Is There A Scratch Free Way To Wash Your Vehicle?

Updated: Jul 13

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 pa