Are you one the few that still hand washes their car own car? Many people today keep car washing services, both in full service to the automated kinds, in business. However many. don’t realize that many of these machine type services can be really hard on the paint. I prefer and suggest to do it yourself but do you know “How to wash your car properly”?
Washing a car, truck, bike, boat or any vehicle seems pretty simple and self explanatory doesn’t it? But truthfully there are wrong ways to wash a vehicle that can cost you some big money down the road. There are also things you should know about after washing your vehicle. So knowing how to wash a car can be a little more complex than you would think but still not be a lot more time consuming.
Best Time and Conditions to Wash a Car
Many may think, grab a hose, bucket and some some soap and jump right on it, right? But that thinking can get you water spots, streaks and even scratches in your paint. Never wash your car in direct sunlight and high heat. Morning to early day or early evening is the best time to wash your car. The reason is that when the sun heats up the surface of your car, soap and water dry and evaporate quickly. The quickly drying soap will spot and even streak the cars finish and is often hard to remove.
It is best to be able to let the car soak in soap and water a bit to help lift grease, grime and dirt. The harder you have to rub and scrub, the more scratches you are creating to the paint. Mentioning scratches, it is a really bad idea to try and wash a car on a windy day. For one, the wind can dry the soap and water prematurely. But depending where you live, the wind can carry many abrasives, such as sand and gritty dirt.
How To Pre-Wash Your car
Now I have my own method, and it works really well. It may not be for everyone as it is best to use two buckets or rinse the one you have out before the actual car wash. I like my tires black with that new natural look. Yes you can buy all sorts of tire blacks but those usually make the tires look shiny. To me this doesn’t look like a natural new tire and the shiny stuff attracts dirt to it faster.
I use Bleche Wite Tire Cleaner to get the best new tire look. I get a bucket with regular dish-washing liquid, a tire scrub brush and something to wash your actual wheel with. Depending on the type of wheel you have, either being a hub cap or a actual sport wheel, will determine the type of brush, sponge or rag you will need to clean them with. I also use Meguiar’s Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner on the hub cap or wheel.
Before you hose the car down, while the wheels and tires are dry, spray the tire cleaner on the tire and then spray the wheel cleaner onto the wheel. I always go around the all four wheels applying the cleaners. When I get done spraying the last tire, I then jump onto the first tire I sprayed with the cleaners. I scrub the tire first and then the wheel, then I rinse it off thoroughly and move onto the next wheel in sequence. If the weather is hot even in the mornings or evenings. You may only want to do one side of the car at a time, meaning apply the cleaners on the front wheel and then rear and then start scrubbing.
It’s best to either pour and rinse out the soapy water used for cleaning the wheel, or use another bucket for washing the car. Tire cleaners can streak the paint really bad, sometime to the point that even buffing will not remove them. Better safe than sorry, always use a car wash soap or a dish washing liquid.
Once you have taken care of the wheels, it is time to move on to the car itself. Pre-washing is really simple, just hose the car down really well. It doesn’t hurt to go around the car blasting off as much dirt as you can before rubbing it with a cloth or sponge when washing it. You want to make sure that all your windows are all the way up and the doors are shut tight before spraying the car. Again, do this in mild to lighter temperatures to allow the water to soak into the dirt to help loosen to reduce rubbing.
One tip on cleaning all your interior glass, clean it before getting the car wet. The reason is, and again this has much to do with the area you live in, but if the moisture in the air is high, your glass will streak. So even if you live in a relatively dry area, once you wet the car, the interior will build up some moisture. For me, my procedure is to clean all the glass with Eagle One Glass Cleaner, then vacuum the car completely out, including the trunk.
TIP: Whenever you are in the trunk to vacuum, this would be a good time to check the spare tire air pressure.
How To Wash Your Car
The first things you are going to need is a clean bucket, an automotive car washing cloth, a sponge and an appropriate car washing soap. (See below list for items I recommend). The next step is to thoroughly rinse the car down with a water hose. Concentrate your hose on areas with excessive dirt, grease, grime and mud. I personally use an electric 1400 PSI Pressure Washer, although it isn’t required at all.
