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The carwash

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Although carwashes are very popular, they are not the place where detailers are found. There is a reason why detailers don’t like a carwash. The art called detailing/valeting is very different to the service that is offered by a carwash.


What is a carwash

A carwash is a company where you can pay to either get your vehicle washed in a big drive-through automatic carwash, or to do it by hand by using their pressure cleaner with the option to use a lance or a brush. The lance can be used with soap, rinse water, osmose-water, hot-wax and sometimes a special cleaner for wheels. The brush can be used with a soapy solution that comes out through the brush itself.
The automatic drive-through machine has large round brushes that rotate and are moved along the surface of the car, it also rinses the car and blow-dries the car.

The problem with the carwash

Do it yourself boxes at the carwash
Do it yourself boxes at the carwash

The products used

The products used by a carwash have to be economic. A product that cleans well, but doesn’t cost to much money. It has to be effective and cheap. While trying to achieve this, most manufacturers don’t focus on the long term effects that a product might have. They are designing a product that cleans well right now, and is cheap enough to use. Wether the product has any long term negative effect on the vehicle is not really considered, as long as it doesn’t cause extreme damage.

The brush

The brush that is used in the “do-it-yourself” box contains hard hairs, lies on the floor a lot, is used to scrub off all kinds of dirt (that gets trapped in the hairs). This means that the hairs are full of dirt, sand, grit and other types of particles with rough edges. Moving this over the surface of your car will cause surface imperfections. The type of stuff you usually try to get out when you are polishing, and what you try to prevent when using the 2-bucket method.

The cleaning solution

Although many products in the world of detailing are developed and fine-tuned to be wax-safe, but still hard on dirt, grime and other contamination, the products used at the carwash isn’t developed and fine-tuned like this. The product you will be using there is made to be cost effective. It will clean enough to satisfy the average car owner, but won’t remove stubborn contamination. There is also a big chance that it will interfere with the protective product on your car.

The hotwax

Many people will think that applying any form of wax will help to protect the paint on your vehicle. However, this is not the case. The solution used in a carwash is a very watery emulsion of wax, some oils and water. The contents of wax and oils are enough to give very simple and mediocre beading, but not enough to actually have a serious effect on contamination. It would also have to be applied very regularly to maintain the strength of the protection. It is enough for the average car owner, who doesn’t really care for a squeaky clean car, but not enough for the high demands of a detailer.

The big round brushes

Inside the automatic carwash device, there are big round brushes that spin and move along the surface of the vehicle. While doing so, they brush off the dirt. Because of the spinning motion, the flaps of these brushes are slapped on the surface, and then dragged over it. Every car that has come through before yours will leave some dirt on those flaps. Basically, you are slapping a dirty flap of cloth on your vehicle, and drag it over the surface. This will cause surface imperfections in the form of long, straight scratches.

Why it works for the average car-owner

Although detailers are very proud of the work they do, and how their finished projects look like, most car-owners don’t care that much about their car. They want it to look clean, but they are not willing to spent more money on a little bit better effect. A detailer is willing to spent 5 times the money on a shampoo that gives 2 times the results of a cheap shampoo. The average car-owner wants their car looking great for peanuts. The carwash offers this. The few car-owners that don’t just want the clean-ish look eventually end up in the world of detailing.

The only good thing about a carwash for a detailer

Although there are many things at a carwash that makes a detailer have nightmares, it does offer good services as well.

  • Many carwashes have a vaccuum-cleaner, which is safe to use to clean your interior (as long as you prevent the hose from rubbing over the edge of the door frame).
  • The lance can also safely be used to just rinse off the vehicle without using the brush or the cleaning solution. This can be done more safely when you choose for osmose-water and leave the lance running for 10 seconds, to flush out any cleaning agents left in the hose.
  • At some places they even offer compressed air to inflate the tyres and several trash cans to through away the rubbish in your car.

The 100% scratch free carwash

A 100% scratch free carwash that uses any automatic devices are not 100% scratch free. It would only be possible to be 100% scratch free when they would use clean water for every vehicle, rinse out the washmitt after every panel, pre-soak the dirt with a snowfoam-like product and rinse thoroughly before drying with air and MF towels. Since this costs money, products, staff and extra usage of water, this is not economical. And would cost way to much money. The normal carwash cannot be 100% scratch free. Most of the times, this slogan is just a marketing-trick. The idea is that you think that the machine itself is 100% scratch free, however, the only thing that is actually scratch free, is the Do It Yourself box if you only use the lance the rinse off the dirt (and if you use it in the proper way).
So yes, it can be scratch free, if you only use a certain tool, and do it in the correct way. Any other way of washing your car at the carwash is not covered by the 100% scratch free claim.

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