The “Touchless Method” of washing a car is literally just that – a method to wash a car without physically touching the car.
The purpose of this method is to completely eliminate the possibility of causing scratches and swirl marks in the clear coat of your car or truck during the washing process.
This method may sound extreme to some but if you’ve ever seen a car covered in scratches and swirls you’ll appreciate the reason for the extra effort.
These scratches aren’t very deep and in dim light they aren’t very noticeable. In bright sunlight however, especially on dark colored cars, they really make a car look terrible.
There are touchless automated car washes that do a similar job but differ in the type of soap used. Automated car washes use a more aggressive soap that can be a little harsh but better at breaking down the bond dirt has with your paint. We’ll be using a milder car wash shampoo.
Let’s dive into the process.
The Touchless Method Step-By-Step
Step 1 – Find a Shaded Spot to Wash Your Car
Direct sunlight will cause your car to dry far too quickly. You’ll end up with water spots unless you happen to have particularly soft water that you use for washing.
Hard water contains minerals that will leave light-colored deposits on the surface of your paint.
Also, you don’t want your soap to dry on the surface of your car which can also leave spots and prevent the previously loosened road grime from washing away when rinsed.
Step 2 – Rinse Your Car or Truck Well
Blast away as much dirt and debris with your power washer as possible. Be sure to hit all surfaces thoroughly and do your best to deal with any particularly dirty areas.
Use care around window seals, side mirrors, and any other area that might not react well to the high pressure from a pressure washer.
Step 3 – Use a Foam Cannon to Cover Your Vehicle with Suds
Use a foam cannon to completely soak your vehicle with car shampoo suds. The thicker the better.
If you’re not familiar with what a foam cannon is, it’s simply an attachment you can add to your power washer that allows you to add soap to the spray stream and produces a thick and foamy layer of soap suds.
Step 4 – Let the Soap Sit and Break Down the Dirt
Allow the foamy soap to sit and break down the dirt and grime stuck to the surface of your finish.
You’ll want the soap to sit on the car for at least 5 minutes or more. This will give it time to do its work.
Step 5 – Rinse the Soap Off With a Pressure Washer
The pressure from the power washer should help remove the remaining grit and grime that the car shampoo loosened.
You may need to repeat steps 3 and 4 if you’re not happy with the results.
The touchless method isn’t ideal for very dirty cars and trucks with tar, bug guts, and more that have stuck firmly to the surface.
If this is the case you may need to switch to the 2-bucket method.
Step 6 – Dry the Car with an Air Dryer
An air dryer is just a forced-air blower similar to a leaf blower. A leaf blower will work but it isn’t as ideal.
Quality detailing air dryers will have a soft rubber tip to prevent accidentally damaging the finish if you bump it. Leaf blowers usually have a hard plastic outlet so you’ll want to be more careful. Also, leaf blowers aren’t as focused so they may not be as good at getting water out of tight areas.
Be sure to get into cracks and crevices such as rear view mirrors and body panel seams.
This will prevent water from running off later when you move your car, leaving water spots when the water dries.
What’s needed to perform the Touchless Method
Electric Pressure Washer
Gas pressure washers can be too powerful, expensive, and difficult to maneuver. An electric pressure washer is a much better choice. They are considerably less expensive than gas powered models, small and light, and have the right amount of pressure.
Unfortunately many electric power washers are made very cheaply and won’t last. Do your research first and find a good quality electric pressure washer.
My recommendation is to go with the Sun Joe SPX9007-PRO. This electric pressure washer is a little more expensive than most of the popular ones you’ll see online but it isn’t going to fail after a couple uses. It’s from the Sun Joe Commercial line and is made from brass and other metals instead of plastic which doesn’t tolerate the repeated high pressures used very well.
If you have to go with a less expensive option I recommend the Karcher K1700. It’s a better built unit than most of the plastic competition and it has an excellent warranty that will replace your unit if you have a failure.
If you have the means, serious detailers go for the Kranzle K-1122 TST. It flows more and can push higher pressures than the Karcher or Sun Joe without exceeding a safe amount. I unfortunately do not have the means nor an understanding wife that wouldn’t divorce me if I made such a purpose. YMMV.
Ph Neutral Car Shampoo
It might be tempting to just use dish soap from the kitchen but that would be a mistake. Dish washing soap is too harsh and will strip wax and sealant from your finish. A proper car shampoo is ph neutral and is designed to be harsh on dirt but not on wax or other protective coatings.
There are plenty of great car shampoos on the market. Chemical Guys makes some great ones such as Mr. Pink. If you already have a favorite from a reputable manufacturer there’s no need to switch.
