Automatic Car Wash vs. Hand Wash (Differences, Costs, Which to Use)

Being a car enthusiast, you want your car to look all shiny and clean to take it out for a ride. Your mind might be juggling between selecting automatic car wash over hand washing it — So, which option is better for your car’s appearance, maintenance, and budget?

Hand washes are typically more preferred because of better cleaning efficiency than automated car washes. They are also a relatively cheaper option. However, an automatic car wash saves time and provides a convenient solution for regular washes.

There’s no universal answer to ‘which car wash type is the best?’ — Choosing the right cleaning service for your car is a bit difficult without knowing the pros and cons of hand wash and automated wash.

Hence, making a car wash choice largely depends on your personal preferences.

In this article, I will make your car wash choice easier by elaborating the differences between an automatic car wash and hand wash, talking about their pros, cons, and costs. Stay tuned.

Differences Between an Automatic Car Wash & Hand Car Wash

The table compares the automatic car wash with hand car wash according to several criteria:

CriteriaAutomatic Car WashHand Car Wash
Estimated One-Time Cost$10 – $25$5 – $30
Time3 – 10 Minutes30 – 60 Minutes
Water SpottingYesMinimal
Water UsageLessMore
Sandpaper EffectYesYes
Final Wash ResultAcceptablePerfect
ReachLimitedAmple

Now that you have looked at an overview of the differences between both car wash types. Let’s dig in deeper and know the dissimilarities in detail.

Estimated One-Time Cost of Car Wash

Unless you’re a car wash geek (taking your car to a cleaning service frequently), the budget of both car wash types shouldn’t bother you.

There is minimal difference between the costs of automated and hand car wash. However, it may count when you’re getting your car washed every other day.

Hand wash requires continuous labor efforts, while automated car wash needs heavy and specialized machines. Hence, you’ll rarely see a big difference between the prices of the two. In fact — Hand car wash can be cheaper in some car wash facilities.

Surprising, isn’t it?

Although the professional car wash doesn’t cost much, if you want to save those bucks too, cleaning the car yourself isn’t a bad idea at all — In fact, the best one when you’re obsessed with washing cars.

Most of the cleaning essentials might already be present at your house. If not, they won’t be much expensive and will incur a one-time cost. Here are the essentials that you’ll be needing while hand washing your car:

  • Buckets
  • Sufficient Supply of Water
  • Microfiber towels and mitts
  • Hose
  • Car shampoo

None of them are difficult to access and are high-priced. You can easily get them at the nearest mart. The only variable you should keep an eye on is water usage, as it can make or break the budget depending on your residing location.

I have written an in-depth guide on how much DIY car detailing costs. Make sure to check it here. You will see that it is actually a very affordable cleaning option!

Time Required for a Car Wash

Now here comes the big deal — Time is money, and the saying isn’t more truthful than in the case of the car wash.

We all have busy schedules, and it’s difficult to take out time for a long car wash out of the tight schedule.

Suppose you’re getting late for an event and your car looks dirty because of all the stains and grime. What car wash option will be your best bet to save time? If you answered “automated car wash,” then you’re very much right because a hand wash generally takes thrice the time of an automatic car wash. 

In other words, an automated car wash barely takes less than ten minutes for a full service, while a hand car wash will take around 30 minutes for the same job (Sometimes even more than an hour!)

Car owners love to sit by an automated car wash facility while seeing their cars getting washed with machine-driven technology — I bet the time flies while you see it!

The hand car wash time varies because of the labor efficiency and tiredness level. Since they are humans, it’s common for them to get exhausted after two or three car washes which slow down the speed.

If you’re washing your car by yourself, it will take up more than an hour; you’ll have to get water and make the soap ready for washing the car. Read this article to know how you can wash your car with just water.

Water Spotting After Washing the Car

For those who don’t know, water spotting is a phenomenon in which the mineral deposits on the car surface after the water droplets dry out. They diminish the glow of your car and steal the surface’s shine. The water spots will be more visible if your car’s finish doesn’t have a quality wax or sealant.

Sounds like something you don’t want to see on your car, right? Then you should avoid automated car wash services.

It’s common in the localities where the water has abundant minerals and salts. Old automated machines in a car wash may be just another reason water spots on your car. Even if the car wash facility uses an air dryer, you can easily identify the spots by closely looking at the surface.

However, they aren’t really a big mess — You can easily remove them with the help of a soft towel or microfiber cloth. For a quick solution, there are numerous water spot removal products available in the market too.

On the other hand, you’ll rarely see the water spots after the hand wash because of the effective hand wiping.

Water Usage

The environmentalists will love it —  Automated car wash machines work on modern engineering principles, which allows them to use a minimum amount of water while being efficient at the same time.

A hose provides high pressure and a high volume of water which often results in excessive water usage. In contrast, automated machines use precise water quantity and sprinkling angles, resulting in reduced water usage.

