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Touchless Car Washes: What Are the Pros & Cons?

Automatic car wash

While many car enthusiasts may recoil at the thought of putting their precious vehicle through an automated machine, there is no denying the convenience of a drive-through car wash. Most of us don’t have the time (nor desire) to stand in the hot sun with a bucket and sponge. Luckily, modern technology can do it for us.

With an abundance of automation at our fingertips, the number of options available can be confusing. Even if you are not a car aficionado, you still care enough to want your car cleaned without damage to its finish.

A popular option is a touchless car wash. You’ve probably been through one before without realizing it. Basically, a touchless car wash uses no cloth or foam applicators to clean the surface of your car. You drive through a tunnel where the vehicle is automatically washed, using high-pressure hoses to both soap and rinse the car. There are sensors along the tunnel to allow the hoses to follow and clean along the vehicle’s unique shape.

To compensate for not being physically cleaned with an applicator of some kind, a touchless carwash utilizes stronger chemical soaps than those traditionally used. They are designed with the safety of the car in mind, in an attempt to reduce the scratches and swirls often caused by applicators.

With all this in mind, let’s dive into the pros and cons of touchless car washes and find out what they’re all about.

Car wash
Image credit: Car wash by JLMedia, Pixabay

Touchless Car Wash Pros

Aside from convenience, the most obvious benefit of a touchless wash is that your car is not being touched or potentially scratched by applicators. Depending on your car’s color and finish, using even a mildly abrasive cloth or sponge can easily create micro-scratches and swirls. This will be especially pronounced on dark-colored cars. But even lighter finishes can suffer a dulling over time caused by these micro-scratches.

Applicator free

Standard car washes use brushes and fabrics that are notorious for scratches. Touchless car washes only use high-pressure hoses to soap and rinse your car, so the risk of scratches is greatly reduced. The sensors direct the hoses over the exact shape of your car, giving it a thorough clean.


Dents can also be a common occurrence at traditional car washes. Rollers can go awry, negligent workers may not paying attention, and even the staff driving your car to different cleaning stations can result in an accident. Again, thanks to automation, touchless car washes have none of these risks.


Touchless car washes recycle water as much as they can. The used water is collected and filtered, stored, and used again for the next wash. This results in a significant reduction in water use, especially in a time where water-saving is an important factor. Washing a car regularly may seem like an unnecessary use of water for the eco-conscious driver, but automated systems help the environment and ease the mind by reusing water wherever possible.

Low cost

Thanks to the reduction in the need for staff and applicator products, touchless car washes are usually far cheaper than traditional washes. They can also be done quickly, increasing the turnaround of vehicles.

Specialty washes

There are places on your car that you can’t reasonably get to. Thick, dried mud can collect on the undercarriage of your car and cause problems. Mud collecting on the inside of your wheel rims can cause them to spin unevenly, making your car shake at high speeds. Unless you are quite industrious or have a car lift, washing the undercarriage and wheel rims is almost impossible. A high-pressure wash can get rid of mud easily and quickly.

Swift and simple

The convenience and simplicity of a touchless wash make it an attractive option. Simply drive in, and the sprayers give your car a first basic rinse. Then a strong soap is applied, also through sensor automation, to ensure that all parts of the car are reached. The car is rinsed again and finally, blow-dried. This efficient process allows traffic to move quickly.

Touchless Car Wash Pros
  • Quick and convenient. The drive-through and lack of staff make it swift and simple to use.
  • Cheap. With the lack of things like cloths and employees, the cost is driven down, making it cheaper for the customer.
  • Specialty washes. Undercarriage washes can be impossible on your own, but high-pressure hoses make this not only possible but also effective.
  • Brushless and applicator free. As nothing touches your car’s finish, this type of wash mitigates the risk of scratches and dents.
  • Eco-friendly. Water is mostly recycled, lessening the environmental impact.
Touchless car wash
Image credit: Touchless car wash by paulbr75, Pixabay

Touchless Car Wash Cons

The touchless car wash protocol is so simple, it seems like there are only benefits. But the system has not yet been perfected, and there are risks that need to be considered before you rush off to your nearest car wash facility.

Incomplete cleaning

Even with the intense high-pressure spraying, there are places on your car that the hoses just can’t get to. The sensors allow the hoses to move along with the shape of your car, but they still cannot get into the fine nooks and crannies of modern vehicles. Although touchless car washes can clean places on your car that you can’t, such as the undercarriage, the reverse is also true. The vast number of variables in car shapes and wheel rims makes it impossible for the hoses to get absolutely everywhere.

A touchless car wash may conceivably clean only 80% of your car. So although your car will be generally fairly clean, there will be situations where you’ll need to go back afterward with a cloth to clean certain difficult-to-reach spots. A touchless car wash is a good option for general maintenance cleaning, but it won’t produce the showroom results that will turn other drivers’ heads.

Harsh chemicals

Touchless car washes need to use more powerful chemicals than traditional washes, as no applicant is rubbing on the surface. Even with high-pressure hoses, a powerful solvent is needed to clean off everything your car collects on its daily commute. Although there is no method of washing your car without any risk, these harsh chemicals can damage your car’s paint finish further. These chemicals can also gradually wear down the clear coat if they are applied too frequently.

Recycled water

While it’s a great environmental boon that the water is being reused, this can also come with its own risks to your car’s finish. The water is constantly being reconditioned and filtered, but the chemicals can still remain within it, potentially adding to the risk. In a touchless wash system, your car initially gets a pre-rinse. If this is not done properly, dirt and grit can remain on your car. The high-pressure hoses being used can push this grit around, causing more potential scratches.

If you have an older car where the finish is sensitive or already bubbling or flaking, a high-pressure hose will only worsen the issue. In this case, it’s best to wash the car yourself.

Touchless Car Wash Cons
  • Incomplete cleaning. The high-pressure hoses cannot get everywhere, making showroom cleanliness impossible.
  • Harsh Chemicals. The need for stronger chemical soaps can potentially wear down your car’s finish if used too frequently.
  • Recycled water. Reused water can contain grit and leftover chemicals that risk your finish further.

In Summary

Although not perfect, for general maintenance, touchless car washes are a great option. If not used too much, your clear coat should be fine, and the lack of abrasive materials rubbing your finish will help prevent scratches and swirls.

The risks of touchless washes can be drastically reduced by not being done too regularly, making them a safe way to keep your car clean and scratch free. For a showroom quality clean, though, you’ll need to get up close and personal with a cloth or applicator into those hard-to-reach places.


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