When it comes to DIY projects, saving time equals saving money, and sometimes sanity as well. Whether it’s skipping an erroneous step during a routine cleaning project, using better tools while building a fence, or just streamlining your workload, completing a task in as little time as possible is always a win.

Dedicated DIY car enthusiasts know this better than anyone, especially when it comes to routine car washes, a task that contrary to common belief is supposed to be tackled every other week. But if the super efficient, scratch-inducing, pH imbalanced automated car wash down the street is out of the question, how does one go about expediting the entire car cleaning process?

Foam parties. They aren't just for wild spring break shenanigans anymore... Photo Credit: Georgia Gwinnett College/Facebook
Foam parties. They aren’t just for wild spring break shenanigans anymore… Photo Credit: Georgia Gwinnett College/Facebook

The advent of the foam cannon and its foam gun sibling have revolutionized the way in which we wash our cars, yet many people still have zero clue as to what these tools are, or how they work.

In the information below, we’ll outline some facts about foam guns and foam cannons, introduce you to their perks and potential pitfalls, explain how each one works, and illustrate what differentiates one from the other. Sound good? Then let the foam party begin.

What’s the Difference Between a Foam Gun and a Foam Cannon?

A Honda Civic Type R gets some foam cannon love at a local high-end car wash. Photo Credit: HondaPro Jason/Facebook
A Honda Civic Type R gets some foam cannon love at a local high-end car wash. Photo Credit: HondaPro Jason/Facebook

Making an investment in a pricey car care tool is just as much about personal preference as it is about purchasing a quality product. But when it comes to foam guns and foam cannons, buying decisions boil down to understanding the differences between the two designs, and what one offers over the other.

Both car cleaning tools are intended to be attached to a water source, with everything from the average garden hose or spray nozzle, to hardcore pressure washers being fair game. By mixing a foam cannon or foam gun approved car wash shampoo with H2O, these useful tools create a thick, foamy lather, that spews-out sudsy goodness at a rapid rate.

But since both designs appear to serve the same function, there remains quite a bit of confusion over what the difference is between the two tools, and if one is indeed better than the other.

Water Delivery Makes the Difference

The primary difference between a foam gun and a foam cannon, is the method in which the water is delivered to the foam container. Foam guns typically utilize a standard garden hose fitting, or in some cases rely upon a converter attachment, whereas a foam cannons rely upon a hose sprayer or a pressure washer for their water supply.

The Benefits of High-Pressure Spray Nozzles

A high pressure spray nozzle equipped foam gun has the ability to provide thicker foam and better coverage. Photo Credit: NAPA Auto Parts Canada/Facebook
A high pressure spray nozzle equipped foam gun has the ability to provide thicker foam and better coverage. Photo Credit: NAPA Auto Parts Canada/Facebook

Naturally, the high-pressure spray nozzle agitates soap at a far more rapid pace, which causes it to perform its coating task more efficiently, while creating a thicker layer of soapy suds. This not only helps reduce swirl marks and coats hard-to-reach areas of the vehicle, but it also applies more pressure to the surface itself when applied, helping the user blast-away standing surface debris.

However, since both a foam cannon and a foam gun are designed to pre-soak a vehicle’s exterior with a thick layer of automotive car shampoo, the underlying science remains the same once that foam hits a surface. As the foam settles, it starts to loosen stubborn contaminants, lifting dirt, debris, road grime, salt, bird droppings, bug splatter, and other forms of filth.

Quick Tip: If you already own a pressure washer, or a high-pressure sprayer hose, it only makes sense to invest in a foam cannon, as it is designed to work in conjunction with higher volumes of water. However, if you only have a standard garden hose, a quality foam gun will still provide an economical cleaning solution, and will still produce ample amounts of soapy suds.

What Types of Foam Guns Are On the Market?

While there are quite a few quality foam guns and foam cannons on the market today, they all tend to feature the same general design. Photo Credit: Style Auto Detailing Ardennes/Facebook
While there are quite a few quality foam guns and foam cannons on the market today, they all tend to feature the same general design. Photo Credit: Style Auto Detailing Ardennes/Facebook

There are two primary types of foam guns on the market: Adjustable and non-adjustable.

Due to their simpler design, and ability to be affixed to any “garden variety” water hose, adjustable foam guns were the first of these two “soap dispensers” to hit the mainstream. As the story goes, it was an American lawncare company by the name of Gilmour, that first offered a foam gun to the masses, the Foamaster Cleaning Sprayer.

Adjustable Foam Guns

An example of an adjustable foam gun. Photo Credit: MATCC/Facebook
An example of an adjustable foam gun. Photo Credit: MATCC/Facebook

Adjustable foam guns have a selector switch, or knob, that controls the water-to-soap ratio within the cannister. Settings typically go from a plain old watery 0 for rinsing, all the way up to a 5 or 6, for a super sudsy experience.

Non-Adjustable Foam Guns

Non-adjustable foam guns may be far from fancy, but they sure are functional. Photo Credit: Euan Tennant/Facebook
Non-adjustable foam guns may be far from fancy, but they still are super functional. Photo Credit: Euan Tennant/Facebook

The non-adjustable foam gun is a simple attach-and-spray product, which can only receive foam adjustments via the amount of car shampoo added to the cannister. While they are indeed non-adjustable in regard to tweaking soap volume on the fly, these kinds of products typically still have a selector switch for water rinsing purposes.

