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What are Different Types of Car Washes?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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The most common types of car washes are tunnel washes that use brushes and blowers to clean the car; self-service car washes in which the driver can park the car and use a high-powered water sprayer to clean the exterior of the car without the use of brushes; and brushless car washes, in which the car is guided through a tunnel by a conveyor belt, but no brushes are used to clean the car. Instead, high-powered sprayers and dryers are used to clean the car's exterior. Hand-wash facilities are less common as a professional business; these washes feature employees who will wash the car by hand from start to finish.

Tunnel washes are perhaps the most common type of car washes available. The vehicle is driven into one end of the tunnel, at which time a conveyor system grasps the wheels and pulls the car forward at a steady rate. As the car goes through the tunnel, a series of cleaning implements begin washing the car; a rinse usually comes first, as sprayers spray clean water onto the car. Then soap is sprayed onto the car. A series of brushes will then descend upon the car and clean all surfaces. A spray system may also clean the undercarriage of the car as the same time. Once the car reaches the end of the tunnel, a high-powered fan will dry it.

Brushless car washes work in a similar fashion as tunnel washes with brushes, except no contact is made with the car at all. High-powered water jets and specific chemicals are used to clean the car instead. Brushless car washes were developed to avoid scratching the car's finish and to avoid doing damage to the car's components, such as the radio antenna. Most brushless washes end with a blow dry, though some facilities hire people to hand-dry the cars as they come out of the tunnel.

Self-service washes allow a car owner to wash his or her own car without going through a tunnel system. Such washes feature an enclosed area with a drain and a high-pressure hose system that allows the user to spray water at the car. The pistol-grip hose also features a soap setting that allows the user to spray soap onto the car. The user can then rinse the soap off with another spray nozzle. Results from such a wash will be mixed, and the car will be left to air-dry after the wash is complete, which may lead to streaking or spotting.

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Discussion Comments

By anon936169 — On Feb 28, 2014

This is incorrect. Touchless car washes are not guided through via a conveyor belt. I should know, I've been to enough of them. You just drive on in until the sign signals you to stop.

By Animandel — On Jan 26, 2014

Actually, I prefer the self service car washes. Or I should say I used to prefer the self service car washes. One of the main reasons I liked them was the price. I could wash my car cheaply at them. However, they are so much more expensive now that it makes more sense to go to one of the tunnel washes. The price ends up being close to the self service car wash an it is less work and much quicker.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 26, 2014

I know plenty of people who insist on manually washing their cars, but that is not for me. Washing a car no longer has to be a chore.

I love the touchless car wash, especially since there are now the ones that do not use brushes. There is little risk of damage to the car and I never have to get out of the car. And I don't have to spend time on my weekend washing my car. How could it get any better?

By Drentel — On Jan 25, 2014

I can relate to the part of the article telling about the damage that brushes can cause to a car in an automatic car wash. The first time I used one of them my antenna was broken. The second time I used one I noticed small scratches on the the paint job. I assumed they were caused by the brushes.

By Animandel — On Jan 24, 2014

Growing up in a small town, the Saturday activity that brought much of the community together was washing cars. Driving to the car wash with all your car wash equipment and supplies in the trunk each weekend was commonplace.

And back then, no self respecting car owner used anything other than the self service car washes. Washing your car was akin to a Zen exercise.

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