2815: Car Wash

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Car Wash
I'm glad modern car washes use synthetic baleen, instead of harvesting it from whales like 1800s car washes did.
Title text: I'm glad modern car washes use synthetic baleen, instead of harvesting it from whales like 1800s car washes did.


Ponytail and Cueball are having a discussion about car washes. In Randall's area of the world, this usually means an automatic facility that washes cars by passing them through a large machine (or moving the machine over the stationary car) with the passengers still inside. There are also services and events such as fund-raisers where cars are hand-washed.

Ponytail is incredulous that Cueball doesn't like them, because everyone else likes them. He points out that you're trapped in your car (a "dark shaking glass box"). The car wash machine itself is a huge, loud robot, and some of the brushes are like big tongues that lick the car.

After hearing it described this way, Ponytail has come around to Cueball's side. He then mimics the sounds he's described, possibly stimulating discomfort in Ponytail.

The comments attached to this explanation article reveal some of the diversity that exists in people's car wash experiences. Some people enjoy car washes, some don’t, some stay in the vehicle, and some leave the vehicle. This could relate to different kinds of car washes present in the world, or it could simply be preference.

The title text implies that modern car washes use "synthetic baleen" for their brushes, contrasting with the entirety of the 1800s where brushes were made of baleen when whale products were commonplace. Today, plastic products are commonplace, whales are an endangered species, and use of whale products is considered morally abhorrent. However, motorized vehicle washes as we know them did not exist in the 1800s —- the first commercial automobile wash began in 1914.

Baleen, which was processed into a product called whale-bone in the 1800s, was used for large brush bristles as well as fine clothing and many other things, due to its combination of flexibility and stiffness. Evidence of this today is mostly preserved in museum displays. It is possible Randall's comment was inspired by seeing a brush in a museum. The relevant quote from the link is: “In 1808, Samuel Crackles of Hull patented a method of cutting plates of whale-bone to provide an effective substitute for brush bristles. These hard wearing bristles were in much demand, particularly for chimney-sweeps' brushes. Another Hull company, John Bateman and Robert Bowman of Silver Street, were also trading in whale-bone at that time, offering a wide range of small goods including sieves, nets, ornamental blinds, bed-bottoms and brushes.”

Despite a debatable visual similarity between baleen and some modern car wash brushes, baleen brushes are not used in modern automated car washes.[citation needed] Among car washes with brushes, chamois fabric or plastic sponge are the brush materials traditionally used.


[Ponytail looks enthused, whilst talking to Cueball]
Ponytail: Seriously? How do you not like car washes?
Ponytail: Everyone likes car washes!
[Close-up on Cueball alone]
Cueball: Sure, I love being trapped in a dark shaking glass box that a huge loud robot is licking.
[Ponytail looks less enthused, once more in a full view of them both]
Ponytail: Great, now I don't like car washes either.
Cueball: Vroom vroom!
Cueball: Slurp!

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You know, I've never been in a carwash. Not even through a hand-wash (these days set up in just about every other ex-petrol(/'gas') station forecourt not redeveloped otherwise. Driven (or walked) right past them on the ways to places (my walk to the supermarket goes past a hand-car-wash, grocery store and tyre business in an ex-petrol station - then I wander past the autocarwash 'booth' at the supermarket-aligned fuelstop, perhaps through the jetwash lanes if nobody's using them), but never took a car to one. There's buckets and sponges/etc at home. Am I missing something? 20:40, 14 August 2023 (UTC)

