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Is the car wash bad for your paint?

Updated: Feb 21

We all want our cars to look clean and shiny, but is the car wash doing more harm than good? In this article, we'll explore the effects of car washes on your vehicle's paint and provide tips for keeping your car looking its best.

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The Effects of Car Washes on Your Paint

Exterior Cleaning

Car washes are designed to remove dirt, grime, and other debris from your vehicle's exterior. However, the methods used in car washes can have a negative impact on your car's paint.

One of the main concerns with car washes is the use of harsh chemicals. These chemicals can strip away the protective wax layer on your car's paint, leaving it vulnerable to damage. They can also cause discoloration and fading over time.

  • High PH soap is often used because it cleans a car faster than traditional safe PH soaps, leaving your paint vulnerable to sun damage.

Another issue with car washes is the use of brushes and other cleaning tools. These tools can leave scratches and swirl marks on your car's paint, especially if they are not cleaned regularly. These marks can be difficult to remove and can make your car's paint look dull and worn.

  • Clear coat (top layer of paint) is fragile and easily scratched, especially by fast moving objects.

Interior Detailing

Car washes often offer interior detailing services, which involve cleaning the inside of your car. While this may seem like a good idea, it's important to consider the products and methods used in the process.

Many car washes use harsh chemicals to clean the interior of your car, which can damage surfaces like leather, vinyl, and plastic. These chemicals can cause discoloration, cracking, and fading, making your car's interior look worn and old.

Additionally, the use of brushes and other tools can cause scratches and damage to your car's interior surfaces. This is especially concerning for delicate materials like leather, which can be easily damaged by rough cleaning methods.

  • Detail centers are your safest bet, not car washes that offer interior details as a convenience.

Tips for Keeping Your Car Looking Its Best

While car washes can be convenient, there are steps you can take to keep your car looking its best without risking damage to your paint.

Hand Washing

One of the best ways to protect your car's paint is to hand wash it yourself. This allows you to control the products and methods used, ensuring that your car is cleaned gently and effectively.

When hand washing your car, be sure to use a mild soap specifically designed for cars. Avoid using dish soap or other household cleaners, as they can be too harsh for your car's paint. Also, use a soft sponge or microfiber cloth to avoid scratching the paint.

  • Use a soft wash mit, only scrub in the direction of wind travel, circular motions cause swirls.

Use a Pressure Washer

If you don't have the time or resources to hand wash your car, consider using a pressure washer. This method can be gentler on your car's paint than traditional car washes, as it doesn't involve brushes or other tools.

However, it's important to use a pressure washer with caution. Be sure to use the appropriate pressure setting and keep the nozzle at least 12 inches away from your car's paint to avoid causing damage.

  • If the pressure hurts your hand when you spray it, it's going to damage your paint.

Choose a Touchless Car Wash

If you do opt for a car wash, consider choosing a touchless option. These car washes use high-pressure water and soap to clean your car without the use of brushes or other tools. This can be a gentler option for your car's paint, but it's important to note that touchless car washes may not be as effective at removing dirt and grime.

  • This is the safest route to ensure no further paint damage.

Regularly Wax Your Car

Waxing your car is an important step in protecting its paint. Wax acts as a barrier between your car's paint and the elements, helping to prevent damage and fading.

Be sure to use a high-quality car wax and follow the instructions carefully. It's recommended to wax your car every 3-4 months to maintain its protective layer. Although most waxes only provided 30 days of protection. Consider a sealant for longer protection. A ceramic coating provides the longest protection and with little to no maintenance.

  • Your paint is like your skin, it needs moisture to prevent it from cracking and aging.

Use Interior Detailing Products

If you want to keep your car's interior looking clean and new, it's important to use the right products. Look for interior detailing products specifically designed for cars, as they will be gentler on your car's surfaces.

Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive tools, and be sure to follow the instructions on the product carefully. Regularly cleaning and conditioning your car's interior can help prevent damage and keep it looking its best.

  • DO NOT use degreaser to clean your car interior. If you hire someone to detail your car who says they use it, RUN the other way.


While car washes may seem like a convenient option for keeping your car clean, they can have negative effects on your paint and interior surfaces. By following these tips and taking a more hands-on approach to cleaning your car, you can protect its paint and keep it looking like new. Remember to use gentle products and methods, and regularly wax and detail your car to maintain its appearance. With these tips, you can keep your car looking its best for years to come.

If you are in need of professional car detailing, let the pros at J9's Luxury Auto Detailing service you in Colorado Springs, CO.

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