Automated carwashing vs. hand washing - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Automated carwashing vs. hand washing

A detailed examination of the pros and cons of two equally popular carwash methods.

The changing face of cars and the ever growing working class has caused the process of carwashing to become timed and precision-based. Carwash specialists have no space for mistakes as the need to have a good looking car becomes the norm.

This need to come out with a nearly perfectly clean car has driven many car experts to come up with different schemes aimed at helping car owners wash their cars. The use of automated carwashing vs. hand washing strategies have thus come into great focus as each of them is laced with its share of strengths and weaknesses.

For starters, it is notable that each of the carwashing strategies has its fair share of users, but the issue is not worth belaboring as aspects of each method require scrutiny.

Looking at the pros and cons of an automated carwash vs. a hand wash is worth discussing to be able to ascertain the direction owners and operators need to take in modern carwashes.

Related article: Professional versus home carwashing

Automated carwashing

To begin, the use of machines is taking root in almost every industry, and carwashing is no exception. Automated carwashing has become the alternative to the hand washing method.

Many people would prefer using the automated carwash method for several reasons, but it has its weaknesses and strengths.


  • Gentle on the car body paint. The car body paint is one of the cherished parts of any car, and the owner protects it at all costs. The use of hard brushes in the past led to scratches and the eventual destruction of body paint jobs. In contrast, the automatic car wash method does the opposite as it is gentle and gets the job done without any damage.
  • Thorough. The amount of work done by the automated machine is perfect as there is no chance for skipping any of the steps fed into the device’s memory.
  • Does not tire. Humans are not perfect, and the handwashing method depletes a person’s energy. Tired people are likely to deliver poorly done jobs and may not remove the dust and the dirt on the car body. The automated carwash has no space for tiredness and is reputed to even reach areas where hands may not reach.
  • Cost effective. The automated carwash is known for using modern carwashing techniques that save time and water. The time factor and the low amounts of water used allow the car owner and carwash specialist to cut on costs.
  • Time saving. Most professionals would make do with taking their vehicles to an automated carwash where they will have the car washed in a record time of just five to 10 minutes.
  • Customized. Using automated washing machines allows carwashes to customize their car washing needs. They may need to combine several coat care methods in one operation, and the automated process delivers it in record time.


  • Reduced capacity. Automated carwash strategies tend to focus on washing the car with limited or no contact. While this has been touted to be good, there are chances that stuck grime will remain on the motor vehicle body even at the end of the wash.
  • Costly. This method of carwash uses expensive, specialized machines. Even if a customer opts for washing at the nearest self-service carwash, the amount of money paid is likely higher.
  • Water spotting. Some automated carwashing can leave water marks on the vehicle’s body as the air dry or final hand cloth dry may not be totally effective, especially when older equipment is used.

Related article: Soft cloth versus touch-free

Hand washing

For a long time, washing cars by hand was the most traditional method used. Advancements in technology and the ever growing need for efficiency have pushed many car owners into adopting the latest craze of automated washing in a carwash.

In spite of the belief that washing cars by hand is slow, its advantages lend it to be a method which may still be in use for some time. Looking at some of the strengths and weaknesses may help you understand the real picture of washing by hand.


  • Perfection and customized. The final result of a hand washing job is usually deemed to be perfect, as the user has had contact with the car. Using a hand wash in tandem with other coating strategies is advised. For instance, the chances of getting dirt completely off of the car are higher as the carwash specialist takes time to dry the car after taking the car through processes like claying and waxing.
  • Easy to set up. The cost of buckets and sponges used in car handwashing is usually lower and can be purchased anywhere.
  • Better reach. There are areas on the car body where machines may not reach on the car, yet handwashing may get the dirt out.


  • Sandpaper effect. The most feared thing with hand washing is the damage caused by scrubbing the car coat because of the delicate nature of the paint. Over time, the buildup of tiny bits of dirt on rags and sponges leave them loaded with hard objects. Scrubbing without due care on painted surfaces using rags or sponges that may have developed these thick patches has left several scratches on many cars that are hand washed.
  • Poor finish. Identifying the dirt and trying to remove it is possible, though not guaranteed as body muscles may not at times be strong enough to manage the sticky nature of grime. Unwashed soap on car coats also leaves a dull look on vehicles.
  • Labor and time intensive. Handwashing requires the intense application of muscle energy. Tired muscles are likely to do a poor job. In addition, the amount of time it takes to hand wash a car is longer and may at times turn into hours of work.
  • Water usage. Many automated carwashes have the edge in the area of water usage, compared to hand washing.

Which is the best method?

Looking at both strategies, automated carwashing is best and suitable when the vehicle user has limited time. However, certain car brands in the market, such as luxury cars, are better hand washed to give them that gleaming look.

It is evident that when the pros and cons of automated carwashing and hand carwashing are compared that the use of an automated carwash is best in the current era. Many people would rather spend less time and avoid the hassles.

For car owners and carwash specialists with the time to spare, it is best advised to use a mix of both strategies. But for the sake of balancing the interests of the vehicle to be washed with the outcome of the washing, exclusively using the automated carwash method is preferred.

Tim Miller is a blogger from Denver, Colorado. With 10 years of experience in car repairs and using OBD scanners, he shares his knowledge of car care on his blog, OBD Advisor.

You May Also Like

Get your car summer ready during National Spring Car Care Month 

Make summer driving safe and enjoyable with these eight basic maintenance tips for your roadtripping vehicle.

The season that features one of America’s favorite pastimes, the family road trip, is just around the corner, and Lucas Oil has eight important tips for National Spring Car Care Month to make sure vehicles are ready to hit the road and deliver miles of memories and great times.

Featured profile: Zax Auto Wash

Following the business’ journey from humble beginnings to a bright future.

Zax Auto Wash feature profile January 2024 issue of PC&D - Car Wash Advisory
Open for business

With the excitement of a new year, what can operators expect in 2024?

open for business sign
Welcome to the 2023 Top 50 list

In December 2023 issue, we unveil the leading conveyor carwash chains in the country.

2023 Top 50 U.S. Conveyor Chain List

Our annual listing of the leading tunnel brands and operators in the U.S.

Other Posts

Paint finishing: Tools, pads and chemicals – Part 2

There has been more new paint correction and protection technology introduced in the past 30 years than ever before.

Paint finishing: Tools, pads and chemicals – Part 2
Graphene glamour

How graphene products have increased in popularity and performance.

The emergence of graphene in carwashing
How to manage overtime at your carwash

Discover essential tips to ensure transparency, fair pay and employee satisfaction while managing overtime effectively.

scales, money, wages
Paint finishing: Tools, pads and chemicals – Part 1

There has been more new paint correction and protection technology introduced in the past 30 years than ever before.