How To Wash a Car At a Self-Service Car Wash: Unconventional Method

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The method of using self-service car washes that you’ll see in this article is entirely different from the others, and that’s because self-service car washes don’t usually offer fantastic cleaning results.

I have my way of washing a car there, and today, I’m going to show you how you can properly wash your car at a self-service car wash, also known as a manual car wash.

What Options Are Available At a Self-Service Car Wash

how to wash a car at self service car wash

Self-service car washes have more options today than they had 10 or 20 years ago. Many of them have 7-8 options you can choose from, such as:

  • Pre-wash
  • Snow foam (active foam)
  • Wax
  • Wheel cleaning
  • Spot-free rinse
  • Rinse
  • Soap
  • etc.
self service car wash options

However, not every service has those. In this article, I’m going to suppose that you have only the most basic car wash in your city with three options: wash, soap, and rinse. 

I want this article to be helpful to everyone and that you can apply it at every self-service car wash.

How To Wash Your Car at Manual Car Wash – The Steps I Do

washing car at self service car wash

To properly wash your car at a self-service car wash, you need to have some detailing products and equipment. If you like detailing as I do, you already have everything you need. 

Equipment needed:

  • Two washing buckets
  • High-quality wheel cleaner
  • Brushes for wheel cleaning
  • High-quality car wash soap
  • Microfiber wash mitt
  • Microfiber drying towel

That’s everything you’re going to need to follow the steps in this article. And of course, you need some coins to put into the machine. Now, finally, let’s see how I do it. 

Step 1: Spray Wheels With a Wheel Cleaning Solution

The first step I always do is to spray my wheel cleaning solution on the wheels. They’re the dirtiest and hardest to clean, and I always want to use a high-quality wheel cleaner, just like this Mothers Foam Wheel Cleaner

Using a high-quality wheel cleaner will help you a lot to clean them as much as possible. 

Step 2: Pre-Wash The Car With The Wash Option

After applying the wheel cleaner, I always use the wash option to pre-wash my car. This will help to remove as much dirt as possible before contact wash.

Be as thorough as possible here, don’t rush. It’s essential to pre-wash every part of the car. It’s just going to be easier later on.

Step 3: Brush The Wheels

After pre-washing the car, I always brush the wheels. When the wheels are clean, it’s easier to wash the rest of the car later. 

Step 4: Rinse The Car

Now, when the wheels are clean, I like to rinse the whole car to get all of that dirt, grime, and brake dust away from my car.

When It comes to rinsing, I like to take my time and rinse it very thoroughly. 

Step 5: Wash The Car With Your Soap

After rinsing the car, I wash the car using my soap. When detailing my car at home, I use the three-bucket method, but I use two buckets only when I’m at a self-service car wash (1 for the soap, 1 with plain water for cleaning the wash mitt).

There’s a faucet at every car-washing service so that you can fill your buckets with water. If there’s not, you can use the rinse water to fill your buckets.

Add some soap to the buckets, and start washing your car using a microfiber wash mitt.

Recommended Soap: Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash.

Always go from the top to the bottom, and don’t wash in circular motions. Also, go one section at a time. Make sure to wash your wash mitt in the second bucket as much as possible.

Step 6: Rinse The Car Again

When you wash the whole car with soap, it’s time to rinse the vehicle thoroughly. Make sure to rinse every part of the vehicle to clean all the dirt and grime from it. Furthermore, you don’t want the soap to dry out on the paint.

Some car washes have an option called “wax and rinse”, which will spray wax onto your vehicle. The good thing about it is that you don’t have to rinse the car after using the “wax and rinse” option. Just proceed to the next step.

Step 7: Dry The Car Using Microfiber Drying Towel

After the rinsing, the car is now clean. The last step is to dry it. Always use a microfiber drying towel for this. With it, you’re going to avoid making scratches all over your car.

Dry the car from top to bottom (just like you did when washing it with soap). 

After you completely dry the car, you’re finished!

Step 8 (Optional): Apply Protection To Paint and Tires

If you want, you can apply some protection to the car paint and the tires. Since you should do it quickly (because you’re at a car wash service), I suggest using some spray wax for the paint and some tire shine.

Related: Gyeon Tire Dressing Review

Applying protection to the paint will give the car a better look and, more importantly, UV protection and water repellency. 

Are Self-Service Car Washes Any Good?

I would say that manual car washes are great for quick and maintaining washes. You can’t expect the cleaning result to be the same as if you would wash your car in your yard.

However, you need to be careful when washing your car at self-service car washes – make sure to follow the steps above. Many car washes have some options that will 100% scratch the car’s paint. One of them is a foam brush, and you should always avoid it.

Some other options, such as bug remover, wheel cleaner, and wax, are good but don’t expect them to use some high-quality cleaners. That’s why I always recommend buying your own products and using them instead of the ones at the self-service car wash.

When Is The Best Time To Wash Your Car at Manual Car Wash

Since many people use self-service car washes, and everyone’s in a rush, to avoid any conflicts, I like to do it when it’s not busy over there.

Usually, it’s early in the morning or later in the evening. Then I can take my time and wash my car thoroughly, without anyone interrupting me with some questions such as: when will you finish, etc.

Are You Allowed To Bring Your Own Washing Equipment?

  • Well, you’re paying them to wash the car, and I’ve never seen a sign prohibiting such. Also, if you don’t use your own soap and wash the car with a microfiber wash mitt, the car will be dirty even after washing it.
  • That’s why I always recommend you bring your equipment and use it for better cleaning results.

How Long Does It Take To Wash The Car

  • It depends on your skills and experience with self-service car washes, but I would say that 30-45 minutes is enough to wash and dry your car completely. 
  • If you apply some protection to the car paint and tires, it can go up to 1 hour, but it shouldn’t be longer than that.
  • Again, you have to be as quick as possible – other people want to wash their cars too.

Final Thoughts

This is how I use self-service car washes to wash my car. I know it’s not the best way to wash your car, but when you live in an apartment, it’s your best option.

Some other options, such as automatic car washes, are also available, but I don’t want to come even close to them. Of course, there’s also an option to pay someone to do it, but I like to do it myself.

I have lived in an apartment for three years already, and throughout that time, I learned how to get the best cleaning results on self-service car washes.

Related: How To Clean a Car While Living In Apartment

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