This web site is all about detailing your own car but that isn’t always a convenient option. Many of us have very busy lives and may want to occasionally hit the local car wash to do a quick clean.
If you’ve spent much time here you know that automatic car washes that use brushes are bad. They can easily cause light swirls and scratches in your clear coat.
Cloth automatic car washes are better than those that use bristles but they still run a pretty high risk of causing fine scratches.
Touchless automatic car washes theoretically should completely eliminate the possibility of scratching since there is nothing that physically touches the finish of the car.
Fine swirls and scratches in your clear coat can create a dull appearance to your car. They are most noticeable on darker cars but can make any color car look dull. If you must go through an automatic car wash touchless is the best choice.
While automatic car washes are easy, they have downsides. We recommend washing your car yourself. If you have the right tools the job is much easier. To learn more read our article about How To Wash A Car Without Scratching.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect option. Keep reading to learn more about why you may want to rethink any automatic car wash.
What is a touchless car wash?
An automatic touchless car wash is very similar to the normal drive-thru car wash that you’re familiar with. The difference is that instead of giant spinning brushes or long strips of undulating fabric it uses high pressure water jets and more powerful chemicals.
You may have even used a touchless automatic car wash and not even realized it was any different than a more traditional automatic car wash. If you’re not actually paying attention to the mechanisms used for cleaning your car or truck you won’t notice any difference.
Where you may notice a difference is in the quality of the cleaning you’ll see when your vehicle comes out the other end. High pressure can’t completely replace physically touching the surface of your paint to get it clean.
To help close the gap, touchless automatic car washes usually use a combination of high pH and low pH cleaning solutions to break down the attachment that dirt and road grime has with the clear coat of your car.
These chemicals help the performance of the touchless car wash so it can produce a much cleaner result than with just pressure.
Unfortunately it typically doesn’t do quite as good of a job as a more traditional car wash but the results are usually more than adequate.
Are touchless car washes bad for paint
Touchless car washes should generally be okay. The thing to consider is that the inclusion of the high and low pH chemicals can be a little harsh on your clear coat.
It should be noted that the harshness of the chemicals used are more likely to be damaging to protective coatings applied to your finish since they are less durable than the clear coat itself.
If you are using an automated touchless car wash infrequently you shouldn’t be concerned with your clear coat breaking down. You should plan on reapplying wax or paint sealant afterward.
If you have a ceramic coating you should be less concerned with automated car washes breaking down your paint protection. Ceramic coatings are very good at resisting harsh chemicals.
If your car isn’t too dirty and you’re not concerned with having to re-wax your ride, you should be reasonably happy with the end result.
If you have an issues with your clear coat already it would be wise to avoid all car washes aside from hand washing.
Pros of Touchless Car Washes
- Eliminates opportunities for creating fine swirls and scratches in your clear coat.
- Conveniently gets your car or truck clean.
Cons of Touchless Car Washes
- Uses harsh chemicals which will likely shorten the lifespan of waxes and paint sealants applied to your vehicle.
- Can be harsh on your clear coat if used frequently.
- Typically won’t clean as effectively as a more traditional carwash that physically touches the surface of your paint.
Touchless Automated Car Washes vs the Touchless Car Wash Method
One of the methods we recommend of washing your car or truck yourself to minimize opportunities to scratch the finish is the Touchless Method.
The touchless method is a car washing method that is very similar to that of a automated touchless car wash but it is a little different in one important way. The method we recommend uses typical car shampoo which is extremely gentle.
Automated touchless car washes typically use a combination of high and low pH cleaners which are much harsher. These cleaners are more effective at loosening dirt and grime.
Car shampoo is designed to be pH neutral and great for loosening dirt and road grime but not damage waxes, sealants, or ceramic coatings applied as protection.
While car shampoo is reasonably effective, it isn’t as effective as the combination of high and low pH cleaners.
Both automated touchless car washes and the touchless car wash method use high pressure water to get the vehicle clean.
The car wash uses industrial water jets and at home you’d use an electric pressure washer to get a similar result.
Neither of these solutions are going to get your vehicle perfectly clean unfortunately. They will do a pretty darn good job but if your car is very dirty you will need to break out the buckets and wash mitt to get the best results.
Soft Touch vs Touchless
Soft touch is a great improvement over car washes that use large spinning brushes to clean your car. Soft touch car washes typically use strips of fabric that dangle down from an oscillating mount.
These strips of fabric move back and forth as your car or truck moves through the car wash and wipe away dirt and grime. The fabric is far gentler than brushes but they don’t eliminate the possibility of causing scratches and swirls in your clear coat.
Touchless is the better route to go when it comes to trying to avoid fine scratches.
Does washing your car remove wax?
Yes, a little. Wax and other types of protectants applied to your paint are almost always slowly wearing away. Washing your car will be one of the activities that will speed up this process while it is happening but car shampoo is designed to minimize this effect.
If you’re using the touchless car wash method you’re likely removing less wax or paint sealant than when physically touching the surface with a wash mitt.
Automated car washes will almost always be harsh on waxes and protectants. Don’t expect a car wash to completely remove your paint protection though.
The most realistic method for knowing when it’s time to re-wax your car or truck is observing how water beads off your finish. This isn’t a foolproof method as there are many factors that can affect how water beads but it is the best method short of using a paint thickness gauge to spot check wear.
Touchless automated car washes are a step in the right direction when it comes to avoiding scratches in your clear coat but it comes at a cost. The combination of low and high pH chemicals is fairly harsh and not good for your wax or paint sealant.
It also isn’t very good for your clear coat although if infrequently used it shouldn’t be a big concern. If you do decide to run your car through a touchless car wash plan on re-waxing it shortly after.
In general though I would recommend following the touchless car wash method for washing your vehicle at home for maintenance washes. It uses gentle car shampoo and an electric pressure washer to get your car or truck clean. It won’t be quite as effective as the harsh chemicals in a touchless automated car wash but it will do a good job if your car isn’t too dirty.