Why Automatic Car Wash Brushes Scratch Your Car: 8 Reasons

Faster isn’t always better. A quote that fits perfectly when it comes to my attitude towards a car wash.

We all want it to be thorough and safe, but don’t have enough time or energy to clean the car completey ourselves.

Thus naturally, we opt for a quick solution – An automatic car wash that can help save time and effort.

And while that’s true, it’s important to know that an automatic car wash isn’t the safest car washing technique and can do more harm than good.

Here are 8 reasons why automatic car wash brush scratches your car:

  • Usage of Spinning Brushes
  • Usage of Unmaintained Brushes
  • Vulnerable Clear Coats
  • Improper Drying Techniques
  • Strong Water Pressure
  • Recycled Water Usage
  • Hard Water & Mineral Deposits
  • Harsh Chemicals

I know being caught between convenience and quality is quite easy. However, you must make the right decision.

An automatic car wash may seem tempting and time-saving, but it comes at a cost. 

Let us take a deeper look as to why automatic car wash brushes will scratch or damage your car

Usage Of Spinning Brushes

The spinning or swirling brushes that touch your car’s surface are not gentle.

You might spend day and night maintaining your car, but this small oversight of letting those brushes come in contact with your car can ruin the coat, paint, and overall texture.

Spinning brushes drub the car’s surface. In most cases, these brushes and the tempo at which they rotate are not good for the coat.

Just the sheer pressure and the rotation frequency can lead to scratches, and even major damage.

Usage Of Unmaintained Brushes

Automatic car wash brushes are very abrasive.

Since the brushes are made of bristles, they aren’t entirely flat. The cut-off edge is not soft which makes the brushes unsuitable for cleaning.

Moreover, add to the fact that thousands of cars have entered the same tunnel you did, hence, expecting the brushes to be extremely clean is simply a delusion.

These brushes are packed with dirt, debris, and grime, and are going to touch your car.

All this dirt inside the brushes will act like sandpaper and scratch the coat off your car.

In addition to the coat, these brushes can scathe the paint as well. After all is said and done, you’re likely to drive out with water patches, spider web marks, and scratches on your car. 

Vulnerable clear coats

Not all clear coats are of the same nature. Some are softer and more delicate than others.

Thus, when a dirty cloth or rag interacts with such a surface, the debris, and mucks from the cloth impact the coat negatively. 

If your car has been manufactured in Korea or Japan, it’s likely to have a softer coat. And thus, automatic car wash brushes spell trouble.

Even if it’s made in the US, it will cause damage to your car. So, what can you expect?

A spider web effect to say the least. And that’s just the start of it. 

It’s advisable to get your car’s surface professionally treated to preserve its original state. Avoid automatic car wash as much as you can.

The more brushes your car touches, the duller it’ll get overtime. 

Improper drying techniques

All the damage need not be done by the brushes. For instance, at many car-wash centers, attendants will ask to dry the car using a cloth. This is so you can drive away with a dry car.

This step can add insult to the injury if the attendant does not use a clean towel to dry your car.

On busy days, attendants are caught up with plenty of customers and thus might end up using dirty rags to wipe your wet car. If you find the cloth unclean, you should avoid this complimentary service.

Your car has already been through a tough drubbing via those swirling brushes, and so it’s time you go easy on it. 

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Strong Water Pressure

As a car owner, I value my car’s overall appearance. However, I also know that a quick blast of water can do some serious damage to my car.

Not only can it scratch my car, but can affect the paint and coating.

Sometimes, if a small paint chip is peeling off, a strong force of water can expose it even further.

And later when it comes in contact with a dirty rag, or uncleaned brushes, I might need a complete paint job.

Hard Water & Mineral Deposits 

Always remember that your car likes filtered water as much as you do. Most of the time, car washing centers might not care about the hardness of the water they are using.

Thus, if excessive hard water is used against your car, it can leave mineral deposits on the surface.

Firstly, the pressure at which the water is projected onto your car can lead to scratches.

Secondly, when your car’s surface is covered with mineral deposits and is exposed to sunlight, it can damage the entire paint and coating.

Thus, it’s advisable to get a brushless wash during a cloudy day and prevent your car from direct sunlight.

Recycled Water Usage

Recycling water is great for drinking, but not so much for cleaning cars. Most people don’t care about the cleanliness of the water, and think of car wash as that mundane task that can be done with any type of water.

Mind you, this negligence can be costly, and can easily scratch the paint.

If your preferred service center uses recycled water, you should talk to them and learn about it before the water comes in contact with your car.

You must make sure that the water they are using is not contaminated and does not contain any type of mud, sand, and even industrial dirt.


Because while the recycled water might appear to clean your car, the particles in it, might scratch the paint, and coating.

Harsh chemicals

Automatic car wash, especially brushless, relies heavily on concentrated cleaning.

These are highly concentrated chemicals that are harsh on your car’s paint.

Sure, all we want is the car to be washed quickly, but if the car shampoo is not pH-neutral, the wash may result in scratches and damaged coating.

As per Chicago Tribune, most car cleaners contain strong hydrofluoric acids that are capable of etching glass if not diluted properly.

Thus, most chemicals used are only advisable for a mild car wash as they can ruin the paint.

How Can You Prevent Scratches During An Automatic Car Wash?

Quick Answer

To avoid scratches during an automatic car wash it is best to avoid friction car washes. A touchless car wash is a much better option. A touchless wash uses chemicals and water to wash a car. It is much safer than a friction car wash, but not as thorough.

Here’s a tabular guide that will help you understand the scratch/cleanliness risk involved with each type of wash.

Type of cleaningEffective CleaningRisk of ScratchesRisk of Major Damages
Friction (Brush)DFC
Friction (Microfiber cloth)DEC
Hand washAB
This table clearly shows that a touchless car wash is the only automatic car wash that should be used. Even then, a handwash is far superior in every aspect.

From the tabular representation, you can understand that a touchless process is the most effective one when you want to prevent scratches.

It’s way better than friction-based cleaning, and slightly less risky if you’re not experienced with hand wash.

Lastly, to shield your car better, it’s advisable to apply a ceramic coating. With its hydrophobic properties, the coating will prevent the grime, and dirt from sticking to your car.

Is A Touchless Car Wash Safe? 

Quick Answer

To avoid scratches during an automatic car wash it is best to avoid friction car washes. A touchless car wash is a much better option. A touchless wash uses chemicals and water to wash a car. It is much safer than a friction car wash, but not as thorough.

Having said that, a touchless car wash has its shortcomings. For instance, the chemicals used in brushless washing might be too powerful for your paint, and so can cause the paint to lose its shine over time. 

Similar to the brushes, the chemicals themselves are quite abrasive, and thus might not be as safe as a DIY-car wash. 

Is a Handwash Better Than An Automatic Car Wash To Avoid Scratches?

Quick Answer

To avoid scratches during an automatic car wash it is best to avoid friction car washes. A touchless car wash is a much better option. A touchless wash uses chemicals and water to wash a car. It is much safer than a friction car wash, but not as thorough.

On top of that, here are four reasons why I feel hand washing is the best car washing process:

  • Thorough cleaning
  • Custom chemical selection based on harshness
  • Minimizing the risk of major damages
  • Maintained equipment used

If you care about preventing scratches, major damages, and ensure deep cleaning, a handwash is the way to go about it.

Key Takeaways 

  • Automatic car washes are unsafe for cars
  • Use a touchless car wash if necessary
  • Avoid friction car washes at all costs
  • It is best to wash your car by hand
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