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What Is A Touchless Car Wash (No Scratches)

Image Credit: duallogic via Envato Elements

Image Credit: duallogic via Envato Elements

What Is A Touchless Car Wash (No Scratches)

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A touchless car wash offers the benefit of a clean car without the chance of causing scratches in your finish. This method will get your car washed but it may not get it as clean as some other car wash options.

You may be tempted by the convenience when you buy gas. It’s understandable. But you should know exactly what you’re getting and what disadvantages this car washing method may have for you.

Let’s dive into the details.

What Is A Touchless Car Wash?

A touchless car wash is a method of washing a car without the use of friction to remove dirt and road grime. Touchless car washes use a combination of strong detergents and high water pressure to loosen, then blast away contaminants on the surface of your vehicle’s exterior.

The purpose of a touchless car wash is to eliminate the chance of causing swirl marks and light scratches in the clear coat of your car’s finish.

Are Touchless Car Washes Safe?

Touchless car washes are safer than other forms of automatic car wash. Even though touchless car washes use harsh chemicals which can be tougher on your clear coat, exterior plastics, and rubber seals, they are preferable to most friction-based car washes that run the risk of causing scratches on your car’s finish.

Soft touch microfiber curtains and spinning brushes used in traditional automatic car wash businesses will almost certainly cause swirl marks and light scratches in your car’s finish.

This light paint damage is far less desirable than the potential for accelerated wear of your car’s clear coat, seals, and plastics.

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

Touchless Car Wash Soap

A touchless car wash uses a combination of high pH and low pH soaps to break down road grime and environmental contaminants stuck to your vehicle.

The combination of high acidity and high alkalinity soaps more effectively clean away all the dirt that more neutral pH soaps would be unable to loosen and remove.

The power of these strong detergents is what allow a touchless car wash to effective get your car clean without the need to use anything to physically touch and potentially grid dirt into your car’s paint.

The harsh chemicals will unfortunately break down waxes and paint sealants on your car’s paint. It won’t completely remove them, but it will drastically diminish their effectiveness and you should consider reapplying your wax or paint sealant of choice if you use a touchless car wash.

Car wash shampoos that are used for hand washing your car at home are pH neutral. When combined with a microfiber wash mitt, pH neutral car shampoo can effectively remove contaminants and dirt buildup.

How Does A Touchless Car Wash Work?

Touchless car washes work by first blasting away as much dust, dirt, and debris as possible with high pressure water jets. The water pressure isn’t able to remove all of the dirt and debris alone, so powerful soaps are used to help with the touchless wash process.

After blasting as much dirt and grime away as possible, the automated car wash system sprays a coating on your car or truck of acidic and alkaline soap layers that are allowed to sit for a moment and break down dirt and grime.

After these strong detergents have had a chance to break down the bond that the contaminants have with the surface of your vehicle’s finish, the high water pressure jets blast away at your car or trucks exterior again and remove the remaining dirt and debris that the high pH and low pH detergents loosened from the paintwork.

Once your vehicle has been as thoroughly cleaned as possible through the touchless car wash process, large air blowers are used to dry the exterior of the car or truck.

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How To Use An Automatic Touchless Car Wash

To get the most out of touchless car washes, you should begin by aways keeping your paint coated with a wax, paint sealant, or ceramic coating. These hydrophobic protective paint coatings help prevent environmental contaminants from bonding with your paintwork and make them more easily washed away.

In addition to obviously making sure all windows and sun roofs are properly closed, you should ensure that your radio has been turned off if you have a motorized exterior mounted antenna. This will retract the antenna.

Maximize drying time under the blower if you have the opportunity to do so. You should also be sure to take a microfiber drying towel with you so you can dry excess moisture that the blowers couldn’t dry off.

There are two main types of touchless automatic car washes:

  • Tunnel Touchless Car Wash
  • In-Bay Touchless Car Wash

Tunnel Touchless Car Wash System

Tunnel touchless car washes use a conveyer system to move your car or truck through the car wash mechanisms. This requires placing your vehicle in neutral to allow it to roll freely through the machinery.

Automated car washes that use tunnels tend to be higher quality and do a more thorough job. The investment into a tunnel car wash requires more money due to the much larger real estate footprint. To ensure they attract business and earn a proper return on their investment, tunnel car wash owners insist on high performance equipment.

In-Bay Touchless Car Wash System

In-bay touchless car washes allow your car or truck to be stationary while the automatic car wash machinery moves around your vehicle.

Most in-bay touchless car washes tend to be far less thorough than a more comprehensive tunnel car wash. In-bay car washes have a much smaller real estate footprint and are often found on the same property as another business such as a gas station.

In-bay touchless automatic car wash systems are capable of providing good clean for vehicles that use the system, however they tend to be more time consuming than tunnel touchless systems. They will also not clean as thoroughly as tunnel touchless washes.

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Touchless Car Wash At Home

I’m a big fan of the touchless car wash method at home. It doesn’t use the same harsh chemicals that are used at professional touchless automatic car washes.

When performing the touchless car wash method at your own home, you simply use the same pH neutral car wash shampoo that you would use to hand wash your vehicle.

While a pH neutral car wash shampoo doesn’t have the same cleaning power that is used at automated car washes, it is great for maintenance washes between regular hand washes.

