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Celebrating a century of scratching your car, the car wash turns 100 years old.

Put on your party hats and break out the cake, the car wash turns 100 years old this year!

And how are we going to celebrate the centennial? By not letting them scratch and swirl our car’s paint of course.

Credit for the first commercial car wash goes to Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle who opened Automobile Laundry in 1914. Located in Detroit, their car wash was an assembly line of workers washing and drying as the car was pushed down their path. By the 1950s this assembly line evolved into a fully automatic wash with water jets, spinning brushes, sprinklers, and air dryers.

So after 100 years of evolution and innovation, how are car washes still damaging your car’s paint with scratches and swirl marks?

To clean your car, automatic car washes use spinning brushes and sometimes even worse – gyrating rubber strips, to rid your cars surface of dirt and debris. The spinning brushes themselves leave behind swirl marks in the clear coat of your car due to their harsh, abrasive nature along with contaminants trapped within the bristles. Rubber strips pound the exterior paint in an effort to remove dirt; again scratching with debris caked on the rubber.

“I never take my car through an automatic car wash like that, I always go to a touch-less car wash,” you say.

Although better than the beating handed out by brushes and rubber, touch-less car washes can damage your finish as well. Generally these car washes use a high PH alkaline soap in order to break up the dirt and grime on your car. The problem with these soaps is that they are also breaking down the wax, sealant, and even harder coatings that are protecting your car from contaminants, and leave the paint looking dull and shine-less. Next the dirt is blasted away using high-pressure water nozzles that skid the debris across your paint causing you guessed it… SCRATCHES!

And then comes the drying, inducing even more swirl marks.

The light at the end of the car wash tunnel is met with huge gusts of hot air from giant “air dryers” blowing away the majority of water left over from the rinse. This is then followed by car wash employee’s hand drying with towels, towels with dirt left over from the car before yours thrust over your paint in a circular motion. Oh the horror!

So how do you keep your car clean as well as scratch and swirl free without having to do all of the work yourself?

You take it to a professional detailer or “hand wash” car wash that takes pride in their work and uses most, if not all, of the following processes:

1. A separate wash bucket and tools for wheels and tires.

Your wheels and tires are filthy, coated in brake dust and dirt that could cause some serious scratching if it found its way onto the paint of your car. By using a separate wash bucket as well as separate wash tools, a good detailing shop is making sure that there is no cross-contamination between what is coming off of your wheels and onto the tools that will be used to wash your paint.

2. Two-bucket wash technique.

With the two-bucket technique, one bucket contains soapsuds used for washing your car. The other bucket is the rinse bucket. This bucket contains clean water and a grit guard used to rinse the dirt off of your wash pad before being placed back in the wash bucket.

So the wash pad goes from the wash bucket, to the cars paint, then into the rinse bucket, and into the wash bucket. This cycle prevents the dirt that is coming off of your car from staying on the wash pad and scratching the surface.

3. Speaking of soapsuds, whomever is washing your car should be able to tell you whether they are using a PH neutral soap or higher PH soap and why.

If you are having a maintenance wash performed on your car, a PH neutral soap won’t strip your car of the wax or other protectant that is covering the surface. If your car is receiving any kind of corrective work or protectant applied, a higher more aggressive PH soap is used to break down and strip away whatever is on top of your paint.

4. Proper drying technique.

When it comes time to dry your car, a professional will use a fresh, clean microfiber-drying towel. The microfiber does a good job of lifting any leftover dirt from the paint and into the pile of the towel so that it does not grind against the surface like a shammy or silicon drying blade.

You might even see them prime the towel with a few squirts of detail spray or paint hydrator while drying. This priming adds a little bit of lubrication between the towel and paint surface making the chance of scratching even less likely. The detail spray will also work into the paint leaving behind a bit more of a shine.

5. Finally, watch their hands.

Whenever someone is touching your cars paint, whether it be washing with a wash pad or drying with a microfiber towel, watch his or her hands for long back-and-forth strokes, never using a circular swirl-inducing motion.

All of the above techniques are geared towards one goal: to leave your car’s paint swirl and scratch free!

A wash like this doesn’t take five minutes or cost $4.99. But having your car cared for by a professional will keep your car damage-free and looking its absolute best. Extra time and money well spent.

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to the 150,000 car wash locations world wide.

Let’s hope the next 100 years bring some better technique and fewer swirls.

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