Washing our Model S

Washing our Model S

There have been opinions, rumors, statements etc. about not sending our new cars through a carwash. Overall this seems to make good sense. While I believe the issue of injuring the battery has been thoroughly dispensed with, I’m still picking up advice that an automatic carwash is not a good idea because: a) the Model S is an aluminum body; b) it will damage the paint armor; c) the Tesla paint is water-based; and/or d) fill-in the blanks. Again, some of these reasons seem to make sense. But here’s the rub: I am rapidly approaching the age where spending an hour giving my Model S the tender loving care it deserves is impractical because the back isn’t what it used to be. For the record I have been washing my family’s cars and then my own cars since before I could drive. It has been a religious experience which served to really bond me to the beauty and pride of owning a nice car.

However, life intervenes.

So (finally) my question is what do you think the real implications will be of running it through a normal car wash, that isn’t brushless? I know I can always try to find someone to hand-wash my car regularly, but is this carwash business really hype or will I be risking serious damage to the vehicle? What do y’all think?

Schlermie | 25 august 2012

From what I understand, Tesla recommends you take the Model S to a touchless car wash, so you can still bring it to a car wash, but your options are more limited.

jerry3 | 25 august 2012

It really depends on whether you are the type of person that stresses out over every swirl mark or not. If you are, then only hand washing will do the trick.

The paint armour will protect the areas that it covers but brushful car washes "could" rip parts of it off. I'd be more concerned about it ripping off a mirror, the spoiler (if you have one), or getting caught in the pano roof, or damaging the tires (the rails in a car wash tend to cut up the sidewalls)

I don't believe the aluminium body to be an issue.

Most cars use water based paints these days.

I've always used the 25 cent variety.

Oliver in Seattle | 25 august 2012

Not to mention that driveway washing is extremely unfriendly to the environment. I've been using touch less and soft touch washes for years with nary a swirl mark on our cars for several years. Every once in a while I do a P21S paint treatment and quality wax job to bring out the shine.

Theresa | 25 august 2012

I know the Roadster was not supposed to be run through a car wash but I still used a touchless. But I never used an underbody wash as I was concerned that the pressure could get water into the motor and/or the PEM. I know that a brush style wash would get it cleaner but I was also concerned about the spoiler not being strong enough to handle that consistently.

Brian H | 25 august 2012

NO! Touchless is a NO-NO!! The grime-stripper chemicals are the problem, not the brushes!

olanmills | 25 august 2012

There are some places around my area where you can get a handwash for $12-15.

Brian H | 25 august 2012

By nekked babes?!!!

Steve841 | 25 august 2012

I will wash mine.

But, there's plenty of folks out there with their own car wash by hand businesses tring to make a living....

BYT | 25 august 2012

FYI, in some places its a fine to wash your own car (droughts and whatnot). We need alternatives like a professional place that can wash them for us as businesses are of course exempt from this ordinance.

Timo | 25 august 2012

I just recently saw a semi-scientific research about results of hand wash and normal brush car wash. Result was kind of surprising, hand wash damaged car windows and paint more than automatic brush wash.

Could be that this car wash was exceptionally well kept, but OTOH I have used local car wash and I never noticed any damage to paint or windows, those brushes were actually quite gentle and apparently very clean. Also result was really clean.

I obviously have no idea about usual US car wash quality so my opinion could not apply there.

Of course doing it yourself with love and tender will give best result, but I personally wouldn't mind using car wash every now and then even for car this expensive. OTOH the car I loved driving taking care of most (this far) was one of the military vehicles that wasn't technically even a car...

ddruz | 25 august 2012

Do you have the reference for that research? I'd be very interested. It actually makes sense to me that the average automatic car wash might do a better, more uniform job than the average hand washer. Professional detailers of course would do the best work but they aren't necessarily the ones who would be doing your run of the mill external wash even at a detail shop. The trainees would probably be assigned those tasks.

Michael37 | 25 august 2012

I waited outside my local grocery store for 15 minutes today because I wanted to talk to the owner of a spectacularly pretty dark metallic blue BMW 750i. I asked him if he did anything special to keep it looking so good, and he said he just takes it to the local touchless wash fairly frequently. The car is 9 months old.

Brian H: What's the deal with the chemicals? What harm do they cause? They sure didn't seem to have hurt this BMW, at least not yet.

jkirkebo | 26 august 2012

An automated car wash, touchless or not, does not do a complete job. It often can't reach a lot of places, like in the rims, around the rear license plate or in the door sills. So for a complete job you have to do some additional hand-washing afterwards.

I prefer doing it all by hand.

jerry3 | 26 august 2012

My thought is that some, perhaps most, of the "washing the car in the driveway is bad for the environment" is because in an ICE car you wash a bunch of oil into the storm drain system where it pollutes the water supply. An EV will be much better because there isn't an engine dripping oil.

The rest has to do with the chemicals that you use. Presumably, you can choose biodegradable products.