Quick Nerd Note: Did you know that the technology used in automotive foam guns is based upon an insecticide sprayer design? It was not until after Ortho, one of the world’s leading landscaping chemical manufacturers, released its garden hose spray gun and barrel attachment design for pre-mixing landscaping chemicals, that companies like Gilmour began to explore other uses for the technology.

How to Prep a Foam Gun or Foam Cannon for Use

Prepping a foam gun or foam cannon for use is a very simple task, just as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions. Photo Credit: MATCC/Facebook
Prepping a foam gun or foam cannon for use is a very simple task, just as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Photo Credit: MATCC/Facebook

Most foam guns and cannons are fairly identical in their design, setting control options, and purpose in life, and the same can be said for their usage. Here are a few general steps for preparing a foam gun or foam cannon for action, Rambo style!

Step 1: Choose Your Weapon

Fortunately for you, everything you need in the foam cannon or foam gun department is typically included in a complete kit, so the only thing you’ll need is a water source and some car shampoo. Choosing your foam cannon or foam gun really boils down to what you plan on spraying with water-wise, so read reviews, do your research, and fill-out those warranty cards, because plastic parts do occasionally break.

Quick Tip: Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended shampoo-to-water ratios for optimal results, and only use the foam-sprayer in accordance with the instructions. Failure to do so could damage the tool, or worse yet, your automobile.

Step 2: Select a Foaming Car Shampoo

There are numerous foaming car shampoos to consider, but routine cleaning automotive shampoos that are foam gun or cannon compatible tend to work best.

Now as for all of those “foam weapon exclusive” shampoos, the jury is still out in regard to whether or not these products actually produce a superior lather, clean deeper, or are worth the additional dough.

If you have already installed a high-grade ceramic coating, like Armor Shield IX, selecting a pH-balanced maintenance car shampoo is going to be the way to go. However, if your ride has yet to be ceramic coated, or the exterior is ultra filthy, opting for a quality surface prep shampoo will provide the best results.

Step 3: Add Car Shampoo

Most foam guns and cannons allow easy soap measurements, and merely require filling the barrel/cannister with shampoo to a suggested amount, and then adjusting the water-flow rate. Just be sure to follow the foam gun/cannon manufacturer’s instructions, for having the correct ratio of shampoo to water is going to be vital to your success.

Quick Nerd Note: Having too high of a soap-to-water ratio can clog spray nozzles and bottleneck couplers. Thicker foam does not contain a lot of H2O either, and therefore it dries much faster, greatly increasing the risk of water spot formation.

Step 4: Add Water to Foam Gun Barrel/Cannister

Depending upon the kind of foam weapon you have selected, this step may or may not be necessary. That said, some foam guns and cannons do require the pre-mixing of water and shampoo in order to safely “prime” the system.

One thing NOT to do, is to add the soap, then spray water straight into the barrel via a garden hose sprayer. This will create a frothy foam inside the barrel, which in turn, will reduce the quality of the foam being applied to the vehicle.

Quick Tip: Fill one of your washing buckets with clean water, add the recommended amount of car shampoo to the foam gun or cannon’s cannister, then slowly dip it into the water until it’s filled to the level you desire. This will safely mix the shampoo and water without overly agitating it.

Step 5: Attach the Spray Nozzle and Cannister to the Foam Gun

Finally, attach the shampoo cannister to the housing, and affix your water source to the adapter via a quick disconnect or threaded hose coupler. Dial your adjustment knob into its lowest setting (if applicable), and slowly increase foam intensity until the desired level of foam is achieved.

Which is Better – Foam Guns or Foam Cannons?

why foam gun is a better choice for car wash

Most foam guns mirror Gilmour’s revolutionary design, and are typically constructed from plastic materials. Lesser expensive products tend to be almost entirely constructed from plastic, whereas higher-end offerings are oftentimes a brass, stainless steel, and reinforced polymer design, but come with equally strong price points.

If you are looking for something simple and affordable, a non-adjustable foam gun with a selector switch for straight water is the way to go. These kinds of foam guns are easy to use, offer effortless maintenance and disassembly, and don’t require a tremendous amount of car shampoo.

Personally, we prefer adjustable foam guns or all-out pressure washer foam cannons, as they provide the widest array of foam-control options. Just be forewarned that using a higher setting on an adjustable foam gun or cannon will require a crap-ton of car shampoo, so be sure to have an extra jug or two of car wash soap on-hand before testing out more foam-intense settings.

Quick Nerd Note: For those of you who are concerned about the whole “cost per wash” aspect, opting for an adjustable foam gun that’s been set on the lowest foam intensity setting is going to deliver the best value.

Parting Shots

A foam gun has the ability to both drastically increase efficiency levels and get car shampoo in hard-to-reach areas. Photo Credit: Ava Amelia/Facebook
A foam gun has the ability to both drastically increase efficiency levels and get car shampoo in hard-to-reach areas. Photo Credit: Ava Amelia/Facebook

Using a foam gun as a form of pre-washing a car is a fantastic way of getting a base layer of suds applied in a very short period of time. The more aggressive the foam, the more lubrication you’ll produce, further reducing the risk of swirl marks and surface scratches, and other unpleasant car wash encounters.

Just be sure that you purchase a foam gun or foam cannon with solid reviews from a reputable seller, and that it is constructed from materials that can hold up to whatever form of abuse you throw at it. Once that’s settled, and you familiarize yourself with the product’s inner workings, you will find that your foam applicator weapon will invigorate your car wash routine with a plethora of perks.

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