A foam cannon is an attachment you’ll need to properly soak your car or truck in suds. You’ll attach the cannon to the end of your power washer and blast soapy suds all over and allow the car shampoo to sit and break down the dirt and grime.
If you’re going to use the Sun Joe SPX9007-PRO I recommend that you use the Sun Joe Foam Cannon. The reason is, there are mixed reports of 3rd party foam cannons not working well with the SPX9007-PRO. Some state there is a pressure drop with some 3rd party cannons which makes getting a good thick coating of foam more difficult.
While you can get away with a leaf blower, a good quality automotive air dryer is better for removing water from cracks and crevices where water can hide.
If water hidden between body panels isn’t removed it will run down the side of your car the moment you try to drive away. It will then of course leave water spots.
It’s best to use an air dryer like the Air Force Blaster Sidekick for nooks and crannies. It’s a good addition if you already have a leaf blower to do the majority of the job.
The Metro Vacuum Air Force Blaster is a better choice if you don’t already have a leaf blower. It’s larger and more powerful. It also doubles as an exceptionally powerful vacuum cleaner.
How does the Touchless Method work?
The keys to touchless cleaning are 2 things: high pressure and allowing the soap to do the work.
Pressure from a good quality electric pressure washer can blast away dirt and grit throughout the wash process. Soap will also be heavily applied to the entire car and allowed to loosen and break down the bond that dirt and grime has with the surface.
Unlike automated car washes that use the touchless method, no harsh chemicals are used. Just safe ph neutral car shampoo.
This method is much more effective on a car or truck that has a ceramic coating or other good quality paint sealant that will help prevent dirt and road grime from sticking as firmly to the surface.
If you have the right tools and follow the process properly your vehicle can get quite clean without needing to use a wash mitt.
What are the Pros and Cons of the Touchless Car Wash at Home Method?
The biggest pro is obviously the fact that you won’t need to physically touch your car or truck when washing it. This makes it almost impossible to cause scratches and washing your car becomes much easier.
The biggest con is that if your car is very dirty this method won’t get it perfectly clean. Heavy dirt and road grime will need to be cleaned with a hands-on method. This also means that eventually you will need to wash your car with a hands-on approach such as the 2-bucket method.
A touchless car wash at home is not a replacement method for washing your vehicle. It is essentially a way of reducing how often you’ll need to wash your car or truck with a hands-on method. And by reducing the need to wash hands-on you will drastically reduce opportunities to scratch your clear coat.
Where do Clear Coat Scratches and Swirl Marks Come From?
These fine scratches and swirls come from touching and rubbing the finish of your vehicle when there is grit between you and the clear coat.
The most common time the finish of your car or truck gets touched is when it is being washed. It can also happen when someone leans against your car, walks by it and brushes against it, and other similar incidental contact.
The worst culprit that causes scratches is automated car washes with harsh brushes. In this case scratches aren’t caused primarily by grit and dirt but by the brushes themselves.
Most modern car washes have migrated away from using these harsh bristles but this won’t ensure you don’t end up with scratches. The most effective automatic car washes (the ones that use moving fabric curtains) still touch the finish of your car and can grind grit against the surface of your paint.
There are touchless automated car washes, however they differ slightly from the method we are discussing here. Automated touchless car washes use harsher chemicals that can be tough on your clear coat over time. I wouldn’t be too concerned with the harshness unless you’re finish is already suffering from a thin clear coat or has clear coat damage that could get worsened easily.
What about drying?
Ideally you’ll dry your car with a touchless method as well. Drying touchless involves forced air.
Some people simply use a leaf blower to get the job done. There are purpose-built hand-held air dryers that are better suited for the job.
The key to using forced air to dry your car is to blow air into all the nooks and crannies where water can hide. This will prevent water from running down the side of your car when you drive away after a wash. If water runs down the side of your car and dries it will leave water spots.
Drying is less critical to perform touchless since hopefully all the scratch-causing grit has been washed away. If you opt to not go with touchless drying you should get a good quality microfiber drying towel to dry your car.
Microfiber is very gentle on your finish and highly adsorbent. Not only can it suck up a huge amount of water but it can also trap dirt within its fibers and help protect your finish from scratching. No matter which route you go, you should dry your car to prevent unsightly and difficult to remove water spots.
The touchless method is primarily about minimizing opportunities to cause swirls and scratches in the clear coat of your car.
Washing a car by physically touching it is the most likely time that swirls and scratches will be caused. Reducing the number of times it will need to be washed by physically placing hands onto the finish will help keep your car looking showroom new longer.
Even though you likely won’t be able to use this method as the only way you wash your car or truck, it’s a great way to keep your car clean longer and postpone having to do a hands-on car wash.
It also makes washing easier to do which means you’ll be less likely to procrastinate giving your vehicle a good wash.