Do you stay up late at night wondering how your car wash smells? The answer is, probably not.

Should you care how your car wash smells? YES! A recent scent marketing study noted that customers are 100x more likely to remember something they smell. In psychology they call it the Proustian memory effect. Memories of fragrance are shown to be longer lasting and more detailed than memories created by other senses.

car wash marketing - positive memory of car wash smell

Let’s put this into car wash terms.

  • If your customer likes the combination of citrus, floral, fruity car wash products, he or she leaves happy and has a good memory of your car wash. The customer is more likely to RETURN for another wash.
  • If your customer smells the reclaim system during the wash, he or she might leave with a negative impression of your wash. That negative memory may influence your customer to NEVER RETURN to your wash.
  • Do you think you can ignore smells because you have a great light show, beautiful arches and colorful products? Those visual memories are less likely to last than memories of fragrance.


your car wash employees could be affected by the malodors in your car wash

Research has shown the malodors (a polite term for unpleasant, stinky smells) can:

  • Reduce interpersonal interaction,
  • Decrease property values,
  • Increase negative emotions,
  • Can cause stress related ailments,
  • Can impair performance.

Now let’s think about malodors in your car wash. If your reclaim system is running smelly, you know it can smell pretty bad. The problem is that when we are subjected to odors frequently, humans have sensory adaptation, The result is NOSE BLINDNESS. You and your staff probably do not even notice how bad the car wash smells. However, are you and your staff affected by the malodor? How friendly are your staff? Are you and your employees positive, happy people that customers respond well to? Do you think that your employees could be “doing better” at work? Just a thought.

Nose blindness is also something to think about when it comes to your frequent customers. Humans crave novelty. When we experience something “new”, our brain will activate learning. There is an opportunity to “teach” our customers by providing something new and exciting. It’s not just lights and colors. A new fragrance might be interesting enough to register subconsciously in the customer’s mind and prompt more RETURN trips to the wash.

car wash marketing - positive memory of car wash smell

Here’s another fact about scent – 59% of customers will spend more in a store that smells good. It’s probably a matter of time before a pay station dispenses some fragrance. For now, if your wash has a waiting room for customers or retail area, you may want some ambient fragrance like cinnamon, vanilla or orange. Could it lead to bigger tips, more gift cards purchased and more impulse buys? Maybe.

FACT – How your car wash smells can positively or negatively affect the profitability of your wash. Happy customers are returning customers. Paying attention to how your car wash smells is another way you can add to or maintain your competitive edge in the market.

happy customers are RETURN car wash customers


Lori Vertin | Marketing Director, Ver-tech Labs |



Cooper, B. Novelty and the Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good Retrieved January 8, 2020 from

Rahmanan, A. Behind the Science of Scent Marketing: How Smell Changes the Way We Experience Everything From Shopping Malls to Hotels Retrieved January 8, 2020 from

Serras, L. The Science of Scent Marketing Retrieved, January 8, 2020 from

van Nieuwenburg, D., de Groot, J., Smeets, M.  The Subtle Signaling Strength of Smells: A Masked Odor Enhances Interpersonal Trust  Retrieved January 8, 2020 from