Cleaning Your Car
Why is it important to keep your car clean?
Having a clean car obviously keeps your car looking newer longer. But there are other, more technical reasons to keep your car clean. Dust, sand, salt in the winter – all of these are miniscule, abrasive particles that attach themselves to your paint and finish. If your car is not washed on a regular basis, these particles can literally scratch the finish of your car. Some substances such as bird droppings or tree sap can even eat through your clear coat, leaving your finish unprotected and vulnerable to additional wear and tear.
Most people claim to wash their car more than once a month. If you live in a climate that experiences colder winters, it is important to wash it more often than that, as the elements and substances your car is exposed to at that time are particularly harsh.
Ultimately, keeping the exterior of your car clean not only makes your car look nicer and keeps it looking newer, it also protects it from real damage that can be done over time.
What is the best way to wash your car?
There are really two options for washing your car – doing it at home or taking it to a professional car wash center – whether it is self-serve or automatic. Most people think the way to give your car the best wash possible is the “old-fashioned” way – in the driveway, at home. And while that can prove to be a fun afternoon activity, it can actually be quite harmful to both your car and the environment. However, taking your car to a professional carwash can ensure a safe and thorough cleaning as well as provide the means to protect the environment around you.
Unless you are someone that spends quite a bit of time researching products and in-depth methodology for washing your car at home, chances are you might be doing more harm than good to your finish. Dish soaps and other regular household cleaners are popular cleaning agents for at-home washes, but these can strip the wax from your finish, and depending on how abrasive they are, even scratch the paint. A professional car wash center will use cleaning agents that are specifically engineered to clean the surface of your car safely and effectively, and can also provide further protection with options for wax, gloss and clear-coat applications – in a fraction of the time it would take you at home.
If you use everyday towels or rags from around your home to wash and dry your car, you are taking the chance that the particles left over from their last use will also make fine scratches in your finish. You can help avoid this by having a set of 100% cotton towels that you only use for washing your car. Wash them only in liquid detergent, and never use one after you have dropped it on the ground. This will help alleviate scratching, but cannot guarantee eliminating it all together. Many professional washes offer “touchless” options – where your car is cleaned by a powerful blast of water – and no cloth or other friction material ever touches the surface. Washes that do use brushes, called “friction” washes, only use materials or cloth that are engineered to wick dust, sand and grime away from the surface, therefore protecting your finish from scratching or damage. In fact, there have been great advances in the types of materials available for friction washes, including soft foam brushes specifically designed to protect your car.
There are also environmental concerns to consider when choosing where to wash your car. Most people who wash their cars at home do so in their driveways or out on the street. The water runs directly into the storm sewers in the street. Water that comes from storm sewers is not treated at a wastewater treatment plant and flows directly into local streams, lakes and rivers. So the chemicals in the soaps and products you use go directly into the local water supply and can get into drinking water and harm local wild life. Even when you use products that claim to be biodegradable and/or non-toxic, dust and other harmful pollutants make their way into the water.
Professional car wash centers are built to provide appropriate drainage that ensures harmful chemicals do not make it into the local storm sewer system. In fact, many of them filter the water they use, and often recycle it. Also, washing your car at home can use up to 100 gallons of water per wash. The chart below indicates how washing your car at a professional wash can help conserve hundreds and even thousands of gallons of water each year.
|Average Water Consumption (gallons per vehicle) by Car Wash Type|
|Car Wash Type||International Car Wash Association||Mid-Atlantic Car Wash Association||Water Wiser|
|Home Wash W/Out Shutoff Nozle||--||--||100|
How to choose a professional wash
When you are looking for a professional wash to use, there are several things to consider. Professional washes include three main categories:
- Self-serve – where you pull your car into a bay and use a hose and wand to wash your car yourself, much like you would at home.
- Touchless Automatic – where you drive your car into a bay, and a complete wash system automatically moves up and down the length of your car using high-pressure nozzles and an assortment of cleaning and protective agents to wash your car.
- Friction Automation – similar to the touchless automatic in how it operates, this option simply adds rotating cylinders of material that gently rub the dirt and grime from your car.
Most will provide vacuums in addition to the wash services, enabling you to clean the inside of your car as well. Once you have decided what kind of wash you want, consider the following:
- Do they have the type of wash you are looking for (self-serve, touchless automatic, soft touch automatic)?
- Do they offer the extra treatments you desire: wax, clear coating, special gloss treatments?
- Does the equipment look clean and well maintained?
- Do they use environmentally responsible/safe soaps and cleaning agents?
- Do they ensure proper drainage of all wastewater? Even better - do they recycle their water?
Make sure you are comfortable and confident in your professional wash. You will then be able to fully enjoy the continued good appearance and health of your car’s finish – at a fraction of the time, effort and cost to the environment that you would had if you washed your car at home.