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Ceramic Coating and Automatic Car Washes

The # 1 question we get when a customer picks up their vehicle with a new ceramic coating is: “Can I take it to the car wash?” Inwardly we cringe when we hear this, outwardly we empathize, because who wants to wash their car or truck when a car wash seems so convenient? The answer about automatic car washes may surprise you; however, before we answer that question, let’s review some basics.

car wash
automatic car wash

First, getting a ceramic coating is a big investment in paint protection. You will want to care for it according to the manufacturer’s recommended wash techniques. These typically do not endorse an automatic car wash.

ceramic coating

Truck with a ceramic coating from Dripping Auto Pros

Second, a ceramic coating is porous. It can get clogged, and when that happens, its ability to bead (hydrophobicity) is compromised. There are many ways a coating can get clogged, and cheap soaps and waxes are at the top of the list.

clogged ceramic coating
Car with a clogged ceramic coating
water spots on car

Water spots on car

Third, water spots can, and do, form on a ceramic coating. The coating does not stop water from depositing whatever is in it, be it lime, calcium or atmospheric pollution, onto its surface. And once the water evaporates, what’s left will create a spot, and eventually etch, the coating.

With these three facts in mind, let’s address how they affect your vehicle’s ceramic coating.

Recommended Wash Techniques

Most, if not all, ceramic coating manufacturers advise against using automatic car washes. Instead, they promote hand washing using either the two-bucket method or the rinse-less method. (More information on these two methods can be found in our other articles, as well as on our YouTube channel.) Additionally, a pH neutral automotive shampoo is highly recommended, because washing with an acidic shampoo can harm a ceramic coating.

Clogged Coatings

As mentioned above, a ceramic coating is porous. Therefore, waxing a coated vehicle is a no-no, and most automatic car washes use soaps that contain wax, or, they add spray wax after the wash and rinse cycles.

Since wax clogs the pores of the coating, it’s a bad idea to run your vehicle through the car wash and introduce a chemical that has an adverse effect on your coating, for which you shelled out mucho dinero!

Hard Water

Most car washes use untreated hard water because it’s cheaper. While some may have filtered water for the final rinse, who’s to say that the filters aren’t being used beyond their useful life?

automatic car wash

Automatic car wash settings

At Dripping Auto Pros we teach our customers proper wash techniques, and we emphasize the importance of soft water, or distilled water, which is our preferred type.

The Answer

By now you’ve probably surmised that automatic car washes aren’t kind to vehicles with a ceramic coating, and you’d be correct. However, sometimes one simply cannot avoid them. Whether it’s a time issue such as an important event and you’re running late, or an emergency, like you just got splattered on the highway and need a quick wash, or some other reason, there are occasions where an automatic car wash is the more convenient solution. Don’t despair, there are things you can do to mitigate the damage.

  1. Purchase the cheapest wash available to minimize wax products.
  2. If it’s a coin-operated car wash, use the final rinse option to remove hard water.
  3. Always carry a ceramic-friendly quick detail product and microfiber towels in your vehicle.
  4. Before getting back on the road, use the quick detailer to remove whatever is left on the vehicle, then when you get home, use a rinse-less wash to get rid of any residual soap and/or wax.
ceramic coating quick detailer

ceramic coating quick detailer

Summary

We live in a imperfect world and therefore we don’t always have the optimum solution to cleaning our vehicles. Hopefully this article answers your question about using an automatic car wash on vehicles with a ceramic coating.

About the Author

Ken Chance is the founder and owner of Dripping Auto Pros, an automotive detailing shop in Dripping Springs, Texas that specializes in ceramic coatings. For the best ceramic coating near me, contact Dripping Auto Pros. 

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