How to start a car wash business



Cynthia Wambui, a graduate, started her car wash business in Nakuru after failing to get into the formal job market. [Standard]

Cynthia Wambui, a graduate, turned to the business after failing to get into the formal job market.

She shares the ins and outs of the business.

Cleaning a car is one of the regular maintenance routines for vehicle owners.

And with more Kenyans owning cars today, thanks to an expanding middle class, the carwash business is becoming a major employer in the country.

One such Kenyan is Cynthia Wambui, a graduate of Business Management and Information from Kabarak University.

Ms Wambui got into the business after failing to get formal employment following her internship at power generating firm KenGen.

The idea of opening a carwash crossed her mind when she learnt of land for lease within Nakuru town where she lives.

She shares with Money Maker her journey and what it takes to run a successful carwash business.

Identify land for lease

Finding a strategic location is crucial. Land within the central business district of a major town like Nakuru can be costly.

“Leasing land costs between Sh7,000 and Sh5,0000 monthly, depending on the location. It has to be convenient for your target customers,” says Wambui.

An ideal location could be next to a nyama choma (roast meat) joint, grill bar, a garage or a bus stop.


You must obtain all requisite licences from the county government. An annual permit for a carwash is about Sh12,000. You also need formal clearance from the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), which is mandatory in urban areas.


A modern carwash requires heavy investment in equipment to ward off competition. This includes a high-pressure machine, a borehole or any other reliable water source, a water pump and a storage tank.

You can start with a second-hand carwash machine if you do not have enough funds for a new one. Invest in a good water pump, preferably a diesel-powered one because diesel is cheaper than petrol.

The capacity of your water tank should be determined by the availability of water in your area. It could be between 1,000 litres and 10,000 litres. You also need appropriate brushes, squeezes, towels, buckets and detergents. For value-added services, such as cleaning carpets and floor mats, you need a vacuum cleaner.


Time is of the essence for a successful carwash business. Clients do not want to queue for hours waiting for their turn. This calls for the right staffing to maximise the number of cars they handle in a day. 

Your staffing needs depend on how busy the business is, with the average time of washing one car being between 10 and 15 minutes. 

“You need people who can clean a car thoroughly to satisfy the customer in the shortest time possible,” advises Wambui.

Among the key challenges of running a carwash business is the lack of skilled labour and wear and tear of equipment.

Most car wash attendants are casual labourers and employee loyalty is hard to come by. And being a commission-based job, it requires a good tracking system to ensure employees are paid according to the work they put in.

“It’s hard to know the exact number of cars an employee has washed, especially if one does not have a CCTV camera. It requires one to be physically present most of the time,” says Wambui.

She further noted that water pumps wear out fast, and they are quite expensive to replace.  

Types of car washes

Full-service car washes

This is a type of carwash where attendants clean the car by hand and offer vacuuming services for the interior of the car.

Exterior conveyor car wash system

Here, a car is moved through an automated conveyor through a tunnel. There are a few of these in Kenya. Washing a single car requires approximately 50-300 litres of water.

Cleaning services

Vacuum cleaning

Dusty surfaces underneath and on the vehicle may not be controlled by hydro cleaning. Pressured vacuuming eliminates dust in hidden edges. Other cleaning services include tyre shining, dashboard and seat spray, roof cleaning and engine wash.


This involves eliminating outside scratches and dents to help preserve the body.


This gives the car a shiny appearance after cleaning.