Of course, in areas where water is in short supply, driveway washing can be water intensive although it doesn't have to be.

mpottinger | 26 august 2012

I take my Infiniti to a high quality light touch wash one to two times a week, with no adverse long term effects. The reality of my schedule will require that I do the same with my new Telsa; unless Tesla specifically says not to. If the Model S cant take a car wash, I doubt it will do well in a driving rain storm at 80 mph on the interstate. I have to believe the components will be well protected.

jerry3 | 26 august 2012


As long as you are not bothered by the odd swirl mark in the paint, there won't be any problem. If you always want your car to look as if it were a car in an auto show competition, then you'll have a lot of frustration with a normal car wash. Tesla recommends using a brushless carwash. I think this is mostly because brushful carwashes tend to rip off mirrors and there can be grit left in the felt fingers from the last car which can scratch the paint pretty bad if you're unlucky.

Robert22 | 26 august 2012

Just a reminder to those less familiar with car washes, brushless and touchless are not the same.

TJK | 26 august 2012

Robert, can you explain?

Michael23 | 26 august 2012

I always wash at home with lusterlabs lxr. Keeps the car clean even if it drizzles. It is auto drying to I hardly have to spend any time wiping it down. I also have some high end mitts and towels which I will have to replace now going from black to white car.

Robert22 | 26 august 2012

Conventional: Rotating brushes with bristles (harsh)

Brushless: Rotating or agitating soft cloths (less harsh)

Touchless: No contact (least harsh, although chemical wash agent effect may be damaging)

I'm not a car guru so I'm sure there will be asterisks added to the above by others, but I think that's the gist of it.

I got a chuckle out of this person's thoughts on Touchless car washes:

Timo | 26 august 2012

I think the car wash I was talking about a bit earlier was brushless, not conventional. Actually all car washes I have seen here are like those (rotating soft cloths).

Ripping off mirrors sounds really rough to me. Definitely nothing like that in any of them.

jerry3 | 26 august 2012


Unfortunately, it only takes one of the streamers (don't know the terminology) to get tangled and loop over the mirror to rip it off as the car goes down the line. No, it doesn't happen that often but it's not zero.

July10Models | 26 august 2012

I usually hose down my cars but never actually wash the car. Since Tesla went through the trouble of installing retracting door handles, I am not going to let a little dirt mess up the aerodynamics of the car.

mwu | 26 august 2012

On the environmental impact of washing your car on your own many parts besides the ICE can cause problems. Tire particles washed off cars can release cadmium, lead, and zinc into the environment. Brake dust contains heavy metals like copper, and while the are no engine oils, there will be lubricants and greases elsewhere. If you want to wash at home, an option would be to drive the car onto grass. You can also wash your car over a tarp and place PVC pipe or 2x4s under the edges of the tarp to make sure the water doesn't reach storm drains. Then you can collect the water. It can be disposed of in a vegetated area -- the vegetation will help naturally treat the water.

Source: my wife who works professionally doing environmental outreach on stormwater.

Timo | 26 august 2012


All of those places I have used have sensors that stop the process immediately if something like that is detected.


I don't think copper constitutes as toxic heavy metal, you actually need a bit of copper to be healthy, and level where copper starts to be toxic is rather high. Also if it is already a dust, then letting that dust to float into air sounds much worse to me than letting it settle into ground.

Brian H | 27 august 2012

If no contact/brushing is done, stronger chemicals are used. Can harm the paint/finish. Per TM.

mwu | 27 august 2012

Timo, you are right that the copper is not directly a threat to us. However it is a threat to many animals that live in water, namely salmon. My wife is the expert, but I think smaller animals are susceptible at lower levels. Salmon have a problem because the copper inhibits their warning system to predators. Each car doesn't produce a lot of copper, but combined through storm drains (all of which run to streams and creeks which connect to rivers and oceans) it can add up if proper care is not taken.

This article states that as much as 40% of the copper that enters the San Francisco Bay may come from brake pads:

Vawlkus | 27 august 2012

I saw a similar study Timo, but it'd take me a week to find the link again. I know it maybe referenced in but I don't know how easy it'd be to find.

Brian: I have a hard time believing that to be true. TMs baked on powder coats shouldn't give a flying fig newton to what basically amounts to dish soap. Don't laugh, that's what most places use.

EdG | 27 august 2012

Where I live, each house has it's own septic facilities, and dry wells account for all the drainage. So there is little to no difference here between dumping waste water on vegetation versus allowing it to run elsewhere. Even here we get public service messages that tell us to use water as if we had sewers; I guess those responsible either just want us to be trained in case we move or they're just copying messages from other nearby locales.

If much of the copper found in San Francisco Bay is from brake dust, how much of that is washed off the cars during the rain while driving versus the amount washed off in a car wash? While you might want to minimize it, don't expect that everyone "doing the right thing" will make the problem go away. Just by using an EV with regen you'll be generating far less brake dust.

mwu | 27 august 2012

EdG, I'm not sure on the answer to that, and you are correct that it wouldn't solve the problem (just reduce it). However just because "doing the right thing" isn't the complete solution doesn't mean that one should ignore that part of the solution.

