Car Washes: Why They Are Not Safe For Your Car

Using a car wash is the most convenient way to wash a car and many people are using automatic car washes everyday. Even though, many people use it, automatic car washes are known to be unsafe for cars and to destroy the paintjob along with some other major problems.

But what exactly are the reasons why automatic car washes are not safe for a car? And what should you do instead?

Automatic car washes are not safe to clean a car. Automatic car washes use harsh chemicals and recycled and contaminated water to clean a car. This leaves the car dirty even after the wash and also scratches the clear coat.

No matter which type of automatic car wash is used, they are all not suited to wash a car safely for multiple reasons.

Reasons Why Car Washes Are Not Safe

As mentioned above, washing a car with an automatic car wash is not safe for a lot of reasons.

These are the reasons why a car wash is not safe for a car:

  • Harsh chemicals are used
  • Not enough cleaning product used
  • Use of recycled water
  • Unmaintained brushes
  • Car washes leave water spots
  • Car washes can break off parts of the car
  • Does not remove all kinds of dirt

Harsh chemicals are used

Some car washes use harsh and highly concentrated chemicals in order to clean cars quickly. It is not that these products are not designed to clean cars, they are just not necessarily the best ones and can damage the car.

An example for this is the foam that is used. For a car wash to be most efficient and to retain their customers, the car needs to be the cleanest it can be the fastest it can. Using a car shampoo that is not pH-neutral can achieve this.

These shampoos work, but they are not as gentle as pH-neutral shampoos and can damage the paint.

The same is true for any other kind of cleaning product that is used in an automatic car wash. You do not really know what touches your car and it is likely, that it is a highly concentrated and harsh chemical cleaning product.

Not enough cleaning product used

Especially during the contact wash phase it is crucial to use enough car shampoo in order to lubricate the paint and to avoid scratches once the paint is touched.

But also during other procedures like the pre-wash phase or when cleaning the wheels it is important to use enough cleaning product to really get rid of all the dirt on the car.

For car washes, the cleaning products are a huge cost factor, so minimizing the amount used during a car wash reduces costs and increases the profit margin. This is the primary goal of a car wash for the owner. The customer having a clean car is a great side effect.

Use of recycled water

Using recycled water is great for the environments, but bad for cleaning cars.

Even though water cleaning techniques and systems are extremely effective nowadays, the recycled water is mostly still contaminated.
This is especially true for car washes, where the water cleaning systems need to filter out every kind of dirt ranging from mud, sand and bird poop to harsher dirt like industrial fallout or tar.

This means that washing your car with this contaminated water washes away the dirt from your car, but at the same time contaminates the paint again with the dirt inside the water.

Using recycled water will never really get the car decontaminated and clean.

Unmaintained brushes

This is one of the biggest reasons why you should not use an automatic car wash.

See how dirty these brushes are. You do not want this touching your car.

As mentioned above, car washes are meant to earn money for the owner. This means that in the best case the car wash runs for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Moreover the owner will of course try to cut costs. Maintaining the cleaning brushes properly is a big cost, so many owners ignore this in order to maximize profits.

Apart from this, brushes are by no means safe to clean cars. I have written an in depth post about this here. I bet you will never go to a car wash after reading this post.

Of course there are also car washes that do not use brushes at all. Some are actually touchless car washes while other strips made out of microfiber cloths.

Cleaning a car with microfiber is a million miles better than cleaning a car with a brush. But the microfiber needs to be maintained as well, in order to be safe. This is unlikely to be the case, so your car will get cleaned with contaminated brushes or microfibers.

The dirt stuck inside acts like sandpaper and will surely scratch the clear coat of the paint.

Car washes leave water spots

Car washes most often use air to dry a car. Generally, this is the best way to dry a car, as touching the car is not necessary, which reduces the risk of scratches dramatically.

The problem is, that automatic car washes only blow dry the car from above. This way not all water is blown away, leaving water spots behind.

These are especially noticeable on dark cars like black or navy blue cars.

If the automatic car wash you are using dries your car with an automatic contact drying technique, using microfiber towels to get rid of the water, you have a much bigger problem.

These towels are most likely not maintained properly. Combined with the car still being contaminated after the car wash, the drying will leave scratches and swirl marks. Water spots will be the least of your problems then.

Car washes can break off parts of the car

This rarely happens, but there are incidents where a car wash has broken off parts of the car inside. These are for example the mountings for the windshield wipers or the side mirror caps.

Surely the owner of the car wash is insured against these incidents, nevertheless the owner will most likely try to make it seem like your own fault. Even if the owner agrees to pay for the damage, it is just annoying to deal with this kind of stuff.

Does not remove all kinds of dirt

Cars come in contact with lots of different kinds of dirt. Some are harsher than others and need special equipment to be removed safely.

An automatic car wash could never clean this kind of bonded contaminant. A clay bar is needed to clean the hood here.

Any contaminant that is embedded in the paint cannot be removed by washing the car. In order to remove these kinds of dirt a clay bar is needed, which an automatic car wash does not provide.

I have written a post about how clay bars work here. Check it out for more background knowledge!

Especially if you do not wash your car regularly, an automatic car wash will not remove all kinds of dirt from the car, leaving you unsatisfied with the end result.

What types of automatic car washes are there?

Of course not every automatic car wash is the same and there are a few variables that determine how bad an automatic car wash is for the car.

Automatic car washes can be separated into two different types. There are touchless car washes and friction car washes available. Touchless car washes only use chemicals while friction car washes use brushes or microfiber cloths to clean the car.

Let’s take a closer look at these two different types of automatic car washes and compare them side by side with a proper handwash. The different types of car washes are ranked with grades, ranging from A to F.

CriteriaTouchless Friction (Brush) Friction
(microfiber cloths)
Hand wash
Thoroughness of cleaningEDDA
Harshness of chemicalsFDDB
Risk of major damages BCCA
Risk of scratchesAFEB
Overall RatingDD- DA-

As you can see, no matter what kind of automatic car wash you use, it is far inferior to a proper hand wash. Let’s take an even closer look at each of these car wash options.

Touchless car wash

A touchless car wash cleans the car without anything touching the car except for chemicals. No microfiber cloths or brushes are used on the car with this type of car wash.

There are no brushes in this type of car wash. Only water and chemicals are used to clean the cars.

The advantages of this are, that the risk of scratching is minimized drastically. Also major damages are unlikely to occur, as no force is applied to the car.

The downside to these advantages is that the car is by no means cleaned as thoroughly as with a hand wash or an automatic friction car wash.
Also, the chemicals that are used with these kinds of car washes need to much harsher, because they are the only things that are cleaning the car.

Overall, a touchless car wash is better than a friction car wash, because the risk of scratches and damages is minimal. On the other hand side, harsh chemicals are used and the car is not cleaned as thoroughly as with the other available car wash options.

Friction car wash (brush version)

An automatic friction car wash alone is not safe to clean a car. Automatic friction car washes using brushes are even worse.

These brushes will totally scratch the paint of your car and can even break off parts like the side mirrors.

These car washes will absolutely scratch the paint of your car, making it look worse and worse with every car wash.

On top of this, the brushes can actually damage the car in terms of ripping of parts of it. There are cases reported, where the car wash ripped off the windshield wiper mountings or the side mirrors.

The advantage of a friction car wash is, that is cleans the car more thoroughly than a touchless car wash, as the friction dissolves more dirt than chemicals and water alone.
Moreover, the chemicals are not as harsh and highly-concentrated as with a touchless car wash.

Nevertheless, I cannot recommend using an automatic friction car wash with brushes at all. Scratches are guaranteed and there is a risk of actually damaging the car, when using this type of car wash.

Friction car wash (microfiber version)

Apart from friction car washes that use brushes, there are also ones that use big microfiber cloths instead. These ones are a bit better than the brush versions, but nevertheless not suitable to clean cars safely and properly.

Microfiber is better than brushes, but it will also scratch the clear coat of your car.

The one advantage that microfiber friction car washes have compared to the ones using brushes is that they are less likely to scratch the car.
But be aware, less likely does not mean that they are safe.

Even though microfiber is better suited to clean a car than brushes are, the microfiber needs to be cleaned thoroughly after every use in order to decontaminate it. Otherwise the dirt inside the microfiber towel will act like sand paper, scratching the paint of the car.

Given that automatic car washes are not maintained as frequently as necessary (meaning thorough cleaning after every car), the microfiber cloths are most likely highly contaminated. They are still safter to use than brushes, but scratches are almost guaranteed with friction car washes that use microfiber cloths.

Apart from this fact, the two types of friction car washes are identical. They are not cleaning the car very thoroughly, use harsh chemicals and the risk of damaging the car is high.

