Car cleaning options review and compare

How can you save water while washing your car? CHOICE investigates.
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05.Car-washing options: convenience


You drive into a bay which has a high-pressure washing tool and brush that dispenses detergent. They are usually coin-operated, allow a selection of wash functions and count down so you know how much time is left to clean your car.

Good points

  • Can collect the waste for treatment and possible reuse – check if your self-serve station does this.
  • Cheaper than a serviced car wash, if used regularly.

Bad points

  • Takes a few times to get used to the timed cleaning.
  • Possible queues.

Water usage: Between 25L and 40L, according to the Australian Car Wash Association.

Price: $2.70 / wash

Auto wash

Either touchless or brush rollover, this system is a simple drive-in car wash, which is generally paid for beforehand and is located in service stations.

Good points

  • Totally automated.
  • You don’t have to be out in the cold or hot weather.
  • Some recycle much of the water used – check whether yours does.
  • Incorporates waste treatment into the machinery.
  • Can be incorporated into regular routine as most are located at service stations.

Bad points

  • Brush rollover can leave scratch marks on vehicles.
  • Touchless may not clean effectively.
  • Possible queues.
  • Expensive.

Water usage: Unknown, but recycling would lower amount used.

Price: $10.00 / wash 

Hand wash

A luxury option, also called car wash cafes, these often offer a free coffee with a car wash.

Good points

  • Many services offered.
  • You usually don’t have to be out in the cold weather or heat.
  • Can be incorporated into shopping routine as many are located at shopping centres.

Bad points

  • Possible queues
  • Expensive.
  • Up selling tactics sometimes used.

Water usage: 33L

Price: $24.00 / wash

Waterless car wash

These cleaners claim to encapsulate dirt when sprayed onto a car, preventing scratching when you then remove the substance with a cloth.

Good points

  • Very little water used (other than as an ingredient).
  • Allows you to check the car for wear and tear.

Bad points

  • More labour intensive than water methods.
  • More expensive than water-based methods.
  • Many people fear the rubbing action will scratch the paintwork, but we found it didn’t in our test, Choice March 2005.

Water usage: Very little

Price: $5.50 / wash

Other options

There are also mobile car washes that drive to your home and wash your car, however in doing so they are using fuel and can be quite expensive. Waterless mobile car wash options also exist, but again they use fuel to get to you and are expensive. We found a number of products that potentially help you reduce your water use; see Low flow high pressure cleaners for our test results.


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