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Bilt Hamber Bilt-Hamber Laboratories has always used research, innovative chemistry and thorough testing as the way to produce better performing products. Every product released for sale has been extensively compared to and tested for superiority against market leading and specialist competitive formulations. From our clay bars to cavity waxes, etch primers to carnauba waxes and shampoos to rust removers, each Bilt-Hamber formulation has been made from conception to production with the same care.

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Old 16-11-2017, 03:54 PM   #1
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Detailingworld™ Review - Bilt Hamber auto-foam


Some of you may remember several months back a debate I had with the Bilt Hamber representative on here with regards to auto-foam, a snow foam pre-wash. I questioned its cleaning ability and economy, claiming it didn’t clean any better than other foams I have tried and was in fact more expensive per wash than most due to the dilution.

Well after this debate, Richard got in touch with me via email and we chatted away with regards to auto-foam. After a few days of discussion, we both came to the conclusion it would be beneficial to users of auto-foam if I tested the product but using it as designed. As auto-foam isn’t your typical type of foam and goes more in-depth compared to your generic ‘1 inch and top-up with water’ directions, there isn’t that much info on it and how to use it effectively. This gave me a good opportunity to review this product in detail, something I was genuinely excited about due the level of detail required.

I don’t think Bilt Hamber require any introduction on here, they have been on DW for as long as I can remember and are very well respected within the detailing community. I will simply link you to the company’s home page which is found here:

The Product

A few days after agreeing to review auto-foam, a large, heavy box arrived in the post. Upon opening this I was shocked to find not only a huge 5L bottle of auto-foam but 5L of surfex and 1L of korrosol as well. I really was not expecting full size, 5L bottles!

I could review these within one single review but given the detail I want to go into here, it would likely be extremely long winded. Due to this, each product will be reviewed on it's own. So onto auto-foam, it arrived in a 5L plastic jerry can style bottle which was white in colour with contrasting dark blue labelling. The label contained the usual product description, along with all the relevant safety warnings and instructions on using it correctly. Auto-foam is, as you likely already know a snow foam pre-wash. The liquid was a vivid green colour and there was no fruity or sweet scents added to this snow foam. To me it was simply a detergent/chemical based scent which was neither pleasing or displeasing to the nose.

Bilt Hamber describes auto-foam as the following on the website:

“There is absolutely no point in using expensive waxes and sealants striving to achieve a perfect finish if you don’t get the basics right at the outset. Most swirls and paint imperfections have to be addressed later on in the process because of poor detailing preparation and the effects of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) on paint (such as 'own goal' damage from grit and grime) having to be removed. However careful we all might strive to be, sometimes we make mistakes and damage happens. So it makes sense to be as methodical and as careful as we can be, from the very first stages of the cleaning process, not just at the end.
auto-foam is the result of extensive in-house research and development. auto-foam will reduce even further the possibility of damage to paintwork by presenting you with beautifully clear FOD free paint, ready for subsequent detailing.
auto-foam is a new generation premium quality, foaming water-based pre wash treatment, designed to soak and saturate soiled vehicle paintwork prior to the application of vehicle shampoo and paint food. auto-foam is gentle too and is for use with all pressure washer foam lances. Applied at a typical PIR (Panel Impact Ratio) of 4%, auto-foam will panel dwell for typically 5 minutes. auto-foam is formulated specifically to offer maximum wetting, it rinses easily too. It is not designed as a superficial high foam product but as a functional material.
auto-foam is made with biodegradable compounds, is extraordinarily tough on soil and grime, yet harmless to paint, its non-caustic formulation ensures that even regular use will not attack paint binders. Our hard working surfactants will attack and penetrate the hardest of road dirt and grime, without the need for manual intervention.
During the panel dwell period, auto-foam’s bubbles will systematically burst and move, encouraging our soaking and cleansing agents to start working. The effects of road grime are neutralised by them, by being bonded within our blend of surfactants, and then lifted from painted surfaces and physically removed, minimising harm caused by swirling and marking during subsequent detailing.
When its work has been done, auto-foam may be washed off in a conventional manner, leaving a well presented automotive surface, perfectly ready for further treatments.
For excessively soiled surfaces, simply increase PIR and/or number of applications.”

