Express Lube

Is the car wash damaging your car?

We can’t all be the type of person that loves washing our car on the weekend. While some people find breaking out the hose, brush and shammy cloth to bring back their car’s shine therapeutic, many of us prefer treating ourselves (and our cars) to a trip to the car wash. But are car washes actually good for your car, or could they be damaging it?


Over the years, we’ve serviced thousands of cars at Express Lube, and we’ve noticed that hairline scratches, swirl marks and dirt and debris buildup are on the rise. This trend isn’t restricted to cars with inexperienced owners, either. Even cars with responsible owners, who know that regular washing protects paint work and helps to protect the resale value, are showing these signs of exterior damage.



The problem is that self-service, by-hand and automatic car washes are not as safe for your car as you might think. Here are the main reasons why.

How the car wash can damage your car

While most by-hand car wash staff are aware and capable of good washing practices, the need to compete with an increasingly competitive market means they try to economise services and cut costs wherever possible. They tend to re-use the same cloths over and over again, resulting in swirl marks, grime buildup and even hairline scratches.

Self-service car washes also require customers to use pre-used cloths and brushes, causing the same forms of exterior damage. Owners also may miss important areas in their cleans, leading to rust and dirt buildup later on.

An automatic car wash can leave swirl marks and a cloudy sheen on your car instead of making it cleaner.

Swirl marks from an automatic car wash.

Automatic car washes also rinse, wash and shine with pre-used cloths and brushes, and the forceful spinning motion of the brushes can worsen the damage a dirty cloth can do. The spinning brushes are also notorious for causing scratches. Wax can transfer from the shine cloths to the rinse cloths, leaving a cloudy sheen on windscreens and windows.

It can be hard to fit everything into a busy life, so we aren’t going to say you should avoid car washes altogether. So, if you need to use one, here’s our advice.


Get a referral. Ask around for a recommendation for a car wash that delivers great results and no damage.

Inspect the rags and sponges and ask how often they’re replaced. If the staff aren’t ok with this, or the environment and equipment looks dirty, leave and find somewhere else.

Avoid charity car washes. They’re a lovely idea, but inexperienced washers can really damage your paint work and leave your car with swirls of detergent residue.

Spot clean. If you get a splotch of bird poo or tree sap on your car and it’ll be a while before your next wash, do a quick spot clean – these can strip paint if left on for months or even weeks.

Remember – if you’re unsure, leave it to the professionals!


Ready for an all-over car service? No bookings are required at Express Lube, so drive in and we’ll get to work.

Swirl marks from an automatic car wash.

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