Car Detailing vs Car Wash vs DIY

It’s easy to confuse car detailing and car wash especially when you think they’re both the same services. Well, they’re not. If you’re planning to give your vehicle a little pampering, knowing the difference between car detailing and car washing is important to determine which service is the best for you.

Some people, especially those who have time on their hands, often consider DIY car cleaning as well. Although this seems to be the cheapest option, it’s not ultimately cost-saving especially when you don’t have the right tools for cleaning and if you will do more damage to your car than having it serviced by car detailing experts.

All car owners must at some point need a car wash service, but car detailing might not be right for everyone. Your budget, expectations, and the condition of your vehicle are factors that one must consider when choosing between a car detail or a car wash.

Imagine this: you have a dirty car and you know you need it cleaned. Taking it to a car wash sounds like a good idea but you’re just not sure if they can clean it as well as you’d hope. You’ve heard about car detailing services but you’ve never had them before.

With so many car washes and detailing services out there, it can be difficult to find one that you can trust. Also, prices vary a lot from one place to another. Car Detailing vs Car Wash vs DIY? Which one is right for you?

Don’t worry, after reading this guide, you’ll know which service is best for your car. Let’s start!

The Difference Between Car Wash and Car Detailing

To the untrained eye, car wash and car detailing can seem to be the exact same service. It’s easy to make that mistake – a pricey one, at that – which is why it’s important to know the different processes and purposes these two have. We’ll go through their notable differences as you read on.

What is a Car Wash?

A car wash is a typical process of cleaning your car inside-out to wash away dirt, dust, and grime from your car’s exterior and lightly on the interior. It’s generally a cleaning solution that isn’t time-consuming or invasive. This type of service doesn’t really go too deep into cleaning your vehicle.

Sometimes there is still dirt or other substances in hard-to-reach areas that are left or perhaps some cleaning residue on the surface. Its primary purpose is just to remove whatever environmental debris is visible on your car. Some facilities even offer car wax in addition to a car wash service just to make the car look a bit shiny.

Although an automatic or drive-through car wash is most common among car owners and may seem to be the cheaper option compared to a car detail, it can cause some damage to your car. The rotating brushes in an automatic car wash are quite rough and abrasive. These can scratch and damage your car’s glass and paint.

Sometimes, the dirt and sand from the car that went in before you can be left in these rotating brushes and scratch your paint. And just think about those towels used to dry off your car. They’ve been used to a number of cars before yours, which can leave a residue.

Knowing this, it would be better to wash your car yourself or perhaps leave your car in the hands of the experts in car wash and wax service. As a rule of thumb, you can have a car wash regularly like once a week or once every other week in order to keep grime, dirt, and other contaminants on your car paint at bay.

What is Car Detailing?

Consider car detailing as a multi-level upgrade to a car wash service. It’s a more involved, more in-depth, and time-consuming process than a simple car wash.

Car detailing focuses on the exterior and interior of the car which includes waxing, washing, vacuuming, deep cleaning, and generally restoring the vehicle to its original condition.

In order to do that, car detailing experts take the time to cover all the nooks and crannies that a car wash might miss. It also entails a thorough cleaning that’s tailored to the specific needs of the clients and the condition of their car. Ultimately, the purpose of car detailing is to make your car look brand new, inside and out.

Unlike a car wash, you don’t have to get your car detailed often. You only need it when your car’s in really bad condition. We’re talking about pet hair, sand, vomit, or food stains all over your interior.

While a car wash usually only takes less than an hour to finish, car detailing can take several hours, even an entire day (depending on the damage) to complete.

Most experts suggest having your car detailed 2 to 3 times a year or once every 4 to 6 months. But if, again, it’s not in a good shape – stains- and odor-wise, better have it detailed than just washed.

How to Choose between Car Detailing and Car Wash

Now that you know the main differences between car detailing and car wash, let’s dive deeper into these services. There are 3 main factors that you need to consider when choosing between a car wash or car detailing service for your vehicle – Pricing, Time, and Quality. Let’s go through them one by one.


This is the biggest factor when choosing a car detailing service or car wash. Everyone has different budgets when it comes to cleaning their cars. Some can spend $100, $500, or even $5,000 depending on the service.

If you’re the type of person who just wants a quick wash and vacuum, then a car wash tunnel or shop is your best option. A car wash tunnel or a self-serve car wash is very affordable, ranging from $10-$40. This kind of service usually runs between 10 to 20 minutes. 

If you’re a busy mom whose kid threw up in the car and needs a deep car interior cleaning, or perhaps a car enthusiast who cares about the glossy paint, or a busy professional who cares about the overall cleanliness of the car, then a mobile car detailing service like River Islands Car Salon is your best option.

Car owners who have specific concerns with their vehicles, especially those with a bit of money to spare, are more likely to spend on a professional car detailing service. An average car detailing service run between $250 to $350 depending on the size, condition, and services requested by a customer. Car detailing also takes about 5 to 10 times longer to complete than a regular car wash. Read more about the pricing of car detailing here.


One of the things you must consider before choosing a type of service for your vehicle is how long it takes to detail and wash a car. Like the budget, all people have a preference when it comes to how fast they can have their car back.

Some people prefer a quick and easy car cleaning so their best option is to go to a car wash. Some people have money to spare and don’t mind getting a car detail that lasts for 4 hours. Some people have a lot of time on their hands so they clean the car by themselves.

Aside from time, convenience is also a factor. Is it more convenient for you to drive to a car wash or stay at home and let a mobile car detailing service, like River Islands Car Salon, come to you? Or is it more convenient to do it yourself when you already have the tools and products? You decide.


Ask yourself this, does the quality of car detailing and car wash matter to you? This is something that you should consider because car detailing quality is always going to be superior to a car wash in terms of cleanliness and results.

The amount of work, tools, and chemicals needed to detail a car is 5 to 10 times greater than a car wash. In fact, a regular car wash only needs water, soap, wax, and a vacuum.

If you want high-quality cleaning results for your vehicle, you should consider a car detailing service. Also, if you have stains on seats that need deep cleaning, perhaps an excessive amount of pet hair that needs removal, foggy headlights that needs restoration, or scratched paint on a new luxury car that needs to be fixed, you need a proper car detailing. These are some of the concerns that a car detailing service can restore and transform.

To give you a better understanding of all these, we summarized all the information into this table:


Professional Mobile Car Detailing

Car Wash Shop/


(Assuming you have a very basic experience)

Do you have a specific concern that needs professional help? (Ex. Stain, pet hair, sand, swirl mark removal)




Are you looking to spend under $100?




Are you looking for quality results?




Are you looking to get your car cleaned in under 30 minutes?




Are you looking to get a regular car wash and basic vacuuming only?




Do you have time to clean your car?




Do you worry about potential scratches on your paint?






To sum up, car washing and detailing are both equally important and necessary in keeping your car clean inside out. The only thing is that you don’t expect to have a car wash and expect your car looking like brand new. Or perhaps having your car detailed every few weeks just to make sure it’s clean.

It’s important to know the difference between these services and the different purposes they serve so that you know which one your vehicle needs according to its state.

So, if you travel regularly with pets or perhaps often eat inside your car, you might want to take it to an expert car detailer because the unpleasant odors and stains may ruin your interior. This is something that can’t be solved with just a car wash.

Likewise, if you take your car for a daily ride and it becomes dusty and muddy but not that dirty, a car wash would definitely suffice.

River Islands Car Salon can give your car the major restoration and deep cleaning it needs and deserves with our mobile car detailing service.

Contact us and get a free quote today.

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