7 Reasons You Should Avoid Going to the Car Wash
Whipping brushes, acid-etching chemicals, and mineral deposits—you might want to think twice before heading to the car wash.
Abrasive brushes can scratch your car’s paint
While some newer car washes have swapped out those old abrasive brushes for softer ones, the slapping against the side of your car can still cause trouble. Not only are the brushes covered with grit from all the cars before yours, but “having bristles rub against your car can scratch your clear coat,” says Lauren Fix, Editor-in-Chief of Car Coach Reports and a nationally recognized automotive expert.
Even “touchless” car washes carry risks
So, how about a brushless (sometimes called a “touchless”) car wash? Though it might seem like a safer alternative, it still has its downsides. “Washing your car in a brushless car wash is the equivalent of shooting it with a wet sandblaster,” says Alex Lauderdale, the transportation expert at educateddriver.org. “There’s a chance that some of the particles [from previous dirty cars] can end up being blasted on your car. The result could be thin, spider web scratches.”
Another danger to consider: “If you have paint protection, many times they’ll tell you not to use car washes,” says Fix. “If you do, you could void the warranty on your paint.”
The products they use could harm the glass
That goes for any glass protection you have on your car, too. “With glass protection,” Fix says, “they don’t like you to run it through a car wash.” Why not? “You don’t know what products they’re using,” Fix says. While there are premium cleaners that won’t damage your glass protection (Fix recommends Obsessed Garage), you have no way of knowing whether the car wash you go to is using them.
The hard water might leave mineral deposits
Turns out, your car likes filtered water just as much as you do. Hard water can leave mineral deposits on your paint if it evaporates too quickly afterward, and that can leave permanent water spots. To keep the evaporation rate at bay, it’s best to wash your car on a cloudy, overcast day—not in direct sunlight. “That’s why car washes are generally in shaded areas,” says Fix, who warns that with car washes, “you don’t know if the water they’re using has been filtered or not.”
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The water could be dirty—or worse
With car washes, “there’s always good, bad, and ugly,” says Fix. “The ugly ones take the water and just reuse it.” Of course, you shouldn’t wash anything with dirty water.
In extreme circumstances, the water’s pressure could also be problematic. “If it’s really high,” Fix says, “and you’ve got an issue like rust, the blast of water could cause that bubble to burst.” In other words, “You could get rust underneath the paint. That would expose the metal even further, which would then cause more rust,” says Fix.
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Dirty cloths can also scratch your car’s paint
Many car washes use terrycloth towels to dry your car. The problem? They keep washing and reusing them. “With terrycloth,” Fix says, “especially if it’s been washed a lot of times, it gets rough.” Just like abrasive brushes, dirty cloths can put scratches on your car’s paint. Fix recommends using softer shammy towels.
Your antennas, windshield wipers, and mirrors could suffer
If you are going to run your car through a car wash, “Always fold your side mirrors in,” says Fix, who warns repairing broken side mirrors can get costly. As for the wiper blades, “they should put a plastic sleeve over the back wiper blade if it’s hanging down,” Fix says. Otherwise, “it could get ripped off.”
If any damage does occur, “you need to report it before you depart the property,” says Fix. “They always have cameras and you can ask to see the footage.”
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What you should do instead
Alright, so we’ve convinced you to avoid commercial car washes. But you still want your car to be clean. Hand-washing your car is a great alternative. You can control exactly which products you use. (Make sure to use soap that is specifically designed for automobile paint and a separate, dedicated wheel cleaner for the wheels.) Another bonus? “You can burn 200 calories an hour,” says Fix. “It’s a good little workout.”