Is There A Scratch Free Way To Wash Your Vehicle?

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

The Short Answer is Yes and No.

What Is The Issue With Washing Vehicles?

It's difficult to say whether or not there is a true method in washing a vehicle without causing scuffs, scratches, or the most commonly known swirl marks.

Over the past 10 years, there have been several different attempts from many professional detailing companies and professional detailers to come up with a safe wash method.

The typical methods of washing vehicles do in fact leave behind some form of marring marks on the vehicle. Such methods as the dreaded drive-thru car wash are one of the most feared methods of washing a vehicle in the eyes of a professional detailer. We'll get to that in more depth soon. But first, let's discuss the different methods of washing your vehicle.

  1. Hand Washes w/ Mitts or Microfiber Towels. One of the oldest methods of washing our vehicles. Taking the day on a Saturday or Sunday to wash our vehicle by hand. This method is typically done by the vehicle owner at their home location. Pros: You're able to control the contact method for your wash and how well the vehicle gets clean. Cons: Time consuming when done right.

  2. Drive-Thru Touchless Car Wash. There's 1 at almost every gas station in North America now. Becoming one of the highest used versions too, mainly because of its easy access. Fuel your vehicle and get a discounted vehicle wash at the same time. Pros: Quick service for those on the move. Cons: Doesn't always get your vehicle spotless

  3. Drive-Thru Brush Car Wash. You've probably been through one of these and then regretted it right afterward, even more so if you own a black vehicle. These drive-thru washes use spinning brushes to help remove the dirt. Pros: For none black car owners it's a great method for getting your vehicle clean real quick. Cons: These typically cause the most scuffing and swirl lines on a vehicle than any other method.

  4. Drive-Up DIY Car Wash. When you feel like taking the time to clean the exterior of your vehicle more thoroughly and enjoy taking the time to do it. Not as common as the drive-through locations, but typically attached to one of them. You find a car wash location with a couple of wash bays in which you can drive into them and do the car washing. Pros: Allows you to hand wash your car away from your home, and can get the vehicle a bit more clean than the drive-thru wash ones. Cons: It Will cost you more than a drive-thru, and if you use the brushes that are there, you risk scratching your vehicle.

  5. Professional Detailers - Mobile and Non-Mobile. The people we choose to use when we desire to have our vehicle looking better than what we ourselves could do. Most of the professional detailers have specific washing techniques they use and follow to prevent scuffs, swirls, and scratches. Such as the 2 bucket method, or the 1 bucket 8 towels/mitts. Pros: Most know how to do a safe and proper wash by hand, using either the 2 bucket method or the 6-8 towel method. Will wash from Top-Down and get your vehicle cleaner than a DIY Drive-Thru or DIY Drive-Up. Cons: Cost more than the other methods, takes a bit longer and during the busy season you could be waiting weeks if not a full month to get an appointment.

Each of the above methods for washing our vehicles has its pros and cons. And it's up to us to decide on what level we are wanting to go about getting our vehicle cleaned and looking nice.

The Dangers Of Drive-Thru Washes

These vehicle wash methods have become the most common method amongst car owners in North America. It's due to the easy use, quick service, and reliably available access.

The issues that we professional detailers have with them are the chemicals and the brushes that are used.

Drive-Thru chemicals are stronger than your typical at-home use, and they are meant to be. No one wants to go to a drive-thru wash and leave with a dirty car. So the chemicals have to be strong enough to strip dirt and bugs off your vehicle in quick actions. The issue with this is the chemicals will also weaken a wax coating, ceramic coating or paint sealant. It may not strip them completely off, but those chemicals do in fact have an impact on the protective coating on your vehicle.

If you are opt-in for the wax coating, you are doing your vehicle a disservice by doing this. Waxes are not meant to be placed on rubber or plastic surfaces, such as your trim, headlights, and tires. In most cases, if you have a vehicle that is a bit older and the headlights have turned yellowish, it's partly due to wax being sprayed onto them and allowed to dry and set. There is a reason why detailers hand apply their waxes, it's to control where the wax is applied and that the excess is removed properly.

Drive-Thru w/ Brushes, are in fact one of the worst things you could use on your vehicle's paint when washing. The bristles in the brushes will trap dirt from other vehicles, and or your own vehicle and effectively become a scratcher.

The dirt gets trapped in the bristles of the brush, and then is scrubbed across your vehicle's paint. This is where 90% of all scuffs and swirl marks come from on cars. It's from improper cleaning of a car.

