How to use a self service car wash? Seems pretty simple until you park the car into the booth.

Then you’re faced with a command panel, a spray wand, maybe various brushes, and so on.

That fact alone may baffle many drivers even to the point of giving up and going to an automatic car wash or let professionals do the job.

Hopefully, this article will solve that dilemma and show that this is a really easy job and something that any driver and car owner can do.

If you’re not in the mood for reading, you can find a video tutorial at the end of the article or watch it on our YouTube channel.



Before we start with the actual procedure of how to use a self service car wash it would be good to get acquainted with what you’ll have to use.

The ones stated are the most common in a self service car wash but may vary depending on the equipment and quality of the car wash. Some may have more, some less.

What you’ll certainly encounter is:

1. Sprayer wand



This is what you use to wash the car. It will be located in a wand holder, usually on one side of the car wash. It has a hose on it which is connected to the installation on the ceiling of the car wash.

Once you take it out of the holder, you’ll see it has a switch on the handle which you’re supposed to press once the car wash starts working.

2. Coin machine with the command panel


The coin machine is the place where you insert the money or credit card and ˝tell˝the car wash what you want.

Options vary from car wash to the car wash and can be simple, with three basic commands, or more advanced with several options.

In this case, we’ll be explaining there are three options: wash, rinse, and wax. These three options will always be present and in my own experience, quite enough to finish the job properly.

The whole mechanism is time-limited so how much you pay is how much you wash. When inserting coins, once the time is up the car wash will stop.

If you use a credit card, you have to more careful as the time is limited by yourself and not the machine. Only saying this because you can easily forget yourself and perhaps spend more money than you thought.

3. Holders for the car mats


Holders are located on one of the walls of the car wash. They look like a huge laundry peg. Their main purpose is to hang your car mats and thoroughly clean them with pressurized water.

4. Foam brushes


Foam brushes are common in modern self service car washes. They’re usually connected to a hose through which foam and water come out. Its main purpose is to scrub off the main filth build-up like mud, grease buildups, or else. Foam brushes are used once the car has been primarily washed with water only.

In some self service car washes, these are optional and seen as unneeded so if you don’t encounter one, don’t worry, the results won’t be any worse.

Also, people avoid using these as they often have left-over dirt and grit from the previous usage.




Now that the equipment part has been cleared, the next question is how to start a self-service car wash?

Well as mentioned every self service car wash works on the principle of how much you pay is how much you wash.

So, inserting the coins or credit card into the slot will automatically start the machine. You’ll hear a humming sound coming from the car wash which is a sure sign that it’s started. Also, you’ll probably notice the hose attached to the spray wand wiggle as it’s pressurized.

After that, all you need to do is grab the sprayer wand, press the switch on the handle and start washing.

Once the credit is spent, it will stop it’s self automatically, you don’t have to take any other action.

On most self service car washes there is a STOP button that has the purpose of either delaying or completely stopping the whole washing procedure. It’s essentially an emergency button. If you press it for some reason, the wash time should also stop.

If you want to see more useful information about the car washes click here for a great in-depth explanation on Wikipedia.



Once you’ve parked the car inside the car wash do the next:

1. Take out all of the car mats and hang them on the car mat holders. This is if you plan to wash the car mats, if you’re not then leave them in the car.
Best wash them immediately before you start washing. This way they can dry up so you can put them back without wetting the carpet inside.
You can wash them with water only or, even better, wash with some foam first for a better effect.


2. Check that all the windows and doors are properly closed. If not, pressurized water can easily get inside and wet the interior which you’ll then have to dry for hours.


3. Raise the wipers, both front, and rear. Be careful when washing not to accidentally hit them with the sprayer wand or pressure hose. They can easily crack the windshield glass.


4. Take a look at the coin machine command panel. You’ll find buttons and a slot, either for money or a credit card. Besides that, you’ll see buttons or switches that you’re supposed to use to start washing once you insert the coins or credit card.
Some command panels have more options and some have less. In this case, there are three options wash, rinse, and wax.


5. Insert coins or a credit card into the slot. Once you do, you’ll probably hear the car wash machine start working.


6. Press the wash and soap button. In this case, they are integrated into one step. In some self service car washes, they are separated and have separate buttons.


7. Take the sprayer wand, press the switch on it and start to wash. This level is meant to take off all of the primary dirt of the car and put washing foam on it.
Best start from the roof, then proceed to the hood and trunk and then the side panels and wheels. It doesn’t have to go necessarily in this order but it’s shown to have the best effect especially for applying the foam. Whatever you choose, go around the whole car, make sure to take off all of the filth, and soak the car with foam well.
Make sure to hold the sprayer wand about 60-80 cm from the car, depending on the washing pressure. Too near, you can damage the paint, too far and the spray will have no effect.
This stage is also good to apply some foam and hot water to the car mats so you get a better cleaning effect.



