To Wash or to Watch? Assessing the Costs of Manual and Automatic Car Washing

Hamlet had his own issues, but perhaps you can relate to him as you stare at your filthy car, upon which one of your kids just wrote “clean me” through the back windshield’s grime.

While Hamlet might have had the conundrum of existence to ponder, you’re digging in your pant pocket with an altogether different dilemma: to waste water with the hose or to find enough loose change to run to the automatic car wash down the street.

To wash or to watch? For you, that is the question. Which, do you think, is cheaper?

The Debate

Experts still argue about which method is most cost-effective. Some maintain a hose uses far too much water. Others argue, then, that a bucket should work well. Then still others claim that car washes beat all the above.

It all comes down to water and out-of-pocket costs.

The Cost of Home Washing

Doing it right takes more water than you might realize.

According to Maryland’s Department of the Environment, a typical garden hose uses up to 10 gallons of water per minute if it doesn’t have an automatic shutoff nozzle.

That equates to 100 gallons being wasted for a measly 10-minute wash.

In comparison, if you use a shutoff nozzle, you’ll utilize about 30 gallons of water. If you have a power washer, you’re in even better circumstances. You’ll use about 20 gallons in a 10-minute wash.

So what you use will certainly affect cost.

Now, consider price, which varies considerably by location. Generally, it’s safe to assume you’re spending less than $0.01 per gallon for tap water. In fact, some sources estimate a single gallon costs as few as $0.004.

If you use that handy shutoff nozzle, you’ll spend less than $0.30 for a ten-minute wash.

You might think the discussion ends here, but there is more to consider.

The Cost of Car Washes

The price for car washes also varies by location and type.

In-bay automatic washes cost an average of $6.34 for customers while tunnel or conveyor car washes come in at a pricey $15.

So, yes, you’re saving quite a bit of money by washing at home. In fact, you’re saving several dollars. Then again, we haven’t considered water yet.

“Many customers forget that numerous car washing facilities recycle water,” states an official from Washify, which markets a cloud-based system for car wash owners. “Even if they don’t, oftentimes much less is used.”

On average, a car wash will utilize approximately 70% less water than if you’d labored over that sparkling paint yourself. Additionally, much of that water will be reused.

Which Is It?

It all comes down to personal preference.

Car washes may be better for water conservation because they use less H20. However, using the garden hose at home is significantly easier on the wallet.

So which is it: to wash or to watch? The choice, of course, is ultimately up to you.