Can You Wash a Car with a Brush?


Using a brush to wash your car is one of the biggest car washing mistakes you can make. But unfortunately, the vast majority of car owners have no idea how they can damage the paint. So why are they such a problem?

In this article, I’ll explain how brushes cause scratches and what you should do instead. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Brushes should never be used to wash a car’s paint because they cause micro-scratches and swirl marks. Instead, use a microfiber wash mitt on the paint. The only safe use for brushes is on the tires, or if a very delicate brush is used on the interior, alloys or exhaust tips.

Brushes Will Cause Scratches

I have a few issues with using brushes to wash a car. They provide a quick method, but normally they don’t do a very good job at actually removing grime off the whole car. You’ll often see that cars washed with brushes often have patches of dirt that have been missed.

However, main issue with using a brush to wash a car’s paintwork, is that it causes scratches. To understand this a little better, we need to talk about your car’s paint structure.

So why is this important?

The two main layers to consider are the clear coat and the base coat. The base coat gives your car its colour.

The clear coat sits on top and protects it from UV damage, corrosion, oxidation etc. This stops the base coat from fading.

What most car owners don’t know, is that the clear coat is super delicate. You wouldn’t think that car paint is so delicate, but it really is.

In fact, any kind of friction on the clear coat is highly likely to cause micro-scratches. These aren’t the kind of scratches that you see in natural light that look white or grey. But they instead can only be properly seen in direct sunlight.

Even in normal low-level light, they generally cause the finish to look flatter and duller because light cannot reflect evenly off the surface.

The only way to remove them, is by cutting away a layer of paint. This of course, reduces the amount of protection to the base (colour) coat, so can accelerate the fading process.

How do brushes cause scratches?

Brushes cause scratches in two ways:

  • The bristles are too harsh for the paint (directly)
  • They rub dirt and grit into the paint (indirectly)

Let’s start with the first way. Like I mentioned before, the clear coat is extremely delicate. The bristles on most car wash brushes, even those described as super soft, are very often too hard for the paint and will cause clear coat scratches.

It’s also important to remember that dirt and grit are actually abrasive, since they are made of solid particles. So when they are rubbed along, or into the paint, they create friction which also causes scratches.

Brushes are not effective car cleaning tools because they rub this dirt and grit along the paint, again causing these clear coat scratches.

What About Automatic Car Wash Brushes?

Okay, so if brushes are so bad for the paintwork, why does every automatic car wash use them?

Because they are cheap, and fast.

That’s what car washes are designed to do, clean your car quickly. They aren’t designed to clean your car safely.

Most car owners don’t know it, but every time they put their car through an automatic car wash, the clear coat will get scratched. This is due to the same reasons we talked about in the previous section.

That’s why I never take my car to an automatic car wash. If I don’t have time to clean it, I’d rather it just stayed dirty, than scratch up the paintwork with brushes.

You should also be careful about taking your car to manual hand wash stations. Often, they use brushes on the paintwork because it’s a fast way of cleaning the car. Personally, I only ever wash my car myself, this way I can guarantee that it’s done safely, without damaging the paintwork.

There is no instance where brushes are safe tools to use on a car’s paint, if you want to avoid scratches.

What to Use Instead

So what should you use instead then, if brushes are out of the question?

Well, I’ll start first by saying, NEVER USE A SPONGE TO WASH YOUR CAR. They cause clear coat scratches in a very similar way to brushes. Take a look at this article I’ve written about why you should never use a sponge to wash your car to learn more about this topic.

Instead, you should use a microfiber or lamb’s wool wash mitt.

These are much safer on the paintwork for several reasons.

  1. They are much softer and more gentle on the paint.
  2. They trap dirt within the fibres rather than rubbing it on the paintwork.
  3. They can be easily rinsed from dirt unlike sponges and brushes.

Lamb’s wool wash mitts are the more expensive than microfiber wash mitts. Usually a microfiber wash mitt costs around $10-15 and lamb’s wool costs upwards of $25.

Personally, I use a microfiber wash mitt on my car. My brand of choice is Kent. They make a “noodle” wash mitt which does a really great job at cleaning, whilst also be very gentle on the paint.

This brand is very durable, as well as being very cheap. I use a few to wash my car. I’ll normally use one to wash the top and bonnet and back, then one on the left side, and one of the right.

This stops me from having to use a dirty wash mitt and reduces the risk of clear coat scratches.

You can check out these Kent Microfiber Wash Mitts on Amazon.

Check out this complete guide to washing your car without causing scratches.

What About the Rest of the Car?

So we’ve already said that brushes on the paint are an absolute no, but what about the rest of the car. There are in fact a few places where you can use a brush safely to wash your car, just never on the paint.

  • Hard bristle brushes can be used to scrub the tires.
  • Soft bristle brushes can be used on the exhaust tips.
  • Brushes can be used on the interior.

There is a little bit of controversy surrounding using brushes on painted alloys. Personally, I use a microfiber wash mitt to clean the face of the alloys, then I’ll use a very soft brush on the lug nuts, and the corners of the spokes, as well as the wheel barrel.

I find this has a low risk of producing scratches, whilst still effectively cleaning this area of the car.

I use a soft bristle brush to clean the lug nuts and tight corners of the alloys

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Check out the rest of the website to learn more about making your car look its best.

Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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