Need car parts? Select your vehicle
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Using a self-service car wash is a great idea for anyone willing to put in a little elbow grease. It can be cheaper than an automatic car wash and gives you a lot of freedom when cleaning your vehicle. However, there are a few things you need to know before you pull up to one.

What Tools Are Available in a Self-Service Car Wash?

The host of professional cleaning tools at your disposal in a self car wash is one of the main benefits of using one. Here are some tools you can expect to find:

  • Standard self-service car washes will include tire cleaners, pre-soak, soap, foam brushes, rinse, and spot-free rinse.
  • Popular tools found in more kitted self-service car washes are air dryers, carpet shampooers, vacuum cleaners, and fragrance dispensers.
  • The most well-equipped self-service car washes will also include foam conditioners, bug-off washes, wheel and chrome cleaners, rubber protectors, and water repellant.

Tips for Using a Self-Service Car Wash

To make using the available tools easy to understand, most self-service car washes have instructions at each station and numbers on the different pieces of equipment. That being said, here are the things to keep in mind before, during, and after your wash:

Preparing Your Vehicle

Self-service car washes are a metered service. Be sure to prepare your vehicle as much as you can beforehand so you don’t waste time doing that while at the car wash. This includes emptying it of any trash beforehand and vacuuming if you can.

Payment and Time

There are different payment options available at most self-service car washes. Some take coins, bills, or credit cards while others will dispense tokens for cash or credit. The timer starts after you pay and press start so move quickly once you begin.

If you’re using coins, the timer will stop once the time you bought runs out, but the machine will auto-charge your credit card until you click stop. Keep an eye on the time, especially if you’re paying with your card as it’s easier to lose track of.


There’s a lot of debate surrounding presoaking and if it’s necessary, especially since it takes precious minutes from your washing time. In general, presoaking with a dedicated low- or high-PH presoak does help break down different types of grime from the surface of your vehicle. However, certain self-service car washes only use water and soap for their presoak solutions, and these solutions do nothing for your vehicle. You might want to check what your self-service car wash is using before starting the wash.


High-pressure washes can scratch the paint if you’re not careful. To avoid damaging your vehicle and also to keep from getting soaked, stay three to five feet away from the vehicle as you wash.


The chemicals in professional self-service car wash soaps and soaks can be quite strong. If any formula gets left behind on your vehicle’s body after a wash, it can cause some nasty stains. Rinse your vehicle thoroughly to avoid this.

Drying Your Vehicle

After a wash, you might be tempted to drive off and let the vehicle air-dry. However, keep in mind that when the water evaporates, it can leave behind blotches that are hard to remove without another wash. This can ruin the look of a perfectly good wash, so be sure to either use the drying station in the self-service wash or bring your own towel to dry off your vehicle. We don’t recommend using the provided towels in the car wash as these tend to get dirty after a number of uses and who knows how many others used them before you.

Other General Tips

  • Vacuum and clean your car’s interiors before washing. Whether you do this at home or in the self-service car wash, it’s an important step you shouldn’t miss. Otherwise, if you do this after your wash, the dust and grime from your vehicle’s interior might end up on your shiny, freshly-washed exterior.
  • Park your car within easy reach of everything you need while in the car wash. The last thing you want is to need to move your car in the middle of your metered time.
  • Bringing a friend or a partner with you to clean the car can help save you precious minutes. One can brush while the other rinses.
  • Don’t miss your wheel arches when cleaning. These are some of the grimiest areas of your vehicle and keeping them in tip-top shape can help prolong your vehicle’s life.

Disadvantages of Using a Self-Service Car Wash

There are a couple disadvantages to keep in mind before deciding to use a self-service car wash: the amount of time it takes and the potential for damage. 

Washing your vehicle yourself takes significantly more time than an automatic wash. And since you’re more likely to be in a hurry thanks to the metered time, you’re more likely to damage your vehicle if you’re not careful. In addition, certain chemicals in the car wash’s soaps or rinses might not be suited to your vehicle’s paint job, leading to the risk of chemical stains.

Why Use a Self-Service Car Wash?

Knowing how much work it would take and the potential risks involved, what are the benefits of using a do-it-yourself car wash? One of the main draws is the price. Automatic car washes can cost a pretty penny, and with how often you need them, that cost tends to add up. Using a self-service car wash efficiently helps you cut down on that cost.

Another benefit is the amount of control it gives you over how your vehicle is washed. Car wash self-service puts all the tools in your hands. Instead of relying on a set of automatic brushes, you can aim for any stubborn stains while also making sure you get to every dirty nook and cranny.

A good self-service car wash provides you with all the professional equipment and space you need to get your car all clean and shiny. If you live in an apartment and don’t have the space to wash your car, or you simply want access to better car-cleaning supplies, a self-service car wash is a great idea for you.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Lifestyle
write a review sweepstakes
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

View all Questions & Answers Answers BE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY: Share your knowledge & help fellow drivers Join Now
Copyright ©2023, Inc. All Rights Reserved.