A very thorough description of the product but this in itself leads to further questions with regards to PIR (panel impact ratio) and how to correctly calculate this which I will be covering later on.

The Method

I have broken this method section up into 3 different sub headings. These will be the black box test to show comparative cleaning ability, application through a snow foam lance and application method via a pump sprayer as a pre-wash . Of the two application methods for auto-foam, via a snow foam lance is the more complicated of the two, the reason for this I will explain later.

The Black Box Test

This first test is a simple one to gauge cleaning ability and is something Richard suggested during our conversations. It will show just how effective the surfactants in each product are at breaking down dirt. It consists of mixing auto-foam up at the 4% PIR stated in the instructions and allowing it to run down a dirty panel. Swab tests would be taken after to evaluate how much dirt was removed. This test would consist of 3 different products, auto-foam, surfex and a snow foam I particularly like (which shall remain un-named for the basis of this review). Surfex was included as Richard mentioned it being a capable pre-wash product as well as an APC. These would be mixed at the stated manufactures ratio's within 100ml of water.

As both auto-foam and surfex have a 4% PIR, this was a simple calculation. I mixed 4ml of product with 96ml of water for a total 100ml solution for both which gave me the 4% required. The same 100ml solution was also mixed up for the mystery snow foam (with a different % to water as per the products instructions which vary to Bilt Hamber).

My Abarth would be the test bed and as it hadn't been washed for several weeks, she was wearing a substantial layer of dirt/road grime for each product to attempt to budge. The 3 solutions were poured down my drivers side door and allowed to absorb into the dirt for 2 minutes.

The door was then pressure washer rinsed top to bottom for 2 passes, ensuring the lance was kept at the same distance from the panel through-out.

First up is the section of door treated with the mystery snow foam.

A very faint area of reduced dirt shows where the product has been applied.

The second solution applied was auto-foam and visibly you can see a clear difference in the reduction of dirt on the panel. The area of application is far more visible in comparison.

The results on the final surfex area was much the same, the removal of dirt was far more visible to see compared to the mystery foam.

It would appear that both BH products are far more effective at cleaning in comparison to my preferred snow foam when it comes to pre-washing the car. The results really weren't what I was expecting and the make up pad swab only further hit home just how much more effective each are in comparison as you will see below. The stand out was the auto-foam pad though which showed the least amount of dirt remaining.

As a snow foam

This is where things can get a little confusing when it comes to using auto-foam but hopefully I can help simplify it. We know the PIR (panel impact ratio) as advised by BH is 4% of product to water hitting the car. When used as a snow foam this is not to be confused for the dilution within your 1L foam bottle. This is a very common mistake as people fail to take into account the further dilution of the solution, as it is mixed with water when exiting the foam lance nozzle. By not considering this your greeted with a thin, extremely over-diluted foam which won't perform as well as it can.

So what do we need to do?

1. Fill your snow foam bottle with exactly 1L of water. Measure this as it must be exact.

2. Connect your foam lance up and make sure the foam nozzle is turned to full foam output (Usually all the way to -).

3. Grab a large container, I used my 20L wash bucket and spray the foam lance into the bucket until the 1L bottle is empty. Add a little food dye to the water within the bottle if your struggling to see the water level.

4. Measure the total amount of water contained within the bucket. I done this by scooping the water out in my measuring beakers.

5. Once you have your total volume (mines is 12.76L), simply multiply this figure by 0.04. This tells you how much auto-foam needs to be used to achieve the 4% PIR.

By doing the above calculation I ended up with a figure of 510ml. I need to use 510ml of auto-foam to 490ml water in my 1L snow foam bottle to achieve the 4% PIR. 510ml of auto-foam was added to the foam bottle using my measuring beakers for an exact measurement.

This step must not be skipped. The figure I got will be completely different to what you will get dependant on your set up.

This was then topped up with 490ml of water, again measured using my beakers.

A damp make up pad was used to swab the side skirt on the opposite side of the car prior to applying auto-foam. The foam was applied and allowed to dwell for 2-3 minutes. Now don't expect huge amounts of foam, auto-foam isn't designed to be thick and for good reason.