The bucket and sponge method takes time and effort. Automatic car washes are quick and easy. I'm mostly indifferent to car washes, but I like them more than doing it by hand because I'm lazy. Barmar (talk) 20:46, 14 August 2023 (UTC)
I'm indifferent to car washes too. Five years later you just have to do it all over again Boatster (talk) 23:09, 14 August 2023 (UTC)
Time and money for the carwash: Driving there (risking incidents), possible queuing to get into retail park, queuing to pay (£££s!), possible queuing for car wash, waiting for it to do its thing (risk of damage!), possible queuing to get out drive back (risking incidents, also normal road-grime)...
I've never gone out specifically to get my car washed. I'm usually out doing other things, I notice the car wash, and realize that my car is dirty, so I go in. And I can't recall ever having to wait more than 5 minutes on the line, usually there isn't any line at all. It's probably not a coincidence that several of the carwashes in my area are near supermarkets. Barmar (talk) 17:03, 15 August 2023 (UTC)
Time and money for home-wash: Don't need to leave home. Buckets are older than me, sponges/cloths/brushes may in some cases by younger than 50 years old (but all pre-millenium), car-wax/-shampoo bottle (used sparingly) is 5-10yo and nowhere near empty, water (with a water meter, so does cost) is perhaps equivalent to two days of (hand-!)dishwashing [possibly buying a home jet-washer could bring that down, if it "does a lot more with a fastly moving lesser amount", but I might then also be tempted to jetwash the drive/windows/rooftiles as well and I'm not even sure it'd be less water through the nozzle as the tap] and (depending on time of year) may involve various mixes of hot and cold (so heating, though practically individible from other hot-water uses other than the kettle for drinks). Time taken: maybe 15 minutes (±5), at leisure while I appreciate all the distracting luxuries of home, or a highly abbreviated (one-bucket) washover/rinse at significantly less than 5 minutes (I'd still be trying to get into the supermarket, even with no queueueuing; perhaps I'd have been handwashed if they have no queue, but I wouldn't be back again...) and done. Maybe occasionally get the vacuum out and self-valet the insides, for another <5 minutes and probably entirely covered in electricity by what the solar panels have been feeding in during carwashing-friendly daytime conditions.
Of course, it'll typically rain shortly afterwards (the rain-gods perhaps even being hopefully invoked by the very act of de-mudding the wheel-arches), but that's not going to differ between either (or neither) efforts to wash. :P 21:40, 14 August 2023 (UTC)
What is the point of's comment above? Is it trying to suggest that the time to self-wash is low? Or is it trying to suggest that it is high? (It is hard for me to tell, and definitely not clear!) I am under the general impression that hand-washing of cars, like hand-washing of dishes in the kitchen sink, consumes more water than automatic washing, in addition to the questions about pollutants that are raised below. JohnHawkinson (talk) 20:37, 15 August 2023 (UTC)
Less time, I'd say. A bit of personal effort, but can be done at leisure rather than having to take time out (even 'in passing') from other activities.
I also don't trust the "hand washed dishes takes more water than dishwasher-washed" claim. It's quoted as something like 20 gallons of water for hand-washing. Couldn't work out if that's US gallons (75 litres) or imperial (90 litres), but a washing up bowl holds 8-10 litres full and you never really need to fill it to the brim (and it rarely needs to be above ⅓rd full) to do a good job even for a family meal's-worth of crockery and cutlery. Certainly not 7 to 10 bowls'-worth. (I'm guessing it assumes a continuously running tap for rinsing. If you need any rinsing, you just need a short spurt as necessary or being pre-rinsed under the tap as it third-fills up the bowl, at least in my experience. But only far more profligate methods can possibly reach 70-90 litres, mostly straight down the drain.)
Typically quoted UK usage for dishwasher, however, seems to be around 9.5 litres (a full bowl's-worth, i.e. definitely more than a handwash as described). You also can't easily then use the 'grey' water, not-in-a-bowl, directly on some garden plants if you want. So getting double-duty out of it is trickier.
Not sure how much the car-washing bucket would be, but 20 litres seems to be capacity. Car-wash usages seem to be 120 litres (or greater), apparently less than home hosepipe/jetwash amounts, but (IME) I'd never use more than three (not full) buckets to wash even the dirtiest car. Perhaps two (wash and rinse, but the rinse being less full even than the not-full one that has the 'soap' in) or even just the one (rinsing it all, in one go, getting the top and windows nice with the 'fresh' water before working all the way round each level of possibly more mud-splashed bodywork, then hubcaps and wheel(-arches) last). 5 minutes? Yeah, if the car didn't need more than that rinse'n'shine. I'd set aside 10 minutes (non-continuous, if necessary, a bit at a time during TV ad-breaks perhaps) for a decent roof-to-wheels of a typical-sized family car. Can't speak for SUVs or other over-sized models. Much as I can't speak for wasteful hosepipe use or whatavyer... 22:46, 15 August 2023 (UTC)
In Germany, you are discouraged and in many localities it's directly forbidden to wash your car on your premises; it is completely forbidden to wash your car on the street. This because of oil that will enter the sewer system. Automated car washes will recycle water and seperate oil from it. 21:14, 14 August 2023 (UTC)
Oil? If I notice oil in(/on) the water, I know there's a problem. Maybe a little residue from cleaning inside the fuel-port hatch. The way some people (over)use detergent, I could see that being an issue, but if you've an oil-leak then that's happening on or off your premises (and mostly off), I'd have thought and you might never even know... if you don't even wash your own car. 21:40, 14 August 2023 (UTC)
Yeah. You wash your car because it is dirty, right? What exatly is that dirt, that is being washed off into the gutters? Some mud or earth, sure. But most of it is actually asphalt particles, tyre particles, oil (yes, most probably not from your own car, but from that vintage Cadillac that you were stuck behind all the way home from work), lubricants and grease from heavy trucks and machinery, soot particles and pollutants from industries and old/poorly maintained vehicles. The list goes on and on and most of the stuff is not very friendly to the environment and/or the runoff water treatment systems. Stuff that really should be disposed off properly, like in a dedicated carwash facility as stated above. (talk) 09:05, 16 August 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Don't forget tree sap and BUGS. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 02:13, 22 August 2023 (UTC)
If it rains whilst your car is in the driveway(/at the kerbside), the same stuff potentially gets washed off. The fraction of particulates/contaminants that you can deliberately keep on your car until you go to a (presumably particulate-filtering and safe-disposing?) car wash is minimal. Assuming it does filter, at all. The environment (and civil drainage infrastructure) cannot be considered that much better just because you take your practically clean car to the autowash occasionally just so that you could eat your dinner off of it. Perhaps a special exception when you've been off-road/driving through quarry tailings/whatever and are particularly caked with muddy grime/grimy mud, but not when dealing with the latest 'saharan sand' dustings/etc. There's scope for judgement, at least.
I'd worry more about surfactant over-use, but looking at the "one size fits all" foam-fest of a typical carwash/jetwash soaping (and unsure how you'd filter that from water, without effort, the whole point being the (half-)hydrophillic nature of the substance) I'm sure that adds more water-treatment effort at the ultimate end of the drains from either the home, street or nearby carwash (which, given we don't have separated rainwater and wastewater drainage systems is already potentially taking away everything that was left to settle on the roads, oil and dirt and mud and leaves and everything else that gets washed/dumped down there). Local laws/situations aside, I'm more comfortable with home-carwashing than it seems some are. Without wasting resources on running a home jet-wash. 10:02, 16 August 2023 (UTC)

