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What is the safest car wash for your car?

Car Detailing vs. Automatic Car Wash. Which one is better?

Why You Should Choose Detailing Over An Automatic Wash

As a car owner, the most cost effective and convenient way to clean your car might seem to take it to an automatic car wash. Yes it is quick and fast, but is it really worth visiting an automatic car wash to clean your car? As much as they are convenient, automatic car washes can be damaging to the paintwork of your vehicle. This is because the brushes and pads are not rinsed and cleaned frequently or properly. Even the tiniest molecule of dirt can and will scratch your paint. Imagine what will happen to your car’s paint after you go through the same tunnel that multiple dirty cars have already passed through? Even though you may feel like you are doing good for your car by getting it washed, you are actually introducing scratches and swirls to the paint. Using professional mobile car detailers like VIP Detailing will allow you to experience a more in-depth cleaning procedure using the proper techniques to restore your vehicle back to that “brand-new condition” all from the convenience of your driveway!

The Truth About Tunnel Washes

The truth is, tunnel washes are not the safest or smartest way to clean your car. Automatic car washes do not only have the chance of damaging your clear coat, but they can damage other vital parts as well. In fact, there are some occasions where they have ripped off antennas, side view mirrors, and even bumpers. When peak hours arrive, it does not make sense for a car wash to shut down to rinse and clean the brushes. This means more debris and dirt buildup in the tunnel, which ultimately has more of a chance to scratch your paint.

The Truth About Touchless Washes

Touchless washes seem to be the most widely recommended type of car wash because they tend to be less damaging to your vehicle’s paint. But that does not mean they are completely safe. Although there are no brushes or pads rubbing against your paint, the high pressurised streams of water sends dirt flying which rubs across the surfaces of your car’s paint. Because of this, you have a risk of scratching and damaging your clear coat. Also, because there is no agitation during the washing process, these tunnels will use harsh chemicals and soaps to make-up the strength of their cleaning. Unfortunately, these products also do a good job of stripping wax and protectants off your car, which leaves the paint unprotected and if these chemicals are used on an unprotected vehicles they can actually eat the clear coat away.

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“Cookie-Cutter” Washes

At the end of the day, automatic car washes will not clean your car as well as a hand wash will. Automatic car washes are made designed for all types of cars, not just your vehicle. This means when you take your car to the car wash you are getting a “cookie-cutter” cleaning. There is nothing worse than having a “clean car” with some dirty spots that got missed.

How VIP Detailing Solves These Problems?

By using VIP Detailing, you can be assured that your car is cleaned using the proper products and techniques that will keep your vehicle in “brand-new” condition. We use the two bucket method along with the proper wash mitts, towels, and soaps, that delivers a clean and harmless wash. Cleaning a car should not be a “one-size fits all” cleaning! Cars are designed different from each other and each car will be in a different condition, washing and cleaning should be specific to what that certain need is. VIP helps solve the problem of automatic washes by offering our “weekly-wash” subscription to save your car from a one size fits all auto-wash world. Give your car the best treatment it deserves, the VIP treatment!

The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Car Washes

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Andy Sotiriou/Getty Images

A pro car wash can be fully automated or done by hand. Here’s how to decide which option is right for your car, time and budget.

When you can’t wash the car yourself, there are plenty of ways to get your car washed. Whether it needs the spa treatment or a quick bath, learn about the pros and cons of the different car cleaning services.

It’s also important to note the thoroughness of a car wash varies, depending on the car model and the method. So use your best judgement when deciding which car wash is best for your car.

Self-Service Car Washes

Roll up your sleeves (without using any of your tools) at a self-service car wash, which typically costs less than $10. Use their water hose, soaps and sponges, just bring your attention to detail and elbow grease. Check beforehand if you need towels for drying. Washing, rinsing, and drying one section at a time will help avoid water spots. Check out the benefits of an eco-friendly car wash.

Be sure you use this option under the right conditions. If you’ve been driving around for a while, your car is probably too hot to wash; the soap will dry and leave spots before you can rinse it off. The same goes for washing with the sun beating down on you.

Automated Car Washes

Automated in-bay car washes pull your car along a conveyor belt while machines dispense soap and water. Automatic car washes can be a speedy and economical choice, costing between $5 and $10. Cleaning the undercarriage, wheels and tires or using additional soaps and waxes cost extra, usually $1 to $2 per extra service.

