6 Different Types of Car Washes and Their Pros & Cons

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

different types of car washes

There are so many car wash options, each with its distinctive features that can suit any car owner’s needs. However, while they have their pros, they also have their cons and varying costs.

To get the best car wash that suits your needs and budget, it’d be good to have some knowledge of the different types of car washes. So before you go searching for “vehicle cleaning service near me” on the internet, take the time to familiarize yourself with car washes in this article.


List of Car Wash Types

1. Conveyor Car Wash


Also known as the tunnel car wash, this is an automated type that consists of a tunnel structure with different sections for different cleaning equipment, in which a vehicle is pulled by a conveyor belt to undergo the different stages of the cleaning process.

Since it’s automated, it’s a quick and easy way to have a vehicle cleaned. Moreover, it may agitate contaminants with brushes, or it may be a brushless car wash that uses soft cloth strips.

When it comes to effectiveness in cleaning, both the brushes and cloth strips do well. However, the brushes tend to leave scratches on a car’s exterior due to friction, or the abrasive contaminants from previously washed cars may get stuck on them and get dragged on the vehicle.

The soft cloth strips, on the other hand, are less likely to scratch a car’s exterior because of their more gentle texture. But they may still also pick up some abrasive contaminants that scuff your vehicle. So because of the risk of scratches, this type of car wash services shouldn’t be used too often.

But if you’re also going to need some additional services such as tire and wheel cleaning or wax application, a conveyor wash can be a good option. Businesses usually have different car wash packages for you to select the service that you want.

Cost: $12-$20. Availing of other services would increase the cost.


  • Quick, easy car washing
  • Effective car cleaning
  • Additional services
  • Inexpensive


  • May cause scratches on a car

2. Touchless Car Wash


The touchless car wash is also an automated type that can make car cleaning quick and easy. It can be an automatic in-bay car wash or a conveyor one. In an automatic in-bay type, the vehicle would be parked in a carwash bay, then the cleaning equipment would go around the vehicle to perform the cleaning process.

But unlike the traditional car wash, it doesn’t directly touch a car’s exterior, as it doesn’t use brushes or soft cloth strips. Instead, it makes use of high-pressure water and strong chemical sprays.

Its touchless operation makes it less likely to leave scratches on vehicles. So it’d be the best automatic car wash if your vehicle is covered with abrasive contaminants like mud, dirt, and sand.

Although it reduces the chances of scratching, it can still potentially harm a vehicle, as its strong chemicals can strip off protective coatings and make paintwork fade if it’s frequently used. Moreover, it may not clean as thoroughly as the automatic car wash with brushes.

Cost: $10-$30


  • Quick, easy car washing
  • Has less risk of scratches
  • Inexpensive


  • May not clean as thoroughly as the automatic car wash with brushes
  • Strips off protective coatings and fades paintwork if used often

3. Hand Car Wash


Done by hand, it’s also known as the manual carwash and non automatic car wash. It’s the safest and most effective way of cleaning a vehicle.

In the process, car wash pros would manually handle the vehicle with detailed attention and caution to thoroughly clean it without causing scratches.

They would use a safe car cleaning method, such as the two-bucket method or the snow foam method. This would be ideal for those who are scrupulous with their vehicle’s appearance and would also be the best type of car wash for new car.

However, because of the manual labor, especially if you avail of additional services, the process would take longer. It’d also cost more.

Cost: $20-$30


  • Safest way of washing a vehicle with a very low risk of scratching
  • Thorough cleaning


  • Takes longer
  • Costs more than an automatic car wash

Read more: 6 Steps to Hand Wash Your Car

4. Full-Service Car Wash


Unlike your ordinary manual car washing process, the full-service car wash doesn’t only offer a thorough, scratch-free standard car wash.

It also provides the extra care needed to keep a vehicle in excellent condition, not only in appearance but also in performance. Here, different car wash levels are available for maintaining both a vehicle’s exterior and interior to suit the needs and budget of a customer.

The additional services you can also get here are window cleaning, tire and wheel detailing, protectant application, paint correction, headlight restoration, interior detailing, engine cleaning, etc.

Here, your vehicle is in the safe hands of professionals using high-quality products, unlike in the automatic car washes with abrasive spinning brushes and cloths and harsh chemicals. But with the additional services, it’d take long hours and cost more.

Cost: Depends on the package and vehicle size. For regular-sized vehicles, it can cost around $50-$200, while for larger vehicles, it’s around $75-$250.


  • Thorough manual cleaning
  • Very low risk of scratching
  • Keeps a vehicle in excellent condition not only in appearance but also in performance with additional services
  • Uses safe and premium products


  • Takes many hours
  • The most expensive option

5. Self-Service Car Wash


In a self-service car wash, you can help yourself with the cleaning equipment readily available in one of the car wash bays. You don’t pay to have your vehicle washed by machinery or the shop’s personnel but rather, to use the pressure hose, soap, brushes, and wax.

But you should check whether you must provide your own towel beforehand. Sometimes, a vacuum cleaner and tire pump would also be available.

This is ideal for anyone who wants to avoid the potentially damaging automatic car washes and would rather clean their vehicle themselves. Note that there would still be a risk of scratching from the brush if you don’t check it for contaminants from previous car washing.

Cost: $7-$15


  • Various tools available for cleaning
  • Customers can thoroughly and safely clean their vehicle the way they want.
  • Inexpensive


  • For some, DIY car washing may be a hassle.
  • Risk of scratching if you don’t check the brush for contaminants

Frequently Asked Questions


How Many Types of Car Washes Are There?

Car washes can be classified into several types. But these types would sometimes overlap each other.

For example, a conveyor car wash can also be a brush car wash or brushless car wash; a brush car wash can also be an in-bay automatic car wash; a touchless car wash is also an in-bay automatic car wash; and the hand car wash, full-service car wash, and self-service car wash are manually done.

So, when it comes to the main car wash types, there are five, namely:

  • Conveyor car wash
  • Touchless car wash
  • Hand car wash
  • Full-service car wash
  • Self-service car wash

What Is the Most Popular Car Wash?

According to car wash statistics, the majority of car wash goers opt for the in-bay automatic service. It’s because this type is time-saving and affordable.

Moreover, the automatic touchless car washing bay has less risk of damage compared to the tunnel car wash. Another factor that makes the in-bay type popular, especially for those who are concerned with the environment, is its more eco-friendly approach of consuming less water than other types of carwash.

Which Type of Car Wash Is Best for Paint?

Apart from ensuring your vehicle’s cleanliness when car washing, another important thing to keep in consideration is the paint.

If you have a newly purchased vehicle, you would want to look for the best car washes for new cars that won’t adversely affect paint. Your best bet would be a hand car wash.

Through this type, you would avoid the risks of scratching and fading the vehicle exterior, which often happens in automatic car washes. And if you compare the cleaning of a hand carwash vs car wash machines, the result would also be more thorough.


There are many car wash businesses of various types. Although all of them can get the job done, you must still choose wisely to get the result you desire.

The different types of car washes are all designed distinctly with their own particular benefits.

Some are for quick, easy cleaning; some are for preventing scratches; some provide additional services for maintaining a car’s well-being, etc.

You must also keep in mind the adverse effects of different washes, like scratching in the conveyor type and fading of paint in the touchless car wash, so you know when to avoid them.

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