Keeping your car clean: hand-wash vs. automatic

The rainy Pacific Northwest doesn’t leave a lot of room for car washes.

When we do get dry days, what’s the best way to get your car clean, hand-wash or automatic car wash?

Handwashing will always give you a more thorough job, but it can cause microchipping of the car’s paint if you’re not careful.

Here are the three main mistakes people make when handwashing their car:

  1. Not pre-rinsing. Most of us don’t wash away the heaviest grime before we start scrubbing and that creates a sandpaper effect.
  2. Using a dirty sponge and soap that is too harsh.
  3. We use too little water to thoroughly remove the detergent.

So what makes an automatic car wash better?

The experts at PEMCO insurance say automatic car washes use what's called light-touch technology. It uses water pressure to loosen grime and dirt rather than scrubbing.

"Another thing that they do well is they clean car wheel areas and undercarriages pretty well," said Derek Wing, the Communications Manager at PEMCO Insurance.  "That might be a little easier to do with an automatic car wash than doing it yourself at home. Then, the last thing that's kind of a benefit is car washes out there, they actually recycle the water so it's better for the environment than handwashing your car at home."

Automatic car washes can get a little pricey.  If you can't afford one every time, car collectors who almost always hand-wash their car have some tips:

  • Don't wash the car in full sun where the soap dries before you can get it rinsed off.
  • Rinse the car thoroughly to remove as much grime as you can before you start washing.
  • Use a soap made for washing cars. Dish soap is too harsh and can strip the wax.
  • Use a separate sponge to clean grimy wheels and tires. Make sure you rinse your sponges often.
  • Wash from the top down and do only a small section at a time. That way, you can rinse it thoroughly before the soap has a chance to dry.
  • Don't wash in circles because that can leave swirl marks. Instead, move the sponge lengthwise.
  • Take the nozzle off the hose to rinse and let the water flood the area so you get a sheeting action.
  • Use a chamois cloth or very soft terry towel to dry. Blot the water rather than dragging the towel over the paint.

If you want to baby your car, hand-wash is the way to go.

If you want to save time and help the environment go through the automatic car wash. Don't feel guilty about spending money on that.