You brush your teeth. You comb your hair. You wash your clothes. And you do dozens of other routine chores throughout the day, never once thinking about paying someone else to do them for you. Some jobs usually require professional help, like dental work, a haircut and color, and custom tailoring. Still, other tasks fall somewhere in between. You could make your own coffee, but you might prefer it to come from a barista. You could cook dinner, but some days it is so much easier to relax at a restaurant.
Keeping your car clean is one of those routine responsibilities that could go either way. You could do it yourself – or you could pay to have it done at an automatic car wash. But is the choice simply a matter of preference, like going out to eat? Or are there clear advantages to one or the other?
Hand Washing Is All About the Details
You may have heard that the safest and most effective method of cleaning your car, truck, or SUV is hand-washing. After all, you would think that more attention can be paid to every aspect of the job than can be done in an automatic wash. And that would be true – to an extent.
Hand washing can certainly be the most thorough form of car cleaning. But, just as with getting your hair cut, doing it yourself is not your best option. Just because you can brush your teeth doesn’t mean you should take up the tools of a hygienist and start scraping away. When it comes to your car, hand washing is best left to a professional.
And while nothing beats a car that has been professionally detailed or hand-washed by a trained technician, most drivers do not have the time, nor do they wish to spend the money for those premium services. In some areas, those options might be few and far between anyway. So, the best choice for most drivers is a drive through a soft-cloth automatic car wash.
Home-Based Hand Washing: More Harm Than Good
It does not seem that washing a car should be such a big deal. After all, folks have been washing their own cars for decades. And what about all those parking lot car wash fundraisers? It’s not like you are attempting to replace your own alternator or fix your brakes, right?
Well, the truth is, hand-washing has always presented a risk: the potential for degrading the paint on a car. If a car wash method is too aggressive or done improperly, tiny micro-scratches (or worse) occur on the surface. Over time, these scratches multiply and the paint becomes dull. It holds on to contaminants, and it is unable to shed water easily. Today’s vehicle finishes are far more high-tech than those of old. When the clear coat finish on your vehicle becomes damaged, it loses its ability to protect your paint.
Fortunately, automatic car wash technology has changed as well. No longer is your car pelted with aggressive old-school nylon brushes. Instead, soft cloths gently wipe away the dirt and grime. So the risk of damage to the paint finish can actually be higher when you wash your car in the driveway than when you drive through a modern automatic car wash.
Damage From the Dirt
The dirt and debris on your car are composed of tiny, sharp bits of rock and metal that can easily scratch your paint. If they are not removed properly, damage will occur. When you wash your car yourself, the likelihood of scratching the paint is higher than in an automatic car wash where a pre-treatment and pressure wash remove much of the loose material at the beginning of the process.
What’s more, where you wash your car comes into play. When you work in your driveway, there is always a chance of introducing more dirt onto the surface of your car. The hose gets drug across the ground, mud splashes on the paint, and debris falls from trees or blows with the wind. Never mind if you drop the washcloth or mitt.
In any case, doing it yourself presents a significant risk of rubbing grit into the paint.
Matching the Materials to the Job
A professional employs specialty tools and products to hand-wash your vehicle. From treatment of your wheels and tires to removal of road tar, every aspect of a professional job requires a targeted technique, tool, and chemical product.
Consider the following materials that might be used:
- PH balanced car soap to wash the vehicle
- Wheel cleaner to remove brake dust
- Tire bleach to clean the rubber on your tires
- Tire dressing to shine and protect your tires
- Degreaser to remove road tar and other contaminants
- Automotive glass cleaner for the windows and mirrors
Along with those products, a professional will also use a selection of non-abrasive brushes, mitts, and cloths – and techniques that will protect the paint finish.
That’s probably not the case in the driveway. Rather, most people rely on household products, like dish soap. Unfortunately, dish soap and other cleansers you might find around the house can remove wax coatings on your paint and leave residue behind.
So the best bet is to drive through an automatic car wash that uses specially-formulated soaps and other products that are mild on your car. You can have your wheels cleaned, tires shined, underbody cleaned, and sealant applied. Where the rags, towels, and other tools used in the driveway can cause scratches, the soft cloth mechanisms in a modern automatic wash are gentle. Certainly more gentle than the car wash brushes of some older car washes. And more gentle than an amateur with a dirty sponge.
Too Little Water
Another problem with washing your car yourself is the tendency to use too little water to do the job correctly. For instance, it is common for a DIYer to use a single bucket to wash a vehicle. Unfortunately, that one bucket quickly becomes contaminated. Every time you reach into the soapy water, you bring out some of the scratchy dirt you are trying to eliminate – and you are rubbing it on the car with your wash mitt.
Another problem with working at home is that your garden hose is unable to put out enough volume and pressure to adequately rinse off the grime and soap. Residue ends up drying on the surface, and it is sometimes more difficult to remove than the original contaminants.
Automatic car washes, on the other hand, use high-pressure jets and a high volume of water to thoroughly clean and rinse your car.
But what about using a pressure washer? Sure, that is an option. But a pressure washer in the wrong hands is as likely to cause damage (peeling paint, loosening trim, and scratches or dings) as it is to be a benefit.
Too Much Water
It seems odd that a do-it-yourself driveway wash, on the one hand, uses too little water to get the job done right and, on the other hand, uses far more water than the average automatic wash.
Estimates suggest that washing your car at home can consume more than a hundred gallons of water. Even if you try very hard to conserve water, you will use more than double the forty or so gallons that a typical automatic car wash uses. Automatic washes conserve water and recycle the waste, making them far more efficient stewards of the resource.
Another problem with washing in your driveway – or any other non-designated area for that matter – is what happens to the wastewater. Where does it all go? And does it matter?
Well, a lot of chemicals and contaminants end up in your wastewater. Some people believe that using a biodegradable soap is the answer. It’s natural, right? Many municipalities disagree. It is unlawful to allow car wash runoff to enter a storm drain in many areas of the country.
So, automatic car washes (where the wastewater is collected and filtered before being disposed of or recycled) are found to be more environmentally conscious. Both in the amount of water used and in the way the wastewater is collected.
The Coin-Operated Carwash
How about a compromise? A drive-through, self-serve power wash station has a dedicated drain to collect water, a built-in soap dispenser, and conveniently-hung hoses for the power wand and the foam brush. The coin wash even solves another problem of washing your car in your driveway: it provides shade from the sun and shelter from sap and other contaminants, both of which contribute to problems when you do it yourself.
Really, a coin-operated car wash does not make it easy to use custom-tailored products or tools. And that powerful wand is capable of taking the paint right off your car if you are not careful. Let go of the trigger with the tip too close to the surface and you might put a sizeable dent or scratch in your door or fender. And what about the last vehicle to use the stall? Was it a big truck with oversized tires fresh from the mud pits? Imagine all that sand and gravel packed into the foam brush you are about to run across your shiny hood or roof. After all that, you still need to dry it with your own towels.
A self-serve car wash has some advantages over your driveway, but not enough.
The Automatic Advantage
Washing your car yourself, anywhere, takes time. And money. Even if you could gather all of the tools and materials to do it, and study the proper techniques to protect your paint, it is still not convenient (for most people) to do the job every week or two.
Sure you could do it yourself. But instead of washing your car by hand, you can choose to simply drive through an automatic soft-cloth car wash, rely on its advanced technology to preserve your car’s paint finish, and help you to retain the value of your vehicle.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright January 2020
This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs, and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.