How Long Does a Car Wash Take: Automatic vs. Handwashing (2023)

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Picture this: you've just driven down a dusty road, and your car now looks like it's just gone through a sandstorm. You know it's time for a car wash, but you're wondering just how long it's going to take. Will it be a quick five minutes, or will you be stuck waiting around for half an hour?

The answer to “How long does a car wash take?” largely depends on the type of car wash you choose and the services it offers. Some options take mere minutes and you don’t have to lift a finger, and with others, you’ll simply be provided the tools to wash your car, and how long it takes is up to you.

Key Points:

  • The length of time a car wash takes can vary depending on several factors, including the type of car wash, services offered, and equipment used.
  • Automatic car washes typically take between 3 -10 minutes, while handwashing a car can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more.
  • Consider choosing a simpler car wash with fewer services and automatic bays to speed up the car wash process.

What’s the Average Car Wash Time?

The average amount of time you’ll spend at a car wash can vary depending on the type of car wash you visit. Automatic car washes are one of the most popular types of car washes, because they offer quick and easy service. They typically take between 5-10 minutes to complete, depending on the services offered.

Handwash car washes, on the other hand, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the size of your vehicle and the level of detailing required. If you're in a hurry and looking for a quick wash, an automatic car wash is usually the better option.

How Long Does an Automatic Car Wash Take?

Automatic car washes offer a level of convenience that handwashing simply doesn’t. Even my small town has an automatic car wash that’s constantly busy, and getting in and out only takes about 10 minutes at most.

Car wash owners typically invest in car wash financing to install powerful equipment meant to wash your car quickly and effectively. With automatic car washes, you’ll typically find two different kinds:

  • Soft-touch car washes
  • Touchless car washes

Each is faster than handwashing, but each also offers different benefits to your car.

How Long Does a Soft-Touch Car Wash Take?

Soft-touch car washes are a popular option that use cloth or foam brushes to gently scrub the dirt off your car's surface. Here are the main features of a soft-touch car wash and how long it usually takes to get through one:

  • Soft-touch car washes can take just about 4 or 5 minutes to complete, depending on the level of service provided.
  • The wash process usually involves several stages, including pre-soaking, scrubbing, rinsing, and then finally drying.

How Long Does a Touchless Car Wash Take?

Touchless car washes are another popular option that uses high-pressure water and detergents to clean the exterior of your car. Here are the main features of a touchless car wash:

  • Touchless car washes are often slightly faster than soft-touch car washes, taking just three minutes to complete.
  • The process also usually involves a variety of stages, including pre-soaking, applying detergent, high-pressure rinsing, and drying.

Factors that Affect Overall Car Wash Time

There are a large number of factors that’ll determine how long your car wash will take. These factors can include:

  • The type of car wash.
  • The steps involved in the car wash you choose.
  • How long the employees or machinery take for each step.
  • The number of cycles you choose.
  • The speed and efficiency of the equipment.
  • Any additional services you add on.

Type of Car Wash

Different types of car washes have different steps and equipment that can affect the time it takes to complete a wash. For example, handwashing your car will take longer than going through an automatic car wash because you’re not relying on machines and are either scrubbing the car yourself or car wash employees are.

Steps in the Automatic Car Wash Process

The automatic car wash process typically involves several steps, and each step takes a certain amount of time. Here’s what the process often looks like:

  • Pre-wash: This step involves spraying the car with water and possibly a pre-wash solution to start removing dirt. The time required for this step depends on how dirty your car is.
  • Soap application: Next, soap is sprayed on the car to further remove dirt and grime.
  • Scrubbing: Next, automatic scrub brushes scrub the car to work in the soap. The number of brushes and the state of the technology in the automatic car wash will determine how long this step takes.
  • Rinsing: Water jets will then begin rinsing the car with water to remove the soap and any remaining dirt. The water pressure and the amount of soap on your car both influence how long this step takes.
  • Drying: This step involves drying the car with blown air or a towel to prevent water spots. The time required for this step depends on the drying method used and the size of the car.

Time Duration for Each Step

The amount of time it takes to complete each step in the car wash process can vary and is impacted by factors such as the size and shape of your vehicle. For example, applying soap to a large truck may take longer than applying soap to a small sports car.

Number of Water/Detergent Repetitions

Some automatic car washes will repeat certain steps, such as the soap or rinse cycle, multiple times for a more thorough clean. This can add extra time to the overall wash process. Luckily, this repetition is usually part of an upgraded package, so you can opt for a simpler washing option if you want to avoid this.

Equipment Used by the Car Wash

The equipment in the car wash also impacts the time it takes to get through. For example, a car wash with high-pressure water jets may be able to clean your car faster than one with lower-pressure equipment or one that involves employees washing your car by hand.

