Why Machine Car Washes Are Bad For Your Car’s Paintwork

Unless you’re a car detailing enthusiast, it can be a right pain in the “proverbial” to keep your car clean.

While there are many great products out there to make DIY-ing car cleaning easier and faster, there’s an even simpler option for most of us – using an automated car wash machine.

You know, the kind of thing that sits on the petrol station forecourt and looks like this:

You can fill your car (wincing at the price of fuel these days) grab yourself a coffee or an energy drink from the convenience store inside, and then get a token for the automated car wash. Just pull up, enter your code, and then you can sit there and enjoy a few moments of relaxation while somebody else (or should I say something else) does all the hard work for you.

However, if you are interested in preserving your car’s paintwork and maximising its longevity, you really shouldn’t use a machine car wash.

Machine car washes are bad for your car’s paintwork … there’s no other way to put it.

Machine car washes can be convenient and efficient, but they can also potentially damage your car’s paint. Is that a trade-off you’re willing to make? Only you can decide.

However, what I want to do is explain a bit more about why automated car wash machines are bad for your car’s paintwork and finish. 

Here are a few reasons why you might want to avoid using them.

First, the high-pressure water and harsh chemicals used in machine car washes can strip away the protective wax coating on your car’s paint, leaving it vulnerable to damage from the elements.

This can lead to a greater likelihood of paint fade and clear coat peeling, as your paint then lacks that all-important protective wax layer.

Of course if you’re the kind of person who never waxes their car, then you might not care so much about this (although I would strongly encourage you to wax your car on a regular basis – even a quick and easy spray wax is better than nothing).

However, if you wax your car and then use an automatic car wash, all your hard work might be going to waste!

Second, the brushes and sponges used in many machine car washes can be abrasive and cause scratches on your car’s paint. This is actually the primary reason to avoid using an automatic car wash machine – because of the risk of “mechanical” damage to the finish owing to abrasion.

Even if the brushes are made of soft materials, they can still cause damage if they are not properly maintained or cleaned. What happens is that a car might go through the machine wash before yours, covered in dirt, grit and grime. Many of those particles will remain embedded in the brush bristles, ready to be rubbed vigorously into your paintwork causing all sorts of damage (which builds up over time). 

You can often spot from a mile away a car that has spent its life being cleaned in automatic wash machines, as typically there will be bad swirling on the surface:

Want to avoid your paintwork looking like this? Don’t fancy spending time and effort on paint correction? Make sure to avoid relying on automatic car wash machines!

Depending on how bad the damage is, you might be able to do some correction on the finish, but ideally you want to avoid this from happening in the first place. 

Even if you were to put your car through a brand new automatic wash machine (where there is no potential for dirt, grit and grime on the rotating brush bristles) the bristles can be harsh enough – especially when spinning at speed – to still cause damage to the clear coat and eventually result in scratching. 

Thirdly, machine car washes often use very hot water to clean your car, which can cause the wax on your car’s paint to soften, erode and generally become less effective. This can allow dirt and grime to penetrate the paint more easily, as well as premature wear on the clear coat from increased UV exposure. I guess this is sort of the same as the first point, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. 

Overall, while machine car washes may be convenient and quick, they can also potentially cause damage to your car’s paint. In particular, they can be very harsh on the clear coat, and repeated use over time can lead to unpleasant scratching and swirling. 

To protect your car’s finish and keep it looking its best, it’s best to wash it by hand using decent quality car shampoo/wash and a soft sponge or wash mitt.

This will allow you to control the pressure and temperature of the water, and avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that can damage your car’s paint.

With the right equipment and technique, you can clean your car in not much more time than it actually takes to pay for your car wash token, queue up, and wait for the wash to finish – and you won’t be damaging your car’s paintwork in the process. 


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

Leave a Comment