Can You Take A BMW Through A Car Wash?

Car washes are a very convenient and low-cost way to keep your BMW clean. While you sit back and listen to your favorite music station or podcast, the machines are working away, removing all of the week’s grime. But is it really a good idea to take your beautiful BMW through a car wash?

Yes, you can take your BMW through a car wash, however, you should be aware that automatic car washes can cause damage to BMWs. While car washes are a very convenient way to clean your BMW, unless they use No Touch technology, they must use a gentle non-acid cleaning agent or the clearcoat on your BMW will be damaged and have very fine swirl marks engraved into the surface.

Cleaning your BMW need not be a chore, instead, you can use the time to relax. Using the correct products and following a structured process will help you maintain your BMW in near-showroom condition.

Exercise Cautious If You Take Your BMW Through A Car Wash

Not everyone has the time to wash their car or maybe you live in a very urban area (like NYC where I live) and there is simply no place to wash your car. In that case, I strongly recommend that you do a little background research on the particular car washes in your area to help you select the highest recommended one.

While carwash technology has significantly improved in the last few years, you still need to be cautious about driving your BMW through a car wash.

How Can Car Washes Damage A BMW?

Old-style car washes with rotating bristles were known for damaging the top layer of paint on a BMW. While these “swirls” could generally be polished out, the thin clearcoat used on modern BMWs is even more vulnerable to damage.

While it is possible to perform a color correction repair, it is not ideal. Color correction treatment can be used to effectively treat swirl marks, minor scratches, fading and hard water marks.

You should be aware, however, of the following two points regarding color correction:

  1. Color correction is expensive.
  2. The clear coat is thin and will only withstand a few correction treatments before it wears away.

What Car Wash Technologies Are Available?

As car washes have advanced in technology, the risks they present have also changed.

Rotating Brush Car Washes

This is the oldest technology, known as “tunnel” washes, and it involves driving your BMW onto a conveyer belt, which drags the car through a series of brushes and blowers.

Other variations involve the car remaining static while the brush mechanism moves along the vehicle and over the roof.

These brushes rotate at relatively high speeds, and if the ends of the bristles are.

  1. Rough and not regularly maintained or
  2. Are contaminated with abrasive grime from previous vehicles.

They will damage the BMW paintwork.

The chemicals used in this carwash are also very aggressive and can strip the wax layer or the clear outer coat off the paintwork.

This aggressive application can lead to the paint fading and cracking prematurely.

The Brushless Car Wash

Brushless Car Wash

From the outside, Brushless car washes look similar to brush units; however, the bristles are replaced by strips of soft cloth.

While this is superior to the brushes, contamination from previously cleaned cars can still stick to the cloth strips and scratch the car’s paint surface.

A Touchless Car Wash

Touchless Car Wash

A touchless car wash cleans the surface using very high-pressure water, chemical cleaners, and pressurized air and has no brush or strips of material that touch the surface.

While the principle is sound, if the system uses aggressive acids, they may erode the BMW clearcoat, and the high-pressure hose is not always as effective at cleaning the vehicle as the rotating brush or brushless car wash.

If the carwash uses gentle soap, a touchless car wash is a convenient solution to keeping your car looking smart.

Research Your Car Wash Before You Go

Before you send your BMW through a car wash, take a look at the attendant’s rags. How dirty are they allowing the rags and wash buckets to get before they switch the water or clean the rag?

If the attendants are using the same rags for multiple vehicles, you should be aware that contaminates in the rags can scratch the clearcoat like sandpaper.

You might find a great looking automated car wash, but if the attendants are manually drying vehicles with dirty rags this should be a big red flag.

What Is The Best Way To Clean Your BMW?

If you have the spare time and space, the optimal way to clean your BMW is to do it yourself in a controlled environment.

The steps needed to ensure a spotless car are as follows.

Step 1 – Park The BMW In A Shaded Spot

Never wash the car in full sunlight because the water will quickly evaporate and leave a residue of stains and streaks on the paint surface.

Try not to park the BMW under a tree dropping leaves or pollen.

Step 2 – Rinse The BMW Down

Use high-pressure (if you have a pressure pump, it shouldn’t be at full strength) water to remove all loose mud and other debris.

