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The Hazards of Home Car Washing

Few people tend to realize that washing their vehicles in their driveways is one of the most environmentally UN-Friendly tasks we can do around the house! Unlike household waste water that enters sewage drains or septic systems and undergoes treatment before it is discharged into the environment, what runs off from your vehicle goes right into storm drains and eventually into rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, ponds and wetlands where it poisons aquatic life and wreaks havoc on our ecosystem. After all, that water is loaded with a witch's brew of gasoline, oil and residues from exhaust fumes as well as the harsh detergents being used during the washing process itself. 


Soap and water loosen oil and grime however they also pick up and hold onto all sorts of particles. Car Wash water can contain grease, elements from brake linings, rust and trace amounts of benzene, chromium and other nasty things that are toxic to fish and other wildlife.

Did you know that there are NO acceptable detergents or soaps that can be discharged to a surface waterbody without treatment? There are NO licensed or approved products that may be used to wash vehicles outside! Even non-phosphate "biodegradable" soaps must NOT be allowed to enter surface water directly! These products contain ingredients that may cause unsightly foaming in receiving waters and can be toxic to the sensitive stream organisms in small concentrations. Research has shown that even the smallest amount of soap can cause fish to absorb other pollutants in the water.

Washing your vehicle at home has the potential to release harmful elements into the environment, that we are blessed with, virtually unchecked!


"Home car washers", as we typically describe them, are not aware of the water quality consequences of car washing and do not understand the chemical content of the soaps, detergents and cleaners they use. Most do not realize the amount of water consumed during the process as well! Commercial Car Washes use up to 60% LESS in the ENTIRE washing process than a simple home wash uses JUST to rinse the car off! 




Average Water Consumed Washing Your Vehicle

Professional Car Washing

Federal Law requires Commercial Car Wash facilities to drain their wastewater into sewer systems. This is to ensure that it gets treated before being discharged into the great outdoors. Commercial Car Washes use computer controlled systems, high pressure nozzles and pumps that minimize water usage. From observing the table above, you can see how a Full Service Conveyor facility uses less than half of even the most careful home car washer!


Professional Car Washes use sophisticated equipment and utilize the latest technologies to conserve water. The contaminants are washed off and channeled through sanitation sewers to water treatment plants. Washing your vehicle at home wastes water! Soap and dirt end up in storm drains which flow into our delicate ecosystem polluting our environment! 


10 Reasons to visit a Professional Car Wash

  1. HOME CAR WASHING: It wastes water and leads to environmental contamination! Most people whom wash their vehicles at home don't realize the havoc it creates, the level of water wasted and the chemical background of cleaners used in the process.

  2. PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT: A good high gloss finish on your vehicle means a higher resale or trade-in value!

  3. PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE: All vehicles, regardless of the finish (Clear-coat, Acrylic, Enamel, ETC.), require frequent washing throughout the life of the vehicle. Just as a good mechanical maintenance program prolongs the life and performance of your vehicle, frequent washing will prolong the life and glossy appearance of your vehicle's exterior and interior finishes!

  4. SUN EXPOSURE: Exposure to sunlight, with its ultraviolet rays, accelerates the aging process and diminishes the gloss of your vehicle's paint and coatings. Protective coatings and sealants are necessary to provide a protective barrier while enhancing your vehicle's gloss and shine!

  5. HEAT DAMAGE: Temperature accelerates problems! The acid in bugs, bird droppings, tree sap and leaves become more active with heat. Metal retains this heat and increases the chances of permanent stains.

  6. ACID RAIN: Emissions from chemical plants, fossil fuels, power plants and the internal combustion engine are transported and altered in our atmosphere! These emissions are transformed into sulfuric or nitric acids. These acids, when deposited onto your vehicle in either a wet or dry state, will eventually eat at the finish. Frequent washing is the only way to prevent this damage.

  7. MOISTURE DESTROYS: Water will trap dirt and other contaminants to a metal surface allowing the oxidation process to occur. This will, ultimately, cause rust and corrosion. Keep your vehicle clean and dry!

  8. ROAD SALT: Road salt causes a chemical reaction that can accelerate the pitting and rusting of your vehicle's body and undercarriage. The undercarriage is especially prone to this damage due to many "out-of-sight" areas where salt can remain lodged. A good undercarriage rinse in combination with the application of a rust inhibiting agent will prevent this damage. This service is standard fare at all Professional Car Washes!

