Time Breakdown: How Long Do Different Car Washes Take

An automatic car wash will wash your car quickly and conveniently. But do you know the precise answer for how long does an automatic car wash take?

In general, an automatic car wash takes between three to four minutes. You can find two kinds of automatic car washes: soft-touch wash and touch-less wash. The total time of washing varies slightly from one to another. However, an automatic wash is much faster than a hand wash.

For car owners who don’t have time for hand-washing, an automatic car wash is a great choice. Within a few minutes, an automatic car wash washes your car from the whole body to the underneath section.

Though if you are someone who keeps track of his every minute, I would like to walk you through the time duration of the two types of automatic washes.

In this article, I’ll be discussing the two automatic washes, how much time they take, and why their washing time duration vary.

General Steps in Automatic Car Washing

One can have a better idea about the cleaning time taken by automatic car washes by learning about the general steps involved in automatic car washing. So, how many steps are there in automatic washing, and what are they?

  1. Parking the car: In the first step, you drive into the car wash area and park the car. And in the case of drive-through washes, you remain inside the car during the washing.
  2. Car wash starts: The sensor sends a signal to the car wash’s digital control system that the car is ready for the wash. And the process begins.
  3. First rinse with water: After a quick water spray, a cloth/plastic will remove the dust and dirt on your car’s surface. In touch-less washing, after the spray, we proceed directly to the next step.
  4. Detergent is applied: Then the car is sprayed with a car shampoo solution or any other detergent using pressure washers.
  5. Contact wash is performed: During soft-touch washing, strips of cloth on a frame will rub the surface of your car back and forth. In touch-less washing, we skip to the next step.
  6. Cleansing foam is applied: A foam applicator applies deep cleansing foam on your car’s surface through nozzles.
  7. Second contact wash is performed: In case of a soft-touch wash, your car will move through a set of scrubbers which are soft cloth steps. These strips will lash against your vehicle and clean it with foam.
  8. Car is rinsed again: Then, a blast of clean water will remove the foam from your car.
  9. Car is dried: Depending on the type of car wash, the car is either dried with high pressure air or with soft cloths.

Some car washes also pass the car through a low-pressure system that sprays car wax on the surface after cleaning. However, you can leave this part if you are unsure about the quality of wax they are using.

Since car washes use different washing mechanisms, it’s not necessary that everywhere the sequence of these steps will be the same. 

How Long Does a Touch-less Car Wash Take?

A touch-less car wash takes around 3 minutes, a minute or two less than a soft-touch wash. Since there is no use of plastic or cloth to scrub the dirt, and the surface is just covered in water and detergent sprays, this process is fast and straightforward.

If you are extremely busy and don’t even get time for a monthly hand wash, the touch-less car wash is for you.

It’s safer than a soft-touch wash and the quickest way to get your car washed.

How Long Does a Soft-Touch Car Wash Take?

A soft-touch car wash can take up to 4 minutes in the washing process. The steps in it are the same as in a touch-less car wash, but the car is further cleaned with clothes or plastic before being rinsed with water for the last time which slightly increases the wash time.

The added steps in soft-touch cleaning slow down the washing process for a minute or two compared to touch-less washing.

However, when it comes to effectiveness, it’s considered a much better option. You’ll have a much cleaner car after soft-touch washing than after touch-less washing.

But, there is a downside as well. It often causes scratches on the surface of the car. And multiple soft-touch washes can rip off the car wax and damage the ceramic coating.

Factors Affecting Overall  Car Wash Time

Indeed, not everywhere it’s going to be the same. Maybe in some cases, you will find soft-touch washing quicker than touch-less. So what are the other factors that impact the washing time?

Iterations of Water & Detergents

Automatic car washes can have slightly different ways of washing. Some would rinse your car only initially and at the end, while some might do every time they use a new detergent.

Also, when it comes to soft-touch washes, your car goes through multiple cleanings with clothes. These can vary from wash station to wash station.

Time Duration of Each Step

The total time duration can also vary because of the time duration of a particular step.

For example, some wash stations might rinse your car for only a few seconds and spray detergents immediately. Conversely, some might rinse your car with water for an extended duration before moving to the next step.


The more resources a station has, the faster and effective it will be. 

If we talk about soft-touch washes, some stations have brushes all around the washing area, while some have only one at each end. The more the brushes are, the faster the cleaning process will be. 

Likewise, if they have faster means of putting water on the car, their washing process will be much more efficient.

Automatic Wash vs Hand Wash, what’s the Difference in Terms of Time?

An automatic wash barely takes 3-4 minutes. On the other hand, hand wash can take up to an hour. This difference is due to the manual work in hand-wash that includes filling multiple water buckets, rubbing the detergents with hands, washing sides in turns, etc.

The primary objective of automatic washes is to minimize the washing time and make it easier to keep your car clean.

Otherwise, if you compare hand-washing with soft-touch or touch-less washing, automatic washing is relatively risky. Yet automatic washes have become quite common.

In automatic washes, you don’t have to do anything. Water comes out at a decent pressure whenever it’s needed, so the time wasted in refilling buckets in hand-washing is saved.

Moreover, detergents can be spread all over the car in turns in little time. And in the end, a quick shower cleans off the foam from your vehicle. It comes out with a new, shining look.

Assuming that you are pretty conscious about your time, you might be considering cutting down the washing time by choosing the fastest washing station. But is it a wise thing to do?

The fastest automatic wash station might not be the safest and cleanest. Instead of bothering about a few seconds, you should prioritize the quality of the wash. Always choose a wash station with good reviews regardless of the fact how much time it takes. 

Washing your car takes time, even with automatic washing. Car washes with limited resources and fast cleaning mechanisms will always leave behind some dirt on your vehicle.

Won’t you want your car washed adequately and given a new vehicle-like shine? And for that, it needs thorough washing!

What Should I Do if I Have Limited Time For an Automatic Wash?

To get your car washed quickly, choose the right car wash station and the time.

  • Avoid taking your car for a wash on weekends or before any festival. In most cases, you’ll find at least a dozen other cars waiting for their turn in a queue.
  • Try to find car washes (with good reviews) that are mostly free (you are unlikely to find any such in the middle of the city).
  • If the car wash near you operates 24/7, try to visit in such hours when it’s completely free. This could be early in the morning or at midnight.

You’re unlikely to get fast service if a dozen cars are queuing up outside a wash station.

Moreover, some car wash owners might try to fasten things up and let your car out without adequate cleaning in such circumstances.

So you are better off with a wash station that’s free and has more than enough time to clean every single area of your car.

Key Takeaways

  • An automatic car wash is the fastest way to get your car washed.
  • Touch-less car washes can take up to 3 minutes to wash your car.
  • Soft-touch car washes can take a minute more than touch-less washes.
  • Car washes with maximum resources usually get the job done fast.
  • You should never think about a few extra seconds served in cleaning, but always prioritize your car’s proper washing over time-saving.
  • If you have little time, find the least busy car washing station to get your car washed.
  • If you hate sitting in the car waiting for your turn outside a wash station, don’t visit wash stations on Sundays and a day before any festival.
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge