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Are Touchless Car Washes Bad For Paint? (Harsh Chemicals)

Image Credit: duallogic via Envato Elements

Image Credit: duallogic via Envato Elements

Are Touchless Car Washes Bad For Paint? (Harsh Chemicals)

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Touchless car wash systems, such as the very popular LaserWash brand of touchless car wash by PDQ, claim they will cause no paint damage. They use strong detergents and water pressure to get cars clean.

Within a few seconds, you can have a clean vehicle that won’t need to be exposed to spinning brushes or other methods of friction-based car washing techniques.

But are touchless car washes safe? What are the risks to your vehicle? Let’s dive into the details.

Are Touchless Car Washes Bad For Paint?

Touchless car wash systems are designed to eliminate scratches to your car’s finish, however they use harsh chemicals such as highly acidic and alkaline detergents to loosen dirt and environmental contaminants from your vehicle.

The detergents used in automatic car wash touchless systems can accelerate paint damage over time and be harmful to plastics and rubber seals.

No car wash method is perfect and all have some risk. I consider touchless car washes safe enough to use personally for my ceramic coated car.

Do Touchless Car Washes Use Harsh Chemicals?

Touchless car wash systems need to use harsher chemicals to ensure they can effectively clean your car or truck. The combine the use of low pH (acidic) surfactants and high pH (alkaline) surfactants with high pressure water jets to loosen and blast away dirt and road grime.

These harsher cleaning solutions are much tougher on your clear coat, exterior plastics, rubber seals, and other exterior surfaces.

The use of these more aggressive chemicals is not a significant concern when used in moderation. But over time with frequent use there can be accelerated wear to your car’s paint, plastics, and gaskets.

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Is A Touchless Car Wash Safe For Ceramic Coating?

Touchless car washes are reasonably safe to use on ceramic coatings. This is because ceramic coatings are very resistant to harsh chemicals and extremely durable.

Additionally, they withstand scratches and environmental contaminants much better than waxes and paint sealants.

This isn’t to say that a touchless car wash isn’t tough on your ceramic coating. These coatings wear away over time and an aggressive touchless car wash will accelerate this wear.

Touchless car washes are much more aggressive on waxes and paint sealants that are not as well bonded with your vehicle’s paint.

Does A Touchless Car Wash Remove Wax?

Touchless car washes will remove some wax and significantly degrade any remaining waxes ability to protect your car’s finish.

Car wax and paint sealants wear away with rain and exposure to weather and environmental contaminants. Rain is far less aggressive than the soaps and high pressure sprayers used in a touchless wash.

Many modern car washes apply, or offer to apply a spray wax as part of the car washing process. Automated car wash spray wax is not as durable as a proper quality carnauba wax or especially a paint sealant.

If you decide to use a touchless car wash to clean your car or truck, expect to need to reapply your favorite wax or paint sealant shortly afterward.

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How Effective Are Touchless Car Washes?

Touchless car wash systems are not as effective as friction-based automatic car washes that use brushes, but they are capable of doing a good job of cleaning your car or truck.

The more harsh soap and high pressure sprayers try to make up the difference in effectiveness and are capable of providing a decent clean for your vehicle’s exterior.

Issues that touchless car washes have with the cleaning process are:

  • Stuck on mud and dirt is less likely to be removed
  • Oils and grease are more difficult to remove
  • Some unique curves, voids, and crevices may be difficult to reach
  • High pressure may cause water to leak around some window seals
  • If maintenance isn’t performed regularly their effectiveness drops even further

Touchless car washes are extremely effective for maintenance washes, when you have a lightly dirty car or truck that needs a bit of sprucing up.

If you have a lot of stuck on environmental contaminants like bird droppings, tree sap, brake dust, and road grime, a more thorough hand washing may be necessary. Even a normal automatic wash with microfiber brushes will struggle with some of these problems.

Touchless Car Wash Vs Regular Automatic Car Washes

Friction-based automatic car washes can use less aggressive soaps to loosen debris and remove dirt. The microfiber brushes and curtains used in soft-touch car washes increase the chance of causing swirl marks and light scratches in your clear coat.

Touchless car washes rely on aggressive chemical cleaners and high water pressure jets to force dirt and debris from the surface of your vehicle finish.

The point of touchless car washes is to eliminate the potential for causing scratches on the surface of your paint.

Regular automatic car washes use friction in the cleaning process. The friction is created usually by spinning brushes or microfiber curtains. Aggressive spinning brushes, especially brushes that don’t use microfiber, can easily cause scratches and paint damage.

Over time, these swirl marks and scratches build up and turn the former mirror finish of new cars to a dull spiderwebbed-looking sea of scratches, easily seen in bright daylight.

While a touchless automatic car wash eliminates the chance of a scratch that a regular automatic car wash will likely cause, it doesn’t completely eliminate risk.

Harsh cleaning solutions can accelerate damage to your car’s finish and dry out plastics and rubber seals due to repeated use over an extended period of time.

While this isn’t an immediate concern, it is something car owners should be aware of when deciding how to properly care for your car or truck.

Flawless Paint (Left) / Neglected Paint (Right)
Car Wash Scratched My Car! What To Do Now?
Image Credit: DetailDIY

Touchless Car Wash Vs Hand Wash

Hand washing is the gentlest and most effective way of to clean your vehicle thoroughly and effectively. Car soap used for washing your car at home is pH neutral. It is very gentle and will do little to remove waxes or paint sealants from your vehicle’s exterior.

Touchless car washes are convenient and reasonably safe for occasional use, but they will not thoroughly clean car and truck exteriors since they don’t use an method of physically contacting the vehicle.

The harsh soaps and detergents used in touchless washes will significantly degrade waxes and paint sealants which will leave your finish less protected from environmental contaminants and UV rays.

Hand washing still runs a risk of creating a scratch if a bit of grit gets trapped in your microfiber wash mitt. No method of car washing is perfect.

Better than an automated touchless wash or a hand wash is the touchless car wash method you can use at home. These DIY touchless car washes are about as safe as you can get. They use gentle pH neutral car shampoos and pressure washers to blast off dirt and film.

Unfortunately, whole a home touchless car wash is the safest way to get your car clean, it can’t always get all the dirt off your vehicle. Hand washes are the best safe method for unusually dirty vehicles.

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Are Touchless Car Washes Better?

Of all of the automated car washes currently on the market, I consider touchless car washes safe enough to use and better than all of the other methods. There is less damage potential and virtually no chance of causing a single scratch in the car’s finish.

While the aggressive soaps can be harsh, I’m not too concerned. Especially when used in moderation. I prefer hand washing my cars typically so automated car washes are not they usual way I get my car washed.

I’m also a strong advocate of the touchless car wash method at home. It’s ideal for keeping your car clean between hand washes. It’s safer than an automated touchless car wash because it’s used with a pH neutral car shampoo that is extremely gentle and won’t prematurely degrade waxes and sealants.

At home touchless washes are extremely safe and reasonably effective. Hand washing is still necessary occasionally to get the most stubborn surface contaminants removed. Performing a touchless wash regularly between hand washes reduces the need of hand washing which helps ensure your vehicle maintains its new car shine for as long as possible.

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Conclusion

I consider touchless car washes safe for maintenance washes on ceramic coated cars. Even those with waxes or paint sealants should be fine, but the challenge will be that the paint protection will be significantly weakened and need to be reapplied.

Vehicles with ceramic paint protection should be in great shape after a touchless wash due to the impressive ability of ceramics to withstand chemical solvents and detergents.

I will recommend following a touchless wash with a ceramic booster that most ceramic coating manufacturers produce to be paired with their ceramic protection to restore faded hydrophobic water beading and shine.

If you’re wanting to avoid tunnel car washes with spinning brushes, a touchless car wash is a good safe alternative as long as you understand the potential downsides.

Good luck and happy detailing.

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