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How Do Car Washes Work?

The car wash is a thing of beauty. A symphony of machinery, soap, colors, waters, treatments, and foam, all coming together to do what once upon a time could only be done by human hands.

orange bronco getting a ceramic seal wash - Spark Car Wash

At Spark, we love the science of the wash. We take our equipment seriously and make sure that only the newest and best in car wash innovation appears in our high-tech tunnels. Understanding the mechanics behind the mystery is the best way to feel confident about what’s happening to your car when you pull up to a Spark and put your car in neutral. That’s why today, we’re demystifying the process.

You can read on below or just save yourself the trouble and come to Spark. Our Cleanologista will be happy to show you how we do it.

Different Types of Automatic Car Washes

When it comes to automatic car washes, there are several types to choose from, each offering its own unique approach to cleaning your vehicle. Understanding the differences can help you make an informed decision based on your preferences and priorities:

Soft-Touch Car Washes

These automated car wash systems use soft, foam-like materials that make contact with your car’s surface. The soft-touch approach provides a thorough clean while eliminating the risk of scratches or damage to the clear coat. High-quality soft-touch car washes employ closed-cell foam that cannot trap dirt and specialized, biodegradable soaps to ensure a safe and effective clean.

Touchless Car Washes

As the name suggests, touchless car washes rely solely on high-pressure water jets and specialized cleaning solutions to remove dirt and grime from your vehicle’s surface. This method eliminates the risk of potential scratches or swirls caused by physical contact, making it a popular choice for those concerned about preserving their car’s finish. However, it may not provide the same level of thoroughness as other types of automatic car washes, and in some cases, the chemicals used can actually do more damage to your car (not to mention the environment).

Friction Automatic Car Washes

Friction car washes utilize rotating cloth strips or brushes to dislodge dirt and grime from your vehicle’s exterior. While effective, these systems require careful maintenance and calibration to avoid potential scratches or swirls caused by worn or poorly adjusted brushes.

In-Bay Car Washes

This type of car wash involves driving your vehicle into a bay, where a series of cleaning equipment and brushing machines roll over your car to clean it. While convenient, roll-over car washes may not offer the same level of detail as other automatic car wash systems.

Self-Service Car Washes

While not fully automated, self-service car washes allow you to control the cleaning process using provided equipment, such as high-pressure water hoses and cleaning solution dispensers. These facilities often offer vacuums and other tools for interior cleaning as well.

Regardless of the type of car wash you choose, it’s essential to consider factors like water usage, environmental impact, and the quality of cleaning solutions and equipment used. High-quality automated car wash facilities often prioritize water conservation, recycling, and the use of safe, biodegradable cleaning products to provide an efficient and eco-friendly car care experience.

Steps To Getting an Automatic Car Wash

Maintaining a spotless vehicle has never been more convenient than with modern automated car washing systems. These innovative facilities employ a symphony of cutting-edge technology and specialized cleaning solutions to restore your car’s pristine allure. Let’s delve into the intricate process that unfolds when you opt for an automatic car wash:

  1. Upon arrival, you’ll typically pay for your desired wash package, which can range from a basic wash to premium options that include additional services like underbody treatment, ceramic coating, and tire shine. Once inside, you’ll position your vehicle on the conveyor track, aligning your tires precisely for a seamless entry.
  2. As you shift your transmission to neutral and release the steering wheel, the conveyor engages one of your vehicle’s wheels, gently guiding it through the automated wash cycle. Sensors and scales detect your car’s dimensions, allowing the computerized control system to create a 3D model of your car that tailors the cleaning routine accordingly.
  3. The journey begins with the pre-soak phase, where a specialized cleaning solution is sprayed onto your car’s surface through a metal arch fitted with nozzles. This pre-wetting process loosens stubborn dirt and grime, preparing the vehicle for the subsequent cleaning stages.
  4. Depending on your chosen package, tire and wheel cleaning solutions may be applied at this point, effectively removing brake dust and restoring the rubber and alloy’s pristine appearance.
  5. Next, your car passes through the top brushes that gently wipe away contaminants from the horizontal surfaces, such as the hood, roof, and trunk lid.
  6. The foam applicator stage follows, where biodegradable foam is sprayed onto your vehicle through a series of nozzles, creating a visually appealing and effective cleaning foam.
  7. Then come the scrubbers – large, vertical cylinders covered with hundreds of rapidly rotating strips made of Neoglide, a closed-cell foam. These powerful cleaning tools work their magic on your car’s sides, dislodging dirt and grime that the pre-soak has loosened.
  8. High-pressure water jets, rotating at up to 1,000 pounds per square inch, then rinse away the loosened debris, leaving your car sparkling clean. The water used in this process is typically recaptured and recycled, promoting environmental sustainability.
  9. If you’ve opted for an undercarriage wash, specialized jets positioned on the ground blast water upwards, targeting the underside of your vehicle and removing any accumulated mud or salt.
  10. Multiple rinse arches equipped with nozzles spray fresh water over your car, ensuring that all residue and cleaning agents are thoroughly rinsed away.
  11. Again, depending on your chosen package, a protective wax coating may be applied, either through a liquid wax or triple foam wax applicator. This specialized wax bonds with your car’s exterior, providing a waterproof barrier and enhancing its shine for several days.
  12. Finally, your vehicle enters the drying phase, where powerful air jets force warm air across its surface, effectively removing any remaining moisture.

