How Does an Automatic Car Wash Work?: A Journey Through the Car Wash

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Are you sick of washing your car on your own? It’s a lot of work and probably feels like whenever you turn around, your car’s dirty again. That’s why so many people turn to automatic car washes—all you need to do is show up, and the wash takes care of everything.

But how does an automatic car wash work? Are there different types of car washes? Find all of this and more in our article.

How Does an Automatic Car Wash Work

Types of Automatic Car Washes

There are two different types of automatic car washes: soft touch and touchless.

Soft Touch

Soft touch means that the car wash uses brushes (sometimes called scrubbers) and cloths to clean your car. Everything moves around the vehicle’s surface. Brushes and cloths spread the soap and loosen debris that may be stuck to the car’s surface.

Pros of Soft Touch

  • Provides a more thorough cleaning of debris
  • Cleans nooks and crannies of a car better
  • Eliminates tough-to-clean residue like dust or pollen by contact cleaning


Touchless automatic car washes use high-powered jets to clean the car. There are no brushes or cloths involved. Various nozzles spray cleaning solution, water, and other elements needed to clean your vehicle.

Pros of Touchless

  • Uses only water and cleaning solutions, making it less likely for a car to get scratched
  • Uses less water (more environmentally friendly)

Cons of Touchless

  • Cleans only surface debris, leaving behind tougher materials
  • Ignores nooks and crannies
  • Uses harsher chemicals and could cause paint damage

What Are the Steps in an Automatic Car Wash?

Here’s a list of six steps during a typical automatic car wash.

Step 1: Choosing the Kind of Wash You Want

Before entering the car wash, you should decide which kind of automatic car wash you want. At Take 5 Car Wash, we offer four different tiers to choose from at most of our washes.

Step 2: Entering the Car Wash

Some automatic washes will use a roll-over or conveyor-style movement to get your car through its wash. Roll-over movement means you’ll drive into the washer’s bay and park. All the car washing equipment will come to you.

The other movement style, conveyor, is where you drive onto a conveyor track and put your car into neutral. The track has small rollers that gradually move your car through the entirety of the wash. Machines will automatically turn on as you reach each wash section.

Step 3: Pre-Soaking the Car’s Surface

Before your car can get clean, it must get wet. As you enter the car wash, water from various hoses will spray your entire vehicle. This process wets your car, allowing cleaning solutions to stick to the surface and help remove surface dirt.

A pre-soak makes the cleaning solution more effective. Instead of having to work through basic dirt, a wash can focus on the stuck-on debris like pollen or bird poop.

Once the pre-soak is done, the machines will spray a cleaning solution onto your car.

Step 4: Using Brushes and Cloths or High Power Nozzles

This is the step that separates soft touch from touchless car washes.

Cloth and Brushes

If you choose a soft touch wash, you’ll have cloths then brushes run along your car. This process spreads the cleaning solution over every inch of your vehicle, from the roof to your tires.

Cloths look like strips of fabric that spin around. This material is more gentle than brushes as they wipe dirt away. The cloths focus more on the horizontal surfaces of your car.

Car wash brushes look more like cleaning brushes used around the house. The brushes spin in circles and work to scrub stuck-on debris while focusing on your car’s vertical surfaces.

Touchless Cleaning

Touchless car washes use high-pressure hoses that spray cleaning liquid over every surface of your car it can reach. The high pressure aims to blast away all forms of dirt.

Step 5: Rinsing Off the Soap

Once your car is thoroughly washed, the machines will rinse the soap suds away with high-intensity water jets. This rinse removes the cleaning solution and any remaining dirt residue.

Step 6: Drying the Car

The last step of a car wash is to dry your car. Simple air drying could leave water spots, so to avoid this, machines blast warm air around the car.

This air blast facilitates even drying and prevents spots or other odd blemishes from appearing on your clean car.

Beyond the Basics: Using Additional Car Wash Options

While we reviewed the basic car wash steps, some car washes offer additional options for step one, like undercarriage cleaning or waxing the car’s surface.

An undercarriage wash is an excellent choice if you live in a harsh weather area with roads often treated with salt. Salt can corrode and shorten the lifespan of your car.

Waxing can ensure your car is clean and protected simultaneously. Applying wax can prevent the paint from fading due to UV rays, making it easier to clean in the future because debris doesn’t stick as easily to a waxed surface. Wax can also prevent scratches.

Using the DIY Detail Center and Vacuums

Once you’re done with your wash, some car washes offer the opportunity to clean your car’s interior and add final touches to the outside. This option allows you to pull away from the car wash and move to a separate section with vacuums, a trash can, and various tools.

Remember that car vacuums are more powerful than your typical house vacuum, but this power is handy for extracting crumbs from the corners of your seats. At some DIY centers, you can also clean your windows and clean and detail your car’s interior.

If the inside of your car is clean, you may want to focus on any remaining blemishes or giving your windshield (inside and out) a thorough cleaning.

A Take 5 car wash membership allows access to tools like these and more.

A Good Car Wash Is About More than Appearances

Regular car washing is an excellent investment in your car’s maintenance. Whether it’s dirt wearing away at the inner workings of your vehicle, salt corroding the underside, or smudges making it hard to see through your windshield—a car wash can increase your car’s lifespan.

Now you know more about how an automatic car wash works, making the process more understandable. If you want a thorough wash, head to your local Take 5 Car Wash. Check out Take 5’s car wash options and visit your nearest car wash location!

Take 5 Car Wash is good for business, too. A commercial vehicle fleet owner can keep an entire fleet of clean cars road-ready for longer.

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