Auto Car Wash: Why They're Bad For Car Paint

Automatic Car Wash

Back in high school, I would use automatic car washes on occasion. I used the stereotypical sponge in the mop bucket, Dawn dish soap, and a garden hose to wash my vehicle. Even though my wash process was jacking up my finish, I noticed that the car wash would leave behind scratches and swirls that were visible to me. This outcome was unacceptable to me and eventually would be the catalyst that led me to develop the OG car wash process, which lessens the chance of marring and scratching your paint.

How An Auto Car Wash Creates Damage to Your Car’s Finish

First, let’s talk about automatic car washes that use brushes or touch your car during the process. Unlike the car washing package we sell, all the cleaning tools are rarely maintained or replaced by the car wash. This means the wash tools these car washes use take dirt and contamination from hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles and transfer it to your vehicle. As a result, your car is being scratched by stupid noodly brushes as they drag across your paint, grinding rocks, tar, and other contaminants into your clearcoat. This disaster is not the case with my detailing process. 

In the OG wash process, keeping your tools clean is paramount; that’s why I use the two-bucket wash method to rinse out debris. This method prevents junk from getting into your paint and jacking it up. Washing your car by hand also allows you to control the pressure you’re putting on your vehicle when using either a wash mitt or microfiber towel. It also prevents marring since those stupid spaghetti brushes at the auto car wash tend to dig into the paint instead of using the weight of the mitt to agitate the surface. 

Car washes also leave water behind, possibly resulting in water spots on your car. If these spots are left unattended, they can permanently damage your vehicle’s finish beyond repair. In addition to water staining and scratching, these washes pull the car through the tunnel using a track system. The tracks can leave scratches, gouges, and marring on your wheels if you have lower-profile tires.

Touchless Car Washes

Next, let’s discuss touchless car washes or automatic car washes that use cleaners or soaps to remove contaminants from your car. These cleaners and soaps are extremely corrosive. They need to be caustic to “eat” and release contamination from the paint. However, these corrosive chemicals can potentially damage your clearcoat, leading to dulled clearcoat, or possibly premature clearcoat failure. The same is true for washes that use brushes if they use similar chemicals.

My wash process uses a pH-neutral car soap for maintenance washes or routine cleanings. They are gentle on paint and provide lots of lubrication, so I reduce the chances of marring or scratching my paint. The protection I put on my cars ensures that I don’t have to nuke the paint every time I wash. My protection, usually a ceramic coating, also helps remove all the bugs and dirt from the paint.

A car wash is a business like any other. They operate on high-volume services with minimal maintenance. In these environments, problems occur. Sometimes, the rinse function or the chemicals within the wash do not function properly; this can mean a multitude of things for the exterior of your vehicle, including:

  • A highly corrosive chemical is left behind on your car’s paint that, if it dries, will leave etches on not just your vehicle’s paint but also the glass and wheels, requiring polishing and even refinishing to repair; potentially costing you thousands. This happens more frequently than you think.

Hand Car Washing A Porsche GT3RS

Why Car Washes Remove Protection From A Car’s Surface

The reason I stress maintaining your car using a pH-neutral soap like Koch Chemie GSF is to clean your vehicle while incurring as little extra wear on your protection layer as possible. This is especially important for cars with a wax or sealant, which have reduced durability compared to a coating. A car wash follows an inverse process:

  • In addition to possibly damaging your paint, an automatic car wash will either harm or remove whatever wax, sealant, or ceramic coating you have on your vehicle.

Automatic car washes are junk. Your vehicle is an investment. To get the most out of your investment, you must put in the work. An automatic wash is just a shortcut. That shortcut will give you shortcut results, which will likely damage your car’s finish in some way. 

If your goal is to dial in your vehicle and keep it that way, I recommend you use the OG wash process I’ve perfected over the years. Using this process, I have yet to see scratching, swirls, marring, or staining on any of my cars' exterior surfaces.