Tips For Properly Washing Your Car
By Tom Catuosco
Washing and waxing your car is important. Not only does it make your car look nice, but keeping dirt and grime from building up on your car will prevent your paint from wearing out. Your paint isn’t just to look pretty it also protects your car’s body from rusting. Washing a car isn’t difficult, but there are a few things you should know. Here are 7 tips to help you do a good job washing your car.
GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES - To wash your car, you’ll need water, a bucket, soap, a sponge, and something to dry the car with.
Water: Make sure you have a hose of sufficient length so you can safely walk around the car with it and never have to drag the hose across the car. You should have a nozzle on the hose to easily turn the water flow on and off, as well as regulate the strength and shape of the water flow. There are a lot of fancy nozzles made specifically for washing cars with soap dispensers attached and long wands for easily reaching over the car. These are good, but not necessary. A standard, old fashioned brass twist nozzle will work just fine.
Bucket: Use a large CLEAN plastic bucket. It’s best to keep a bucket on hand that is only used for car washing. Don’t use it for anything else. This will keep unknown substances from contaminating your wash water and possibly damaging your paint.
Soap: It is important to use a good, commercial car wash soap when washing your car. You should never use dish detergent. Proper car wash soap is formulated to clean your car without damaging the paint or removing the car’s wax. Dish detergent is much harsher, as it’s designed to get grease off of dishes. It will strip your car’s wax and and can also be abrasive on paint. You should also avoid using laundry detergent or hand soap. They are also not formulated to safely clean your car. A bottle of quality car washing soap is not very expensive and is much better for your paint.
Sponge: You’ll need a sponge or something similar to apply the soapy water and actually wash the car with. It’s best to choose the least abrasive item that you can. There are a wide array of options to use here - SOFT sponges (nothing with a scouring side), Wash Mitts, Car Washing Brushes, and Wash Pads. I personally prefer to use a microfiber wash mitt. It’s basically a big microfiber covered glove with a sponge inside of it to hold water. It’s gentle on a car’s finish, and is good at removing dirt.
Whatever sponge or brush you choose, make sure to have a couple of them. One for the car, and one for the wheels. You don’t want to use the same sponge on your car’s nice paint that you use to wash it’s grimy, brake dust coated wheels. Some people will even use three different sponges. One for the top of the car, one for the lower half, and one for the wheels.
Towels: To dry your car, you’ll need quality, clean, soft towels. Pure cotton towels are excellent. However, you must make sure they are 100% cotton. Some manufactures include a percentage of other synthetic fibers, such as polyester, in their “cotton” towels. These other fibers can scratch your paint. This happens even on towels that are labeled 100% Cotton. You can test a towel to see if it’s truly pure cotton by lighting a small corner of it on fire. If the flame burns clean, it’s cotton. If there’s smoking or melting, the towel contains synthetic fibers.
Microfiber towels are also great for drying your car. They come in small and large sizes. It’s best to get the large ones, or you’ll be using a lot of them. Microfiber won’t scratch paint, but you should be careful of the towels edges, which can on some towels. To be safe, purchase microfiber towels with silk edges which are safe for your paint.
Chamois cloths are a third drying option preferred by many people. Chamois is a type of very soft leather that is water absorbent. You can buy natural chamois or synthetic. Some people prefer synthetic chamois as it doesn’t contain tannic acids, which could strip wax. Other people prefer natural chamois, claiming it has superior water absorbing capabilities compared to the synthetic kind.
GET OUT OF THE SUN - Before washing your car, park it in an area where it will be out of direct sunlight, if possible. Direct sunlight can cause the soap to dry on the car before it’s rinsed off, especially if the car’s surface is very hot from sitting in the sun a long time. This can cause ugly, damaging spots on the paint. If you don’t have a shady area to park in, setting up an EZ Up type canopy over your car is good to do. If you can’t get any shade for your car and must wash in direct sunlight, wash and dry one small section at a time. Try to avoid washing in the middle of the day when the sun is strongest. This will allow you to control and minimize premature drying.
RINSE FIRST - Before washing the car with the soap, thoroughly rinse the car down from top to bottom to rinse away any major dirt that could get caught in the sponge and scratch the paint.
WASH FROM THE TOP DOWN - The lower portion of a car’s body gets dirtier than the upper portion. When washing your car, you should start with the roof first, then work on lower sections, until you get to the bottom. If you go from the bottom up, dirty soap water from the upper portion of the car you’re working on will run down to the clean bottom parts you just washed.
As you wash from the top down, make sure you frequently dip the sponge in the bucket of soapy water and always squeeze the dirt and old water out of the sponge outside of the bucket, before dipping it back in. Wash one section at time with the soap, then rinse off the soap before moving to the next section. Once you’ve finished washing the whole car, it’s a good idea to give the entire car one more rinse to ensure all soap has been washed away.
WASH WHEELS WITH A SEPARATE SPONGE - Use a different sponge for your wheels than you do for the car’s body. A car's wheels get covered in brake dust and grime. Using the same sponge on the body that’s been used on the wheels can damage your paint by dragging dirt from the wheels across the car’s paint.
Should you wash your wheels before or after washing the body? That’s a point of debate with a lot of people. Some prefer to rinse and wash the wheels first, while others prefer doing the wheels afterwards.
DRY TO AVOID WATER SPOTS - After the car is washed and rinsed, it should be dried quickly to avoid water spots. Water spots are left on the paint when a drop of water evaporates and leaves a mineral deposit behind. Getting the water off the car before evaporation will prevent water spots.
As with washing, you should dry the car starting from the roof and working your way down. Pat or blot the water off with a towel. Change towels frequently so you’re always using a dry towel. In addition to towels, you can use a paint-safe silicone bladed squeegee as part of the drying process. The majority of the water can be squeegeed off the car first with towels just used to finish off the drying.
PROTECT WITH WAX - Wax is important to protect your car’s paint. You don’t need to do it after every wash, but it’s smart to keep a good coat on as a first line of defense for the paint. Your car’s wax coat is still good if the water beads when you rinse the car. If your car does need a new coat of wax, now is the time to do it - right after you’ve cleaned and dried the car. Waxing is a whole special topic itself, but a few basic tips are - Stay out of direct sunlight, apply the wax on one small section at a time, and quickly buff the wax off before moving to the next section.