  9. CLEAN THOSE WHEELS: Road grime and brake dust is the wheel's kryptonite! If not removed, this material will permeate the precious metals that make up your wheel causing major damage. Professional wheel cleaning will extend the life of the wheel.

  10. THE CLOCK IS TICKING: Time is a contributing factor that can harm your vehicle. The longer your vehicle is exposed...the longer the above contaminants, harmful rays and other damaging substances have to destroy! The greater the probability equates to the extent of the damage so take care of your investment!

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We've been asked to give 3 good reasons why consumers should visit their local Car Wash...we're going to give you 5!


  1. FEEL GOOD: Ninety-five percent (95%) of those interviewed in a recent survey stated that driving a clean car cheered them up and that after they have washed their car at a Professional Car Wash they receive a "Definite Emotional Lift"! As well, most motorists reported that driving a dirty car depressed them. 

  2. SAVE TIME: Let a Professional Car Wash clean your vehicle QUICKLY and PROPERLY! This frees you up to do the things that you would rather be doing!

  3. PRIDE OF OWNERSHIP: Your vehicle looks better clean, rather than dirty, increasing value! If you don't care for it, who will?

  4. SAVE MONEY: Stop wasting water at home, driving back and forth to get harmful chemicals that pollute our environment!

  5. INVEST IN YOUR COMMUNITY: Help establish local Car Wash businesses creating a stable infrastructure, jobs and most of all an Environmentally Clean Area! You'll find friendly, knowledgable staff waiting to serve YOU!


The International Carwash Association, working through a special Carwash Research Foundation Grant from The University of Texas at Arlington, of Texas, has conducted extensive car washing tests in the past years to determine the effects on car finishes by comparing various car washing techniques ranging from Professional Car Washing to the "bucket and sponge" used by many auto owners.

Tests conducted by The University of Texas Arlington compared surface disturbances and showed that a single home hand wash on an automobile can produce scratches that penetrate as deep as 1/10 of the total thickness of the automobile's paint. 


These test findings substantiated tests conducted over ten (10) years ago by the Technical University of Munich, Germany, in association with Mercedes-Benz, which at that time showed that similar damage was done to an automobile when using detergent, low water volume (commonly found in hose nozzles at home), buckets of water, sponges and towels used in the average home car washing process.


Specific scientific tests at the University of Texas Arlington further showed that hand car washing can produce so many marks on a car's finish that they could not be counted. The tests showed that, in all hand washing temperatures, surface reflectant readings steadily declines and that some hand washing techniques being considerably worse than others. By contrast, when cars were washed by professional full-service car washes, there was virtually no change in the surface reflectance or shine readings!


These tests showed that the average garden hose is just unable to supply enough water, along with the detergent action, to avoid damaging the vehicle's finish. The most harmful method of washing cars was found to be the special "Car Wash" brushes that mate to a garden hose and were purchased from local hardware stores or automotive supply dealers. The use of this type of brush with the low water pressure that comes out of the garden hose is the most destructive on the finish of an automobile. The tests also showed that techniques used at professional car washes, sophisticated gloss and reflectant meter readings from new finishes used on automobiles were virtually the same before and after the equivalent of several months of normal washings in a Professional Car Wash.


The Professional Car Wash is able to provide and use tremendous amounts of water, along with specialized detergents, appropriate mechanical action and equipment which the backyard hose, bucket and soap are unable to supply! This important and interesting research study performed by The University of Texas Arlington found that today's automobile owner is much wiser to have their car washed by a Professional Car Wash rather than washing it at home in their driveway.


The Technical University of Munich has carried out an impartial scientific comparison test, in association with Mercedes-Benz, to establish the exact ranking of hand washing vs. machine washing of vehicles relative to damage of paint finishes.


To make the test as realistic as possible, typical family sedans were used - With a few hundred miles on the odometer. It was stipulated that each car wash was to receive the equivalent of one year's wash stress (about 25 washes) - some cars by hand washing methods and others by automatic equipment.



Without having been told the why's or the wherefore's, four men were given the chore of washing four of the test cars by hand. Each person was to do as thorough a job as possible. Since there were four people involved, and since each person used their "favorite tools", together they presented a cross-section of various hand washing techniques commonly used by average car owners. 