Am I the only one who actually tried to find out whether baleen really used to be used in car washes or not?

I added a quote on its use in the manufacture of brush bristles, although editing is needed. Next might be to figure out what vehicles were used in the 1800s and how they were washed. EDIT: https://academic.oup.com/liverpool-scholarship-online/book/43282/chapter-abstract/363026681?redirectedFrom=fulltext has a paragraph in google's cache that mentions that we can tell there was heavy use of baleen for brushes throughout the 1800s because of the heavy presence in museums. Maybe Randall's comment was inspired by a museum display. This seems possible because there's not much mention of this on the internet. 01:34, 15 August 2023 (UTC)

No mention of the fact that baleen is in whale mouths, so that's where Randall got the idea that the brushes are "licking" the car? Barmar (talk) 17:03, 15 August 2023 (UTC)

I'm not sure that baleen coming from whale mouths would be the main inspiration for the "licking" analogy as much as the motion of the typical automated carwash brushes are. If you swing baleen, or even a tongue for that matter, like a bat to hit something, licking wouldn't make sense as an analogy for that type of motion, regardless of the source, I think. 15:50, 16 August 2023 (UTC)

Do people actually like car washes? It always seemed like an uncomfortable and at times terrifying experience to me. Maybe some people like it, but I would be very surprised if it's just me, Cueball and now Ponytail who don't like it. 18:30, 15 August 2023 (UTC)

I always thought they were fun and cozy, like being in a car during a rainstorm. 20:04, 15 August 2023 (UTC)
I used to really like them, but after reading this comic I like them even more. Thinking about car washes as a giant robot licking my car makes it so much more impressive than just "car wash". cdesign proponentsists (talk) 10:21, 16 August 2023 (UTC)
I feel the general consensus is that it's cozy, a sudden moment of complete privacy, solitary time alone with your thoughts, after being out in the open where anybody can see you and what you're doing. At least for people not prone to claustrophobia. :) And as such I've seen MANY portrayals of people deciding to see how sexual they can get before they're exposed, like a sexual sprint, LOL! Usually in sitcoms and such. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:58, 19 August 2023 (UTC)

Apart from queueing, I am not against car washes - happy to stay inside but not always I am allowed to. Kids do not like it. However, most times the only time I wash my car is when I have to take a flight: the parking lot where I usually leave the car provides optional car wash plus interior cleaning during the stop. Vdm (talk) 19:42, 15 August 2023 (UTC)