Imagine this, you take a wash mitt and you just finished cleaning off the dirt from the lower portion of your vehicle's body. You then take that wash mitt and begin rubbing it across your hood to clean it. And you do this without first washing the mitt to remove the dirt. This is in fact that happens every time a car goes through the automated drive-thru washes. Your vehicle is being cleaned with brushes that just finished cleaning the dirty vehicle that went through before you.

The drive-thru car washes are not a favorite option to any professional detailer or auto enthusiast. It's one of those "Last Resort" options in our minds.

Here is a link to a Youtube video showing what a drive-thru wash can do to your vehicle.

How Do We Wash Vehicles At P2P Detailing

We have adapted and modified our process to fit our clients and our own needs. Our style of washing a vehicle can range from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours in length for just the wash process.

Our 30-minute wash is typically the time spent on a vehicle that is regularly maintained at our shop and is coming in weekly or bi-weekly for washes.

Where the longer washes happen are for the ones that are cars that haven't been washed with us before, haven't been polished, and or have been ceramic/graphene-coated. In which case we take the extra time to make sure we are being safe to avoid causing scratches.

We will also perform these washes during our detailing packages to ensure we've gone the extra steps to prep the vehicle for its next phase in our service line.

Here is a breakdown of the equipment, supplies, and then the process in which we go through for vehicles that are ceramic coated, and or polished, and scratch, swirl-free.

Equipment Suggestion and Wash Process


· 2 Wash Buckets: 1 for the body of the vehicle, 1 for the wheels and tires.

· 6 – 8 Microfiber wash towels or wash mitts, fresh or new. If fresh these need to be dedicated to washing your body only and nothing else.

· 1 Wheel woolly for inner barrel, 1 wheel wash mitt, 1 tire brush, 1 wheel well brush

· 1 Foam Cannon

· 1 set of exterior cleaning brushes for the grill, door handles, mirrors, and trim only.

· pH Neutral wash soap

· Mega Foam /Snow Foam Soap

· Detail spray, graphene infused or ceramic SiO2 Based (Only use once every 4 washes)

· 1 Waffle Window Towel

· 1 – 2 Plush Microfiber Drying Towel

· Air Blower / Leaf Blower / Air Gun (To help dry the majority of the vehicle)

Wash Process:

1. Pre-rinse the vehicle, keep distance from the source of water from the car minimum of 12” away.

a. This is a soft pre-rinse, allowing the water to slowly soften the dirt on the vehicle. Reducing chances of scuffing during the wash process.

2. Soak entire car in snow foam soap from foam cannon.

a. Allow to dwell for 1-2 minutes if in sun. 5-6 minutes in shaded areas

3. Clean tires and wheels

a. Spray on the wheel and tire cleaner, let sit for 30 seconds then begin hand cleaning

4. Rinse off entire coat. This does not need to be 100% but get to at least 90%. Your goal is to remove the soap that has picked up the loosened dirt and allow it to rinse off.

5. Apply another coat of snow foam soap

6. Use exterior detail brushes where needed, such as emblems, window trim, grill, door handle edges, and other trim pieces.

7. Hand wash car.

a. Starting at the roof and windows of the car first.

b. Use 1 side of the towel or mitt to clean the roof and flip over to clean windows.

c. Use new towel for each panel and work from top down.

i. When working on doors and fenders. Use 1 side of the towel on the top half and flip over and use other side on the bottom half.

d. Wash in straight horizontal lines. These types of scuff marks are harder to see. So, if you do pick up a piece of debris and it does scuff the paint it will be less likely to be visible.

e. Never use the same towel on more then 1 panel. This helps prevent dirt transfer, reducing the chances of scuffs and scratches.

8. Rinse off car

9. Blow dry with leaf blower or air cannon first. Then if need hand dry

10.Towel dry remaining areas of water

11.Use dedicated window drying towels.

12. Apply Detail spray when needed. No more than 2 times in a 4-wash cycle.

13.Tire Shine

14.Enjoy your vehicle. Call us if you have any issues or questions about maintenance washing. Shop Number: 236-471-5396

If you want to learn firsthand how to safely wash your vehicle and or learn to clay bar your vehicle, give us a call and we'll be happy to set up a 1-on-1 Training that includes a full DIY Kit that you take home with you afterward.

Thank you.

Jarred Young

#carwashing #howtodetail #carwash #safecarwashing

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