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Automatic Car Wash vs. Hand Car Wash: Pros and Cons

Automatic Car Wash vs. Hand Car Wash: Pros and Cons

Automatic Car Wash vs. Hand Car Wash: Pros and Cons

Automatic car washes are more popular than ever because they save time and hassle.

Unlike the bristle brush systems of the past, today’s car wash facilities are equipped with an array of modern soft cloths and sprays to protect your vehicle’s finish. Although not all automatic car washes are up to date, you do risk being the culprit of swirl marks that appear, especially on darker-colored cars, and are very difficult to get rid of once they have shown up.

Cars with wider wheel widths or a low profile will sometimes have problems with automatic car washes. In this case you may fall victim to scratches and scrapes on your rims or on your undercarriage. You will also have to keep in mind spinning brushes and the dangling cloth pieces that do most of the washing. These may be quick, efficient, and fun for the kids to look at, but if you’ve got a car that you want safe from swirl-marks and contaminants then this is the wrong road for you. Most people don’t realize that these brushes & cloth pieces have touched hundreds if not thousands of other cars, collecting dirt and debris along the way.

On the other hand, home car washing releases contaminated water directly into the environment or into storm drains intended for rainwater.

This causes pollution in our rivers, lakes, streams and harbors. The wastewater that runs off a car when it is washed contains a range of substances that may pollute the environment. These include soaps and detergents, mud, rubber and grease. Washing your vehicle at home can also be hard on your car. First, rags and sponges used in the process inevitably become impregnated with tiny grit particles that scratch the paint and clear coat. Lastly, typical household garden hoses are unable to generate sufficient water volume and hydraulic pressure to remove all the soap film from the finish of your car. And since garden hoses often fail to remove all soap film, soap residue can “bake” into the finish and eat into the paint for days afterward.

So, when comparing automatic car wash and hand car wash side by side, however, a variety of pros and cons arise.

  • Automatic washes shine in their speed and convenience. Automatic wash simply requires getting into your car and visiting your local car wash. While even a basic hand car wash requires running water, a bucket, soap, and a mitt for washing and drying.
  • An automatic wash will take only 5-10 minutes to complete. Whereas a hand washing, even when rushed, will take between 20 minutes to an hour or more.
  • Claying, polishing and waxing help remove embedded contaminants, and restore the luster of a damaged finish, which is done when you hand wash your vehicle. None of these steps have comparable steps in automatic washing.
  • Most automatic washes will use either air drying or hand drying with a towel. These methods tend to leave extensive water spotting and exterior scratching respectively when compared to proper hand drying with a clean, microfiber cloth.

Should time not be a factor, hand car wash tends to be better in every way when compared to automatic washes.

Good car maintenance is important to keep your vehicle looking and running like new. Besides basic maintenance such as replacing tires or checking tire pressure, oil changes, and fluid checks, regular car washes can help preserve the exterior finish of your vehicle. In the real world, however, where busy schedules and daily commuters are commonplace, a mix of both methods may be the best approach. Hand washes along with the corresponding additional steps such as claying, polishing and waxing should be done whenever time allows, for best results. Automatic washing and quick detailing should be done after particularly dusty days or any time weather is particularly severe, in order to help slow the accumulation of dirt and grime. By combining both options as time allows, you can essentially have the best of both worlds and a cleaner, better-looking car as a result.

Ideally, when you schedule an appointment with DetailXPerts you will not have to worry about convenience because we are mobile and we will come to you. There will be no worries about how long it will take to have your car complete because your vehicle will be getting steam cleaned while you are at work or enjoying your favorite leisure activity. When DetailXPerts uses microfiber clothes and steam to detail your vehicle, no scratches, swirls, or water spots will appear. Since steam is being used as opposed to a garden hose, DetailXPerts is eco friendly in many ways!

