There’s more than one way to skin a cat. There’s also more than one way to wash a car.
Unfortunately, not all wash methods are equal.
Some types of car wash will provide worse results than others.
There are many wash methods that are unsafe and you should avoid at all costs. You don’t want your car to look worse once it’s clean, that’s for sure.
Listed below is every type of car wash method that’s available to date.
In this article, I will give a quick explanation of each process and list the pros and cons of each wash method.
By the end of this article, you will know which car wash method is the best, and which ones to avoid.
Types Of Manual Car Wash
If you’re anything like me, you will always wash your car yourself, or get it done by another human.
Manual car washing is a lot safer than automated methods because the person washing the car has more awareness.
If there’s an obvious piece of dirt or debris that going to scratch your paintwork, a professional will know how to remove it before it damages your car.
Despite the possible human error, manual car washes will provide better results and come with less risk.
The major downside of washing your car manually is that it will cost you time or money (more than an automated service).
Ask anyone that cares about the paintwork of their car and they will tell you that handwashing your vehicle is the best wash method.
When referring to “hand washing” a vehicle, it means that you take a microfiber sponge or wash mitt to the paintwork. There are often many other stages to a handwash though, so it can be a little misleading.
A proper handwash at a detail shop will start with a pre-wash stage. Depending on how polluted the car is, the car may get pre-washed in snow foam or just a simple rinse.
After the pre-wash stage will come the contact wash. This is where you need soap, a wash mitt, and 1 or 2 buckets.
Most professionals will opt to use the 2 bucket wash method.
If the pre-wash stage removed most of the dirt as it should, you will be able to get away with using 1 bucket.
Finally, after washing, the car will be rinsed again and dried off using a microfiber drying towel.
Hand washing a car is the most time-consuming wash method. It also requires a lot of equipment if you want to do it yourself.
But if you really care about your paint, you’ll choose this wash method.
Hand Wash Pros:
- Prevents Scratches
- Prevents water spotting
- The most thorough wash method
Hand Wash Cons:
- Requires a lot of equipment
- Requires water & electric connections
- More expensive than automatic washes
- Requires a lot of water (For those with restrictions)
- Horrible experience to hand wash a car in the cold
When I first discovered this wash method, I was amazed. Why would you want to wash a car without water? Surely there’s more risk than reward?
Depending on where you’re located in the world, a waterless car wash may be all that you can do. A handful of places actually have a water ban or restriction that limits or forbids outdoor water use.
Waterless Car Wash is also good for shows and car meets.
You may want to give the final touches to your car but there are no washing supplies at the event. This is when waterless washes and quick detailers come into use.
Keep a microfiber towel or two and some product in your glove box and give your car a final clean before you turn up at the event.
That being said, Waterless Wash is very limited.
It’s a spray-on product that will make light work of dust but struggles to tackle any meaningful dirt.
Not only that, but due to the lack of lubrication, it is almost certain you’ll create scratches and swirl marks when trying to tackle heavy pollution.
Waterless Wash Pros:
- Fast results
- Very little effort
- Doesn’t use water
- Wash your car anywhere
- Wash your car using only Waterless Wash & Microfiber Towels
Waterless Wash Cons:
- Useful in limited situations
- May leave residue on your car
- Increased chance of paint marring
Now that you know about handwashing and waterless car washes, I will tell you about this hybrid wash.
Rinseless Washes are perfect for those that live in a water restricted area.
It’s safer and more effective than a waterless wash but there are still some downsides.
When using Optimum No Rinse (ONR) Products you will be able to wash your car without having to rinse it before or after.
Like a waterless wash, a rinseless wash should only be performed on cars with light pollution.
ONR Products are designed to loosen dirt on from the surface of the car while producing very few soap suds. This allows you to wash the car without the need to rinse.
Setting up for a rinseless wash is like a normal 2 bucket wash. You should have a bucket filled with Diluted ONR and the other with water to rinse your towels.
When performing a rinseless wash you will let the product do its magic.
Allow the product to loosen the dirt before you rub it off completely. Rubbing hard dirt will create scratches and swirls.
Work from the top to bottom, one panel at a time, drying each panel as you go (with a dedicated drying towel).