So, the marathon car wash began. The four men showed up in four different sections of town enthusiastically sponging and lathering their test cars as if they were their very own. Bystanders could see on man hard at work in a do-it-yourself self service type of Car Wash with high pressure water facilities. Another was busy at home with the garden hose. One, to the horror of the environmentalists, and in defiance of local regulations, washed his test car at a lakeside!



As the alternative to the perspiring hand washers, automatic carwashing equipment was used to wash the fifth test car. To keep the test above the board, the test vehicle arrived unannounced during the wash hours when the car wash was open for business. The car was washed along with other cars.



To measure the extent of paintwork damage, microscopes were available. However, pure reflecting microscopy, as well as electron microscopy results merely in a visual picture of scratches. A comparable measure of true depth cannot thus be achieved. Consequently, a method of analysis was used which could determine the exact depth of the scratches and grooves, namely, the interference-microscopic analysis method.


This method allows the glossy surface, with all of its irregularities to appear like a relief map. An interference band is created and corresponds to the contours. Band distances are 0.27 of one thousandth of a millimeter, thereby allowing even the tiniest grooves and scratches on the gloss to be accurately measured and compared.



The comparison tests produced results of which every car owner should be aware. Automatic car washing and hand washing have completely different affects on automobile paint. 


How does the paintwork of a car appear after 25 washes - equivalent to a year's worth of washing?


The results are depressing, at least to the car owner who, up to now, has firmly believed in hand washing. The deepest scratches after hand washing had a depth of more than 1/10th of the paint surface. Under the microscope, the paintwork looked like a scratched landscape. The paintwork was deeply scored and scratched - the result of dirt and trapped sand particles.


In hand washing, invariable too little water is used. Even with the garden hose and a sponge technique, small sand particles lodge themselves firmly in the pores of the sponge or wash mitt and cannot be extracted even by good rinsing. Such particles work on the paint surface like sanding discs. Furthermore, the handwashing produced a tangle of uneven scratches in paint surfaces. 


By comparison, the surfaces of the test vehicle washed with automatic carwashing equipment appeared different. Compared with the hand washed surfaces, it was remarkably smooth, with many very fine markings virtually parallel and uniform - less than .0003mm - the result of evenly moving and rotating cloth pads and curtains. The machine-washed surfaces were in very good condition after 25 washes.


Wash a car by hand or by machine, in either case, it looks immaculate right after the wash. The sophisticated test described suggests that looks are deceiving. The paintwork on a car washed by automatic carwashing equipment is in much better condition than one washed by hand - even though the car owner lavishes tender, loving care on their vehicle.


Eventually, either by force of habit or because the car finish looks dull, the weekend hand washer resorts to the lengthy and back-breaking chore of applying abrasive rubbing compound or similar pastes and liquids to their vehicle. This process, indeed, restores luster to the finish. Such "pampered" cars naturally appear to have just rolled out of the showroom. The proud motorist forgets the long hours with the rubbing compound; and is probably unaware that the reason for all that work (to get the scratches out) was their energetic hand washing procedure on previous weekends.


On the other hand, the motorist who uses the services of a Professional Car Wash with their automatic carwashing equipment subjects the paintwork of their vehicle to the thorough but gentle action of cloth pads and curtains which treat their paint job with tender, loving care. Knowing that the car finish had to have some protection against the ravages of the chemicals in the air and to also provide a barrier of protection against bird droppings and other contaminants, this car owner will, periodically, apply a coat of wax to their vehicle. At that moment, their car looks as if it had just rolled out of the showroom.


In comparison, although both cars, after washing and other treatment, will look pretty much the same. A car is actually treated better (especially concerning the paint finish) by machine washing at a professional car wash and the application of wax than a car washed by hand (with the resulting need for the application of rubbing compounds, etc.). However, in the process, the car owner who utilized the services of a professional car wash has saved a great deal of time, labor, effort and most of all money!


Technology has advanced so much over the years that you will find the application process has improved and the equipment used for the application of chemicals has also improved. Nowadays, you will find the same cloth pads and curtains, stated above, have been replaced with foam brushes that are extremely efficient, clean better and provide a better result. 



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