Car washing for idiots
July 8, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

How to get the best out of coin-op style carwashes?

There's a coin-op car wash setup near my home (it actually takes cards, and there is a $3 minimum). I just bought a new car with a dark, metallic blue exterior. I have never had to learn to use one of these kinds of car wash stations before (I've always driven really junky cars). I can't seem to figure out how to do it correctly. Can you explain to me, like a child, how to operate one of these so that I don't drive off with water spots and streaks all over the place? Do I have to towel dry my car while I'm there? Should I be doing it at night so the water doesn't dry so quickly? Which of the settings on the dial do I actually need to use, and which can I skip? Should I just pony up for the automatic wash?

Soaping up with a bucket and hose isn't really practical at my home, but I'm welcome to suggestions about easy stuff I can do in my driveway to keep the exterior of my car looking nice.
posted by almostmanda to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Spray with water.
Spray with soap.
Spray with water.

Starting from top to bottom, dry with a 100% cotton terry towel, one panel at a time. Make sure the thread in the towel at the seams is cotton too. You can tell if it is polyester if you set it on fire and it melts (cotton just burns). Cotton won't scratch your paint. If you want a clean car, you have to dry it. Do it in the shade of the booth so the sun doesn't dry it before you do.

Get some foaming glass cleaner and do your windows and mirrors. Use paper towels or crumpled newsprint to dry these (everything else leaves lint).

Wheels and tires are a thread by themselves.
posted by bensherman at 8:33 AM on July 8, 2012

The secret to getting your car as clean as possible in a coin wash is to use the foaming brush extensively. The brush is what really does the heavy lifting in removing road dirt, dead bugs and other tough-to-clean filth. What I do: spray with water, spray with soap, foaming brush all over, spray with soap again, rinse with water, and done. Drying is a nice-to-have but, in my opinion, isn't crucial to a good result.
posted by killdevil at 8:42 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Spray with water, then that pre soak stuff. While waiting for the pre sail to get the bugs and bird shit off, do the wheels. Before you run out of time, turn the gaining brush on.

Use the foaming brush as much as you can without having to put more money in.

Then rinse, rinse, rinse.

Dry if you like, I don't bother.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on July 8, 2012

Beware, the foaming brush can scratch your car badly. If the person before you used it to clean their wheels or drug it on the ground or whatever, it could have some nasty stuff in it. IMHO if you're anal about your car, skip the foaming brush at these places. Yes, it will get it cleaner, but it also has a real chance of doing damage. I try not to use these places at all, but when I do, my process is similar to bensherman's (though I use waffle weave microfiber cloths to dry, for example).

If you insist on using the foaming brush, spend a minute or two spraying it off with the hose to at least try to get any gravel out.
posted by primethyme at 9:29 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pay for 1 minute, wet and soap the car. Then use your own brush/sponges that you brought and give your car a good scrub. Then pay for another minute and rinse it. You don't have to rush through a single payment time-period.

Repeat until it's clean. If there's a huge line, be nice and move quickly, don't take an hour in there. But if there's no line, take your time and do it right. We'd usually bring a few friends with sponges so that scrubbing went very quickly.
posted by jpeacock at 9:34 AM on July 8, 2012

In switching between prewash, wash and rinse/final rinse, you might want to consider turning the knob counter-clockwise, as you won't have to worry about quick jet of wax hitting the car, and wasting precious seconds for the water spray to clear up again. Waxes remove a very small layer of paint from the car, and is recommended to be done about 3-4 times a year.

The only real advantage I can see to night washing would be to be the rush hour and midday crowds. In place of using the detailing packets in the vending machines, you could consider some rags and a spray bottle of general-purpose cleaner.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:36 AM on July 8, 2012

Do I have to towel dry my car while I'm there?

Yes, this is imperative, else you'll get streaks. In California everybody does this right in the stall, but the one time I did it that way back East, it seemed to be a faux pax (hearing some irate chatter among people waiting). If that's true in your location, drive away a short distance and then towel off. (Maybe this is more important where bright sun and warm air dry your car quickly.)

I don't use any of the (sometimes many) other options available -- my routine is simply rinse, wash, extensive foaming brush, rinse. Then removal of water off all windows with my squeegee and finally, drying off the paint and chrome with towels. (Watch the guys in a regular car wash to learn best practices for toweling off, especially of the door-windows.)

In my case, sponging of brake pad-dust off the wheels is a separate activity.
posted by Rash at 9:37 AM on July 8, 2012

Sorry - "a quick jet" and "beating the rush hour."
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:38 AM on July 8, 2012

In California everybody does this right in the stall, but the one time I did it that way back East, it seemed to be a faux pax (hearing some irate chatter among people waiting).

Along the East Coast, you head to the detailing area to towel. That way you can vacuum afterward (or have someone tackle that while you're wiping).
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:42 AM on July 8, 2012

I used to do these car wash bays all the time myself worrying if I was doing it right and trying to race the clock and what not. Then, I discovered that it costs about the same (sometimes less!) to go through the automated drive-thru. You don't need to get the super premium deluxe. The cheapest one is fine.
posted by at the crossroads at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2012

If you care a lick about your paint's finish, You should *NOT* use any car wash where their brushes touch your car. You will get tons of swirl marks.

Get a no rinse wash product like ONR and wash in your driveway. Here is a great guide on how to use it.

And yes you will need to towel dry your car if you want to avoid water spots.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2012

Do I have to towel dry my car while I'm there?


I just use the foaming brush to get soap all over the car, then use my own mitt to do the actual cleaning. Then rinse, and dry with the towel of your choice.
posted by rhizome at 11:27 AM on July 8, 2012

Beware, the foaming brush can scratch your car badly.

Yeah, use the high-pressure sprayer point-blank to blast any grit out of the brush. When using the brush, brush it over the surface gently - don't push it into the car.

(I also use the brush to clean my rims once the body is done, so I spray-blast it again once I'm done - rims are gritty and it wouldn't be nice to leave that in the brush for the next person)

The water is recycled and filtered, so it's not actually very clean. For this reason, you'll need to dry the car, else the droplets of water will evaporate leaving being a droplet-sized patch of dirt/dust. It's particularly bad on the windows.

Get a squeegee for the windows. You won't regret it.

You're also going to discover the hard way that dark colors are the hardest to keep clean. That is, they're no harder than any other color, but even the slightest amount of dust shows up much more markedly, to the point where a black car basically never looks clean.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:50 PM on July 8, 2012

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