The entire automated car wash process takes approximately three minutes – a remarkably efficient timeframe compared to traditional hand-washing methods. Moreover, the use of modern closed-cell foam or touchless equipment ensures that your vehicle emerges pristine without any risk of damage.

Whether you opt for a fully automated car wash, a self-service car wash, a touchless car wash, or a manual car wash, the ultimate goal remains the same: protecting and preserving your car’s appearance and value for years to come. However, automated car washes deliver a thorough clean that’s both time-efficient and environmentally friendly, making them a preferred choice for superior car care.

Do You Put Your Car in Neutral When Getting a Car Wash?

neutral position of an automatic gearshift lever - Spark Car Wash

Yes! This practice is widely followed and often required by most drive-through car wash facilities for several important reasons. Firstly, having your car in neutral disengages the transmission from the wheels, allowing the conveyor system to freely move your vehicle through the wash tunnel without resistance. This smooth movement is crucial to prevent any potential damage to your car’s transmission or the car wash equipment.

Additionally, putting your car in neutral ensures that it remains stationary during the washing process, preventing any accidental acceleration or movement that could potentially cause harm to the car wash attendants or other vehicles in the vicinity. Furthermore, leaving your car in gear while it’s being washed can lead to unnecessary wear and tear on the transmission, as well as potential safety hazards if the vehicle unexpectedly lurches forward or backward.

Do Car Washes Use The Same Water Over and Over?

It depends on the car wash facility. However, a lot of modern car wash facilities today employ water recycling systems, which allow them to reuse the same water multiple times during the washing process. This practice is not only environmentally friendly but also cost-effective for car wash operators.

The process typically involves collecting the used water from the washing stages and directing it to a recycling system. This system then filters out the dirt, debris, and chemical residues from the water using various treatment methods, such as filtration, sedimentation, and chemical processes. The treated water is then stored in holding tanks or reservoirs, ready to be reused for the initial cleaning stages of the car wash cycle.

By recycling and reusing the water, car wash facilities can significantly reduce their overall water consumption, conserving this valuable resource while still maintaining a high level of cleanliness for the vehicles they service. Additionally, the recycled water is often supplemented with fresh water during the final rinse stages to ensure that the vehicles are thoroughly rinsed and free from any residual cleaning agents or contaminants.

Automatic Car Wash vs. Touchless Car Wash: Which One Is Better?

When it comes to choosing between an automatic and a touchless car wash, both options have their merits, and the decision ultimately depends on your priorities and preferences.

However, it’s important to note that it’s very difficult to get anything truly clean without some form of contact, even with high pressure and harsh chemicals.

Touchless car washes rely solely on high-pressure water jets and specialized cleaning solutions to remove dirt and grime from your vehicle’s surface.

While this method eliminates the risk of potential scratches or swirls caused by physical contact, it may not provide the same level of thoroughness as an automatic car wash. Stubborn contaminants and grime can sometimes resist the water jets, leaving your car with a less-than-pristine finish.

On the other hand, high-quality automated car wash facilities offer a more comprehensive cleaning experience. These facilities employ Neoglide washers, custom non-acidic formulas, and high-intensity dryers that safely and scientifically clean your car’s exterior. They apply high-tech, biodegradable chemicals that efficiently remove dust and residues while offering added protection to your vehicle’s finish.

One of the significant advantages of automated car washes is their use of closed-cell foam rather than cloth. The foam can safely make contact with your car’s surface, which is often considered the best way to achieve a thorough cleaning without scratching or dulling the clear coat finish.

Moreover, these facilities recycle, reclaim, and reuse all car wash tunnel water, ensuring a safe, high-quality wash that’s easy on the environment.

Ultimately, while touchless car washes offer a convenient and scratch-free option, the best and safest car washes utilize closed-cell foam, soft-cloth materials, and 100% safe biodegradable soaps to gently clean your car without compromising on quality.

These facilities also offer superior tools like anti-scratch towels, multi-nozzle vacuums, and automated mat cleaners, ensuring a comprehensive clean that extends to your vehicle’s interior.

See How Our Car Wash Technology Saves You Time at Spark Car Wash

car wash technology that saves you time - Spark Car Wash

Knowing how automatic car washes work can transform your view on vehicle maintenance, turning a chore into a moment of technological marvel.

At Spark Car Wash, we combine our high-tech tunnel equipped with Neoglide washers, eco-friendly formulas, and powerful dryers with a commitment to sustainability, reusing water to ensure every wash is gentle on the planet.

Our DIY Cleaning Terminals at the Spark Park and comprehensive suite of services, from ceramic coatings to RainGuard treatments, ensure your car isn’t just clean—it’s protected.

Embrace the convenience, efficiency, and superior clean that comes with our state-of-the-art express tunnel, designed for those who hold their vehicle’s care to the highest standard.

Visit us and let our precision and passion for cleaning provide your car with the ultimate care. Spark Car Wash is more than a car wash; it’s a guardian for your vehicle’s brilliance and longevity.

Want to know more?

Want to know more? Come see us at one of our Spark locations today! We’re bound to have a car wash location near you and would love to have you!

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