Is a Touchless Car Wash Better for Your Car?

There are more ways to get your car, van, truck, or SUV clean today than there’s ever been, and all of the different methods have their pros and cons. Some people are concerned about which method does the best cleaning job, some want the method that does the least potential damage to their vehicle, and others want the cheapest or most effortless way to get their car clean. Many people are now choosing to use a touchless car wash, but what are they and is a touchless car wash better for your car than other car washing services and methods?

Photo by Zulfahmi Khani
Touchless car wash in action. (Photo by Zulfahmi Khani)

Generally, a touchless car wash won’t clean your car, van, truck, or SUV as effectively as a hand wash or a conventional car wash that uses brushes will, but a touchless car wash is better for preserving the condition of your paintwork and your vehicle’s resale value. The blowers are not as effective at drying your vehicle, so you could still have watermarks and streaks on your paintwork.

What is a touchless car wash?

A touchless car wash is an automated car washing service that uses high-pressure water jets and detergent to remove dirt and grime from your car, truck, van, or SUV. A touchless car wash doesn’t use the spinning brushes or cloths that conventional car washes use that can do minor damage to paintwork if used repeatedly over an extended amount of time.

Touchless car washes offer many of the benefits of traditional car washes, such as speed, convenience, cost, and effective cleaning. However, as the name suggests, this system doesn’t have any physical contact with your car or its paintwork. No friction on your paintwork is a good thing, although even a touchless car wash has its potential problems.

There are two main types of touchless car wash you’ll come across. The smaller of the two types of touchless car wash moves over your vehicle while it remains static. The other version is the tunnel variety, which are much larger installations where the vehicle moves through the tunnel and the various stages of the cleaning process on a conveyor.

It’s questionable whether one type is better than the other, but as the ones that move around a stationary vehicle are a compromise based on a lack of available space, the tunnel variety is likely to do a slightly better job.

However, the cleaning quality of the touchless car wash you use will also depend on the water pressure and the quantity and quality of cleaning chemicals used during the process.

Is a touchless car wash the safest?

The whole point of a touchless car wash is it’s supposed to be safer for your vehicle than other automated car washes that rely on brushes or cloth strips. They’re still not risk-free for your vehicle’s paintwork, but a touchless car wash will deliver a quick clean with a much lower risk of damage than conventional automated car washes.

As far as safety for the driver and any passengers in the vehicle are concerned, it wouldn’t be a great idea to get out of a car in an automated car wash regardless of what type it was.

If you were forgetful enough to leave a window open, you’d probably get away with it better in a conventional car wash. A touchless car wash would send a massive amount of high-pressure water straight through an open window, but a car wash with brushes or cloths uses less water. It would give you more time to close the window, and you’d probably end up with less water on you and in your vehicle’s interior.

If for some reason, you got out of your car while it was going through a car wash, you’d be safer in a touchless car wash because you wouldn’t be getting hit by brushes and the metal bars they are attached to in a conventional car wash. Of course, you’d get seriously wet, but it’s better to be wet than battered, I suppose?

The main reason to be careful about how you clean your car is to protect its eventual resale value. Even a private buyer will notice dull, scratched, or damaged paintwork and knock you down on price when you; ‘re trying to sell. Using a touchless car wash instead of one that uses brushes or cloths could mean you get a better price when you sell.

And even if you lease your car, truck, or SUV, keeping the paint in top condition will help you avoid penalty payments when you hand it back to the leasing company.

Photo by NeONBRAND
Traditional car wash with brushes. (Photo by NeONBRAND)

Tips for cleaning and protecting your car in a touchless car wash

You can take several measures to protect your car when using a touchless car wash, and these tips also apply to a lesser extent to traditional car washes.

1. Use a protective coating product on your car

Any product that leaves a protective coating on your car’s paintwork will offer at least some protection against the wear and tear of using an automated car wash, and it’s a good idea to re-apply whatever you choose to use regularly.

Paint protection can be contentious; as you’ll see if you read my article about dealer-applied paint protection. Some expensive products can be a complete waste of time and a rip-off. At the same time, some relatively cheap alternatives can be as effective or even more effective than their costly alternatives.

Any product you apply that forms a barrier will protect your paintwork from dirt, debris, and other grime your car is subjected to on a daily basis. Even if the dirt sticks to it and makes your car look filthy, that dirt will be easier for the car wash to remove than it would have been if you hadn’t applied that protective barrier.

You can use masses of different products, ranging from the most basic waxes to more specialized products from companies such as Shine Armor. They all offer at least some protection but take some time to do your research before choosing one. Some take more effort to apply than others, and the other issue is always the price.

I found a product called Demon Shine from a company called CarPlan that I now use all the time. It’s a spray-on polish that also works for cleaning glass and removing general dirt before or after a wash. It’s quick and easy to apply, and you can see water collect in large drops on your paintwork when it rains after applying it.  

I don’t have an affiliate link for it, and it appears to be out of stock on Amazon in the US. However, if you want to try it out, you can still find it here on eBay.

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Demon Shine “Spray and Shine” is my favorite car-cleaning product and has been for the last few years. Look out for it, or look for something similar from Shine Armour if you want a great product that cleans, shines, polishes, and protects.

2. Mop up excess moisture

It won’t do much to protect your paintwork or your eventual resale value, but keeping a cloth in your car to remove excess moisture after using a touchless car wash will leave your vehicle looking better than it would otherwise. If you want to drive away for the car wash with your vehicle looking its best, wiping away any moisture the blowers have missed is vital.

3. Prepare for entry

Not too many cars have old-style aerials these days, but if you do have a protruding aerial on your vehicle, it’s a good idea to lower or remove it before entering a touchless wash. It’s even more important to protect your aerial or any other protruding object if you’re using a conventional car wash.

And as I touched on earlier, make sure your windows are up, and your sunroof is closed if you have one. I’d like to think the reasons for that are completely obvious to most people reading this.

4. Check your speed

If the car wash you’re using has blowers or if you’ve paid for a blow-dry as an option and you have to drive through them, please go slowly to make sure they can do their job effectively. However, don’t be tempted to drive too slowly, or you could end up with one part of your car dry and the other part still wet.

Is a hand car wash the best option?

You can’t have missed the number of hand car washes that spring up all over the place these days, especially on the sites of gas stations that have gone out of business. Many experts will insist that hand washing is the best option for your car cleaning, but it’s certainly not foolproof.

If you are going to hand wash your car yourself, it’s up to you how careful you are and how much effort you put into getting a great result. If you’re concerned with preserving your paintwork, always use a grit guard in the bottom of your bucket to avoid grit getting on your sponge or cloth and scratching your paintwork.

Photo by Brad Starkey
Hand car wash. (Photo by Brad Starkey)

I used to use a commercial hand car wash for its convenience and because they used to do a fantastic job for the cost. However, recently the prices for the service have gone through the roof, and the quality of the clean can be pretty shabby at times.

Another problem I’ve seen is the staff working at my local hand car wash are not paying proper attention to what they are wearing while washing the cars. Of course, they have the obligatory high-viz jackets on, but they also have zips, belts, and press studs that can damage vehicle paintwork as they reach over to clean those hard-to-reach areas.

As there’s no touchless car wash near me, I’ve reverted to cleaning my SUV myself.

How often should you wash your car?

It’s entirely up to you how often you wash or don’t wash your car. As a general rule, however, you should probably wash your car at least every two weeks to prevent corrosive dirt such as road salt, bird droppings, tree sap, and bug guts from causing damage to your paint if left for too long.

If you’re obsessive you can clean your car every day if you want, but I’d only sanction that if you’re going to wash it yourself by hand. Any potential damage issues that touchless car washes or traditional automated car washes could cause will only be more likely to occur with more frequent use.

What kind of car wash is best?

A thorough hand wash is still the best way to clean a car effectively, especially if you have access to a power washer. However, a touchless car wash is the safest of the more convenient alternatives as it removes large chunks of dirt and debris and does a decent job of cleaning the car without scratches. A film of dirt and road grime will remain on the vehicle’s paintwork, which will be more apparent with light colors than with darker ones.

Should you use a touchless car wash?

If you want to get your car clean quickly and conveniently with the least potential for damage to the paintwork, in my opinion, a touchless car wash is the best option at the moment. It’s not as thorough at cleaning as a traditional car wash with brushes or a hand car wash, but if you’re in a hurry and still want to look after your paintwork, definitely give one a go.