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What's Wrong With Waterless Washes?

Do they actually get your car clean?

There have been a plethora of waterless car wash products hitting the shelves over the last few years. They promise that they are able to give your car a showroom shine without using any water and not damaging your vehicle’s paint. If you think this seems too good to be true you are not the only one. Let’s look at the three areas in which car washing can be measured to create an informed opinion: quality of wash, safety of the vehicle’s finish, time & energy, waste, and cost.

Quality of Wash

If you had a tiny bit of dust on a small part of your vehicle, sure, you could use a waterless car wash product to wipe it clean. These products use a mixture of chemicals and surfactants to try to lift dirt without having to rinse it off. If you had to do a quick spot clean, sure, but if your entire vehicle needed a scrub you would need so many towels and so much elbow grease you would give up after one panel.

Vehicle Finish Safety

The real issue is scratching your vehicle’s finish. If you take a towel and rub it across the dirty surface of a vehicle you are turning your towel into sandpaper, grinding the dirt into the surface and scratching your clear coat. The only way to avoid this is to use tons of the waterless car wash product, which is expensive, and you still have to wipe every inch of the car by hand.

Time & Energy

Studies have shown that a waterless car wash will take at least twice as long as a regular car wash. Not to mention, if you are trying to do it safely without scratching the surface it will take even longer. When you add to that the need for many many microfibre cloths, and the time to clean them, the job gets even bigger.


The cost of a quick car wash at Island Detail, the local wand wash, or in your driveway is extremely cost effective. A waterless car wash is quite different. One brand sells a starter kit for $25, but reviewers say it will take 3/4 of a bottle to wash your car ONE TIME! When you add to this the cost of a 10 pack of microfibre cloths and the value of your time, you will want to look elsewhere.


This is a big one, and is very important to us. We use only the best, biodegradable, water safe car washing solvents at Island Detail. We also use as little water as is necessary to get the job done. If you were to go through a conveyer car wash, the machine would use at least 320 litres of water.

A good professional car wash can perform a wash using not much more water than required to flush a toilet with the proper use of reclaim and re-purification, all the while maintaining proper protection of the automobile finish and in less than half the time and labor required for a waterless car wash. – Randy Cressall (Western Car Wash Association.)

What happens when you do a waterless car wash? Well, you use a bottle of chemicals on your car, to start with, then you use a stack of microfibre cloths to wipe the entire vehicle by hand, then you either wash all of the clothes by hand again, or you run them through the washing machine, which will use an average of 75 litres of water. If you need to use more water to wash up after your “waterless” car wash, and you spent more time, energy, and money, it seems like a losing proposition to us.

After more than 25 years in the business, lots of fads come and go. But a good quality car wash with professional gear, environmentally safe products, and thoughtful use of water still remains the best play when it comes to keeping your vehicle in like new condition.

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