Automatic Car Wash or Hand Washing: Which is Better?

Pros And Cons Of Hand-Washing Your Car
Is it better to run your car through an automatic car wash? Well, maybe. Photo credit:

Is an automatic car wash better for your car?

Washing your car is one of those chores you either love or hate. Some people enjoy getting out in their driveway and giving their baby some TLC, while others drive as fast as they can to the local car wash. But here’s the question: is one form of washing better than the other?

Some studies show that a machine-based car wash is actually better for your car’s paint. Washing your car at home with household sponges, towels, hoses, brushes, and cleaners can scratch and ruin the paint on your car. Modern drive-through car washing is consistent, thorough, and less abrasive than the typical home wash.

Or is it? A touchless car wash is less likely to scratch your car, but also less likely to thoroughly clean it. And non-touchless, automatic car washes may hurt your car’s paint just as much as an improper home wash. Dirty cars come through over and over again, all day long, leaving dirt behind on the brushes that can harm your car. The equipment used in the automatic wash may not be repaired or replaced often enough.

Tips for DIY hand washing

If time is not a factor, hand washing with proper tools is preferable to automatic washing. If you choose to wash your car yourself, here are some tips to save your car’s finish:

  • Wash your car in the shade – if it’s in the sun, it will dry too quickly and leave water marks
  • Use two buckets of water – one for washing, one for rinsing
  • Use a good quality detergent specifically made for car washing
  • Use a good quality wash mitt made from sheepskin – do not use a sponge
Should You Hand-Wash Your Car Or Take It To A Car Wash?

If you wash your car at home, make sure you have the right tools! Photo credit:

But who has time for all that? We asked some A Girls Guide to Cars and TravelingMom contributors what they thought.

The pros of an at-home car wash

  • It’s cheaper
  • You can do it right
  • You get to know your car better
  • You can enlist your kids for help

“It’s much cheaper and I do a better job,” says Fadra Nally. “Everyone should [wash their own car] at least once. It helps you get up close and personal with every aspect of the car. But I can never get my windows smear-free like they do. And since I got an SUV, it’s hard to reach the top without a step stool!”

“You can do a much better job and if something doesn’t come clean the first go around you can try again,” says Erica Mueller. “I love being able to wipe inside the door jams real good. It just completes the clean!”

Anuja De Silva says washing your own car “is a great way to teach kids about responsibility even from a young age.”

Julie Adolf agrees. “I’m tired of the kids making a mess in my car, so guess who’s now in charge of cleaning it? They’re learning that the trash they leave in it WILL be cleaned by them, and the smell from my daughter’s sweaty equestrian gear WILL be eliminated from the car by HER. And honestly, they have fun together washing the car.”

Scotty Reiss loves Wash Drops when washing her car at home. “It is basically waterless car washing and takes less time than it takes to drive to the car wash and back. I don’t like the idea of hoses, buckets of water, etc. – too much work and waste.”

Should You Hand-Wash Your Car Or Take It To A Car Wash?

Pros and cons of hand-washing your car. Photo credit: Shannon Entin for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The cons of washing your own car

  • It takes extra time
  • It uses a lot of water
  • It’s messy, wet, and tiring

“It’s a matter of both water conservation and value of time,” says Eric Jay Toll. “I live in the desert, so water is precious. More water is used if you wash the car yourself than going to a local full-service car wash. With a coupon book, it’s about $12 for a wash and and light detail work. They complete it in under 30 minutes; I couldn’t do it myself in less than an hour or more. The $12 is worth it to give me an extra hour-plus of time for other pursuits.”

Tara Ocampo says TravelingDad Raphael Ocampo “likes to do it once and a while. But as a nagging wife and mom, I can’t help but think that his time would be better used to do other things. Personally, I’d rather just pay the 12 bucks since our time is worth more than that and the pros usually do a better job anyway.”

“My kids always want to help. It ends up being a huge mess, and then I have little ones crying because they got wet,” says Mary Moore. “But it’s fun for a little while.”

It seems that washing your car yourself is something you might want to do sometimes, but perhaps not every time. So what do you think? Do you wash your car yourself?


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Feeling most at home when on the road, Shannon Entin grew up under the impression that the highest form... More about Shannon Entin