I spoke to Richard with regards to the thin viscosity and without getting into too much detail, he explained that a thin foam will be far wetter than a thick one. This thinner viscosity foam is better at allowing the surfactants within the product to absorb into and loosen the dirt. The balance of surfactants to foaming agents has been finely tuned within auto-foam but some of these thicker foams tend to have too much foaming agent. When the balance is wrong the foaming agent actually hampers the ability of the surfactants to clean and this is why auto-foam is the viscosity it is. Using auto-foam I witnessed something I haven't seen before in that I could visibly see the foam pulling the dirt off the paintwork.

As the foam formed on the ground, you could see the dirt accumulating where the droplets of foam where dropping off the car, showing it wasn't just dirt picked up from the ground.

The results seen below speak for themselves really. The make up pad on the left is the before and the one on the right showing the amount of dirt left after the PW rinse. Both of these were air dried to best show the before and after results.

Now lets address the elephant in the room? That is a hell of a lot of product to use up per wash, making it very expensive right? Well no, I measured how much was left after application and it turned out I only used 200ml of solution.

This would mean the full 1L bottle would do me for 5 cars. 510/5 = 102ml of auto-foam used per car.

The key to this as Richard explained is to be very strict on how often you hit that trigger on the PW. Auto-foam doesn't require you to completely cake the car in foam, simply 'wet' the car with foam as Richard put it. His advice was to set the foam lance to a wide spray pattern and to move along the car very quickly. I actually recorded myself doing so and you can see my example in the video below:

Through a pump sprayer

Applying via pump sprayer simplifies the way in which you use BH auto-foam compared to through a foam lance. As this isn't diluted a 2nd time like when snow foaming, 4% PIR is easily calculated. 2L of solution is ideal for coating any size of car. To calculate what 4% of 2000ml is you simply calculate the total by 0.04.

2000 x 0.04 = 80ml.

80ml of auto-foam mixed with 1920ml of water gives you the perfect 4% PIR as instructed by BH. As my pump sprayer has the 2L line marked on it, I simply pour 80ml of auto-foam in and top the bottle up to the 2L of water. Give the bottle a few pumps and I am all good to go.

Don't expect any foam using it this way although, for a cost you can purchase pump sprayers that do foam up and allow the product to cling. My advice would be save yourself some £££ and grab a standard garden pump sprayer. Auto-foam performs just as well as a pre-wash as it does a foam and doesn't need to cling onto the paint long to clean. This was sprayed onto the car and allowed to dwell for roughly 2 minutes before being pressure rinsed off.

The same damp make-up pad test as before was carried out here so a swab before and after from roughly the same area low down on the car. The cleaning power hasn't suffered due to the lack of clinging foam and is still impressive:

I found using it as a pre-wash through a pump sprayer had several advantages over snow foam application. Cleaning power wise it is just as effective as used through a foam lance, aided by the fact that when filling the pump sprayer you can use warm water which boosts cleaning ability. You don't use as much product per wash I found. It is much easier to mix up the 4% solution and also you don't need to worry about how much you use unlike the snow foam method which if not careful, can be very wasteful.

Overall I think application via the pump sprayer is definitely the way to go with auto-foam. The only negative I can see with this method is how quickly the product dries out, not a huge issue on cooler days in the shade but on warm days or in direct sunlight, this can dry out within 20-30 seconds of application. My way of preventing this is to apply a weak solution of snow foam over the top to prevent the auto-foam pre wash drying out. Another option I learned from an member on DW is to simply stand far away from the car and use the pressure washer to mist some water onto the car to prevent drying out of the product. This is a problem but a small one, I think the benefits far outweigh this small annoyance.


For the 5L of auto-foam shown here, it is priced at £16.95. That is an impressively low initial cost for 5L of foam, especially for a pre-wash this effective. It gets even better when you see BH offer 25L of auto-foam for only £72.95.

A list of costs per application dependant on method/package size has been worked out below:

As a snow foam(4%): 102ml per wash - 49 washes from 5L - 34.5p per wash.
As a pre-wash (4%): 80ml per wash - 62 washes from 5L - 27.3p per wash.

