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So, What Exactly IS Road Film?

Road film is a term used to describe the accumulation of dirt, grime, and other contaminants that accumulate on a vehicle's exterior as it travels on the road. This can include dust, mud, oil, tar, and other types of debris that cling to the vehicle's paint, wheels, and undercarriage. It starts forming immediately after hitting the road and at first can look like normal dirt (which it is), and eventually evolve into a layer of oily dust. If left for too long, road film can compact on the surface of a vehicle making hard to wash off. The longer it’s left on the more time it has to attack the protective layers of the body paint causing it to chip off and allowing for the formation of rust.

dirty car with road film showing what it looks like

Formation of Road Film

Road film forms when a vehicle is in motion and comes into contact with various types of contaminants on the road. These contaminants can stick to the vehicle's surface due to static electricity or other factors, and over time, they can build up and form a layer of grime that is difficult to remove. The longer the road film is left on the surface of the vehicle, the more difficult it becomes to remove. Road film starts off like regular dirt stains such as water spots or mud splashes, or regular dust. While it’s allowed to continue to accumulate, a light dust layer will start to form causing a slight discoloration of the paint. This layer of dust, however, won’t just blow off in the wind since several oils will hold it to the vehicle. Don’t worry, this is completely normal and won’t damage your surface. However, if left unchecked this grime can harden and solidify which makes it much more difficult to wash off and the hardening process can also scratch the clearcoat, exposing the pain to the elements.

Dirty tesla from normal driving

Negative Effects of Road Film

Road film can have a negative impact on the appearance of your vehicle, as it can make it look dirty, dull, and old. However, the negative effects of road film go beyond aesthetics. The buildup of road film on your vehicle can also affect its performance, as it can clog air filters, reduce fuel efficiency, and lead to premature wear and tear on the engine and other mechanical parts. The metal surface of the vehicle aren’t safe either. Each vehicle has a permanent protective layer added by the manufacturer that can be damaged by road film. Without this protective layer, the metal becomes exposed to the environment where rain, wind, humidity, and heat can negatively affect its structure.

Importance of Regular Cleaning

Regular cleaning of your vehicle is important to remove road film and other types of contaminants that can accumulate on its surface. This not only helps to keep your vehicle looking its best but also ensures that it operates efficiently and effectively. Washing your vehicle regularly can also prevent the buildup of road film and other contaminants that can cause damage to your vehicle over time. Every licensed car wash will carry cleaning agents and waxes. Waxes are an important part of the washing process as they can help replenish, or add to, the protective layers on the body of the vehicle. This not only prevents damage, but it also allows contaminants to slide off easier, prolonging the results of the car wash. In addition, waxes can revitalize the paint colour and add to the shine meaning a longer lasting, and brighter shine!

Man using a soft bristle brush to clean car in self-serve

Proper Cleaning Techniques

To effectively remove road film and other types of contaminants from your vehicle, it is important to use proper cleaning techniques. This includes using a high-quality car wash soap, a soft-bristled brush or sponge, and a gentle touch to avoid scratching the paint. It is also important to rinse your vehicle thoroughly after washing to remove any soap residue that can cause streaks or spots. After rinsing make sure to add the waxes your car wash provides (don’t skimp on this step!). After the waxes are applied, rinse one more time with the spot-free rinse to remove excess product and ensure that no mineral residue is left on the vehicle just after washing. If regular water is used, the minerals or other contaminants can cause microscopic bumps on the waxes which capture the materials that create road film, therefore completely nullifying the smoothing effects of the waxes. Another reason to use a professional car wash instead of washing at home!

Road film is a buildup of dirt, grime, and other types of contaminants that can accumulate on a vehicle's exterior as it travels on the road. Regular cleaning of your vehicle is important to remove this buildup and prevent damage to your vehicle's body, improving appearance, and performance. By using proper cleaning techniques and washing your vehicle regularly, you can keep it looking its best and running efficiently for years to come.


There is a considerable selection of cleaning agents and waxes that car wash operators can offer their customers. If you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know which ones to choose, don’t worry, we’re here to help! We would love to hear from you and offer a free one-on-one consultation to help you make the right choice for your business and your customers. Contact us here, or check out our contact options at the bottom of this page to get expert help today!


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Contact Us

Northern Alberta:

Murray Prescesky

Phone: (587) 385-8225


Southern Alberta:

Stuart Duff

Phone: (403) 462-7499


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