How to Properly Wash Your Car

In my last post, I hope that I established that you should NEVER take your car to an automated car wash, and I hope you’re convinced.

Bucket of Soapy Water

I also promised that even though I’d love to have the chance to show you what professional detailing can do for your vehicle, I’d show you how to properly wash your vehicle yourself.

Before we start, I should note that it’s always best to wash your car OUT of direct sunlight, so if you can find a shady spot (not under a tree, unfortunately,) or wait until later in the afternoon when the sun isn’t as hot, that’s best.

Step 1: Get the Right Supplies

While I have some great professional level detailing supplies and tools, it’s pretty easy to find DIY versions for you to use at home.

  1. Buckets – pretty self-explanatory, you can get them for a couple of dollars at your local discount store, or if you have a couple of large bowls or plastic containers, that’ll work just fine, just make sure they are large enough to accommodate enough water. Notice I’m saying bucket (s), plural. I want you to have one with soap, and one to rinse.
  2. Water Hose – again, self explanatory. It helps to have one with a sprayer head on it so you can start and stop the flow of water, and vary the pattern as needed.
  3. Car Shampoo – do NOT use dish washing liquid. Just like the car washes, they are designed to work quickly to remove dirt and grease chemically, and they will do the same thing to your protective polish and wax on your car. Pick up some car shampoo that’s listed as mild. Below is an example from Meguiars.
  4. Wash Mitt – You’ll see people using sponges a lot, and I don’t like that because there is nowhere for the dirt/sand to go as you’re washing. I prefer a wash mitt instead. I use a big fluffy lamb’s wool mit, but you can use one of the commercially available ones like the one shown below (they sell similar items at stores like Wal-Mart and Target.)
  5. Drying Towel – if you’ve got some CLEAN old cotton towels around that are soft and aren’t “shedding,” you can get away with using those for the most part. I like to use a real drying towel, they hold the water better and do a better job. I’m not a fan of the lamb’s skin chamois (shammy), they don’t dry that well, and are hard to clean.
  6. Scrub Brush – for the wheels and tires, a soft bristled brush will work great, and you can use one from the house, just make sure it doesn’t have any residual chemicals on it. I wouldn’t use any that you want to reuse inside.

Step 2: Wet Down the Car

Take your hose and put it on spray. Generously get the entire car wet, including the wheels, tires, wheel wells, etc. This is a good time to concentrate on getting off any “big stuff” as well so there is as little dirt as possible.

Step 3: Soap the Car

After you’ve filled the bucket with the proper amount of car shampoo and water, you’re ready to put soap to paint. Dip your wash mitt into your soap bucket, and starting at the top of the car, begin to soap/wash the surface gently. As you do, be cautious with any excessively dirty areas, and rinse frequently. I like to use the “clean water” bucket to rinse, never putting a dirty mitt back into the soap bucket until rinsed. If there is a lot of debris on it, you can also use the hose to rinse it out. It sounds like a lot of work, but if there is dirt/sand in the mitt, you’re back to the sander analogy. So, the process is SOAP bucket, car surface, RINSE bucket/hose, SOAP bucket, car surface. The rule is to never put the dirty mitt back into your main soap bucket.

Work your way all around the car, soaping and washing completely. If it’s hot or the soap is drying quickly, you may wish to soap and rinse in sections.

For the tires and wheels, you can use your brushes to completely wash the edges of the tires, the wheels, and inside edges of the wheel wells.

Step 4: Rinse the Car

Rinsing is easy, just get a steady stream of water flowing and be generous with the water, rinsing completely all of the soap from the car, working from the top down. Make sure you get the cowl (front bottom of the windshield) and any other nooks and crannies.

Again, if it’s a hot day, you may wish to alternate between soaping and rinsing in sections on the car.

Step 5: Dry the Car

The first step here is to make sure that there is no residual dirt, oil, or grease on the car before you dry. Walk around the car and double check. If you find anything, simply repeat the soap and rinse for that area.

Start on the side of the car you expect to be dry first. This might be the side in the sun, or the side you rinsed first. Work from driest to wettest. I like to start with the windows to make them easier to clean later, and I usually dry the outside, then use the towel to do a quick wipe on the inside. This it a first swipe on the inside, you’ll clean up both sides later with glass cleaner.

Work your way around the vehicle, drying everything except the wheels. I like to use a separate towel for the wheels as it’s easy to miss a little bit of dirt that could contaminate the towel. Once the wheels are dry, you can walk around and pick up any drips from the panel gaps, etc.

Step 6: The Final Details and Waxing

I won’t spend a lot of time on this step because there are so many variations and methods, but it’s good to do a final polish/wax, and dress the tires.

There are a lot of options for waxes out there.  A good non-commercial product is Meguiar’s, shown below, and they have several different options. You want a basic one step polish/wax that will give your paint some protection.

The polishes and waxes I use are of a little higher quality, and I’d recommend you come see me a couple of times a year for that added protection.

For the tire dressing, there are a lot of things on the market, most of them are oil based, which can damage the rubber and don’t look good for very long. I recommend using something that’s water based, like Griot’s dressing. Griot’s makes some good stuff for the entire car, so you can’t go wrong there.

Well, there you have it, a DIY hand washed car, all the clean without all of the scratches! I hope this will help you keep your paint looking new and car clean. When you’re ready for some professional help, or even some pampering, give me a call, and I’ll take care of you!

Until next time!

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