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Soft Touch Car Washes

There are soft-touch automated car washes that use cloth to scrub cars, and no-touch automated car washes which only use high-pressure water and soap (not foam). Learn how to pressure wash your car without damaging it.

Soft-touch washes offer a more thorough cleaning. If the car wash uses brushes, they usually reach every part of the car and are good for getting rid of dust and pollen. But the force of the brushes can damage side-view mirrors or antennas. If the car wash uses thick cloth strips, the car must also be thoroughly rinsed before the cloth touches it or else the cloth can cause the dirt to scratch the paint.

No-Touch Car Wash

No-touch car washes are cloth- and brush-free so there’s less risk of scratches. They also use less water, if you’re hoping to be a friend to the environment. But without brushes or cloth strips, a no-touch wash may be less effective. No-touch washes that rely on more cleaning agents to make up for the lack of cloth or brushes could also damage your paint.

Machine Dryer Car Wash

Some automated car washes use machine dryers at the end, but some will have staffers dry your car by hand with towels. If they provide this service, the car wash will cost a few dollars more.

Hand Car Wash

Professionals washing your car by hand will use top-notch supplies and go over every inch with a thorough eye, making sure to remove dirt or water spots automated car washes may miss. But even hand-washing comes with risks. Using the same sponge to clean the vehicle’s painted surfaces and the tires and wheel wells is a common mistake that introduces abrasives to the cleaning process. Be sure your pro uses best practices, including rinsing and cleaning sponges and microfiber towels religiously.

You can splurge on waxing, detailing and interior cleaning — and in some cases even get your annual state inspection done. The only con is the extra time and money. Hand-done car washes can cost from $15 to $35. But if your car needs some TLC, it could be worth it.

Waterless Car Wash

Short of cash? There’s always DIY. A waterless car wash is a high lubricity spray mixture that heavily saturates a vehicle’s panel, then wipes off dirt or road grime to a dry shine with a clean cloth. This waterless car wash kit is great for a mess-free experience, especially if you live in a neighborhood where your water use is restricted. The 2EZ Wax Waterless car detailing kit is a great option at about $50. These car interior cleaning kit products will keep your passenger area looking and smelling fresh.

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Rinseless Car Wash

A rinseless car wash is another kit method that eliminates the final hosing off, saving time, water, and chemical usage. Optimum No Rinse Wash and Shine comes highly rated. To use, add one ounce to two gallons of water in a bucket. Soak a plush microfiber towel into the solution and wash one section at a time until clean. Dry with a clean plush microfiber towel. That’s it!

Originally Published: May 01, 2020

Veronica Graham

Veronica Graham is a freelance writer in Arlington, Mass. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and SheKnows. She’s covered health, politics, high school football and everything in between. Graham enjoys learning about the world through a variety of lenses as a reporter.

How To Wash a Car at Home

An Acura RSX in a driveway with car wash equipment.

I believe in the devil for one reason and one reason only. After every seemingly car wash, the clouds darken, the humidity goes up, and little water bombs drop from the sky. Whether a small sprinkle or a thunder-cracking deluge, it’s like there’s a vengeful deity with a creepy laugh-cackle somewhere controlling the precipitation, “Truman Show” style.

This unlucky coincidence used to automatically spool up the anger turbo, but knowing I can easily repeat the wash for free at home eases the mind. Washing a car is like a little love peck between partners. You show it attention and care, and it returns the feeling with the warm fuzzies you get from having a long-lasting great-looking ride.

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

The Basics of Washing a Car

Estimated Time Needed: Less than an hour

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

Car Washing Safety Precautions

I’ll be honest, the only safety precaution I really take when washing my car is making sure I’m not in the way of other cars. I’ll typically post up in a driveway in my bare feet and basketball shorts and get after it with a bucket in tow. However, if you’re using chemicals to wash the car, you could use safety glasses to protect your eyes. Otherwise, just make sure your car is cooled down, it’s parked in the shade, and the parking brake is on.

Legal Precautions

Different towns, cities, and states have different laws, restrictions, and regulations. Because of this, washing a car at an apartment, condo, or even a house in certain neighborhoods could technically be illegal. I’ve never personally had an issues with this, but some areas are stricter than others, so make sure you’re in the clear.

Pro Tips for Washing a Car

Prepare for the job with these extra tips.

