Is a Hand Car Wash Really the Best Option?

Among the various options for washing your car, each has advantages and disadvantages; but any way you add them up, a hand car wash comes out on top.

Whether it’s floors, frying pans or toilets — when it comes to cleaning, you can’t replace the power of elbow grease. So, even though there’s a debate around which option is best, my vote is that a hand wash is better than an automated car wash to get your car gleaming.

The Hand-Wash Experience

As you approach a hand car wash, an attendant will greet you and discuss service options. After making your choices, you leave your car with the attendant who advances your car into the wash queue. Meanwhile, you enter the lobby, where you pay for your wash. An adjacent waiting room usually offers a television, some magazines, and a view of the car wash process. Take note of how the operation handles tips, whether they go in a jar or someone hands them to the crew.

When finished, an attendant will inform you that your car is ready and return your keys or escort you to the vehicle, where you can inspect the results and exit the wash.

Pros and Cons of a Hand Car Wash

Why to use a hand car wash:

  • Attention to detail. Hand washing removes dirt in nooks and crannies that automated washes cannot reach.
  • Avoiding cleaning chemicals. Human effort replaces harsh chemicals for removing grime, which results in a gentler wash.
  • Reduced chance of body damage. A hand car wash is unlikely to wreck rear-view mirrors, antennas or other protruding parts.
  • Complete drying. A hand-dried car leaves no water spots behind to create mineral deposits and spotting.
  • Best of both worlds. A hand car wash cleans with nearly the same attention to detail as doing it yourself, but manages the water better than your driveway while saving you time and effort.
  • Detailing. A hand car wash offers more detailing options than an automated wash.

Why to pass on a hand car wash:

  • More expensive. Labor drives most of the cost at a car wash. The increased attention to detail costs you extra for a base wash when compared to the automated alternative. And don’t forget to figure in a tip!
  • Reused or poorly maintained cleaning materials may pick up grit from previous washes, resulting in fine scratches in your car’s finish.

Tips for Getting the Best Hand Wash

  • Check out online reviews. Poorly-managed operations with a history of damaging vehicles will stand out.
  • Reward your cleaning crew with a tip as a service incentive. Between 10 percent and 15 percent is fair for most wash services. Or leave a flat tip of $3 for a small car and a little more for larger vehicles. Don’t forget to reward added services performed beyond the base wash and dry.
  • Communicate with the attendants. You know your car better than anyone. Inspect your car pre-wash and share your observations with the attendant so the crew is aware of any trouble spots or concerns.