Using a friction car wash with microfiber towel is not safe for the car. Scratches are almost guaranteed and the car wash can even damage the car severly.

Hand wash

As already mentioned above, any type of automatic car wash is inferior to a proper hand wash and there are multiple reasons for it.

Disclaimer: A proper hand wash involves the right products and correct washing techniques. Using wrong products, equipment and, techniques can also damage the paint of the car severly. Always make sure to use proper washing equipment when hand washing a car.

Hand washing is the only safe way to clean a car. Here you see a friend of mine cleaning a Porsche Taycan with a microfiber mitt.

Hand washing a car makes sure, that the car is cleaned thoroughly and extensively. It is possible to clean every little spot, that an automatic car wash is unable to clean. Examples are the inside of the doors, the fuel filler flap and the rim wells.

Moreover the chemicals used for hand washing are far less harsh than the ones used during an automatic car wash. The reason is, that hand washing involves a lot more equipment that is specialized to clean certain types of dirt and grime. An example would be the clay bar, which is used to remove bonded contaminants. An automatic car wash does not have this option, so it needs harsher chemicals to accomplish a similar result.

If you do not know how a clay bar works, I have written a detailed article about it here. It has nice pictures and makes it easy to understand why clay bars are awesome!

The risk of damaging the car is also extremely low with a proper hand wash. It is basically impossible to break off any parts of the car that are mounted to it. I never heard of someone breaking off the side mirror while hand washing a car.

Hand washing a car is much safer than using an automatic car wash. Nevertheless, there is still a risk of scratching the car, even with proper techniques and proper equipment. But, compared to automatic car washes, this risk is basically non-existent.

Hand washing a car is the only safe and proper method to clean a car. It is much more thorough and far less likely to damage or scratch the car.

Interestingly, hand washing a car is also not really expensive. I have checked the costs of hand washing a car in a detailed article here. Make sure to check it out and to compare it to your local, automatic car wash.

Is it bad to take your car through the car wash everyday?

As I have highlighted in the paragraphs above, no matter what kind of automatic car wash you are planning to use, it will neither clean the car properly nor will it clean the car safely.

Taking your car through the car wash everyday will quickly lead to scratches and major damages on the car. Car washes use equipment that is maintained improperly and that will in turn damage the paintjob of your car, leaving it scratched and dull.

It is just logical, that the more often you visit an automatic car wash, the faster your car will be damaged and the paint will be scratched.

So visiting the car wash everyday is not only a waste of money, but also very damaging to the car and especially the car’s paint.

Are car washes bad for black cars?

Black cars are according for roughly 23% of all car sales in the US, making it the second most popular car color just behind white. Given that so many cars a black, many people also wonder if car washes are bad for black cars.

Car washes will damage and scratch black cars over time, destroying the paint in the process. A touchless car wash will not scratch the paint, but it will leave the black car dirty and looking dull after the wash, as it this type of car wash does not clean the car thoroughly.

Black cars are not more sensitive to scratches than other cars, but scratches are much more noticeable than on white cars for example. Black cars are highly reflective and glossy which makes different light reflection caused by scratches or swirl marks very noticeable.

Considering that friction car washes are guaranteed to scratch the car, given the used equipment and improper maintenance of the equipment, visiting the car wash with a black car is a recipe for disaster.

Even a touchless car wash is a no-go if you are driving a black car. The probem with this kind of car wash is not that it will scratch the car, but that it will not clean the car thoroughly.

As mentioned above, black cars are mostly glossy and very reflective. Any kind of dirt or contaminant left on the paint will decrease the reflectiveness of the car and is very noticeable.

Touchless car washes do not clean a car properly, so using them with a black car will not lead to a satisfying end result.

What to use instead of a car wash

Now that you know why a car wash is damaging to your car and you have hopefully understood that you should never use one, the question remains what to use instead of a car wash to clean a car.

Instead of using a car wash it is much better to perform a hand wash in order to clean a car properly and safe. A proper hand wash with the correct equipment and techniques will reduce the risk of damages and scratches to a minimum. A hand wash is the best way to clean a car safely and thoroughly.

Performing a proper hand wash, including the correct washing techniques and products is the safest way to clean a car.
It moreover allows you to be very thorough, as you can clean places that an automatic car wash cannot.

I highly advise you to learn how to perform a safe hand wash and to invest some money to buy some equipment. As I have broken down here, the cost for performing a hand wash is not high and it is the safest and most thorough way to clean your car.

Key Takeaways

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