If there is a single maintenance activity that offers the biggest benefit to your car’s appearance, it’s keeping it clean through regular washing. Car washing is the process of removing loose dirt and road film from your car’s exterior surfaces. That means more than just a good hosing. You have to scrub it with a car washing soap and a wash mitt.
This article will provide you with accurate information about the best way to wash and dry your car. This means getting the job done as quickly as possible without scratching and swirling the paint finish or removing all of the car wax protection. If you follow just a few simple pointers, you’ll be well on your way.
Proper Car Washing
If you’re going to skimp on any car care task, don’t skimp on washing and drying. In fact, most damage to a car’s exterior finish is self-induced by using the wrong car washing products or methods.
I’m talking about swirl marks, fine scratches and dull paint. It does not happen all at once, it creeps up on you over a period of months until all of the color and shine is sucked out of your paint. You can avoid the damage — and the expense of reconditioning the finish — by using good car washing and drying tools and a decent car washing soap.
Many detailing enthusiasts use a two-bucket wash system. The first bucket holds your soapy water, and the second bucket holds rinse water. The rinse water bucket is used to rinse your wash sponge or mitt prior to dunking it in the bucket of soapy water.
This method has two practical benefits. First and foremost, it keeps dirt and grit out of your soapy water where it could cause damage to your car. Second, it makes the suds in your soapy water last longer, because your car wash shampoo doesn’t have to react to any dirt to may be putting back into the water.
Never Wash A Hot Car
If possible, work in the shade. A hot surface causes the wash and rinse water to evaporate too quickly, increasing the likelihood of water spotting. One trick is to park on a slight incline. This allows rinse water to run off moldings, trim and recessed areas better. Start by thoroughly wetting the car’s finish with a medium spray of water to remove loose grit and surface dirt.
Wash Tires & Wheels First
If you wash the car body first, the water will dry and spot your car before you can properly finish washing the tires and wheels. Do not use the same wash water on your car’s paint as you used on your tires and wheels. Throw the dirty water out and refill your buckets.
To properly clean your tires and wheels, you’ll need a 3 to 5 gallon bucket, a soft tire and wheel scrub brush, a sponge or washcloth, a water hose and nozzle, car shampoo and a spray wheel cleaner.
Warning: Do not clean your wheels if they are still hot from driving. Let them cool, or thoroughly hose them down. Be aware that if your brakes are hot, spraying them with cold water may cause severe damage.
Some step-by-step tips to make tire and wheel cleaning easier:
- Clean one wheel at a time.
- Mix a bucket of soapy water with your favorite car washing soap, using double the recommended strength.
- Thoroughly rinse the tire and wheel with a strong water stream using a hose and spray nozzle.
- If your tires and wheels have a heavy coating of brake dust or road grime, mist with wheel cleaner. Allow the cleaner to soak for at least 30 seconds, but less than 3 minutes.
- Use tire and wheel scrub brushes and your soapy water to agitate the tire and wheel surface. Use plenty of soapy water.
- Use your wheel brush and soapy water to scrub the accessible areas of the wheel wells, too. This small detail keeps your car looking fresh and new.
- Thoroughly rinse the tire, wheel and wheel-well. Use plenty of water to ensure that all traces of the wheel cleaner and soap are gone.
Finally, after washing the rest of your car, remember to dry your tires and wheels using a detailing towel.
Spot Treat Bug, Tar, Sap & Bird Stains
For stubborn problems on your paint and other surfaces, use an insect remover or pre-wash cleaner. If the contamination has a lot of grip, use a paint-safe bug sponge. A good solution is the Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Pad.
Use the Right Car Washing Soap
The high-quality car washing soaps made today are very gentle on paint, plastic and rubber. The most important function a car washing soap provides is lubrication to prevent scratching and conditioners to maintain the shine. Be sure to select a quality product that’s not counterproductive to your detailing efforts.
One of my favorite car washing soaps is P21S Bodywork Shampoo. The reason I like the P21S car wash is because it has everything I look for in a good wash shampoo. It has nice suds (not too much), good lubrication (to reduce the risk of scratching), it’s free-rinsing, and it leaves a wonderful gloss that makes the car look like it was just waxed. Oh, yeah, it smells great, too!
My other favorite car wash soap is Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash & Conditioner. Like P21S it’s very gentle, cleans well, and it has a great fragrance.
Remember to Rinse Frequently
Frequent rinsing is especially important if the car is excessively dirty. If you are washing on a warm day, keep the whole car wet to prevent spotting. I use a final rinse of free-flowing water (nozzle off the hose), allowing the water to sheet off the car. This makes drying faster.
Use A Top-Quality Wash Mitt
Your choice of a car wash mitt is important. You should select a wash mitt that is comfortable for you to use, but take a few things into consideration. First, your wash mitt needs to hold a lot of soapy water. The more it holds, the more soapy water you can get on your car. This is important for lubrication. The lubrication created by soapy water is what prevents dirt from scratching the paint.
