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Why you SHOULDN'T use a hand car wash!


With hand car washes popping up on petrol stations, busy junctions and next to every supermarket (if they don't have their own branded car wash!) it can be very tempting to have your car cleaned with this cheap, easy drive in-drive out service, doesn't it?


BUT! (and a very big but indeed) they often cause more damage than good, and the typical uneducated car owner (when it comes to car care) hasn't the foggiest when it comes to spotting the dangers.


Disclaimer: Not all hand car washes are bad, but often but not always they are below standard.


Before we get down and dirty into the nitty gritty the main thing to understand that your average HCW (Hand Car Wash) is at the other end of the scale to your average Detailer. It's like comparing a cheap drive-thru burger to that of a expensive award winning restaurant. Which if you're after cheap and cheerful, that's no issue. But if you're after perfection with guaranteed satisfaction, a detailer is the way to go with the premium rate price to justify the exceptional quality.

We'll start with discussing the various elements of your typical inside to outside valet;


1. Pre Wash

Pre wash is an important stage with any wash or valet. The idea being to remove as much surface dirt, both loose and embedded (stuck to the surface) as possible before we make contact with any form of wash mitt.


If you've ever been in the queue at the car wash there will typically be one individual wondering up and down the queue with a pump sprayer spraying a chemical onto your car, usually just on the lower sections but sometimes all over. This is TFR, when used correctly is outstanding but however with the incorrect dilution or dwell time (the time needed for it to soak in to the dirt before being rinsed) it can be hazardous to your paintwork or any wax protection you may have.

If you're at the back of the queue on a hot sunny day, good luck! As it will dry & stain your paintwork and trims (both rubber and chrome).


As a detailer I personally rinse the entire vehicle with the pressure washer to remove as much as possible before applying a snow foam. In more worse cases I'll use a citrus based pre cleaner on the more grubby bits before allowing to dwell as per the recommended time stated by the products instructions. Snow foam is usually pH neutral, so non acidic and non-alkaline so will not damage any aspect of the vehicle. While these dwell you'll find me cleaning the more intricate areas (fuel flap, grilles, window seals etc) with a soft brush.


2. Wheels

Wheels tend to be wheely dirty (pun intended) as they get caked in brake dust and road grime.

If the TFR hasn't worked efficiently the HCW will use an acid based wheel cleaner. If you've just arrived your wheels will still be warm, this will allow the product to evaporate quicker damaging the finish. Tyre sidewalls take a hit too as acid and rubber do not get on well, and your cars important brake components could suffer some damage too.


Detailing a wheel is rather intricate at best, I've personally spent longer than you'd think is possible working with just one wheel with a dedicated wheel soap and a variety of brushes for both the face, the barrel, the lug nuts, the wheel arch and the tyre. One wheel at a time is the only way to ensure a safe working method to avoid the product drying. The wheel usually gets a bit of snow foam action too.


3. Wash

What we all came for, the important washing stage. Although it seems basic enough there's actually many factors involved when it comes to actually washing the car. We see a lot of hand car washes will have a bucket or water butt full of what appears to be soapy water where they dip a dirty wash mitt or nylon brush into and give your car the once over. That bucket has often been responsible for the previous 10 or so cars. So if you're behind that dirty old 4x4 in the queue, you're about to get his dirt scratched into your paintwork. And on a busy day you'll be lucky if it doesn't come out looking like a patchwork quilt.


Again we use a proven safe method involving 2 wash buckets, a new (or cleaned & conditioned) wash mitt, top end shampoo (cheaper ones are chemical based and offer no lubrication to prevent marring or scratching during contact) and all the time in the world to cover every inch.

One bucket has soapy water, the other has fresh water. Shampoo a panel (or half) and then remove any dirt into the fresh water, then dip back into the shampoo and repeat. High end shampoos won't dry on the car quickly, allowing you to complete the wash stage without having to rush or prematurely rinse.


4. Drying

Something that's always baffled me at the car wash is that you have to pay extra to have your car dried! Leaving it to dry naturally will leave water spots and if you're driving home with a wet car I can bet when you pull on the driveway it will look like it did the day before. If you've splashed out the extra £1.50 to have her dried you'll be greeted with a drying blade or a dirty leather that aren't cleaned properly before use.


I have an assortment of drying towels for various sections of the car. And for those tight areas I will use compressed air to remove any hiding water. Before touching the car with the microfibres we use a 'Rinse Aid' to allow for ample lubrication to avoid leaving streaks or smears. Followed up with a quick detailer or spray wax to enhance shine.


5. Polish & Wax

Car polishing and wax protection has evolved massively in the past 10 years or so. Mainly due to paint technology progressing which meant the methods and products have had to progress with it. The old school hand polish and wax is slowly becoming redundant from a professionals point of view, but it still functional for those who enjoy spending Sunday morning working our the garage on the driveway. The HCW may offer to polish and wax your car, but you're not actually gaining much in the way of correction & protection. At best they'll mask any scratches for a week or so before reverting to how it looked before.


6. Interior

The part of the car we spend the most time in. There's an art to cleaning interiors and I personally have spent in excess of 15 hours on interiors with removing seats, plastic trims and carpets (Yes, detailing can be that in depth!). The main thing I notice with interiors from the HCW is they are rushed, using products full if silicone with dirty work cloths. Essentially just moving the dirt and dust around rather than removing it.


7. Professionalism

The part that often gets overlooked. We often go straight for the cheapest option, but to be cheap, you need to run your business cheap. Doing research into the company you wish to choose is easier than you think. Any reputable car care business will have framed certificates showing their training, insurances and approved certifications.


Knowing that they're insured also offers peace of mind, however public liability isn't required by law. In the event of an issue relating to a damaged vehicle as a result of using a HCW (or detailer) without insurance will be tricky to rectify. I personally carry up to £1million worth of public liability, that I've never needed to rely on!


In summary I personally do not recommend hand car washes. In my opinion they don't provide a good enough service and appear to be solely money making based. They will never live up to the standard of a detailer for many reasons, customer satisfaction and workmanship are at the top of that list, to name a few!


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