Washing Your Car Yourself vs. Taking It to the Car Wash

Your local car wash might be a convenient option for a quick rinse, but if you’re looking for a thorough clean that leaves your exterior looking polished and protected, the costs can quickly add up. It’s a lot less expensive to do it yourself, especially if you want to keep it looking clean with frequent washes. While the care products you need do represent a significant up-front investment, they also last. Many car wash products are designed to cover dozens of washes, which means you are usually only buying replacements once or twice a year.

Before you go all-in on a DIY wash, it’s important to understand your options for cleaners and other products like wheel polish, because not every car cleaning product is safe to use at home. Several of them contain chemicals that have been shown to be harmful if not properly handled, and home disposal of those chemicals is not easy to carry out safely. Additionally, harsh chemicals with toxic aftereffects can pose a long-term health risk if you do not use proper PPE.

Harsh Chemicals To Avoid

While the number of cleaners with harsh chemicals has declined steadily over the years, you’ll still find many of the following chemicals in some brands of automotive care products:

  • Hydrofluoric acid, typically found in wheel polish and chrome cleaners
  • Naphthalene, found in many fuel cleaners
  • Perchloroethylene and methylene chloride, carcinogens found in some degreasing agents
  • Sulfuric acid, found in many harsh detergents
  • Methanol, a form of alcohol that is an irritant to the eyes and skin

These are some of the most common chemicals that pose a risk in DIY wash products. If you do need to use them, it’s important to have proper ventilation, gloves, and in some cases even respirators to make sure you don’t have any adverse health effects. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to seek out a bug, tar, paint, and decal remover that does not contain these compounds. Most car cleaning products that are labeled as gentle or environmentally safe are fine, but make sure you check the ingredients to see if they are actually living up to the label.

Attention To Detail

If you take your time and learn the finer points of detailing, you can get a much better wash and shine at home than you can through an automated wash. All it takes is planning, supplies, and the right shop towel to make sure you’re avoiding any drag or rough textures that could affect the finish with repeated use. From there, it’s as simple as developing a system to address every part of the vehicle with products that suit the occasion.

  • Glass cleaner for window interiors and exteriors, as well as mirrors
  • Upholstery shampoo and vinyl or leather cleaner for the interior
  • Wheel and tire cleaner to keep your rims corrosion free and sparkling
  • Non-toxic body wash for the main exterior panels on your vehicle
  • Wax, polish, or finishing agent to provide a protective buffer against dirt and chemical buildups from road salt or other environmental hazards

Now that you have the list of must-have cleaners, get out there and get yourself stocked up for the next couple seasons. You’d be amazed at how many complete detailing washes you can get for the same price as just two or three premium automatic car washes.

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