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  • Writer's pictureDave

Commercial Car Washes - Preventing Paint Swirls

If you own a black or dark colored vehicle you probably know what I am talking about here. Those unsightly swirl marks or “spiderweb” scratches all over your car. For those of you who have white or silver cars... you have them too, they are just not as noticeable. The most common cause of these scratches is improper washing or drying of your vehicle. By far the best method (if done correctly) is to hand wash your vehicle. However, the purpose of this article is to cover the pluses and minuses of the various commercial car washes as they relate to preventing paint swirls.

Brush Style Car Washes

Is it true that the technology has changed over the years regarding the quality (softness) of the brushes that are whacking against your car? Of course. Very few automated car washes use the old cloth type brushes of 20 years ago but how soft the brushes are is only one part of the equation regarding how potentially damaging these brushes can be. No matter how new or “state of the art” your local car wash claims to be if there is any dirt or debris trapped in the rotating brushes that spin at a high speed against the side of your vehicle or in the “spaghetti noodles” that drag across the hood you are getting scratches! Most commercial car washes process thousands of cars a week and the likelihood that those brushes are totally free of contaminants as they slam against your paint is very small. Our advice if you don’t want your car scratched is to avoid these types of car washes totally.

Touch-less Car Washes

As already noted above the best wash method is by hand but lets face it. With most people’s busy schedules and in the climate we live in it is not always feasible to always hand wash your vehicle. To prevent paint swirls the touch-less type car wash is a far better alternative than the brushed style wash but touch-less washes have their downside too:

  • Its not impossible to get your car scratched at a touch-less wash. If your vehicle has a high degree of mud or debris on the surface the force of the high powered jets hitting your vehicle can cause hard dirt particles on your paint to scratch as the jets blast them off. However the likelihood of getting your car scratched by the touch-less car wash is much less than at a brush wash & not letting your vehicle accumulate too much dirt between washes can lower the possibility even further.

  • Quality of Wash. It’s much more difficult to remove dirt with just water pressure and an often heard consumer’s complaint is having a “film” being left behind after a touch-less wash.

  • Harsh Chemicals. In order to loosen the dirt and grime enough for the water jets alone to remove the dirt the soap (that sits on your paint surface for usually only 10-15 seconds before being blasted off) must contain powerful detergents that over time can dull the look of your paint.

  • Recycled Water. Most commercial car washes (this includes brushed type as well) will recycle at least a percentage of the water to save costs. Yes the water is filtered but to what extent? Do you really want recycled water that may still contain the same road salt you are there to get removed cleaning your car?

The Solution

If you cannot always hand wash your vehicle it seems pretty obvious that of the two types of commercial car washes the touch-less type is the way to go to prevent paint swirls. But how do you overcome the drawbacks of the touch-less type washes? Protect your paint first ! The more of a barrier you have between your paint and the car wash soap the better.Any protection on your paint is better than nothing at all, however even a high quality carnauba wax will be removed in several washes by the harsh detergents. A polymer based paint sealant is a better option in that it provides a much harder surface than wax and therefore provides better protection and will not be removed as quickly as wax. The optimum solution for those of you that are regular touch-less car wash users may be to consider a silica or ceramic based paint coating. Paint coatings are much more chemical resistant than a wax or paint sealant and by far provide the best level of paint protection. In addition to being the most durable, long lasting paint protection option, because a paint coating provides a much harder slicker surface than a wax or sealant it is easier for the water jets to remove the dirt providing a better quality wash. The slick surface a paint coating provides also results in more water residue being removed by the air drying process resulting in less water spots. (See our previous article “Wax, Paint Sealant, and Coatings: What’s the Difference?” for more information on the differences between the various types of paint protection.)

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