14 Responses to “Automatic Car Wash vs. Hand Car Wash: Pros and Cons”

  1. rich says:

    I appreciate your self interest but stating that hand washing is superior to machine washing is preposterious. Having owned and operated over 30 conveyor car washes, both hand and machine for almost 50 years, I can state that machine washing is the best. I’ve owned and washed at an automatic a 1956 MB Gullwing(current value in excess of $700K), a 2012 MB SLS(value $200K) and other exotic cars. We have and have had hundreds of thousands of customers who wash their cars with us weekly for years without any damage whatsover AND enjoy a clean and shiny car daily. Suggesting that machine washes ar better only makes washing less convenient, more time consuming and worse yet leads to driving a dirty car longer!

  2. Rich, thank you for your feedback. We promote all car washing. In our opinion, there is nothing like the touch and feel of steam cleaning a car, especially to help it look like new again. Our clients love this about our service. ~ Angela

  3. Tina says:

    Being in the detail business myself I have to agree that I’m not a big fan of the automatic washes. Even though they are convenient in time they do put a toll on the exterior of a vehicle. I inform my customers that in between their hand washes to use brush-less automatic car-washes. I’ve seen damage done to antennas and custom wheels of vehicles in our area. I can’t judge ALL automatic washes because I haven’t seen them all in action, but the ones in our local area are basic and surely not equipped on handling high end vehicles or custom wheels. I will always believe hand washes are better than automatic washes until I’m proven wrong. I actually run my personal vehicle through some of our locations for research purposes on automatic washes vs hand washes and I haven’t came across any that can do what an actual hand wash can do. All vehicles don’t come thoroughly clean in an automatic wash and that hasn’t proven me wrong yet. 🙂

  4. Thanks for your feedback. Do any of your local automatic car washes offer interior cleaning? ~ Angela

  5. Larry says:

    I live in the UP of Michigan. I use the auto touch less car washes a lot because it does the belly of my truck that’s gets all the road salt off. But I prefer to hand wash due to less water spots. Winters up here are brutal, and keeping the road contaminants off is a challenge. I don’t care for car washes with brushes.

  6. Larry, it seems hand car wash is your best option. Do you do it yourself?

  7. […] sports, unless you opt for the up-and-coming new technologies in automobile detailing, such as the laser car wash. You can do away with getting down and dirty as you reach into the far corners and tight spaces all […]

  8. […] you ever been to a drive-through automatic car wash? If the answer is yes, then you might be wondering why your car was returned to you clean but […]

  9. Chris says:

    My dad got a 2013 Ford Taurus the same week I got a 2013 Ford Edge, and since day one, I have never gone through an automatic car wash. He, on the other hand, has gone through them monthly since he got the Taurus. When both are washed, they both look clean up until 10 feet away. That’s when you start seeing the dirt and brake dust in the spokes of the rims, the filthy wheel wells, etc. on his car. Once you get up close, you see water spots and crazy swirls in his paint. Being a detailer, I paint corrected my Edge with Shine Supply products the day I got it to get rid of the orange peel texture that Ford cheaply paints on their vehicles. Since then I’ve used shine supply’s products to wash and wax my Edge biweekly, and it’s remained flawless. The question is nonexistent whether the hand detailing is better than running through car washes. Even the best automatic+hand washes around here like auto bell leave swirls and water spots in the places the teenagers working there don’t feel like reaching. The biggest pleasure in cleaning my car is knowing that I’ve done everything and detailed every spot I know to clean, without having to walk around the car and question what the carwash missed or scratched up.

    My dad is perfectly content with how his car looks when he runs it through a carwash, but to him, his car is merely a tool. The way you wash your car reflects how much you care about your vehicle/what your vehicle means to you. My Edge (his name is Ziggy) is my pride and gleaming joy.

  10. Hi Chris. Thanks for sharing your story. How long have you been a detailer? ~ Annette

  11. […] might consider visiting a machine car wash to make the process a lot easier – but don’t. Machine car washes can scratch the life out […]

  12. […] with dust, dirt and grime from previously cleaned vehicles. Thus, expensive repairs for paint swirls and scratches can be […]

  13. […] onto your car, removing almost any chance of inflicting damage on your car. But many people report swirl marks, scratches, and other damage. I can also say that, so far, I’ve had absolutely zero problems due to using an […]

  14. […] onto your car, removing almost any chance of inflicting damage on your car. But many people report swirl marks, scratches, and other damage. I can also say that, so far, I’ve had absolutely zero problems due to […]


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