A steam car wash is a building designed to wash cars using steam rather than jets of water, brushes, and other potentially abrasive materials. High-powered steam is sprayed at the vehicle, and sometimes detergents are also used in conjunction with the steam. Once the vehicle has progressed all the way through the steam car wash, the vehicle will be wiped down with microfiber cloths that help avoid scratching or clouding on the car's surface. Of all the types of car washes available, this is the least common, but it is growing in popularity, especially among luxury car owners.
The first steam car wash was built and began operating in South Korea as an answer to water shortages or cleanliness issues. It was hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to more conventional car washes that use far more water and other materials, which was an important consideration considering the high population of car owners in the larger cities in South Korea. The steam wash is no longer limited to just South Korea, though they are still not nearly as prevalent as other car wash methods.
In most cases, detergents and soaps are not necessary to completely clean a car at a steam car wash. The steam is heated and propelled at a high speed, making it an effective choice for removing dirt, grime, tar, bugs, and other materials commonly found on car bodies. The inside and outside of the car can be cleaned with the steam, though some interior materials should not be steam cleaned as the high temperature steam can cause some damage. Far less water is used during a steam car wash than with a conventional car wash, and the steam wash is more eco-friendly because very little run-off occurs, leading to less greywater, if any at all.
One of the biggest advantages of the steam car wash is the absence of brushes or other abrasive materials coming in contact with the finish of the paint. Brushes often cause clouding or scratching on the surface of the car, which will eventually wear down the finish and dull the appearance of the car. Steam washes never use brushes to remove dirt, so no scratching will occur, and the finish will remain bright. If the car needs to be dried after a steam wash, microfiber cloths are used to dry the car without scratching the finish.