I like car washes. I love the feeling of being enclosed like that; it feels rather like our spring and summer rainstorms in the Pacific Northwest. I also have to do it more often than most; my car is painted in pearl white (not my choice, I got it used like that 3 years ago and it's 20 years old so no point in changing it now), which is a trilayer paint that shimmers and has slight bluish undertones. It shows every speck of dirt and mud, so I need to clean it or it looks really bad. (Tricoat 062 is the color code). Darkwolf0218 (talk) 23:49, 15 August 2023 (UTC)

The final line of the current explanation text is "Are there car washes without brushes?" There are. They use high-pressure streams of water, detergent, and possibly other chemicals. The following links distinguish (sort of) between 'brushless' and 'touchless' car washes. I don't know if this information has a place in the public-facing text. https://www.wikimotors.org/what-is-a-touchless-car-wash.htm https://www.wikimotors.org/what-is-a-brushless-car-wash.htm Nekoninda (talk) 02:25, 16 August 2023 (UTC)

I removed that question (in amongst other edits I made) as either being rhetorical or a misplaced genuine query more properly voiced in here. As you've answered it, as well, I think there's no point deciding to transplant it, verbatim, any more than your quote of it. And, yes, useful additional info, but not really relevent to main explanation (if I'm any judge), just an interesting "not even Trivia" note that is welcome enough here in the Talk page/transclusion. 10:02, 16 August 2023 (UTC)

Before the turn of the century, better car washes were a big deal. You would enter the line at one end and align your front tire between a set of guide-rails, then stop and get out of the car, leaving it in neutral. An attendant would hop in the back seat, while another would get behind the wheel to put the car into drive. After pulling far forward enough, a roller on a chained track would engage the front tire and push the car through the washing mechanism. The attendants inside the car would wash the inside windows while the exterior was washed. While this was going on the driver and any passengers would walk down a hallway with large windows and follow along as the car went through. At the end of the hall was located the cash register and chairs, plus some some snack and accessory vending machines. Once the car exited, the attendants would vacuum the seats and floors. While others would towel off areas of the body that were still wet after the blow dryers These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 02:13, 22 August 2023 (UTC)

While the people of the 19th century likely needed some way to wash their vehicles, car washes in the modern style would not likely be useful, as most land vehicles were drawn by horse or human, and neither of those is likely to willingly walk into a car wash.[citation needed]

I removed that sentence, because it makes no sense. If a vehicle is drawn by horse or human (like here), that doesn’t mean the animal has to stay attached to the vehicle while the car wash machine is operating. Many humans (including are willing to walk into a car wash while it is not running. -- 13:38, 17 August 2023 (UTC)

In the 19th century people rode trains, steam trains, sometimes in tunnels. They were concerned about filth as attested by Phoebe Snow. I don't know if they were concerned enough to actually wash them, but if so it was probably closer to bucket and brush than automatic car wash. 03:41, 19 August 2023 (UTC)
I'm unable to immediately find a full history of "train wash systems" (basically 'drive through car washes' except fit over a track and designed for standardised rail units), but I suspect they only became a big thing post steam-age, where awkward things like funnels and reciprocating linkages weren't going to be problematic impediments to slotting a mostly consistent cross-section through a 'gateway' of brushes.
Right up until the end of the 'golden age' of steam, I suspect they regularly had people crawling all over the locomotives (if not the carriages) hand washing/polishing the bits that needed unsmutting/reshining (and grease-monkeys/wheel-tappers/etc ensuring it was all mechanically sound), at least as frequently as it was deemed important.
You started out as a boy cleaning the engine, progressed through greasing, eventually to fireman then driver -- (talk) Revision as of 09:40, 7 November 2023 (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Scotland's first (rail) carriage wash plant, Craigentinny 1914. -- (talk) 10:06, 7 November 2023 (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Tried to find something about how London Underground (in its earliesr days of steam) dealt with its mainly/majority tunnel routing (beyond how it tried to vent) but nothing specific about maintenance-cleaning of the engine (plenty about modern train-washes, steam cleaning the seating and using a vacuum-train to clean the tunnels..!) and could only find 'hobbyist' contemporary accounts of cleaning of steam trains in general. Probably something else out there, in an enthusiasts' book or even in slideshow notes, that covers the whole original business and its transition to modern methods more suited to electric/diesel/electric-diesel rolling stock, because this is the kind of detail that some will (rightly) obsess over! 09:25, 19 August 2023 (UTC)