  • An extra person to help you rinse while you wash can save a bit of time and make things easier.
  • Make sure your clothes do not have buttons, rivets, or anything else that could scratch your car’s paint.
  • Keep your wheel-cleaning tools separate from your body-cleaning tools.
  • Be careful with used towels, both regular and microfiber. They might have dirt buried inside of them that could scratch your paint.
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Tony Markovich

Everything You’ll Need To Wash a Car

Preparation will always be the key to completing any job with your car. Gather the items you’ll be using, read our step-by-step guide to make an attack plan, and get after it. Here’s a checklist to make things easy:


  • Water hose
  • Spray nozzle
  • Two buckets
  • Two dirt traps
  • Microfiber car wash mitt
  • Microfiber towels
  • Two drying towels or a shammy
  • Wheel brush


  • Car wash soap
  • General automotive degreaser
  • Wheel cleaner

Here’s How To Wash a Car

1. Park in the Shade

Tony Markovich

It’s best not to wash your car when it is in direct sunlight, so find a shady spot or wait for the sun to go down.

2. Rinse the Car Down

Tony Markovich

Using a hose and spray nozzle or a pressure washer, spray the car down. Hitting every inch of the vehicle, including the underside and wheel wells, rinse loose dirt off. This will help prevent scratches during the main wash.

3. Wash the Wheels and Tires

Tony Markovich

Using a microfiber towel, microfiber mitt, and/or wheel brush designated only for your wheels, spray wheel cleaner and rub over the surfaces of the wheel. Make sure to get into the cracks and on the backside of the wheel. Once the wheels are done, spray them down and wash your tires, if you need to.

4. Start Washing the Car in Sections From the Top Down

Tony Markovich

After your wheels are done, rinse the car down again. At this point, some people choose to use degreaser on spots with bugs or other road films, but it’s not always necessary. Grab your two buckets with dirt traps at the bottom and add your soap directly to your microfiber mitt or into one of the buckets.

Tony Markovich

Dip your mitt into the first bucket, start washing the car’s roof, and work your way down. Wash the car in sections, and move around the vehicle, rinsing as you go. After each section, dip your mitt into the second bucket to rinse it off, squeeze out the nasty water, then dip it into the first bucket and proceed with the wash. Continue until the whole car is clean.

5. Rinse it Again

Tony Markovich

Once you’ve washed the entire car, rinse the whole thing in water again. In general, I try to keep rinsing the car while I’m washing, which is when a friend is helpful. I never allow the car to air dry before I dry it with towels.

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6. Clean Sill and Jambs

Tony Markovich

Using a damp microfiber towel, quickly wipe off the dirt inside the car on the door sills, jambs, and bottom edges.

7. Use Two Towels for Drying

Tony Markovich

I prefer the two-towel method for drying. First, quickly go over the entire car with the first towel to collect a large majority of the water. Second, use the other towel to detail dry and pick up the leftovers.

8. Protect Your Clean

Tony Markovich

After you wash your car, it’s time for protection. Not everybody details and/or protects their cars, but we highly recommend it. A wax or coating will not only keep the car in good contindition for longer, it will also make future washes even easier.

9. Wait for the Rain

It always rains after washing a car. Why doesn’t the universe like clean cars?

FAQs About Washing a Car

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Can you wash a car with dish soap?

A. If you’re not a perfectionist or are a casual car owner, it’s fine. I’ve seen my dad do it my entire life. However, it is important to know that certain dish soaps are caustic and the chemicals aren’t good for the paint. I personally always use soap specifically made for washing cars. It’s inexpensive, and you can buy big jugs that last a long time. Grab some next time you’re at the store.

Q. Can you wash a car with only water?

A. Yes, you can, and there will be no harm done. This method is perfect for quick rinse jobs that you can do in a matter of minutes. However, just know that using soap could help clean the car better. Water will not break down any dirt or grime on the car, while the car soap is designed to help remove anything that’s sticking to the car.

Q. How often should I wash my car?

A. The answer to this question depends entirely on your personal situation. If you get the car dirty often, wash it more often. In addition to making it look good, washing your car is preventative maintenance that will keep your vehicle in good shape for years to come. In particular, you want to wash your car shortly after it is exposed to animal poop, mass insect splatter, and road salt.


If you don’t feel like reading all of that text, it’s okay, this video will do. Give it a watch.

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