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  • Writer's pictureEco Car Spa

Detail vs Car Wash- What's the Difference???

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

There is often confusion about the difference between having your vehicle washed and having your vehicle detailed. Both are important to protect and preserve your investment, not to mention a clean vehicle is just more enjoyable to drive or ride in.

Let's begin by distinguishing the overall difference between the two terms:

A car wash most often refers to a tunnel setup where the majority or all of the exterior wash is performed by a machine. The drying process is often also performed by a large blower or some times a team quickly towel dries your vehicle. At these car washes, the interior may or may not be included or will have to be done by the owner of the vehicle.

For many, a tunnel/machine car wash is all they know and they truly feel it is the best method. However most detailers, including Eco Car Spa, offer maintenance washes that are done by hand to better protect your vehicle and provide better results. They're much less extensive than a full detail and more gentle than a tunnel wash. A car wash should be done at least 1-2x a month, or more if necessary, to protect and preserve your vehicle.

A detail is a much more thorough process, hence the name, and is done (or should be done) by a qualified detailer who is knowledgeable in the appropriate procedures and supplies needed to protect your vehicle. This process is more time consuming as the exterior wash is completed by hand (not a tunnel machine) and there is much more attention to detail on both the exterior and interior of the vehicle. A thorough detail should be done 4-6x a year to protect and preserve your vehicle.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the average Car Wash vs a Hand Car Wash

An advantage of an automatic car wash is that they are typically faster than a hand car wash and are much faster than a detail. They might be more convenient as you are able to drive through with no notice and details often require an appointment or a hand car wash might possibly have a wait if it is a busy day. The end result is a vehicle that at first glance can appear mostly clean for a relatively cheap price.

However there are some disadvantages to the automatic wash that need to be considered as well. They can leave scratches and swirls in your clear coat or paint, which diminish the gloss and look of your vehicle and cost money to repair. Almost always the brushes in machine washes used to scrub your vehicle are not cleaned between vehicles, if ever. If the vehicle/s that went in before you have excessive sand, dirt, mud or just has general grime build up, there will inevitably be some dirt and grime left on the brushes that will be rubbed on your vehicle and can scratch your clear coat. In addition, most of the time the workers at the end use the same towels on your vehicle as the vehicle before to dry by hand which means cross-contamination and can leave a residue or even more damage of scratches and swirls to your vehicle. Automatic car washes focus on efficiency over quality; meaning, how fast can they get your vehicle out so that the next one can get through. Attention to detail is not their top priority and is why your vehicle often has "missed spots" or leftover grime/dirt after your inexpensive, fast car wash.

On the other side you have the hand car wash offered by most detailers including us at Eco Car Spa. The disadvantages as compared to machine washes are mainly related to time. Our exterior hand car wash typically takes 30-60, but can take up to 1 1/2 hours depending on how busy our location is and the condition of your vehicle.

Many people think the cost of a hand car wash is high and feel it is a disadvantage. While this can be true for some locations, at Eco Car Spa we are competitively priced when you compare the attention to detail and level of products being used. In general, most machine washes top of the line exterior package is typically around $20. Our exterior hand wash starts at $30 for our Stonebriar location. This gets you a hand car wash (sooo much better for your paint), a very thorough tire/wheel cleaning (more in depth than a machine wash), your interior/exterior windows cleaned (what good are clean exterior windows if the interior is smudged) and a paint sealant that lasts 2-3x longer (8-12 weeks) than the average wax applied at most car washes. Overall, superior results and products for an average of $10+ more.


All of our detailers are trained to use proper procedures along with the right products to ensure your vehicle receives only the best treatment. The goal is to have your car, truck, van or SUV looking as great as it did when you first bought it. Every area of your vehicle is meticulously cleaned, by hand, to insure excellent results. Beyond simply hand washing to preserve your vehicle, auto detailing can include elements of cleaning and restoring the exterior and interior of a vehicle such as:


  • Washing

  • Protective Sealants (better protection and last longer than wax)

  • Bug and Tar Removal

  • Clay Bar Surface (to remove contaminants that give paint the rough feeling)

  • Using Degreasers (cleans difficult road grime, especially on tires/wheels)

  • Dressing outside Plastics and Rubber Trim (UV protection to prevent fading and oxidation)

  • Buffing & Polishing (restores gloss and clarity, removes swirls *cough machine washes* and minor scratches)

  • Cleaning and Dressing Tires

  • Detailing Engine Bay

  • Headlight Restoration


  • Thorough Vacuuming of Interior & Trunk

  • Cleaning Windows, Mirrors, Navigation Screens

  • Detailing Door Jambs

  • Clean Cup Holders, Cracks & Crevices, Vents, Dash, Console

  • Cleaning & Dressing Leather, Vinyl & Rubber

  • Spot Cleaning the Headliner

  • Shampooing the Seats, Mats, & Carpets

To book your Hand Wash or Detail, as well as any of our other services, head over to our scheduling page to book a mobile or Stonebriar location appointment, or feel free to stop by our Stonebriar location as a walk-in. We look forward to seeing you!

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