As a snow foam with 25L drum - 245 washes - 29.7p per wash.
As a pre-wash with 25L drum - 312 washes - 23.3p per wash.

Value for money wise used as both methods is excellent but especially so as a pre-wash. I think for the level of cleaning ability auto-foam delivers it's going to take something very special to top this as a pre-wash/snow foam for me personally.

Would I use it again?

Without a doubt yes. In fact I have used almost 2.5L of this 5L bottle so far before doing this write up. This has given me a huge amount of time/experience prior to writing this review and my opinion hasn't changed from that very first test. This is now my number 1# foam/pre-wash product and the only time I use another snow foam product is to prevent auto-foam drying out when used as a pre-wash.


For me auto-foam is the closest I have came to a touchless wash from any foam/pre-wash product. It may have a slightly complicated method for application as a snow foam, but as a pre-wash I really cannot fault it. The level of cleaning power available for such a small cost both initially and per wash is the best I have came across. As far as touchless washes go, I have yet to try anything that has impressed me quite as much as auto-foam and urge you to try this if you haven't already.

Finally, some of the DW members here may remember I was quick to question Richard at Bilt Hamber with regards to auto-foam. I debated with him on here very strongly over various elements of the product and the directions on using it. After testing auto-foam quite thoroughly, I accept I was very wrong about my previous opinions of the product and it's cost effectiveness. I would like to publicly apologise to Richard and it's clear I was very wrong about auto-foam.

Many thanks for reading guys and congratulations if you made it to the end without falling asleep!

DW has followed the Manufacturer’s Instructions and accepts no responsibility to any circumstances arising from any member using these products or following this test.

Last edited by Brian1612; 16-11-2017 at 05:26 PM.
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Old 16-11-2017, 04:04 PM   #2
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Cracking review Brian, absolutely first rate. It's very interesting that it outperformed even Surfex at that concentration which I might have expected to be more aggressive.
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Old 16-11-2017, 04:31 PM   #3
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Superb review Brian

Sure you've helped solve a lot of snow foam questions and problems with this review, thankful for information you've provided and will definitely give this ago when I use it next.

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Old 16-11-2017, 04:33 PM   #4
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Great read and very well written, thanks for taking the time

Big fan of Auto-wash and your methodical testing has only confirmed what I have experienced anecdotally.

Now......spill the beans...what was the mystery snow foam...!!
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Old 16-11-2017, 04:35 PM   #5
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Brilliant review Brian,
I was umming and aaaing about asking EXACTLY how you calculate the 4% PIR for Auto foam - you've explained it superbly - much appreciated

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Old 16-11-2017, 04:46 PM   #6
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Great review, been using this for months and it's going to take something to get me to swap from this.

I'm glad you did the 4% dilution ratio so others can understand 1' in a bottle is not right.

For me I'm glad it doesn't foam, I want something that cleans the car brilliantly without leaving shaving foam all over the floor
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Old 16-11-2017, 04:58 PM   #7
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Absolutely 1st class review. I appreciate the time and effort that has gone into this review and it is extremely informative and helpful.

I already use both auto foam and Surfex and this reaffirms that I am using exactly the right products for me.

Nice car too. Thanks again.

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Old 16-11-2017, 05:04 PM   #8
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Great review thank you very much.

should you wet the car with P/W before using auto foam i read somewhere you should not but cant confirm?
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Old 16-11-2017, 05:17 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by bigbruiser View Post
Great review thank you very much.

should you wet the car with P/W before using auto foam i read somewhere you should not but cant confirm?
Arguments will rage over this point no doubt, but if you leave the car wet and are only applying a thin layer of liquid as Brian outlines in his review, then in my view you're undoing all your good work in calculating the right dilution ratios. So, I say apply it directly to the car without any sort of pre-rinse. When I come to jet rinse it off, that's when I use the force of the water in combination with the action of the Auto Foam to get the grody bits (skirts, lower doors, rear bumper, inside wheel arches) as clean as I can before any mitt goes on the car.
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Old 16-11-2017, 05:28 PM   #10
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So the + Means less and the - means more on snow foam lances?
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bilt hamber auto foam, prewash, snow foam, touchless car wash

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