7 Reasons Why You Should Never Go to Another Car Wash

Whipping brushes, acid-etching chemicals, and mineral deposits—you might want to think twice before heading to the car wash.

Jose AS Reyes/Shutterstock

Car washes are an easy way to get your vehicle clean, but there are good reasons to skip them from now on.

Abrasive brushes can scratch your car’s paint

While most newer car washes have swapped out those old abrasive brushes for softer ones, the slapping against the side of your car can still cause trouble: The brushes are covered with grit from all the cars before yours, according to Thrillist. As an alternative, Alex Lauderdale, the transportation expert at educateddriver.org, suggests hand-washing your own car. When washing your own car, Consumer Reports suggests using a dedicated car-wash product and a large, soft natural sponge or lambs-wool mitt. If you do find some scratches on your car, here’s how to remove car scratches painlessly.

It’s also important to note that the effectiveness of a car wash varies, depending on the combination of car model and the type and cleanliness of car wash. So use your own best judgement when deciding which car wash is best for your car and how many scratches you are willing to risk.

Even brushless car washes can scratch your car

While brushless car washes might seem like a safer alternative, they have do have a potential downside. “There’s a chance that some of the particles [from previous dirty cars] can end up being blasted on your car. The result could be thin spider web scratches,” says Lauderdale. You can get touch-up painting done on your car in four easy steps. 

The cleaners can actually etch glass

You might not give much thought to what chemicals are being sprayed at your car, but most of those cleaners are bad news for your car’s windows. Sure, they’re great at dissolving rust, dirt, and grime, but most cleaners contain strong hydrofluoric acids, which, if not diluted properly, can actually etch glass, says the Chicago Tribune. When hand-washing your car at home, Consumer Reports suggests only using a mild car-wash product that is specifically designed for use on automobile paint. As far as washing your wheels, if mild soap and water don’t scrub everything off, opt for a dedicated wheel cleaner.

Mineral deposits on sunny days

Turns out you car likes filtered water just as much as you do. Hard water can leave mineral deposits on your paint if it evaporates too quickly afterward, and that can leave permanent water spots. “Dousing your car with water in bright sunlight can be ruinously bad for its finish,” says CNN. “It’s far better to wash on cloudy, overcast days—or at least in the shade, away from direct sunlight. A great time to wash a car is just after dawn—and in the late afternoon, just as the sun is slipping past the horizon.”

Beware of strong water pressure

That small chip in your car’s paint might not be bothering you now, but if it’s blasted with high water pressure, repairing it can expand. “A quick blast of water at close range with enough pressure is all it takes to do serious damage,” says Thrillist. “If your paint happens to get pressurized water under it, it can force up the exposed edge and peel away even more paint.”

Dirty cloths can also scratch your car’s paint

Like the abrasive brushes, a dirty cloth can put scratches in your car’s paint. “Dirt and other abrasives in the rags can scratch the finish just like sandpaper,” according to autoblog.com. When hand-washing your own car, Consumer Reports suggests using chamois (natural or synthetic) or soft terry towels.

Your poor antennas, windshield wipers, and mirrors

While most newer cars hide their antennas under a “shark fin” design on the roof of their cars, exposed antennas on older cars can snap; so can windshield wipers: “[Windshields] tend to bend and break more easily than one might expect,” according to cheatsheet.com. Another issue is that the water pressure can chew up the plastic gears that allow the wipers to move, the site reveals. Your side mirrors are especially vulnerable to damage, according to Lauren Fix, the Car Coach, a nationally recognized automotive expert.