Introduction to the self-serve
So, it’s likely you’ve all seen them, a self-serve or coin wash where you buy time with a pressure washer. These exist in many places and in some, they are the only real legal way to wash. They might also provide a spot to wash for people who don’t have a place to wash. If you can wash at home, it’s highly likely you won’t gain from reading beyond this point.
What makes a good self-serve?
Sometimes exteriors can be deceiving. What really is needed is a good rinse and DI water as an option. Check how long the wash programs run for, as there can be big differences. Also check if you can use your own products, more on that in the “Things that should be common sense” part.
What programs should I use?
That totally depends. As you have no control over the chemicals used, I personally avoid anything with a chemical in it, so I only use the high-pressure rinse and the DI Rinse. Some offer a pre-clean foam. That’s likely a pH neutral foam, so don’t expect much cleaning power, but in some cases, it can be a viable alternative. If you can, ask the owner what products they use, it might be something very good if you are lucky.
Things that should be common sense
Check if bringing your own stuff is allowed. If it is forbidden, have a chat with the owner, sometimes they are more chill than expected. Generally, even if you’re allowed to bring your own products, some, such as strong degreasers, might still be forbidden.
Also, this is not the place to use a Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) based wheel cleaner or other super strong chemicals. Don’t clog up the self-serve with your multiple hour wash during the time where it is profitable for the owner.
I frequent multiple self-serves; one has explicit times for hand washing and the other has a rule that for hand washing to be allowed, two stalls need to be empty. Respecting the place goes a long way in keeping it nice and being welcomed back.
What to aim for ?
The self-serve adds a third level (apart from being efficient and as scratch free as possible) to your wash process: maximising use of the coins and allocated time.
Where in other situations it would be beneficial to rinse more often e.g., after every wheel, at the self-serve you try within limits of safety to do all in one go as in most places you can’t stop the timer, so you want to get the most out of your money.
Also, you need to carry everything there in your own car, which limits your options on what kinds of products you can bring. You will need to plan to make sure you have everything you need; scan the car for existing contamination so you can take what you need with you.
Now what if all self-serves around you forbid the use of your own stuff?
Can’t use products, method 1:
- Foam the car with the given pre-wash or, if none are available, rinse thoroughly.Buy a brush cover and put that over the provided wash brush. Make sure that the program runs the whole time, as that running water is providing the scratch safety. Work top down and do the wheels last.Rinse (ideally with DI water), drive out of the box to dry the car, then put a spray sealant on.
- Spray the car with the provided pre-wash.Rinse the car off with DI water.Drive home and do a wash with your favourite rinseless product.
- Pre-clean with a pre-wash of your choice, my recommendation is: unless the temperatures prohibit it, use a pump sprayer, rinse with DI water.
- Now do the wheels. As you used DI water earlier, water spots are no worry and the whole car pre-wash will make your job much easier. Rinse the wheels and surrounding areas.
- Do your contact wash, rinse, followed by specialty cleaners as needed. Final rinse should be DI.
- Drive out and dry as needed and apply a sealant if necessary.
Bonus: In between clean
- A quick in between clean, especially for winter months is to use an alkaline pre-wash, spray the car, rinse with DI water, and drive off to dry the car.
- This won’t get your car 100% but it’s a good way to stay on top of grime during the colder months.
A word on Bucket lids
Not all self-serves have taps to fill your bucket with water. If they don’t, you can still bring a bucket full of water using a bucket lid, but please keep in mind that those are almost never 100% tight and could leak if the bucket falls over. However, if you properly secure them, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern.