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If you wash your car at a coin-operated self-service car wash, then you probably know how much the tools there can scratch your car. You know that brush that hangs on the wall, which is supposed to get the dirt off your car? That thing is super dirty from years of use without any proper cleaning. As such, it could be wise to take your own bucket and wash mitt to the car wash to ensure the job is done properly. But is it illegal to bucket wash your car at these places?

Bucket washing at a car wash could be against the rules

Car Being Washed
Car Being Washed | Wiki Commons

Although bucket washing your car at a self-service car wash is not technically illegal, it could go against the rules of certain car wash places. Most of the time, you’ll see a sign posted specifically stating that “no bucket washing is allowed.” In that case, if you’re caught washing your car using a bucket and a wash mitt by the owner or an employee, you could be asked to leave.

However, if a sign is not posted, then it’s possible that bucket washing could be allowed, provided that no one else is waiting for the wash bay that you’re in.

Is it safe to use the tools in the car wash bay?

A man washing his red car
A man washing his red car. | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Yes, however, we recommend sticking to using the high-pressure water hose and the air dryer (if it has one). These tools are typically the same types of tools that you would encounter in an automated car wash but without the added harshness. If you don’t want to bring a bucket, then Your Mechanic suggests bringing a wash mitt with you.

Instead of using a bucket, take the wash mitt with you and wet it down at the car wash. Use the wash setting in the car wash to adequately spray the car down and get it soapy. Then use the wash mitt to agitate the dust and dirt off the car. Afterward, rinse the car using the high-pressure setting and then dry it.

We recommend putting on a coat of wax after to keep the car’s paint protected.

Here are the disadvantages of using a self-service car wash

A car wash place using buckets to wash cars.
A car wash place using buckets to wash cars. | Charlie Shoemaker for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Although using a self-service car wash and a wash mitt may sound like the best idea, there are some disadvantages to using a coin-operated car wash bay. Some of these disadvantages include the following:

  • Many self-service car washes use unfiltered water, so the car might have water spots after drying.
  • The cleaning solutions at the car wash might not be pH balanced, which can end up harming your car’s paint.
  • Most car washes charge you by the minute, which could make you want to rush the process. Also, the per-minute charge can add up to a lot of money in the end.
  • A self-service car wash can take up to an hour to complete, depending on the process you use.

Although there are many benefits to using a self-service car wash, there are some drawbacks as well. However, if you plan ahead, you should be able to wash your car to your liking without using the provided brush, whether or not you bring a bucket with you. If anything, be on the lookout for any signs that tell you that you can’t bucket wash your car. It may not be illegal, but you could get in trouble with the car wash owner.


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