Additional Services the Car Wash Offers

If you choose to add on extra services, such as a tire shine, interior detailing, or waxing, this can add extra time to your overall car wash experience. These services also typically cost more than a basic wash and dry.

How Long Does it Take to Wash a Car by Hand?

As I’m sure you can guess, handwashing a car is a more time-consuming process than an automatic car wash. That said, for some, it can provide a more thorough clean and it’s almost always a cheaper option. Here are some factors that determine how long it takes to handwash a car:

  • Size of the vehicle: A larger vehicle will take more time to wash than a smaller one.
  • Level of dirt and grime: If the car is coated in mud, it will require more time to clean properly than if it’s just dust built up from your daily commute.
  • Any detailing necessary: If you’re detailing your car, it will take more time as there are additional steps involved.
  • The number of people involved: Handwashing a car is much easier and quicker with more than one person.

Generally, a handwash takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the factors mentioned above. The beauty of handwashing is you don’t necessarily have to leave your home to do it. Or, you can go to a car wash that provides the necessary equipment for a small fee.

Automatic vs. Handwash Car Wash: How Do They Compare in Terms of Time?

When it comes to time, automatic car washes are undoubtedly the faster option. Most automatic car washes take just a few minutes, depending on the services you’re looking for. Handwashing a car, on the other hand, can take half an hour or more. This doesn’t mean that handwashing is the worse option, though.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each method to give you a sense of who will benefit most from each.

Automatic Car Wash


  • They’re quick and efficient: You can get through the whole process in just a few minutes.
  • They’re simple and easy to use: You don’t have to do any work yourself, simply drive into the car wash and wait.
  • They get to hard-to-reach places: Automatic car washes can reach areas underneath your car that handwashing can’t. For those that live in colder climates, this helps reduce salt building, which can lead to rust.


  • Limited customization: Not all automatic car washes are as customizable as handwashing, so you may not get the level of clean you desire.
  • The chemicals can be harsh: Depending on the equipment, detergents, and other chemicals used, an automatic car wash may cause damage to your car’s paint or finish.

Hand Car Wash


  • You have complete control over the cleaning process: This can ensure that you don’t deal with harsh chemicals or damaging equipment.
  • They’re completely customizable: You’re at the mercy of the packages the automatic car wash offers, but with handwashing, you can tailor the washing process to your specific needs and preferences.
  • They’re more cost-effective: You can save money by washing your car yourself, or by going to a self-service car wash.


  • They’re much more time-consuming: Washing your car by hand takes significantly more time than an automatic wash.
  • They require more effort: During an automatic car wash, all you have to do is sit in the car. When you handwash your car, you have to put in the work to get the car clean, which can be physically demanding.

So, which option is better in terms of time? It ultimately depends on your priorities. If you’re looking for a quick and easy option, go the automatic route. If you want the cheapest option, though, handwashing is the better choice.

Tips for Speeding up the Car Wash Process

If you’re in a rush but still want to keep up with regular car washes, here are a few tips to help you speed up the process:

  • Choose a car wash that offers express or quick service options.
  • Remove any excess items from your car, such as roof racks, to protect them and reduce the time it takes to clean the vehicle.
  • Use a high-quality, non-corrosive, car wash soap and a soft-bristled brush to help keep the paint and finish intact.
  • Skip any additional services (i.e., waxing and detailing) that are not necessary to save time and money.
  • Dry your car using a microfiber towel (which you can buy at any big-box store like Target or Walmart) to avoid water spots and speed up the drying process.

What to Do if You Have Limited Time for a Car Wash

Many of us have busy lives, meaning, so do our cars. If you're short on time but still want to frequently get your car washed, there are a few things you can do to make it happen:

  • Take the car for a wash on weekdays: Many people have weekends off, so they’re typically busier times at car washes. If you're short on time, try going to the car wash during the week.
  • Go during off-peak hours: Car washes tend to be less busy early in the morning or right before they close. So, the best time of day to wash your car is during these off-peak hours to save time.
  • Find a car wash that gets less traffic: Some car washes are more popular than others, so do a quick Google search to find one that gets less traffic. Additionally, automatic car washes tend to be more popular, so consider a self-serve car wash if you know you can wash your car quickly on your own.
  • Use a mobile car wash service: If you really can't find the time to visit a car wash, mobile car washes will come to you.

Innovative Technologies That Can Speed up the Car Wash Process

Car washes are constantly evolving and new technology is popping up left and right. These new innovations often speed up the process and provide a better quality outcome. Here are a few of these up-and-coming technologies:

  • Waterless car wash: This technology uses a special cleaning solution that doesn't require any water, making it the best option for eco-conscious drivers. The cleaning solution is simply sprayed onto the car and then wiped off with a microfiber cloth.
  • Conveyor belt system: Some car washes have conveyor belts that pull the car through the wash. This eliminates the need for the driver to exit the car, saving time and making the whole experience more convenient.
  • Touchless car wash: Touchless car washes have been around for a while now, but the technology is improving rapidly. Because there are no brushes or clothes used in the process, it can be completed quickly, usually in just a few minutes.
  • Apps and online features: There are apps and online booking software that help customers book car washing slots, making the experience more convenient for both owner and customer.

Final Word

Keeping your car clean not only helps it aesthetically but helps keep your car safe from dirt, salt, and other contaminants. Automatic car washes offer a quick and convenient option, while handwashing is the more economical option and, in some cases, can provide a safer clean. No matter what option you choose, regular car washes can prolong the life of your vehicle and help maintain its value.


How Long Does a Car Wash Take: Automatic vs. Handwashing? ›

Depending on how thorough you are, washing your vehicle by hand could take up to an hour to complete, while an automatic wash can be completed in just a few minutes. Unless you know what you're doing, you could easily scratch your vehicle if you do a poor job washing it yourself.

How long does hand washing car take? ›

Yes, your vehicle is cleaned more thoroughly in this method, but it can also cost you a lot of money and time. On average, hand washing your car can take up to two to three hours – it can get much longer if you opt for detailing services. Also, as we mentioned, you will be spending close to $30 for a single wash.

Is it better to wash car by hand or automatic car wash? ›

The use of hard brushes in the past led to scratches and the eventual destruction of body paint jobs. In contrast, the automatic car wash method does the opposite as it is gentle and gets the job done without any damage. Thorough.

How many hours does car wash take? ›

Depending on how much cleaning is needed, it can take approximately an hour or sometimes two to three hours. But if you avail of additional detailing services, it would take longer.

Is a touchless car wash better than a hand wash? ›

A Thorough Clean – Opting for a hand wash car wash means a deeper clean for your car, as you can reach the many spaces that an automated touchless car wash may miss. In addition, places like the undercarriage become accessible, allowing you to get rid of eyesores like dried bugs on the windshield or headlights.

Is hand wash good for car wash? ›

A hand car wash offers a thorough cleaning that automatic washes just can't deliver. Additionally, getting your car washed by hand helps protect your paint, increasing its longevity and integrity over time. Often times, spots of dirt or debris are missed in the washing process and then sealed over with wax or polish.

What type of car wash is best? ›

The best possible wash for your vehicle's finish is a handwash. It's the least abrasive wash you can perform without sacrificing thoroughness. Though as with anything in life, sometimes the best possible isn't an option.

What are the disadvantages of automatic car washing system? ›

One of the biggest disadvantages of using an automatic car wash is that it can damage your car's finish. The brushes and cleaners used in automatic car washes are designed to be tough on dirt and grime, but they can also be tough on your car's paint.

How often should you wash your car? ›

As a general rule of thumb, it's important to wash your car at least every two weeks. Obsessives will do it every week, or sometimes more frequently. Additionally, irregular dirt such as road salt and bug guts require immediate attention to prevent paint or metal damage.

What are the best hours to wash car? ›

It's best to clean your car when the sun is low in the sky - so wash early or late in the day. Or go to the car wash on a day that is cloudy! Fewer people wash their cars when the sun hides, which can mean you're in and out super fast (although at Gleam we strive to get you in and out in under 20 no matter what).

Is it OK to go through car wash every day? ›

The Drive recommends washing a car every two weeks, but explains that some owners might opt for a weekly wash. Washing a car every day might not be bad for the vehicle, but it could increase the chances of scratching the paint or causing another issue.

Why is hand washing your car better? ›

If you're willing to spend the proper time, you'll likely be able to remove more dirt and grime compared to an automatic wash. Washing a vehicle yourself will also give you the ability to wax and polish your vehicle, helping to remove any extra debris and give your car a brand-new looking finish.

Can Tesla go through touchless car wash? ›

If washing in an automatic car wash, use touchless car washes only. These car washes have no parts (brushes, etc.) that touch the surfaces of Model 3. Some touchless car washes use caustic solutions that, over time, can cause discoloration of decorative exterior trim.

What is the opposite of a touchless car wash? ›

Friction car washes utilize cloth, brushes, or other physical elements to touch the car and create friction to remove dirt, dust, and grime. Anytime you see brushes, clothes, or other large apparatuses that touch the car, you're looking at a friction car wash.

How long should a maintenance wash take? ›

How Long Does A Maintenance Wash Take? A standard maintenance wash takes approximately 45-90 minutes.

How many times a week should you get your car washed? ›

Most experts recommend washing your car every two weeks or so throughout the year as a general rule. If you live in an area with a lot of salt — either from a nearby ocean or from salt trucks on the winter roads — you probably should wash it more, as salt can corrode the metal and cause rust.


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