Watch the video below to see how the touch-less car wash cleans a dirty car.

Sandpaper Effect Due to Car Wash

What can be worse than scrubbing your car coat with your own hands? It’s called sandpaper’s effect, and It’s as frightening as it sounds, but unfortunately, it happens with many people who tend to wash their cars by themselves.

Even the hand car wash workers don’t pay attention to the sponge’s pressure when scrubbing the car’s surface. They forcefully try to remove the dirt marks, making several scratches on the car’s finish.

It might seem that you should absolutely not wash your car by yourself, because it will scratch the paint. This is partly true. If you use the wrong materials and wrong techniques you are likely to scratch your car while washing it.

On the other hand, if you use the right materials, perform a pre-wash with snow foam and the correct hand washing technique, you are unlikely to scratch your car. It is actually the safest way to clean a car.

When it comes to automatic car washes, you have to differentiate between the different types of car washes there are.

I have written a really informative and in-depth article about this here. Make sure to check out, why automatic car washes are not safe for your car.

Generally said, the sandpaper effect is very high with any type of friction car wash. You should totally stay away from them if you want to protect your car’s paint.

Touchless car washes are a safe option on the other hand and can be used if you do not have the time to wash your car by hand. As there is no manual force applied to the car with a touchless car wash, there is absolutely no sandpaper effect with these automatic car washes.

Final Wash Result

Automatic car washes are not only harmful for the paint, another downside is also that they are nowhere near as thorough as a hand wash.

You are very likely to find dirty spots after you drove your car through an automatic car wash. It is just impossible for automatic car washes to reach certain parts of the car. No automatic car wash will be able to clean your fuel filler flap or the inside of the door panels.

Automatic car washes also dry the car with air, which will never fully remove all excess water. You are guaranteed to find water spots on your car after a day.

If you wash your car by hand on the other side, you can be extremely thorough and clean every spot and body panel of your car. You can also dry the car properly and make sure that no water spots form.

Overall the final wash result of an automatic car wash is acceptable for most people, but it is nowhere near as good as the result of a thorough hand wash.

Reach of the Car Wash

One of the areas where the automated car wash lacks behind the hand wash is the reach. 

Even though water sprinklers, water quantity, and angles can be customized in an automated car wash facility, hand car wash still has a better reach for interior and exterior components.

The automatic car wash can remove dirt from all the major surfaces, but it keeps piling up at the corners where automated car wash can’t simply reach.

This is where a hand car wash worker comes in handy who will make his effort to remove every stain, grime, and water spots to the best possible extent.

Automatic Car Wash vs. Hand Wash – Which to Choose?

First of all, I have to state again that using an automatic car wash is an unsafe way to clean a car. So as a general answer you should always choose a proper hand wash, because of all the advantages mentioned above.

Nevertheless, a touchless car wash is a solid option for a quick rinse if you do not find the time for a proper wash. It will not scratch the paint and remove a good amount of dirt. Just do not expect your car to be as clean as after a hand wash.

Touchless car washes are extremely beneficial during winter to wash away salt from the car that could lead to rust spots.

Key Takeaways

  • Hand washes are superior to automatic car washes
  • Automatic car washes will scratch your paint –> sandpaper effect
  • Touchless car washes are safe to use but not as thorough as a hand wash
  • Washing a car by hand is cheaper but takes longer

Here Are All My Favorite Car Detailing Products

Proper car detailing requires a lot of products. Given that the market for car detailing products is huge and there are many different products available, it can be very confusing and hard to find seriously high-quality products online.

I want to make sure that you as my reader get great car detailing products, so I decided to list my favorite products down below. I am sure you and your car will love them! 🙂

Microfiber Wash Mitts: Microfiber wash mitts are the go-to piece of equipment for every car cleaning enthusiast. Without a proper wash mitt cleaning a car is impossible. These are my favorites:

  • Amazon Basics Deluxe Microfiber Car Wash Mitt: Click here
  • Armor All Microfiber Car Wash Mitt: Click here
  • The Rag Company – Cyclone Wash Mitts: Click here

Car Shampoo: Car shampoo is the only suitable shampoo for washing cars safely. Make sure to get a high-quality car shampoo to prevent scratches. Check my favorites here and get yourself a good car shampoo!

Pressure Washers: If you are serious about car detailing and about cleaning your cars properly, there is no way around a high-quality pressure washer. I know that they are expensive, but trust me, a good pressure washer is a game-changer. Check out my recommendations below!

  • Karcher 13246440 K 5 Premium Full Control: Click here
  • Greenworks Electric Pressure Washer GPW2003: Click here
  • Karcher K1700 Electric Power Pressure Washer: Click here

Paint Protection: Paint protection is something that belongs to every car detailing routine. As it is so important, there are many different products and many different use cases. Check the list below to find my favorite paint protection products.

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Jan-Lucas Ganssauge

Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124