What is a touchless car wash and how do I do it myself?

Keep scratches at bay with this ingenious technique.

Woman washing her car with pressure washer

by Ryan Gilmore |

Notice all those small swirl marks and scratches in the paintwork of a car that needs a good polish? A good chunk of them will have been added during a traditional car wash.

All the grit guards, wash mitts and lubricating shampoos in the world will only go so far, there is always that small chance you'll drag a tiny piece of grit across your bodywork and leave a nasty scratch. There are only two ways to prevent this; never drive your car again, or to look into touchless car washing.

What is a touchless wash?

As the name suggests, a touchless car wash removes the manual cleaning aspect from car cleaning, i.e. you.

Instead of getting busy with the detailing brushes and microfibres, you apply all the products via a pressure washer and let them chemically clean the car. This will totally eliminate any chance of scratches as the most aggressive force you'll be applying will be pressurised water.

Related: Do automatic car washes damage your paint?

There are even automated touchless car washes that thankfully skip the massive flailing bristles and instead use strong cleaners to remove dirt. These often use aggressive traffic-film removers (TFRs) which can strip away protection and so are best avoided, like any automated car wash.

How do I do a touchless car wash?

Before attempting a touchless wash, make sure that your car's bodywork is cool and is parked in some shade.

As you'll be increasing the dwell time of any applied products to compensate for the lack of physical agitation, you'll need to take some steps to stop the chemicals from drying on the paint. It's for this reason it's also advisable to work either in the morning or late in the afternoon and avoid the midday heat.

Step one: Rinsing

The first task will be to remove any larger chunks of dirt using the power of a pressure washer. {#h-}

This stage is incredibly simple, spray every inch of your car with water ready for the next stage. Your biggest consideration here should be ensuring you set the pressure washer to below 140 Bar to not pose a threat to the car's paint. {#h-}

Nilfisk Core 140 Bar High-Pressure Washer

The best pressure washer for a touchless wash
Nilfisk Core 140 Bike & Auto Pressure Washer

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A fantastic budget pressure washer from Nilfisk, we were incredibly impressed when we tested one last year. Simple to use and with a long hose, it's an easy tool to work with and comes with a raft of attachments to make cleaning a doddle. It's powerful too, offering 140 bar, 1800W, 465 l/h all thanks to a robust aluminium motor. This kit even includes a foam lance which means you won't need to go searching for an aftermarket one yourself.

Read our review of the Nilfisk Core 140 Pressure Washer here

Step two: Prewashing

Now that the larger bits of dirt have been removed it's time to stick the foam lance onto the pressure washer and give the car a liberal coating of snow foam.

Snow foam is part of the prewash family of car care products and will soften and loosen grime and muck to prepare the car for the shampooing stage. Read the instructions on the snow foam bottle to see how long it can dwell before rinsing off using the pressure washer.

Bilt Hamber Touch-Less Snow Foam

The best snow foam for a touchless wash
Bilt Hamber Touch-Less Snow Foam

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Quite possibly the best snow foam for sale at the moment, Touch-Less is a sugar-based, biodegradable snow foam that is an excellent prewash. It's not the foamiest example on the market but that doesn't stop it from being a top grime shifter and it has the added bonus of being really easy to rinse away. It can dwell on paintwork for up to five minutes before rinsing off, is a strong alkaline cleaner (12 pH) and contains rust inhibitors, good news for any old Italian car owner.

Step three: Washing

Put that bucket away! Instead, you need to source a car shampoo that's capable of being applied via a foam lance much like a snow foam. There are plenty on the market and they have the distinct bonus of using less product to clean a car than chucking them in a bucket. Once sprayed on leave the shampoo to dwell for a couple of minutes before washing off with water. You'll probably notice that the shampoo foams up slightly on the bodywork but nowhere near the same thickness as with snow foam.

NanotechSST Nano Wash Auto

The best car shampoo for a touchless wash
NanotechSST Nano Wash Auto

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A very concentrated and no-nonsense car shampoo, Nano Wash Auto is an ideal product for a touchless wash. The main draw here is that it can quite easily be applied using a pressure washer and because it's not very sudsy, it's easy to rinse off. Beyond this, the shampoo offers genuine paint protection and a really deep glossiness to the car's paintwork.

Read our review of NaonotechSST Nano Wash Auto here

Step four: Sealant

By no means an essential step, adding some extra protection via a pressure washer sounds like a real time-saver to us, especially when the alternatives include painstakingly applying wax or a ceramic coating. While pressure washer applied sealants won't offer months of protection, they can quite easily provide eight weeks of hydrophobic protection which will make future washes a lot easier. Follow the instructions on the bottle and remember to thoroughly rinse off any excess product.

Autoglym Polar Seal

The best sealant for a touchless wash
Autoglym Polar Seal

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Applied directly to a freshly clean but still wet car, Polar Seal is a hydrophobic sealant that's really impressive for some short-term protection. It's simple to apply (just avoid the windscreen), easy to remove and will make future cleaning easier, all from a product that takes a couple of minutes to apply.

Step five: Drying

The final part is the part that's usually hardest to do without touching the car, getting it dry again. Microfibres are very soft and a good choice but still carry that minute scratch risk if a bit of grit gets caught between it and your paintwork. For the ultimate peace of mind, a car dryer is what's needed to remove all water and prevent those dreaded water spots. These use powered air to help push the water off the panel and away from small nooks and crannies, a bit like a massive hairdryer.

WORX 18V LEAFJET Cordless Garden Leaf Blower

The best drying method for a touchless wash
WORX 18V LEAFJET Cordless Garden Leaf Blower

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Proper car dryers use warm, filters air to dry cars but can be incredibly expensive and rely on mains power to work effectively. A leaf blower like this one from WORX may do without the heated and filter air but will still effectively dry a recently washed car without the need to touch it. It's also cordless for better manoeuvrability and can be used to clean your driveway of leaves and twigs once you're done.

Is it suitable for my car?

That depends on how dirty your car is in the first place.

If there is a lot of mud and other embedded containments in your paintwork (like insects, bird poo and tree sap) then it's better to wash your car the old-fashioned way as these contaminants require some proper elbow grease to shift. If your car is only slightly dirty or has a ceramic coating applied then by all means the touchless washing method will be a perfectly acceptable way of keeping your car clean.

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