump sprayer or even certain spray bottles . You can learn more about this in our post about Foam Lances and Foam Cannons.
Hopefully i have given a clear overview of what exactly snow foam is, and how to integrate foaming into your detailing routine. I would be interested to hear your thoughts and some of your tips and tricks in the comments. If there is anything you feel I have not covered above or any of the information provided is inaccurate , please feel free to reach out to me. While you are here, please check out some of the other articles on DriveDetailed, and submit any ideas for posts you think would be valuable to the site.
Until Then ,
About the Author – Darren O Hara
Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out out new products.
Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.
You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork