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Auto Detailing Myth: Touchless Car Washing is Best for Vehicle Surfaces

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This McLaren 720S was washed, paint corrected, xpel PPF, and ceramic coated by Signature Detailing NJ.

Touchless car washing is a frequent topic within the auto detailing industry. Some claim it is the best method of long-term maintenance for finishes over time, while others claim it is the safest.

At Signature Detailing in North New Jersey, clients frequently ask for advice for car washing techniques. Due to the extremes of seasonal climate changes, pollen levels, insects, tree sap, and snow and road salts de-icing chemicals used on roads we do not recommend Touchless car washing as an effective way to fully clean automotive surfaces.

While Touchless car washing might help reduce friction on the paint over time, it is lacking in its ability to clean surfaces. By examining the benefits and shortcomings of the Touchless Car Washing Method, it can quickly be seen that this method is not the end all be all of vehicle surface maintenance.

Benefits of Touchless Car Washing

  • Over time less friction occurs over the surface, avoiding the minor topical scratches and marring from friction
  • Time Savings. Since less steps are involved the service is quick

Shortcomings of Touchless Car Washing

  • Inability to Tackle Heavy Soiling, Road Film, De-Icing Chemicals, Bug Remains
  • Inability to Remove Topical Contamination Partially Bonded to Surface
  • Strong Chemicals may have negative effects on rubber trim, plastic components, or possibly the paint itself

So it is true that Touchless car washing can be quicker and may help prevent fewer marks on surfaces from friction over time on vehicle surfaces. However, overall a Touchless wash is much less effective at fully cleaning surfaces. Additionally, automated Touchless washes generally have difficulty tackling a large amount of heavy soiling that frequently occurs in fall and winter seasons.

Conclusion

Manually washing a vehicle on a regular schedule with a traditional wash, using a dedicated car shampoo and a dedicated automotive Wash Mitt is the most effective method of cleaning surfaces. Additionally, depending on the soiling level of the surface, or a Rinseless or Waterless Wash method using Optimum No Rinse (ONR) with dedicated high-quality microfiber towels is another great method to fully clean automotive surfaces.

Both these manual wash techniques, used at regular intervals, prevent topical contamination from sitting and ultimately bonding to exterior surfaces. Think of removing vehicle surface contamination like caring for a white collared shirt. If it is worn once and skin transfer to the collar is simply removed. However, if the shirt is worn 3-4 time for a full day, the ring around the collar is harder to fully remove. It is the same with vehicle washing, a regular schedule of manual washing will ensure the surface remains clean long-term.

Of course, the type of wash method determined for vehicle surfaces is based on a number of factors, but either a traditional wash with a mitt and car shampoo or a Rinseless/Waterless with towels and product, both function to actually remove regular road film or other contamination from the surface. A Touchless wash cannot do this and its aggressive chemicals might possibly lead to rubber, plastic, or even painted surfaces to have negative reactions.

So while the Touchless wash method may be a safer alternative than an automated car wash with brushes, it is not the end all. Realize that to fully remove all types of grime and contamination some form of surface agitation is required—much like clothes and a washing machine.

Greg Gellas of Signature Detailing
Gregory Gellas
Signature Detailing
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
SignatureDetailing.com
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9 comments on Auto Detailing Myth: Touchless Car Washing is Best for Vehicle Surfaces

  1. rlmccarty2000 says:

    One (of many) problems we have in the US is a lack of chemicals to effectively remove traffic film. In other countries traffic film remover is marketed and sold for that purpose. I have seen pictures and it works. Bilt-Hamber makes one used in Great Britain. Griots was supposed to be coming out with one with their system approach with a power washer, but I hear they had problems with the chemical eating the container (this is only hearsay). Removing as much film, dirt, or whatever before ever touching the paint with a mit or sponge is ideal. More innovation in the area of touchless methods is needed. We now have waterless washes that encapsulate and loosen dirt, but road film removal is a challenge. Personally, I have used Nextzett W99 in a spray solution on extreme cases to remove road film. Adding APC to your soap solution for a prewash can also help. Touchless washing is a good start but mechanical agitation is the only true way to remove heavy contamination right now.

  2. Michael Hinchey says:

    @rlmccarty2000
    I would never use any apc diluted or not for a prewash unless I plan to re wax or re seal my paint since Apc will remove some if not all the protection that is on the paint. Even if it didnt remove it entirely and just degraded it some I just wouldnt use a chemical such as that in a prewash.

    • rlmccarty2000 says:

      I agree that apc will degrade waxes and sealants, but coatings should hold up to an apc, especially if diluted.

      • Michael Hinchey says:

        Could be true but if you are detailing for a living probably (depending on your geographics) 1 out of 15 people have a coating on the vehicle. In my case, it may be less.

  3. 1. Any removal of any type of protection on the paint is a no-go; so using an APC diluted is a non-starter

    2. Coatings “should” hold up to an APC? Are you willing to tell a customer or detailing enthusiast that some product shouldn’t remove his or her 1k coating they just had applied? Unless specific tests with specific APC’s were done, that is something I would never suggest, especially on a coating. Its just not worth the chance. Risk vs. Gain Its just not there.

    3. Automated touches car washes: Of course they won’t remove heavy contamination on the surface, but will do a decent job of getting loose debris off the vehicle. Great for underbody washing to get winter salt grime off, and get it off the suspension and bottom engine areas. Overall for anyone on this forum reading, they are at best a great way to pre-wash the vehicle before going home and really hand washing the rest.

    However: My main issue with automated touchless washes is “what kind of detergents do they use”? I would think its most likely they use some sort of non-ph neutral shampoo that will help the machines remove dirt deposits off the vehicle. This will have the same effect that an APC or dish washing detergent would have. It will remove your protection layer. I dont know what they use, and have not heard if it even varies from company to company. Unfortunately unless it was an emergency, I would never attempt to run any of my vehicles and recommend customers to do the same. Its just not worth the chance. If someone knows differently please post below. Otherwise this is my advice.

  4. Roger says:

    Touchless Car Washes are a great option up north in the winter when it’s the best option to get the salt off your vehicle but generally doing it yourself is the best way to go. This is where coatings come in. They are there to protect your vehicle where waxes and sealants are long gone due to the salt eating them.

  5. Ron Ayotte says:

    I recently had to go the “pay and spray” self serve to rinse down the heavy road salts on my F150 and the wife’s Ford Edge. Before I head out, I turn on the garage heater. upon my return to the house, I do an ONR wash of the vehicles.

    I do have to say the Gyeon Wet Coat does make it easier to clean.

  6. ken rosal says:

    I always suggest to customers that don’t have the time to hand wash, to take it to the touchless. But to be honest, I’ve only used a touchless wash once and it didn’t do much lol. I guess I just perpetuated the advice that I’ve heard from other detailers.

    • Michael Hinchey says:

      It’s good for getting salt off the under carriage. And minor dirt. You’ll always have an easier time if the car is already maintained already a detailers level. However, that takes dedication when you live in sandy, snowy areas.

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