There’s definitely a place for this product. Is it for you? Weigh up the pros and cons below.
Rinseless Wash Pros:
- Requires very little water
- Requires 0 electric hookups
- Safer than a waterless car wash
- Faster than a 2 bucket handwash
Rinseless Wash Cons:
- Potential Leftover Product Residue
- Increased risk of marring the paint
- Doesn’t work well on cars with heavy pollution
Types of Automated Car Wash
As previously mentioned, I don’t trust the automated car washes at all. I prefer to drive a dirty car instead of driving through these monsters.
Having worked in a garage with a drive-through car wash, I’ve heard and seen too many nightmare stories unfold.
Too many cars coming out of the other end covered in swirls.
It’s not just that. There’s a certain level of care that a machine will not be able to provide. If your car has paint bubbling in an area, it will wash it like it’s not there, making the damage worse.
Automatic Tunnel Wash
The automatic tunnel washes are the most common version of drive-through car washes. Some are drive-through, others will pull you through using a conveyor belt.
As you enter into these car washes you’re greeted by many industrial brushes.
These are caked in dirt from the 100’s of other cars they’ve washed that week, it’s a recipe for scratches and swirls.
If you have any last stage protection on (wax or sealants) it’s time to say goodbye. The harsh cleaning chemicals will eat through any last stage protection on your car.
On the plus side, It will replace it with wax if you have paid for that service!hah.
So why do people actually use this car wash?
It’s probably because they don’t know any better.
Some people will be lucky enough to have not come out on the other side with scratches and swirls.
Others will know how bad it is but are willing to risk it because they don’t like their car being covered in mud.
Never mind though. As long as these washes last, there will always be a market for paint correction!
Tunnel Wash Pros:
- Cheap & Convenient
Tunnel Wash Cons:
- Doesn’t dry your car
- Guaranteed to Marr your paintwork
- Heavy Industrial Brushes may cause dents
- Harsh Chemicals will remove Last Stage Protection
Soft Cloth Wash
A soft cloth car wash sounds promising.
This type of car wash does away with the hard bristles and replaces them with pieces of cloth.
It is an improvement, In theory. Pieces of cloth are definitely less harsh than hard bristles.
Unfortunately, they’re still heavily contaminated from the many other cars that have been washed before you.
They also still use the harsh chemicals that tunnel washes use, so it’s guaranteed to strip any last stage protection you have on your car.
Brushless Wash Pros:
- Less abrasive than a tunnel wash
Brushless Wash Cons:
- Doesn’t dry your car
- High risk of paint marring
- Not Last Stage Protection Safe
- Struggles to remove stubborn dirt
Touchless Car Wash
A Touchless Car Wash is a very promising concept.
I’ve already written an in-depth guide on them already if you’re interested.
The Touchless Car Wash was designed with the customers’ paint job in mind.
Touchless Car Washes use laser technology, high-pressure washers, and strong chemicals to wash your car.
Finally, no more heavily contaminated industrial rollers scratching your car.
That being said, like any other wash method, you can still scratch your car with a touchless car wash.
For Example. The pressure washers may force stubborn dirt across the panel causing light scratches to occur.
Touchless Car Washes also use chemicals that will strip last stage protection.
They may be even harsher than the other automatic washes.
This is because the chemicals need to clean the car without any third party contact.
It’s definitely much safer than the other automatic washes though.
Whatever you do, don’t mistake a brushless wash for a touchless wash! We’ve literally just gone over that!
Touchless Wash Pros:
- Various Upsells
- Safest Automatic Wash Method
- Cheaper than a roadside car wash
Touchless Wash Cons:
- Poor Drying Methods
- Strips last stage protection
- Unlikely To Remove Stubborn Dirt
- Most Expensive Automatic Car Wash
What kind of car wash is best?
It should be fairly obvious by now that handwashing will always be the best type of car wash (when done correctly).
You can use the other wash methods, you just have to weigh up the pros and cons.
I hope that I’ve scared you away from using automatic washes, but you can make your own decisions.
As you become more familiar with the results each method provides, you may find something that gives you the results you need without having to handwash your car every time it’s dirty.
At the end of the day, it’s your car. Do whatever you want with it.