Car wash companies expand in Anchorage amid national boom  

Two cars side by side getting a touchless car wash.
Cars inside of the Alaska Laser Wash on Lake Otis on May 1st, 2024 (Photo by James Oh / Alaska Public Media)

Sudzy Salmon in South Anchorage had been open for just over an hour on a recent morning and they had already washed about 100 cars. 

Chris Michael is the CEO and co-owner of Sudzy, and also owns a car wash distribution company based in Missouri. His company, Express Car Wash Equipment, recently partnered with Sudzy to expand in Anchorage. 

He said this location can wash up to 150 cars an hour, and it’ll soon be remodeled to accommodate up to 180.

At Sudzy Salmon, a single wash starts at $15, and unlimited membership options range from $39 to $59 each month. Michael said the average membership holder washes their car once a week.

He said the industry has grown into what he calls, “the Netflix model.” 

“I didn’t know I really wanted to watch that many documentaries or movies,” he said. “Now that we have new habits, where we might want to binge watch, we also want to binge wash our car.”

It’s the company’s first location in Anchorage, but they have four others in Eagle River and the Mat-Su Valley. They’re also building a second car wash in Midtown Anchorage. He said they’re expanding to the Anchorage area because there are not enough car washes to meet demand in the city.

Michael thinks the demand is growing because it’s an affordable luxury. 

“The human being wants an easy button to keep clean. We want a magic wand to have our clothes clean to have our dishes clean, that’s the same in the car,” said Michael. 

According to Bloomberg, there’s about 60,000 car washes in the country, and some forecasts show that number could double by 2030. The Alaska Department of Labor can’t say for sure if car washes are expanding in Anchorage. But its data shows about 170 people are employed across 18 registered car wash and auto detail companies in the city.

An Anchorage Daily News story last year noted at least three new car wash companies are entering the Anchorage market.

Sudzy Salmon customer Karen Garland lives in Wasilla and makes it a point to wash her car at least once a week. She decided to upgrade her membership a couple months ago.

“I just really like having a clean car,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever washed the car that I own by hand.”

Garland pays $39 a month for a “silver salmon” membership. She has to use it three times a month to make it worth it. She said she especially appreciates the membership this time of year. 

Lisa Laudon doesn’t think it’s just dirt that’s driving people to wash their cars. She said the carwash is busy year round. Just after lunchtime on a recent Thursday, over 20 cars are waiting in line.

Laudon has owned Alaska Laser Wash for almost two decades. The company has six locations in Anchorage. 

“I just drove by and the lines are great. And every time I do that, I say ‘thank you.’”

She thinks the market is booming because cars have gotten nicer. Since opening her first location in 2007, she said major automotive companies like Porsche, Audi and Mercedes have opened dealerships in Anchorage.

“Back in the day, like a million years ago, every car was like a beater on the street,” Laudon said. “You would almost not want to take it into a carwash.”

She said many apartments and condos don’t have the space to wash their cars, which could contribute to the growing demand.

Laudon said running a car wash, especially with multiple locations, isn’t as easy as it looks. She said all washes are run differently, but all require land, mechanical equipment, supplies, and employees. 

“We have to abide by lots of different things, filters, and pits and, you know, capture the dirt, the sand and the grit.”

Laudon isn’t planning on opening more locations anytime soon, but said they’re always looking to grow as she expects demand to continue growing in Anchorage. 

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