8. Once that’s finished, press the wax button. Go all over the car, again best from top to bottom (from the roof, then the hood and trunk, and then the side panels). Use a sort of covering and overlapping method so the wax gets evenly distributed in the car.


9. After this press the rinse button and go from top to bottom again. Give some extra care and time here as it’s very important for all of the foam and wax residue to come off (with it of course all of the filth). Otherwise, if you skimp on this part, you may get leftover stains once the car is dried up.


10. Put back the car mats (many people easily forget this). Park the car outside the self-service car wash. Most have parking lots for this purpose where you can peacefully dry the car, perhaps vacuum it, or else. Any wiping or drying in the booth is seen as taking a paying customer’s place and pretty rude.




  • Always turn the engine off once the car is inside the booth. There is no need for the car to be running during a car wash. This is especially dangerous if the booth is closed because of exhaust fumes. Also, pressurized water may get into certain parts of the engine while it’s running and cause severe damage.
  • Park the car in the center of the booth so you have enough room to go around the car. Otherwise, you’ll create tight spots and lose time.
  • Have enough spare change with you. Of course, every proper self service car wash will have an exchange booth where you enter a paper bill and get change or coins made just for the car wash coin machine. But no hurt in being prepared, just in case.
  • There are two ways of using the sprayer wand: left to right and up to down. There’s no mistake in either, the main point is to make an overlapping pattern so you foam, wax, and rinse the car properly without leaving behind streaks of filth. Also, at least in my opinion, it’s best to use the sprayer wand slowly rather than frantically waving it around.
  • Watch when washing the car that the hose doesn’t scratch the car.
  • Watch the hose around the raised wipers. You can accidentally hit them with the hose and cause it to bash against the windshield or rear glass. This also goes for the antenna, if you have the older type.
  • Wash in such a way that the hose stays behind you or else it will get in the way and you’ll lose time with fighting the hose instead of washing.
  • Go around the wheel arches as thoroughly as you can. This is very important to keep future corrosion away.
  • When you get some practice with using the sprayer wand, open the doors and wash the door sills. If you don’t have any practice best leave it so you don’t get water inside the cabin.
  • Put some extra effort and wash the undercarriage as much as possible. This will probably be tough to reach but go under as much as possible. Some car washes have practical trolleys with spray nozzles on them. They are meant to be pushed under the car and the undercarriage is washed that way. Cool feature and well worth the money if it’s available.
  • If you like some extra results, bring a bucket or two with some car shampoo or other substances. If the car wash rules allow it, you can shampoo the car after soaking it up.
  • When using the foam brush, try to rinse it with the spray wand first. This way you’ll get rid of any filth, grit, or even small rocks from previous usage. Your paint job will be grateful, trust me.
  • Bring a big soft towel if you want to dry up the car faster after washing. I usually use a chamois cloth which is a bit slow but very effective. If you brought a towel, take the water off with it first and then use the chamois cloth.
  • Rims sometimes demand some extra attention, especially if they have carbon build-up from the brake pads. If this is the case, give them some extra foam with the foam brush or go over them several times with the washing and soaping option.




Yes, whenever you can. Although it’s not obligatory this is a very useful option for the paint job.

It has a double purpose: the water will slide off easier which means fewer stains but even more important, it will provide a wax coating which will give more protection from filth and dirt in the future.

Also, gives some extra shine to the car and who doesn’t want that.

Of course, it’s no match for a real waxing done by hand or by a professional but it will suffice for a short period.

To make things clear (especially if your in a hurry), you can skip this option and just wash and rinse and no harm will be done.

Most car washes use quality waxes but I would recommend to use ones that you have good experience with. Some self-service car washes tend to cheap out on this one and you may not get a good effect.



As you’ve seen this example is for the least complicated regarding the commands.

But when wanting to learn how to use a self service car wash you may encounter several other commands besides these basic ones.

These may be pre-soaking, extra foam even drying the car.

Well, they’re not there for nothing. Everyone has a purpose and using them will get you only better results.

But know this: using these options additionally will take more time thus costing you more money. The end results will be better but not spectacular.

It all boils down to you and what you want. Sometimes better to invest money in some good old pressurized washing with clean water and get ALL of the filth off rather than some extra shine.



A self service car wash is not made for nothing. At some period in time, a very smart person concluded that lots of people lack the means (like a pressure washer) and mostly the time for a decent car wash.

Good invention and is the next best thing to a proper car wash by hand or done by a professional.

Self service car washes especially come in handy during the winter season where you can wash off the road salt, snow build-up, and else in no time. No need to say how useful this is for the paint job and rust protection.

Besides this, you’re the master of your time. All of these car washes are open 24 hours a day seven days a week. It’s up to you when you want to visit it as opposed to having to make an appointment if you want to visit professionals.

Prices are mostly very affordable and for a small amount of money, you can get a very decent car wash.

In short, you’re the commander of your’s car cleanliness, of your time, and your money.

This should be reason enough to learn how to use a self-service car wash.


Written by: Sibin Spasojevic


Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for