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5 Different Types of Car Washes Explained

Wiping a car with a towel

When it comes to getting your car clean, there are many ways to get the job done. While all the following washes will get your car clean, not all will be completely satisfactory. There are distinct pros and cons to each type, with considerations like scratches and effectiveness to be aware of.

Certain common and effective washes have stood the test of time. We’ve put together this list of five different types to help you decide which one best suits your needs.

car and road divider The 5 Types of Car Washes

1. Hand Wash

Hand car wash
Image credit: Hand car wash by sasint, Pixabay

This is the most obvious choice for budget-conscious car wash enthusiasts. Standing in the hot summer sun, with the tarmac scolding one’s feet, and lugging around two buckets and a sponge is not most people’s idea of fun. But for others, it’s about getting up close and personal with their beloved vehicle. A hand wash allows you to reach every nook and cranny of the body of your car, from the rims to the mirrors.

While a hand wash may seem fairly self-explanatory, there are a few things to know about them to keep your car safe and make your clean efficient.

The most basic form is one bucket of soapy water and another of clean water. Simply soap your car up with a soft clean cloth or sponge (not an old T-shirt). This agitates the dirt and detaches it from the car. Then, simply rinse with the clean water and dry. An important point to remember is that you’ll need to rinse the soapy water off thoroughly before it dries, or you’ll be left with streaks running down your car’s finish.

Although this type of car wash takes the most time, it can be done as a fun activity with your kids. It also gets the job done thoroughly and safely.

  • Safe
  • Thorough
  • Time consuming
  • Requires a large amount of water
  • Not so enjoyable on colder days

2. Waterless Wash

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A waterless wash utilizes a spray bottle with a specialized chemical, as well as a few mitts or microfiber towels. Simply spray the surface of your car thoroughly with the product, and then gently wipe it down with a soft towel.

It may seem like a strange option for a car wash, and rightly so, because it is typically used as a last resort. If you’re on the road or don’t have the space or available water, it can do the job fairly effectively.

The obvious drawback to a waterless wash is its efficacy. A spray bottle and towel aren’t going to remove thick mud and gunk from your car that effectively. As a last resort, it’s fine, but mud is something that only water and a hose can effectively remove. Also, without water, there’s a high potential for scratches. The lack of slick soap can cause the dragging of small particles across your finish, resulting in surface scratches and swirls.

  • Far quicker and more convenient than a hand wash
  • Saves water
  • Great for small spaces
  • Not great for muddy cars
  • Potential for scratching

3. Rinseless Wash

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A rinseless wash is similar to a waterless wash in that it uses a chemical to clean off the dirt. But it does need water. Simply add a small amount of the rinseless product to a bucket of water and hand wash your car with a towel. It’s called a rinseless wash because the product is not soapy and doesn’t produce suds, so there is no need to rinse. All that’s left to do is to dry.

This method is best done methodically, panel by panel, so you can dry quickly after washing. Apply the product to the chosen panel with a soft cloth or mitt and dry immediately afterward. It’s a great method if water is a concern or if you have limited space, like a garage.

A rinse-less wash is not a great option if your car is really dirty. Although it will produce fewer scratches than a waterless wash, it is still not scratch free.

  • Quicker and more convenient than a hand wash
  • Water saving
  • Perfect for limited spaces
  • Won’t remove heavy soiling
  • Not perfectly scratch free

4. Automatic Washes

Automatic car wash
Image Credit: beejees, Pixabay

Convenience abound! A car wash doesn’t get much more convenient than an automatic wash. Like the name implies, its fully automatic, with no buckets or spray bottles required. It usually involves driving your car through a tunnel onto a conveyor belt. This belt leads your car through a series of hoses, brushes, and blow dryers. They are quick and easy, taking only a few minutes from start to finish. The real draw of these washes is convenience.

The downside is the brushes. They can easily scratch your car and are often left contaminated with the previous vehicle’s grime and gunk. They also use potent cleaning chemicals that can cause harm to your vehicle’s finish and strip off any waxes you’ve applied.

  • Fast and convenient
  • Inexpensive
  • High potential for scratching
  • Utilizes harsh chemicals
  • Won’t give a “showroom” clean

5. Touchless Wash

Finally, we have the touchless wash. As the name implies, these washes clean your car without using applicators of any kind. The negation of applicators aims to reduce potential scratches on your car. The wash works by utilizing high-pressure automated hoses infused with chemical cleaners and pressurized air. These hoses follow the unique contour of your car to ensure a thorough wash.

A touchless car wash is great for the eco-conscious driver, as they will often reuse the water. However, this re-purposed water can also cause problems. The water can be contaminated with grit and chemicals if not cleaned or filtered properly, causing potential damage to your car.

Also, those automated hoses can’t get everywhere, especially not with the accuracy you can get from a hand wash. The utilization of harsh chemicals can damage your vehicles finish if used too often.

  • High potential for scratches
  • Not a thorough clean
  • Uses harsh chemicals


With all the options available, which wash you choose will depend on your needs and concerns as the car owner. If you just want a clean car in as little time as possible and are not overly concerned about scratches, an automated or touchless wash will work fine. Even if you prefer to hand wash your car, an automated wash can be a great routine clean once in a while.

However, the best method to clean your car is a good old-fashioned hand wash. It gets you up close and personal with your beloved vehicle, it’s the least abrasive method, and it’s by far the most thorough. Just leave out the T-shirt.

Featured Image Credit: ninofficialphotography, Pixabay


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