I'm mainly posting here because I have information relevant to the discussion. I'm not trying to raise a lot of fuss or guilt about it. I enjoy autocross, so I'm not guilt-free either.

Something to note is that there are environmentally aware car washes that recycle and filter their water. Also, in some places there are fines for car washes that don't use proper techniques for preventing contaminants from reaching storm drains (think of the mobile car washes that operate in parking lots). I would have to ask my wife to know for sure, but I think brake dust isn't the only problem with car wash waste water... I believe soap has an impact on creaks and streams as well.

Rod and Barbara | 27 august 2012

ddruz asked us to repost our excerpt from Tesla’s Guide for Owners, “If washing in an automatic car wash, use “Touchless” car washes only. These car washes must have no parts, such as brushes, that can touch Model S. Using any other type of car wash could cause damage that is not covered by the warranty.”

As for personal experience, we took our Model S to a local car wash where the car is pushed down a washing lane where it is sprayed with automatic water sprayers and washed by hand as it rolls along. However, the mechanism to push the car down the lane was a roller the moved along behind the right rear wheel. Obviously, the car had to be in neutral for this to work. I wasn’t sure this would be OK with the Model S, so I elected for the more expensive hand car in the back corner of the lot.

jerry3 | 27 august 2012

Rod and Barbara,

Good call. The rails on the mechanism have a tendency to cut the sidewalls of the tires. These can be seen as cuts that look like loops. The wider the tire is the more likely it is to be damaged.

I've seen far to many tires with this type of damage on them to every put my car through one of those.

ddruz | 27 august 2012

Rod and Barbara, Thanks very kindly for reposting that quote and for your experience. I apologize for not remembering where I'd seen you post it before.

Robert22 | 27 august 2012

It is unfortunate that "Touchless" is the only sanctioned type of car wash. I live in a major metropolitan area where grime and grit accumulate quickly. Touchless just doesn't seem to do a very good job here in the northeast. As much as I enjoy handwashing it would have been nice to have the option of brushless, however, not at the risk of tearing the car apart.

MandL | 28 august 2012

"The paint finish of Model S will raise the bar in the premium automotive category."

As far as I'm concerned, raising the bar means I shouldn't have to worry any more about scratches/swirls in my paint or shredded tires and wheels from going through the local soft-touch automatic wash than I have had to on my 2005 Acura TL. Never had any issues going through monthly on average over the past seven years.

Michael23 | 28 august 2012

I'm thinking about a pressure washer with A foam cannon so it breaks down the dirt first and I dont have to scrub so hard, thoughts?

Ohms.Law | 28 august 2012

MandL you're on! Since we both use the same local soft-touch carwash, I'll let you put your Sig through several times before my car finally arrives a few months later. :)

Of course I am hoping this carwash will work since the alternative, for me, is a lot more effort/expense.

To everyone else on this thread: thanks for your valuable input. Keep it coming!

BYT | 28 august 2012

I plan on coming back to this tread and ask those locally for their experience with places to I can take my Model S to the same place as well. I don't mind driving a little bit to get a good job on my expensive and precious baby... ;)

Besides, I probably wash my car 2 or 3 times a year tops? No point washing in the late Fall, Winter or early Spring around here.

Rocke | 2 november 2012

We have long taken our cars through a brushless car wash here in Seattle called Brown Bear Car Wash and have never had a swirl mark. Because of the rain we get this time of year, it is almost a requirement to use the car wash. We plan on doing the same with the Model S. Note on its first time through, after being in neutral through the wash, you can't go directly to drive without going to park first or stepping on the brake first. Our Leaf allows going directly from neutral to drive without touching the brake first.

DouglasR | 2 november 2012


Brown Bear is brushless, but not "touchless"? Do you know of any touchless car washes in Seattle?

Getting Amped Again | 2 november 2012

Is leaving a Model S in Drive without pressing the accelerator pedal at all be just like leaving it in Neutral? Would that be the way to go through a car wash?

Getting Amped Again | 2 november 2012

I should have said "Drive with Creep turned off" in the above post.

RZitrin1 | 3 november 2012

Really good question, Amped. I'd like to know that too. We have touchless here in SF.

JoeFee | 3 november 2012

What products does Tesla use to wash cars in their service centers?

Brian H | 3 november 2012


pilotSteve | 4 november 2012

My BMW 5-series (auto trans) will not shift from N to D without touching the brake while shifting. I've found it pretty easy when the green Exit light comes on at end of the wash to briefly touch the brake and shift into D. Same procedure probably will work with MS?

Robert22 | 4 november 2012

Here in the northeast we just point the car at the hurricane for a 5 second pressure wash and return to the garage. Don't try it in Atlantic City, however, or you'll be left with a DeLorean 2.0

tharasix | 5 november 2012

Yeah, but you need to add a lot of water to the intern paste otherwise it leaves streaks on the glass.

nickjhowe | 5 november 2012

@tharasix LOL!

mrspaghetti | 5 november 2012

Poor interns never heard the car coming...