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What To Watch Out For At The Carwash So Your Car Doesn't Get Scratched

There are few things as satisfying in this world as washing your car. To see all that muck, dirt, grime, and other filthy junk get washed down the drain with a quick swish of a wash mitt, and a hearty spray of a hose is a frankly addictive feeling. But who knew that an activity made purely for cleaning and caring for your car, and making it look so much nicer, could potentially also damage your car? 

Well, folks, that is a harsh reality where even the best of good deeds can have nasty side effects if not done right. One wrong swipe and you suddenly notice an unsightly scratch on the lovely paint that you've been labouring to keep shiny. Be it an automatic self-serve car wash, or the old-school way of bodies and buckets, here are some things to watch out for at your next car wash excursion.

1. Mind The Dirt

There is a definite no-no in the car washing community, and that's when you decide to wipe off dirt on your car while it's bone dry. See, water is what catches dirt and debris, before it can be safely escorted off your car's paintwork. If you're simply wiping the dirt down without any water, you're basically scrubbing the dirt like bare sandpaper onto your car's paint, scratching it along the way.

2. Cloths & Sponges

While you're at the car wash - or are washing it yourself - inspect the tools at hand. The first of which should be the wash mitt. A lot of older car washes might still be using highly abrasive brushes instead of a more gentle washing cloth or mitt to wipe down your car. It makes sense in older cars, as they don't have a protective upper layer of clear coat paint. 

So, light scratches can be buffed out with ease. On newer cars, however, that shiny transparent clear coat layer can be compromised with these old-fashioned abrasive brushes, leading to further damage to the underlying base coat of the paint. The only way to fix this is a costly repaint or a touch-up. Be wary, then, of car washes that still use brushes instead of a proper washing cloth or sponge.

A better option would be to not use any of those items at all. Some car washes don't make physical contact with the car while washing, and simply uses high-pressure hoses and water jets to clean the car. This is far safer, without any risk of physical scratches and other cosmetic damage happening to your car.

3. Twin Buckets

Another critical faux pas when cleaning your car is using just one bucket. It's recommended to have two buckets; one for all the dirty rinse water, and the other for the clean soapy water. The logic behind it is quite simple. If you're using just one bucket, all that dirt and grime that you've washed away from your car will get stuck to your washing cloth or mitts again.

At this point, you'll pick up the old dirt from before, and are shovelling it back onto your car. If this isn't bad enough, you're actively scrubbing this dirt back onto your car with the aforementioned sponge or cloth. There should be two buckets when cleaning your car, one where you can rinse off the debris from the cleaning apparatus of choice, and then dunking it cleanly into the soapy bucket.

4. Use Proper Soap

There is a myth that needs debunking, and that's the claim that any soap is okay for your car. This is incorrect, as dishwasher detergent (or dish soap) acts as a degreaser. While good for plates, this can strip away the wax or sealant protection from your car's clear coat. Doing so removes a protective layer, while also creating extra friction that will no doubt increase the chances of scratching.

5. Avoid Brushed Car Washes

If you know automated car washes, then you'll know that there are umpteen different machines and steps at work as your car is slowly pulled along. Those seemingly innocent, soft, cosy brushes are what you should be afraid of the most. A common theme here when it comes to scratching your car while getting a wash is dirt being accidentally picked up and rubbed all over the paint.

Those big brushes at the car wash have exactly this sort of problem. Who knows how many cars have been through there before you... What if the previous visitor was absolutely filthy? In that case, all their dirt and muck, a lot of which is probably still stuck on those brushes, will now get scrubbed onto your car's lovely paintwork, all for the sake of getting it cleaned.

6. Dirty Rags

Once you've already gone through the process of washing your car, it's now time to have it dried out. With some car washes - especially those automated ones - they can use a jet of hot air, sort of like a hairdryer, to force any and all excess water off your car. Mostly, though, you'll likely find that your car will be driven off to a dedicated area, where it's then hand dried with towels 

This is where it gets troubling. You should only ever use a clean, soft towel to wipe down and dry off a car. Or, even better, use a microfibre cloth to catch any remaining dirt. That said, when the car wash is a bit busy, or just lazy, they might use old and dirty rags to dry your car. In this case, they're pretty much rubbing sandpaper on your car, with a towel that's filled with coarse dirt particles.

7. Wash Everything Else

While our subject here has been about scratches, it's worth looking elsewhere aside from just your bodywork, as prominent as it may be, when you're scheduling your next car wash stop. Many car washes offer extra services, and while a lot of them aren't worth the money, there's two in particular that are worth it - washing your undercarriage, and the wheels.

The undercarriage has even more dirt, mud, grit, salt, and countless more nasty stuff down there. If you're washing your car at home, it may be hard to reach the undercarriage, so it's definitely worth having it cleaned thoroughly while you're at the car wash. Not only could this keep your car's underbelly clean, but it may also help to prevent down the line.

As for the tyres, they too will get very dirty. As you're driving along, a lot of nature can accumulate and get stuck on your wheels. Commercial car washes have tools that you might not at home, such as high-powered washer jets that could thoroughly dislodge a lot of the extra dirt, grime, and especially brake dust (this could stain your wheels over time) that you otherwise couldn't remove.