Snow foams and traffic film removers (TFRs) are often confused with one another, however they are two quite different products with different advantages and purposes.
You’re probably looking at TFRs and snow foams as an effective way to remove road film and dirt before touching the car to avoid inflicting clear coat damage.
So in this article I’ll be comparing snow foams and TFRs in terms of their uses, cleaning power, safety, foaming ability, value for money and ease of application. So let’s get started.
The Quick Answer
Snow foams are milder than traffic film removers (TFRs) so are less likely to cause damage, staining and promote corrosion over time. However, traffic film removers are usually more effective at cleaning, due to their higher pH than snow foams. Both chemicals function to prewash the car.
Snow foams and traffic film removers are both used to remove as much dirt and grime as possible before washing your car with a wash mitt to reduce the risk of scratches and swirls.
What are They For?
Snow foams and traffic film removers (TFRs) are primarily designed to remove as much dirt as possible before touching the car with the wash mitt. This way, less dirt is rubbed into the paintwork during the contact wash, hence, minimising the risk of inflicting swirls and scratches.
Generally, the vehicle is power washed to remove as much visible dirt as possible. The snow foam or TFR mixture is then diluted in a snow foam cannon or applied using a pump sprayer. Next, the snow foam or TFR is applied all over the car and left to dwell for between 2-10 minutes. It’s then power washed off, with the aim of removing as much road film as possible.
Snow Foam Overview
Let’s start with snow foams. These consist of foaming and cleaning agents known as surfactants. These surfactants are designed to break up dirt and road film on the car, making it easier to wash away afterwards.
Many snow foams are pH neutral, which means that they won’t strip away any wax or sealants on your car. This makes them a good option for maintenance washing. Some snow foams are alkaline, however, they usually do a good job of preserving the wax coat as well.
Check out my complete guide to snow foam to learn more.
Traffic Film Remover (TFR) Overview
Traffic film removers are more aggressive, and are what’s known as caustic or corrosive. This means that they should not be left on the surface for longer than a few minutes or you risk accelerating the rusting process, or even staining your car.
They are known for being very powerful cleaning agents and are used to help break up heavy layers of traffic film effectively. This extra cleaning power also means they can strip the wax on your car leaving it unprotected from the elements unless you plan on applying more paint protection.
First, let’s start off by comparing the cleaning power of traffic film removers and snow foams. Typically, snow foams are much milder cleaning agents than traffic film removers.
TFRs are designed to break up heavy layers of grime much more effectively and faster than snow foams which are designed to remove lighter levels of dirt and dust.
Some snow foams are more powerful than others though. Bilt Hamber’s Auto Foam is well known for being a very powerful cleaning agent, out-competing the vast majority of snow foams when comparing cleaning power.
However, generally, if you have a super dirty car, a TFR is generally the better choice as it’s able to cut through the grime more efficiently.
winner: traffic film remover
When I’m talking about safety, I’m really talking about two things.
- How safe the product is on the paint
- How safe the product is on the paint protection e.g. wax, sealant or ceramic coating
Snow foams are a far safer option compared to TFRs. Although they have less cleaning power, they are far less likely to cause staining, corrosion and wax stripping.
TFRs are safe if applied properly (not too concentrated, or for too long). However, the risks are greater in terms of accelerating corrosion, rusting and definitely in terms of removing wax.
If you let a TFR dwell for a couple of minutes, then your paint protection (e.g. wax or sealant) will take a battering and you’ll definitely need to reapply it.
winner: snow foam
This is something that’s important to a lot of people.
Although in my opinion, foaming ability isn’t the most important thing to consider when looking at snow foams and TFRs, most can agree that it looks pretty cool and gives you the impression it’s working more effectively.
I think that foaming ability is less important than cleaning power, because after all, what’s the use in thick foam if it doesn’t actually remove any grime?
Snow foams are far better are producing a thick layer of foam than traffic film removers. This probably won’t come as a huge surprise.
TFRs are much thinner than snow foams, so they won’t cling to the paintwork as well and will slide off it much faster.
winner: snow foams
Value for Money
Generally, snow foams are more expensive than traffic film removers.
Snow foams are more geared towards car owners who are into detailing and willing to spend money on the highest quality products.
Whereas TFRs are more geared towards cleaning lorries, buses, vans and other large vehicles quickly. Hence, the price tends to be a bit lower.
It usually costs around $5-10 for a 5 little bottle or TFR, whereas, for the same amount, snow foam can cost upwards of $15.
winner: traffic film remover
I would argue that snow foams are typically easier to apply than TFRs because they are safer to have on the surface. With TFRs you have to work quickly to avoid it drying and damaging the paintwork, but with snow foams you have a little longer before you need to worry.
With that said, neither snow foams of TFRs should be allowed to dry on the surface. So never use them in direct sunlight.
Otherwise, the application process for both snow foams and TFRs is pretty similar.
- Dilute the product in a snow foam cannon attached to your pressure washer
- Rinse your car
- Apply the snow foam or TFR using a foam cannon or pump sprayer
- Let it dwell for a couple of minutes
- Rinse the product away thoroughly with your pressure washer
winner: snow foams
Here’s a quick overview of the factors we’ve compared.
|Cleaning power||Traffic film remover|
|Foaming ability||Snow foam|
|Value for money||Traffic film remover|
|Ease of Application||Snow foam|
So which is best for you, a traffic film remover, or a snow foam? To help you decide, see what category you fall into.
- If your car isn’t super dirty, and you’re looking to maintain it between waxing or sealing, then you should always go with a snow foam.
- If your car is filthy and you want to strip any old wax ready for applying a new layer of paint protection, then use a TFR.
I would always ere on the side of caution when using a TFR. I very rarely choose a traffic film remover, except for in very specific circumstances.
I sometimes use it to intentionally strip wax ready for paint correction or applying a fresh layer. And sometimes I use it on absolutely filthy cars than haven’t been cleaned all winter.
It’s worth noting that there are a few types of TFR. Some are made by detailing companies who are cautious of the potential damage they can cause and make milder variants, and others are made for industrial vehicles e.g. lorries and buses. So keep this in mind when making your selection.
When in doubt, go for a snow foam. They’re safer to use on the paint and you can rarely go wrong with them.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog to learn more about making your car looks its best.