Washing your car isn’t just about cosmetics. It’s important to occasionally clean off all the accumulated road grit and dirt, the residue left behind after a rain, or the salt that can accumulate during the winter. If these are allowed to build up over time they can result in damaged paint and corrosion.
However, it isn’t entirely clear the best way to clean your car. Certainly a hand wash with soft, clean cloths and the right soap is the best option, but this is time-consuming to do yourself and expensive to have it done for you.
For many of us, an automatic car wash is the most convenient, cost-effective way to get our cars cleaned as frequently as they need it. However, you’ll often read horror stories about how car washes can damage a car’s paint. Can it be that car washes are just as dangerous to your cars paint as not cleaning your car at all?
The short answer is no, cleaning your car is nearly always better than not cleaning your car. But it is important to understand the risks.
Friction washes are the standard car washes we’re used to. The designs can vary quite a bit, but the basic concept involves brushes, sponges or cloth strips that are laden with soapy water and maneuvered all around a car’s exterior, removing dirt and grime. These car washes replicate a regular hand wash, but on a larger, faster scale.
Touchless washes, on the other hand, have no physical parts that make contact with the car. Instead, a touchless car wash uses jets of high-pressure water mixed with industrial detergents to clean a car’s exterior.
Friction washes can damage paint. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it can happen. If the car wash isn’t maintained well, and the cleaning material is allowed to get particularly filthy the accumulated dirt and grit can turn a soft cloth strip into soapy sandpaper.
For this reason, touchless car washes are safer for your paint. These washes are designed to spray dirt away without smearing it around. And since nothing physical touches your car there’s no chance a dirt-laden sponge can scratch your paint.
However, if the touchless car wash near you offers a hand dry service, be careful. Make sure the cloths the attendants are using are clean and dry. If you see dirty towels, kindly refuse the service. Drying a car with a dirty towel is more dangerous to your car’s paint than a friction car wash could ever be.
While it’s true that touchless car washes are safer for your car’s paint, this comes at a cost. Sprayed water will never be quite as effective at cleaning a car as physical brushes and sponges. There’s just no substitute for physical contact with the car’s surface to remove really caked on dirt. For a particularly filthy car, you need a friction wash.
For regular maintenance cleaning though, touchless car washes are more than adequate, and the lowered risk of paint damage makes them the preferred automatic cleaning method.