Are you trying to get your vehicle as clean as possible with the smallest amount of hassle and heartache? When done right, washing your car can protect its finish, reduce the chance of corrosion over time and keep it looking great. When done wrong, however, you can end up scratching the glass and paint, stripping wax and leaving ugly water spots all over everything. Check out these five car wash tips to get the most out of washing your vehicle and avoid the most common pitfalls.
1. Do: Choose the Right Soap
One of the most oft-repeated, old-school car wash tips is to use dish detergent for maximum cleaning power — but this also happens to be perhaps the worst advice you could take when cleaning your vehicle. Dish soap is great for dishes, because it’s formulated to cut through grease, but those same strong chemicals and detergents will not only strip the wax off of your car, but also dull the finish of your paint and trim. Always use a soap that has been formulated specifically for cars—unless you are intentionally removing wax in order to reapply a fresh coat.
2. Don’t: Let Anything Touch the Ground
Did you drop your wash mitt, drying cloth or detailing rag? It’s done. Forget about it. Walk away. Well, maybe not that last one, but definitely don’t use it again during this wash session. The small particles of dirt and grime it picked up after being in contact with the ground mean it’s guaranteed to scratch and spiderweb your paint should you use it before thoroughly machine-washing it. For this reason, it’s helpful to keep a supply of extra towels and a mitt or two handy to use should you accidentally drop anything while washing.
3. Do: Use Two Buckets or Rinse Carefully
In keeping with the same theme, you’ll want to rinse your mitt off in between every dip into the suds bucket to clean off the dirt you just removed from your car. Ideally, you should have two buckets at the ready — one for rinsing your mitt and one for getting a fresh batch of clean, sudsy soap on your mitt to use on the car. This is one of the best ways to ensure that you don’t accidentally scratch the paint while washing your car.
4. Don’t: Wash in Direct Sunlight
Most professionals caution against washing your car on a bright, sunny day, because one of the keys to a proper car cleaning is keeping it wet until it’s time for it to be properly and thoroughly dried. If the metal is hot, the water, and even the soap, will dry up quickly because of the sun, which will leave spots all over the paint and glass. Keeping the car wet with a light drizzle of water, parking in the shade, or washing in the early evening will prevent spots from forming. It’s also important to rinse with an indirect spray instead of a jet blast of water.
5. Do: Use a Microfiber Drying Towel
Household towels made of cotton or polyester are simply too abrasive to be safely used on your car’s paint. A microfiber drying towel is softer and more absorbent, which will protect your finish and get the drying job done much faster.
Make sure to take the necessary precautions so your car wash leaves your ride shining — not scratched or spotted.
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Photo courtesy of Morguefile.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.