DIY or Buy: Car Wash Edition

BY: Shannon Grilli |Aug 31, 2022

When it comes to maintaining their cars, some people love the showroom shine (and free air freshener) you get with a professional car wash, while others flat out refuse to pay someone to do a job they can tackle themselves in their own driveway.

But rugged determination aside, we started wondering: does it really pay to wash your car yourself? Which method really saves the most money? And which one is safer for Planet Earth?

Below, we break down the pros and cons of a professional wash vs. an at-home wash.

How much does a car wash cost?

The average cost of a basic vehicle wash is about $10. Tack on the cost of optional services such as an undercarriage wash, wheel cleaning, clear coat, and wax (at a rate of about $2–$5 per add-on), and it's safe to say you could easily pay around $20–$25 per wash. If you also want the interior of you car cleaned, the cost might be even more.

Of course, you can always search our site for deals on car washes near you, which can save you a significant amount.

How much does it cost to wash your car at home?

The cost breakdown of an at-home wash depends on a lot of factors. For example: do you already own all the car wash supplies you need (soaps, waxes, microfiber cloths, etc.), or will you be buying them for the first time? And what about water usage?

For the sake of argument, let's say you need to buy supplies, but don't want to shell out a fortune, so you purchase basic a car washing kit (similar to this one) at a substantial savings on Groupon. We'll also assume you're getting about 16 washes out of this kit, since the bottle of Turtle Wax is 16 oz. and 1 oz. of diluted product is typically recommended per wash.

Car Wash Kit: $17.99 divided by 16 washes = $1.12 per wash

We also need to add the cost of water. The Massachusettes Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs estimates that the average driveway wash uses about 116 gallons of water. And water costs in the U.S. average about a penny per gallon, or about $1.16 per wash.

That leaves you with a total cost of about $2.28 per at-home wash. That's certainly a substantial savings compared to $10 for a basic professional wash.

What if you have a car-wash deal?

Because our site sells deals, we wondered how the at-home cost would compare to one of our deals. As a point of comparison, we grabbed this Chicago-based deal offering five supreme service washes with wax for $60, which averages about $12 per wash.

The home wash is still cheaper, but our deal also includes a lot more than just a basic cleaning: it includes extras like wax, wheel and rim cleaning, vacuuming of the interior and trunk, and air freshener, to name just a few. Plus, we haven't assigned a value to the amount of time and effort it takes to wash your car yourself vs. sitting back and letting the professionals tackle it in a matter of minutes (while you enjoy some free coffee).

Bottom line: a home wash is definitely cheaper. But are the savings really enough to make it worth all that work?

Which one is better for the environment?

There are certainly a lot of factors to consider here as well, such as whether the soaps and cleaners used in each method are environmentally friendly, as well as how they're disposed of. Wash your car at home, and all that grime and all those chemicals get washed into the storm drain. Professional washes, on the other hand, are required by law to dispose of their dirty water at a waste water facility.

But an easier environmental factor to gauge is water usage. Experts estimate that a professional car washes uses up to 70% less water than a typical driver rinsing their car at home with a hose... even if they're being conscientious and turning the water off between rinses. This is because many car washes recycle water and/or use advanced solutions and methods that cut down on their overall water usage.

Of course, a professional car wash also requires a lot of electricity and resources to run, which heightens its carbon footprint significantly. For these reasons, we're pretty content to call this one a draw.

So, which is better?

At the end of the day, the question of how to wash your car largely depends on what you value more. Are you more concerned with saving money or time? Do you like a wash that comes with lots of extras or will a basic wash suit you just fine?

Whichever method you choose, we hope you'll remember to make every buck count by checking our site for great car-wash deals and savings on home car-wash supplies.