Ensure you spray the water onto the car’s underside, in the wheel wells, through the wheels, and behind them.

Step 3 – Wash The BMW

Hand Washing Car

Fill two buckets with fresh water. We use two buckets to rinse the cleaning mitt or sponge out in clean water before dunking it in the soapy mixture.

Pour car wash cleaning solution into one bucket and thoroughly mix it.

Do not use dishwashing liquid or any other kind of household detergent as these can cause damage to any waxes or polishes on the paint surface.

Using the cleaning mitt or sponge, gently clean the car by starting at the roof and slowly working down. Doing this will ensure that the dirt does not run down to areas you have already cleaned.

We don’t recommend that you use a circular motion but this won’t make or break the wash if you do. Instead, we recommend that you clean the vehicle in straight lines.

Step 4 – Rinse The BMW Off

Don’t avoid rinsing the car until you have cleaned the entire vehicle. Instead, you should rinse off each panel immediately after you have cleaned it. This way, you will avoid premature drying and water spots.

Remove the nozzle from the hose and use the free-flowing water to rinse the BMW.

It will ensure that no grime or dirt that has not drained from the BMW is removed before it dries and attaches to the paint.

Please be aware that the mineral concentration in your local water will determine whether you want to use your hose to rinse your car. Some areas in the United States have higher concentrations of minerals such as limestone, calcium, and magnesium. While, this is not a problem for humans, it will lead to hard water spots in your car’s paint job.

If your local area contains water with a higher mineral concentration, I recommend that your purchase a couple gallons of distilled water from your local grocery store. Distilled water is an extremely cheap solution and will save you from hard water spots.

Step 5 – Dry Your BMW Off

Use microfiber towels or a chamois to dry the BMW off. This is essential as you will scratch the clear coat surface if you use any cloths or towels with a rougher texture.

Dry all the nooks and crannies, such as the door sills, door and trunk lid latches, and hinges.

When a towel becomes too wet, replace it with another one and leave the first to dry.

Step 6 – Clean The Other Non-Painted BMW Car Components

Clean the rest of the car as follows:

The BMW Wheels Need To Be Cleaned

Using different sponges or cloths, clean the wheels with a specialized wheel cleaner designed to remove brake dust.

The Tires On The BMW Need To Be Cleaned

Clean the tires with a bristled brush and warm water, and dish soap (about a tablespoon of soap per gallon of water). If the grime is stuck-on, let the mixture sit for a few minutes to soften, and repeat the process as much as necessary.

Once the tires have been cleaned, allow them to dry, and then use a tire wax paste or cream to shine them off. It isn’t necessary, but it does improve the look of the BMW.

Clean The BMWs Windscreen And Windows

The following steps describe the most effective way to clean the BMW glass.

  1. Use a good, non-ammonia-based auto window cleaning solution.
  2. Use two sets of microfibre cloth.
  3. Spray the solution and clean one window at a time.
  4. Use a fresh microfibre cloth to buff the windows.
  5. Repeat the process on the interior.

How To Clean The BMWs Headlights

If your BMW headlights look worse for the wear and appear cloudy and possibly slightly yellow, there is an easy DIY trick to get them back to showroom condition.

Assuming the lights have already been cleaned, using a soft cloth or your fingertips, apply an abrasive paste, such as toothpaste mixed with baking soda,  onto the wet headlight lenses.

Use a cloth and scrub the headlight thoroughly until the dullness is removed.

If the toothpaste mix does not work, there are commercially available headlight restoration kits.


Keeping your BMW in a condition as close to the showroom as possible helps in maintaining the vehicle’s resale value. It also makes an already good-looking vehicle look even better.

Taking your BMW to a car wash is not necessarily a bad option, however, avoid rotating brush and brushless car washes. In addition, make sure to check out the particular car wash before you take your vehicle through it.


Stephen Metellus

I am a BMW enthusiast and owner of! I have been repairing, flipping, and parting out BMWs for nearly ten years. I love these vehicles and I hope you will find my articles and YouTube channel helpful for whatever BMW project you have in store!

Recent Posts