A touchless car wash at home will do a surprisingly good job of getting your car clean if it isn’t excessively dirty. This is especially true if you use a good quality wax, paint sealant, or ceramic coating.

There are instances where environmental contaminants such as bird droppings, bug guts, brake dust, etc. just won’t come clean easily. When these problems crop up it’s likely time to do a thorough hand car wash.

Once a hand car wash has been done, you can return to performing maintenance washes with the touchless method.

How To Do A Touchless Car Wash At Home

The 6 steps to performing the touchless car wash method at home:

Step 1: Find A Shady Spot Away From Direct Sunlight

It’s important to wash your vehicle away from the heat of the sun to ensure that you have the most time to wash and dry your car or truck before the water on the paintwork has an opportunity to dry.

If tap water dries on your finish there is a strong risk that you could end up with water spots left behind on your paint. Water spots are mineral deposits that are left behind by evaporated hard water.

Water spots can be extremely difficult to remove, although the difficulty depends on how hard your local tap water is and what minerals and other contaminants are in the water.

Step 2: Thoroughly Rinse Dust And Loose Dirt From The Paint Surface

Using a pressure washer, or garden hose with a sprayer, rinse as much dirt and debris away from the exterior of your car or truck as you can.

A pressure washer is the preferred obviously due to the much higher water pressure that can be used to power away more stubborn contaminants on your vehicle paintwork.

A garden hose with a good sprayer can be used if that is all you have available, but the results of your touchless car wash will much less effective.

Step 3: Coat Your Vehicle Exterior With Car Shampoo Foam

While touchless automated car wash systems use a combination of high pH and low pH detergents to more effectively loosen road grime and dirt, the soap used in the touchless method of washing your car at home uses a pH neutral car shampoo.

Car shampoo that is pH neutral makes touchless car washes safe for your wax or paint sealant as well as eliminating chances of causing swirls and scratches.

An automatic touchless car wash is much harsher on wax and paint sealant than pH neutral car shampoo. You will not need to worry about degrading your paint protection using a safe car shampoo but you will also not get as good of results as you would at an automated touchless car wash.

Step 4: Allow The Car Shampoo To Break Down Road Grime

Part of the benefit of the stronger chemicals used in an automatic touchless car wash is that it can wash your vehicle faster because the chemicals will work faster.

To make up for the weaker car shampoo formulation, you will need to allow the foam to sit on the paintwork for a minimum of 5 minutes. 10 minutes is more preferred but you may need to reapply foam if it is running off and drying in spots to avoid water spots forming.

Step 5: Thoroughly Rinse Off The Car Shampoo Foam

Use your pressure washer to rinse off the car wash soap and use the pressure to blast away at stubborn areas. Rocker panels are usually areas to give more attention to due to stickier road tar and other road grime sticking to the surface of the paint after flying off your tires.

A garden hose sprayer will have very little effect in helping to clean stubborn dirt and debris. It can help some but you can see that a pressure washer will produce much better results at this step.

Step 6: Thoroughly Dry You Car Or Truck With A Car Dryer

The drying step of the touchless car wash method should also be touchless. The preferred tool to do this is a purpose-designed car dryer. Quality car dryers are more maneuverable, have rubber tips to prevent accidental scratching, are heated to accelerate drying, and are very powerful to quickly blow away water before it has a chance to air dry and leave water spots.

Leaf blowers are common alternatives to detailing car driers. A leaf blower as a very capable tool to use if you want to save some money. They are a bit of a compromise but many find the savings more than worth the downsides of poor maneuverability, hard plastic tips that can cause paint damage, and lack of heated air.

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What's The Difference Between Touchless And A Soft Touch Car Wash?

Touchless and soft touch automatic car washes are similar. A touchless car wash doesn’t use any direct contact or friction with car paint. A soft touch car wash relies upon microfiber cloth strips hanging from a gently swaying curtain to create friction to remove dirt.

While soft touch car washes don’t use spinning brushes to get your car clean, it still can grind dirt into the exterior of your vehicle and cause paint damage.

Touchless car washes replace friction and physical contact with increased water pressure and strong detergents. The touchless process is effective, but it isn’t as effective as a soft touch car wash or a traditional automatic car wash.

Touchless Car Wash Vs Hand Car Wash

Car owners that are car enthusiasts will often hand wash their car or truck. It’s a bit of a zen-like experience of getting to know your vehicle this way.

Touchless car washes are a great way to get your car washed quickly and safely in-between thorough hand washes.

Touchless car washing is better suited for quick washes on relatively clean cars and trucks that just need some light dust and dirt removed. More bonded road debris and environmental contaminants will usually require more direct contact to clean properly.

Hand washing can be done reasonably safely with the two bucket method. The two bucket method includes tools such as grit guards, microfiber wash mitts, and lubricating car shampoos to minimize the chance of causing paint damage.

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Helpful Links

Conclusion

The risk of using a touchless car wash damaging your vehicle paint, plastics, and exterior rubber is minimal but worth being aware of the potential issues. The convenience of using an automatic car wash is a little too hard to resist for many.

Using the touchless car wash method at home is also an extremely safe method to wash your vehicle yourself.

Good luck and happy detailing.

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