I take my car to a car wash about once a week but I’m not sure if this is bad for the paint or not. Please let me know.
Thanks for submitting your question Jameel!
Well the answer really depends on the kind of car wash you’re taking it to, but the short answer to your question is: Don’t take it to the car wash because it IS bad for your paint!
Having said that, let’s take a quick look at the different kinds of car washes.
First, there’s the tunnel wash with spinning “brushes” so to speak. We like to refer to these as swirl-o-matics! You can spend 20 hours polishing a car to perfection, and completely ruin it in one trip through this car wash. These are typically abrasive, and the dirt and abrasive debris from all of the other vehicles that have gone through there is now being applied to your car…at a high rate of speed. Avoid these at all costs!
Next there’s the “gentle” or “soft-cloth” car washes. The selling point on these are the fact that (a) they are made of soft cloth hanging vertically from the ceiling, and that (b) they just gently agitate the surface. Yes they are more gentle than the spinning brush tunnel washes, but they are still abrasive nonetheless! Once again, the “soft cloth” isn’t so soft because it’s caked with abrasive debris from all of the other vehicles that have been there. The small amount of water being sprayed to them between each wash isn’t enough to thoroughly clean them. Avoid these as well.
Finally there’s the touchless, or laser wash places. These don’t get the cars as clean, but they are far more safe than the other types of washes. I’d rather have a partially dirty car than a clean one with swirls that you get with the other types of washes. The biggest drawback to these however is that they use pretty harsh chemicals to do the cleaning so I wouldn’t recommend using them on a “regular” basis.
So what about the places that do hand washes? If it’s a volume based place with an assembly line of people working there, you’re probably getting the same abrasive kind of wash as an automatic car wash would provide. Unless you find a professional detailer that is schooled on the 2-bucket method of car washing, it’s going to be very difficult to receive a scratch-free wash.
If you have a place to do your own washing, I would highly recommend learning the latest washing and drying techniques to keep your paint looking its best. Improper washing and drying is the number one reason for swirls and scratches in paint!
Here’s what the paint on a car should look like (this is immediately after having it polished):
Here’s what paint looks like after it’s been exposed to improper washing techniques and/or automated brush-type car washes:
Here are a few reference articles that will help you to properly maintain the finish of your car:
I hope this helps, and please leave a comment in the box below if you have any additional questions!