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Self Service Car Washes: 5 Things You Need To Know

While self serve washes are slowly being phased out in favor of more automatic washes, the self service car wash carries some unique benefits over other options on the market.

The ability to control the wash, the joy consumers have in washing their car and opportunity to save money are just some of the reasons why they remain popular!

In this article we discuss what self serve washes are, why they are so beneficial, and if owning one is right for you.

What is a Self Serve Car Wash?

A self service car wash machine (sometimes referred to as a manual car wash) is a type of car wash where the customer washes their own vehicle.

Customers typically use a high-pressure hose and a foam brush to wash their vehicles. Some self service car washes also have additional features, such as rinsing wands and drying equipment.

Benefits of a Self Service Car Wash

There are many benefits to washing your vehicle yourself at a self serve site. Let's go through them.


The main advantage is that they are generally less expensive than automatic washes. The biggest reason for this is due to the fact that there are no large machinery and equipment doing the cleaning.

Eco Conscious

Another benefit of manual car washes is that they are typically more environmentally friendly than automatic washes. This is because self service car washes use less water than traditional car washes.

This is often counteracted in an automatic wash by having a water reclaim system.


Some people worry that self service car washes are not as effective at cleaning vehicles as automatic washes. However, this is not always the case.

Self service car washes can sometimes do a better job of cleaning your vehicle because they allow you to control the amount of pressure, water and most importantly detail that you use.

This means that you can customize the wash to your own vehicle's needs and car appearance.

Car being washed with a sponge

How do Automatic Car Washes differ from Self Serve Washes?

What is an automatic car wash?

An automatic car wash is any type of car wash where the vehicle is cleaned by hands-free machinery.

The customer typically drives their vehicle into a large garage like bay or tunnel, where they are then cleaned by a series of brushes or high pressure jets.

Now let's compare it to a self serve car wash.

Customers in a self-serve car wash must do all of the washing steps on their own. This includes applying soap, rinsing the vehicle, and scrubbing with a foam brush.

This can be an enjoyable experience to some, but will be fairly time consuming especially compared to how quickly an automatic car wash can clean a vehicle.

Automatic options don't give the user much control over the wash, but typically can do a more thorough job cleaning for less effort. This is due to the high pressure washing systems and brushes that are commonly used in automatic car washes.

Overall, self serve car washes are a great option for people who want to have complete control over the car washing process. However, they may not be the best option for people who are looking for a quick and easy wash.

How to Best Use a Self Serve Car Wash?

Now that we've gone over the benefits of self service car washes, as well as what they are, let's discuss how to get the most out of your self serve car wash experience.

Here are a few basic steps for a good car wash:

  1. Drive and park your vehicle in the car wash bay.
  2. Start by rinsing off your whole car with water. This will remove any large dirt or debris from your vehicle.
  3. Optionally you can remove your floor mats to be rinsed as well.
  4. Apply soap to your entire vehicle in a pre wash or presoak (depending on options available).
  5. Use the foam brush to clean off your wheels. (You may want to rinse the foam brush first to remove existing dirt from the last use)
  6. Rinse the soap residue off the car properly with a high pressure rinse.
  7. Apply wax or another surface protection option (if available)
  8. Dry the vehicle if desired (using an automatic dryer if present or car towel)
  9. Congratulations you have a clean car!

By following these simple tips, you'll be on your way to having a sparkling clean vehicle in no time!

Here are some more tips to use a self service wash:

  1. Make sure you adjust the foam sprayer settings when possible to avoid wasting soap (and money).
  2. Make sure not to miss the under side of your wheel wells, this is an often missed spot.
  3. Avoid standing downwind, unless you feel like taking a bath too.
  4. Always use the entire duration you're allotted to soap and rinse the car.
  5. Try to find a car wash with soft water and heated water to avoid leaving behind mineral deposits on the paint job.
  6. Avoid spraying water directly into the engine bay, this could damage critical electrical components.
Shiny blue car

What is The Wax Option at Self Serves?

Most self-serve car washes offer a wax service. It is typically a button or lever that, when activated, will allow a spray wand or another device to apply wax to your vehicle's finish.

This wax can help protect your vehicle's paint and make it easier to clean in the future.

Keep in mind that not all self serve car washes have this option.

Should I use the Wax at a Self Service Car Wash?

Whether you use the wax option is a personal preference, but we would always recommend applying some sort of wax or surface protection to a vehicle after cleaning it.

Wax and other protective products are specially formulated to protect against weather damage and other potential hazards, as well as add a beautiful shine to your car paint. They can also help prevent scratching on a car's surface.

Car with a wet surface

How do I Dry my Car After Washing it at a Self Serve?

Some self serve car washes may have a high-powered air dryer that you can use to quickly dry your car's surface.

If there is no air dryer available, you can use a clean towel or simply leave the vehicle surfaces to drip dry naturally.

What Pressure should I use at a Self Serve Car Wash?

Since self serves are a bit more customizable, you may be able to adjust the sprayer settings to fit your situation.

It is generally best to use a lower pressure washer setting when washing your vehicle at a self serve station, at least at first.

This will help avoid scratches caused by large dirt particles in contact with the vehicle's surface.

Start washing with a low pressure spray and work your way up if needed.

Tough marks or old dirt may be more difficult to remove, increasing the need for a stronger water pressure. You will notice quickly if the pressure you selected is not strong enough for the dirty car.

Are Self Serve Washes a Good Business?

Self serve car washes can be a great business for a number of reasons.

They have great margins because they require less labor and are often open 24 hours, which means that they can generate income around the clock.

The return on investment for self serve car washes can be quite high as the investment is small compared to many other options. Self serve washes are a great option for entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business but would need more money to build an automatic wash.

The car wash industry is still growing, which means that there is plenty of opportunity for those who are interested in getting involved.

Should you Open a Self Serve Wash over an Automatic Wash?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. These include your location, target market and the level of investment you are willing to make.

Self serve car washes typically require less investment than automatic washes and can provide better margins. However, they may not be the best option for everyone.

Here are some factors to consider:

Initial Investment

Self serve car washes typically require a lower initial investment than their automatic counterpart.

This is because self serve washes do not require as much equipment or labor.


Another factor to consider is your location. If you are in an area with a lot of foot traffic, an automatic wash may be a better option as people can simply drive through without having to get out of their car.

However, if you are in a more rural area, a self serve wash may be the better option as there are not as many options for people to choose from.

Target Market

Your target market is another important factor to consider. If you are targeting a budget-conscious market, a self serve wash may be the better option.

However, if you are targeting a luxury market, an automatic wash will be best. It can offer a more high-end experience.

Additionally, self serve car washes typically have a higher customer satisfaction rate than other types of professional car washes.

So if your target market are people who take a lot of pride in their car, self serve might actually be better. Those consumers can wash their car exactly how they want, instead of being given the same process as every other car.

Soap falling

How can you Open a Self Serve Car Wash?

If you are interested in opening a self serve car wash, there are a few things you need to do.

Find a Location

The most important factor when finding a good location for a car wash is traffic volume. This will help ensure that your car wash gets plenty of customers.

Another important factor to consider when choosing a location is the competition. You don't want to be in an area where there are already too many regular car washes, as this will cut into your profits.

You will also want to make sure that the location you choose is easily accessible and has good visibility from the road. This is still the #1 way new car washes are discovered.

Segment Your Target Market

The next step is to segment your target market. This means figuring out who your ideal customer is and what they are looking for in a car wash.

Once you have a good understanding of your target market, you can start to tailor your car wash to meet their needs.

Obtain Permits and Licenses

The next step is to obtain the necessary permits and licenses from your local government. This will vary depending on your location, but you will likely need a business license and a permit to operate a car wash.

You may also need additional permits if you plan on selling any additional services, such as detailing or oil changes.

One of the most important factors in opening any business is choosing your supplier. Transchem and Turtle Wax Pro have decades of experience helping many washes operate including self serves.

Choosing Turtle Wax Pro as your Car Wash Self Service Supplier

At Turtle Wax Pro and Transchem, we understand the complications of owning a wash business. We strive to provide you with the tools needed to help you succeed.

The introduction of high-quality chemical solutions will allow for greater performance than cheap chemicals, as well as improved results thanks to the synergy between them.

That difference is what will allow your customers to achieve a perfect wash on their vehicle.

Additionally, Turtle Wax Pro offers a wide range of marketing materials that you can use to promote your business. We also offer training programs that will teach you everything you need to know about operating a self serve car wash.

All these factors ensure that your business can start off on a great foot and continue to operate at a high level.

If you are interested in opening a self serve car wash, Turtle Wax Pro is the perfect supplier for you.

A Quick Recap

There are many types of washes and they all shine in different ways. The Self serve option is no different can be fantastic for many car owners.

We hope to have given you a strong understanding on what self serve car washes are, what are they good for, and if owning a self serve wash is the right idea for you.

If you are interested in opening a car wash business, self serve is a great option to consider.

With a lower initial investment and with the likelihood of maintaining a high satisfaction rate, self serve is a low risk way of entering the car wash industry.

To aid you in that journey, Turtle Wax Pro offers high quality products as well as advice on how you can succeed in the wash market. As always, if you have any questions please let us know.

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