ABU DHABI // A worker sprinkles an eco-friendly chemical on to the roof of a Mercedes, and the waterless car wash begins.
He wipes the solution off the roof with a microfibre towel. Then, he polishes the residue off the surface, using a different set of towels. The car's finish starts to look clean and shiny.
He works his way down to the bonnet, the windows, the sides, and the back of the car. He applies a special dressing that penetrates the tough stains on the tyres, and gives the wheels a natural shine.
After 20 minutes, the car is sparkling under the desert sun.
As water reserves are expected to dwindle within the next 50 years, three Iraqi brothers from Abu Dhabi say their brand of washing uses far less water than conventional methods. They are determined to play a role in aiding the country's environment.
"There's just not enough water in the Middle East, and it's running out because people are over-consuming it," said Hassan Al Alwan, 27.
Hassan and his brothers Ammar, 25, and Hussain, 33, aim to provide a much-needed service to residents, while drastically reducing water usage in the emirate through their car wash company, Micro Express.
The service has been approved by Abu Dhabi Municipality's public health division, which has issued a certificate authorising the company to wash cars.
"When reports came out about how serious water scarcity was in the region," Hassan said, "we said we wanted to contribute. We identified a waterless, eco-friendly car washing (system), and we use a chemical that's made up of soap and wax only."
The company saves on average 100 litres of water per car wash, as opposed to traditional systems, its owners say.
The brothers are spreading their services across Abu Dhabi, and plan to expand to two sites in Dubai in the next three months.
They receive up to 80 customers a day, depending on the site. A wash costs Dh20 for a saloon car and Dh25 for a four-wheel-drive. Washes generally take 20 to 30 minutes.
UAE citizens are among the highest per capita water users in the world, consuming on average 700 litres a day - and that figure is rising.
Abu Dhabi residents alone use 550 litres of water per person a day, according to the Environment Agency last year, compared with a world average of 180 to 200 litres.
"Water is subsidised, so it doesn't really reflect the true cost of it, and so we're paying really low prices for water that doesn't exist," Hassan said.
He described how the waterless car wash works. Once the chemical is sprayed on to the vehicle, it dissolves dirt particles and acts as a barrier between the paint of the car and the dirt, which "lifts it".
"Then, we use really sensitive microfibre towels to lift the dirt rather than just move it around," said Hassan. "The chemical also protects the car from pollution and air-borne contaminants."
"The material used in our micro-fibre towels is also used to make clothing for newborn babies," added Ammar.
The idea for the car wash service emerged a couple of years ago when the brothers noticed residents complaining about traditional car wash companies.
"We'd have people come up to us, telling us they found scratches or tarnished paint, so we thought we needed to find an idea to cater to this," he said.
Micro Express is a branch of the family business, Micro Car Care, a car detailing company set up in Abu Dhabi in 2002. After attending training classes on detailed car cleaning in California at only 15 years old, Ammar transferred his expertise to the staff in Abu Dhabi.
"I remember my father buying a new car and not being able to take care of it properly because the concept of 'real' car care hadn't yet reached Abu Dhabi," he said. "We've accumulated technical knowledge and expertise, so we know what car care is all about, and a car wash isn't as simple as people think it is."
Micro Express went into operation three months ago. Hussain now manages Micro Car Care while Hassan has taken the role of Micro Express's managing director. Ammar is the business development manager of the company which operates in three sites in Abu Dhabi.
Residents can also have their car cleaned at home.
"Each vehicle owner plays a part in environment conservation by not wasting hundreds of litres of water per car wash," Ammar said.