Use a wash mitt that cleans easily. If it doesn’t easily release dirt and grit, it’s not safe. I like wash tools with a lot of fibers, like a lamb’s wool mitt or a cotton-chenille-covered sponge. Contrary to many beliefs, the natural sea sponge and the boar’s hair brush are not good wash tools. Modern wash tools make these relics things of the past. A safe wash brush can be used on the lower body panels, but should not be used above the bottom-of-the-door line.
I prefer a microfiber wash mitt for washing. These tools have a large number of fine filaments that draw dirt and grime away from the surface being cleaned into their internal structure. Synthetic (flat-sided) sponges and washcloths can trap dirt, grit and grime on the surface, which can scratch your car’s paint. Microfiber wash mitts and pads are also excellent, as they hold lots of soapy water and are gentle.
The Wash Bucket
You might be wondering why I have a topic for wash buckets. So, let me ask you a question, where do you think all of the dirt and grit on your wash mitt goes? It goes right back into your wash water, right? That’s a problem, because it’s the dirt and grit you’re trying to avoid to prevent scratching.
A great product called the Grit Guard™ is an insert that fits in the bottom of any standard 5-gallon utility bucket. It traps dirt below the insert, keeping it away from your wash mitt, brushes and other cleaning tools. It works great!
There’s also a fantastic Grit Guard Bucket System that includes a 5-gallon bucket with Gamma Seal™ lid, a heavy-duty, 5-caster bucket dolly, Grit Guard insert, and an optional seat pad that can also be used for kneeling. This system is one of my favorite tools.
Car Drying Tips
Before drying, your car should be freshly rinsed and free of visible dirt, grease and oil.
Here’s the proper way to dry a car:
- Remove the hose nozzle from your hose and turn the water on with medium pressure. Rinse your car, allowing the water to flow freely over the surface (but do not directly spray the water). The free-flowing action will cause the water to sheet off, carrying 80% or more of the surface water with it. Allow the car to drip dry for a minute while you get your drying tools.
- If you have a paint-safe squeegee, use it on the windows first. Follow the squeegee with a synthetic chamois or a microfiber drying towel.
- Use a clean drying towel or synthetic chamois to dry the remainder of the car. Start at the top and work down. If you’re using a large drying towel or chamois, throw it out over the flat surface areas and slowly pull it toward you across the surface of the car. Shake and turn your drying towel frequently. To prevent streaking, fold your chamois or towel into a square for wiping.
- Once the exterior is mostly dry, open the doors and wipe down the jambs, sills and seal areas. Be sure to dry under the doors, or your sills will get wet again as soon as you close the doors.
- Use a terry detailing towel to dry your tires and wheels. Do not use your good chamois or drying towel on the tires and wheels, as it will become soiled.
- Open the trunk and hood in order to wipe down the jambs and seals. On the engine, use the damp towel you used to dry the tires and wheels to remove dust and light oil from the top of the engine and engine compartment surfaces. After you finish wiping down your engine, put the dirty towel in the wash. Don’t use it on your car again until you wash it.
A towel is a towel, right? Unfortunately, this is not correct.
If you grew up in a house like mine, Mom retired the old bath towels to the garage for car and dog duty. What she didn’t realize is that most bath towels use a backing material that contains heavy polyester thread. The edges of the towel are stitched with polyester thread, too.
What’s the big deal about polyester? Pound for pound, polyester is stronger than steel. This is great for long-lasting bath towels, but it’s not so good for your car’s paint. It scratches!
Traditional polyester and polyester blend thread easily can easily scratch an automotive paint finish. Your car’s paint will be a swirled mess. The solution is microfiber!
Dry Even Faster w/ a Water Blade!
If you want to dry your car in a hurry, use a Water Blade!
A Water Blade is a paint-safe squeegee that quickly removes 70-80% of the water from your car with just a few strokes. Follow up with a good microfiber drying towel, and you’re done in about half the time.
If you use a paint-safe squeegee, be careful. It only takes one small dirt particle between the blade and your car to create a fine scratch. The secret is to rinse your car well and wipe the blade with your hand after each pass. It’s easy. I have been using my Water Blades for many years with zero issues.
After Washing & Drying Your Car
Regardless of how gentle your car shampoo is, or when you last waxed your car, driving and washing deplete the wax protection you’ve previously applied. For this reason, I like to use a quick detailing spray on my car after washing. A good detailing spray renews the “just waxed” shine and extends the life of your wax.
Your tires and exterior rubber trim need a little shot of protection, too. A quick wipe with your favorite protectant not only improves the look of the car, but also has a lasting effect on long-term wear.
Regular washing is important to maintaining your car’s appearance. Most people forget some of the simple, quick steps that can keep a new car looking new.
Take just a few extra minutes when you wash to wipe down the engine, door jambs and trunk. Keeping these areas clean prevents a bigger clean-up job later. To make your job easier and more enjoyable, invest in a few good detailing tools. Quality wash and dry tools make a huge difference.
Car Washing & Drying Summary
Washing your car regularly is an important maintenance routine. Doing the job right — with quality tools and wash products — makes everything easier and prevents scratching.
When it’s time for a full detail, washing is just the first cleaning step. Washing removes loose dirt, but it won’t remove bonded contamination.
For a deep cleaning job, check out Clay Bar Detailing.