If you’re getting into detailing and care about washing your car safely to avoid damaging the paint, then you’ve probably heard of snow foaming. But are they actually necessary, or do they just look cool?
In this article, I’ll go through the advantages of snow foam, and discuss if it’s actually worth the money or not. So let’s get started.
The Quick Answer
The time and cost of snow foaming a car is considered worth it for most detailer and enthusiasts as it helps to prevent scratches and swirls from occurring during the wash process which can be hard to remove. However, it does depend on the snow foam being used as some are more effective than others at cleaning.
What’s the Point in Snow Foam?
First, let’s start by talking about what foam cannons actually do, and how you use them.
The basic idea of a snow foam, is to remove as much dirt as possible from the paint before you touch it using your wash mitt. So why is this important?
Every time you touch your car’s paint, particularly when you’re washing or drying it, you run the risk of damaging it. Any kind of friction can damage it. And every time you wash or dry your car, you’re using friction.
When you wipe a panel of your car with your wash mitt, you are essentially dragging dust, grit and dirt across the surface. This causes micro scratches, or swirls, in the car’s clear coat.
It’s what causes it to look dull over time. You can even see these scratches in bright light.
But don’t panic. Because there are some things you can do to avoid this.
- Use as much lubrication (car shampoo and water) as possible when touching the paint.
- Use a microfiber or lambswool wash mitt, and NEVER USE A SPONGE on the paintwork.
- Ensure the car is completely clean before drying and waxing, and always use soft microfiber towels when touching the paint.
- Remove as much dirt as possible before touching the car.
Snow foaming falls into point #4.
If you remove as much dirt as possible before touching your car with a wash mitt, then there’s less chance of friction occurring and potential clear coat damage.
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Snow foams claim to remove traffic film by using surfactants to help break up the dirt so it can be easily rinsed away with a pressure washer. But does this actually happen in practice?
To put these claims to the test, I tried 2 different snow foams and took before and after photos to evaluate their performance.
The snow foams were:
- Wax Planet 8 Below (diluted 1/15)
- Bilt Hamber Auto Foam (diluted 1/5)
Both these snow foams are very highly regarded, and considered two of the most effective on the market in terms of cleaning ability.
Here’s how I performed the test:
- Rinsed the car, allowed it to air dry and took the “before” photo
- Applied the snow foam at the manufacturers’ recommended concentrations
- Left to dwell on the car for 5 minutes
- Rinsed the remaining foam using a pressure washer
- Allowed the car to air dry and took the “after” photo
The reason for allowing the car to dry, was because it’s much easier to see how dirty a dry car is compared to a wet car!
Check out the photos below to see the effect of each snow foam.
- Both snow foams removed the heavier dirt and traffic film
- A glossier surface was left behind, indicating cleaner paint
- Some water spots and residue remained, this was the case for both snow foams
This shows that snow foam does have the ability to remove traffic film, however it is not 100% effective.
The car will still need to be washed using a wash mitt and car shampoo (contact washing) after snow foaming to completely clean the vehicle. However using a snow foam will remove some traffic film prior to contact washing, which reduces the risk of inflicting scratches during the wash process.
Is it Worth It?
This brings us back to the original question, is snow foaming worth it?
Personally, I care a lot about my car’s finish. I am really conscious about not damaging the paint and inflicting swirl marks. So anything that helps reduce this, is worth it to me.
If you’re not as bothered about potentially inflicting swirls then it’s fine to skip the snow foam step and just use good wash technique throughout the rest of the process.
But ask anyone who cares about their car’s finish, and they’ll probably say that snow foaming (or at least using some other type of pre-wash chemical) is essential.
Snow cannons only cost around $30 and the snow foam will cost you around $0.50-1 per wash. So it’s not a huge investment to make to help wash your paint safely and avoid getting it polished in the future (which is much more expensive).
If you want to see the video version of this debate, then here’s my video on the topic on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.
Not All Snow Foams are Made Equal
There are good and bad snow foams on the market. I chose my two favourites for this test. However, some snow foams will not work as well.
Typically, pH neutral snow foams have less cleaning ability. I prefer alkaline snow foams, such as the ones I chose for this test as they tend to be more aggressive.
There is a common misconception that alkaline snow foams will strip wax. This isn’t the case. They may have a pretty marginal impact on the life of your sealant or wax, however it’s very unlikely to make a noticeable difference, unless you over-concentrate them.
Even if the snow foam did slightly degrade the wax/ sealant, it’s much easier to just top up the protection than it is to remove swirls that may be inflicted if the car isn’t pre-washed properly.
How to Use a Foam Cannon
They’re pretty simple. You just fill them with car shampoo or foam, attach it to your pressure washer, and then switch it on and spray your car with foam.
If the car has a thick layer of mud on it, I use a jet wash on a fan setting to remove as much dirt as possible before snow foaming. I find this to be most effective.
Otherwise, it’s okay to snow foam onto a dry car.
After that, I snow foam the car, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, and rinse it down using the pressure washer again.
Check out this complete guide to using snow foam for all the information you need to get the best results.
You’re in luck if you still have some more questions about using a snow foam cannon.
What is the best snow foam?
I’ve not tried all the snow foams out there so I can’t definitely say which the best snow foam is. However, my favourites are Bilt Hamber Auto Foam, Squid Ink Alkafroth, and Garage Therapy/ ONE: Snow Foam.
Is Snow Foam Bad for Paint?
Snow foam is not bad for the paint, as long as you’re using a product specifically designed to use on a car. The only problem you can run into, is letting it dry on the surface without rinsing it off.
It should be fine if it dries for a few minutes, but you don’t want it on there for hours because some snow foams can be pretty aggressive and you don’t want the chemicals drying on your paint without getting thoroughly rinsed away as it can cause some staining.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of your blog to learn more about making your car look its best.