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  • Writer's pictureWash Doctors

What’s the difference between a hand car wash and a professional car valet?

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

washing a red car using a yellow sponge

Hand car washes have become a convenient way to get your car washed. If there is one nearby and you don’t mind driving to it and sometimes queuing the convenience of getting the wash done in as little as 5-10 minutes while you wait and generally for less than twenty pounds can be hard to resist. Right? 

But you might be asking what the difference with a car valet anyway?

The first and most obvious thing is that many professional valeters will offer a mobile service that comes to you. For busy people, this saves time as it can fit around your life rather than the other way around.

Hand car washing vs valeting process

The second biggest areas of difference are around the process and products used to clean the car. For example, typically the first thing that happens to a hand car wash is an application of dilute traffic film remover via a pump sprayer.

This process can have two effects. The first is that this strong caustic chemical is very good at removing grime but can also strip away any wax protection your paintwork has, leaving it exposed to day to day wear and the elements.

The second and more significant difference is that if this solution is applied to a dry surface, there will be some form of damage to the top layer of paint with the strength of the dilution dictating the severity.

The large buckets of water you see the hand car washes working from is often the same bucket of water that may have been used to clean the muddy, off-road 4x4 that might have been cleaned before your car. 

Professional valeters only use non-caustic, mild citrus degreasers or ph neutral snow foams and only ever on pre-rinsed, wet vehicles. The same scenario applies to wheels, where a good valet will use a specialist ph wheel cleaner which is more kind to the aluminum diamond-cut wheels. 


The shampoo used is crucial. It should not only be as close to ph neutral as possible, so as not to affect any protection on the paint but should also provide excellent lubricity to help to remove the dirt with minimal micro scratching. The cheaper shampoos used in hand car washes will not offer that protection.

Washing your paint with the traditional yellow sponges or cloths has been identified as one of the biggest culprits to damaging your car's paintwork. Sponges will generally trap dirt between the surface of the paint and the surface of the sponge creating a mild sandpapering effect that leads to the fine scratches, surface hazing, and swirl marks you see on darker coloured vehicles. 

Professional valeters will use soft lambswool and microfiber washcloths or mitts that help to mitigate this problem and keep any abrasion to a minimum. 


Understanding the correct way to clean a car may sound ridiculous, but there is a well-researched process to achieve the best result. Employing the proper technique will minimize micro scratching and swirl marks, ensure all areas are expertly cleaned, and reduce the risk of other common problems arising like premature drying of the shampoo.

Of course, having an appropriate amount of dedicated time to complete the valet means a valeter can apply the techniques appropriately. The speed and time allowed at a typical hand car wash don’t allow for this.

Drying the vehicle is the next area of difference again where damage can occur dependent on methods used and the choice of equipment. Even after a car has been cleaned the chances of there still being some small particles of dirt or grit on some of the panels are exceptionally high, so using the safest way to dry is best.

Chamois leathers tend to behave similarly to sponges with regards to trapping grit and then dragging it around. Valeters will use soft, clean microfiber towels to dry, which minimizes the potential for damage.

The waxes and polishes used at hand car washes are often heavily silicone-based and tend to offer little actual protection and durability. 

Trained valeters use specialist waxes and finishes designed to protect your car from the elements. In winter this is especially important because of dirt, salt, and grit on the roads.

Man vacuuming the interior of a car with cream leather seats

Car Interiors

Finally, the other area of difference is concerning your car interior. Your car will get a vacuum and wipe down at a hand car wash which may be fine if there is minimal dirt. But a professional valeter can offer deep cleaning to remove dirt and stains and specialist products that will protect the interior materials like leather or fabric.

A matter of choice?

So perhaps in conclusion which you decide to choose boils down to priorities and how your car fits is into your life.

Ultimately car valeting and detailing is a process of cleaning, polishing, and waxing a car to achieve an as-new showroom look as possible and where specialist treatments like paint correction, restoration, and other enhancements are available.

Mobile valeting is undoubtedly best suited to busy people who want their vehicles professionally cleaned to maintain the appearance of their pride and joy over time. Whereas hand car washes are for people who’s cars are perhaps not such a priority and prefer to keep them generally clean and tidy at a low cost.

The Wash Doctors app gives you hassle-free access to professionally trained local valeters that use high-quality products to keep your car looking at its best.

You can choose from a range of valeting packages, and customer-rated local valeters at a time and place to suit you.



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