The reason I use a pressure washer is because the high pressure water removes the dirt, mud, bugs, grease and grime better than the pressure of a water hose. The benefit of this is, the more abrasive debris you can get off the paint before rubbing it with a rag or a sponge, the less scratches and swirls you will have. If you have ever seen paint jobs with a lot of swirls when the sunlight hits it, this is usually where they come from. Whenever you rub the dirt off your car, you are also scratching it.
The car wash soap or any type of soap does lubricate your cloth or sponge but the as the dirt breaks free, it get trapped in your cloth or sponge and then you have almost sandpaper. The other benefit of a pressure washer is that you can wash the engine compartment, the wheel well areas and underneath the vehicle with it. The cleaner you can keep all the mechanics and the paint, the longer the vehicle will last and the better it will look.
I know many people have gasoline powered pressure washer that range from 1500 to 3500 psi. They are great for cleaning the driveway, sidewalks, decks and even the house but the reason I use a lower powered washer is, if you get too close on a paint job that isn’t the best, you can blow the paint off the car. So if you decide you want to use your manly pressure washer, turn the pressure down or don’t get too close.
Water Hose or PSI Washer (optional)
Car Wash Soap (recommended product links in content)
Sponge and Cloth/Rag (recommended product links in content)
Tire Scrub Brush (See Recommended Product)
Wheel Rim Brush – If you have aluminum wheels or hub caps with hard to reach spots (Recommended)
Tire Cleaner (recommended product links in content)
Wheel Cleaner (recommended product links in content)
Glass Cleaner (recommended product links in content)
Choosing Your Car Wash Soap
Now back to washing the car. After you have done the pre-wash with the hose or pressure washer, now it is time to use a cloth or a sponge with soap and water. Choosing your soap is going to be based on the type of finish your vehicle has and the environment in which your car is exposed to.
I am going to get this one out of the way first. There are those that have cars that have primered parts if not the whole vehicle. And some cars that have peeling paint or may need body work. I highly recommend not washing a car in these conditions with a car wash soap that contain wax or additives. In these cases, I use plain dish-washing liquid, Ajax has been my favorite. Dish-washing liquid removes dirt and grease really well and doesn’t leave a wax or chemical residue that might complicate a future paint job.
If you live around the coastlines or on the beach. The air carries a moistened residue of salt, magnesium and sea scum that just sticks to your car over night. When the sun and heat gets to your car, it is baked on and hard to get off. You can use a full dose of dish-washing liquid or mix some in with your car wash soap, and it will help cut that off better than anything.
For most any other areas, a good car wash soap will do the job nicely. The two best soaps I have found are Chemical Guys Citrus Wash and Gloss or Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash. I have found Citrus really cuts grease and even tree sap better than most other washes. Just about anything Meguiar’s and you can’t go wrong. Both of these soaps are great about not removing the wax off your car and they seem to help reduce water spots if you don’t hand dry your car.
I have been asked about wash and wax type soaps and I have used them and they are fine. They are really great if you don’t have time to wax your car regularly but it is important to read any directions offered for the best results. When I have used them, I found it is important to towel or Shammy dry the car. Then with a dry towel, kind of hand buff it a little. Just remember, the wax in the soap is not like a real wax job. This will help protect the car for a short while. It is best to wax your car at least once every three months, at the minimum of twice a year.
If you did want to use a Wash and Wax Car Soap, I would recommend the same brands as above but with wax. The Chemical Guys Extreme Body Wash Plus Wax and the Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax are both really great products. I have really liked the results I have gotten with both. If your car is waxed regularly, then this can help in between wax jobs. However I have found that the Wash and Wax soaps don’t always cut the grime as well as the Car Wash Soaps without the wax. Remember, the ones mentioned above will not remove your wax.
Which Is Best, A Sponge Or Rag To Wash Your Car?
When it comes to physically washing the car, I prefer a sponge. I will use a cloth or rag on hard to get off dirt or grease, in most cases that is more towards the bottom of the car. The first thing I do is go back over the car with water to keep the surface temperature of the car down and to help the soap spread better.
The sponge absorbs more soapy water than a cloth does, so you can soak up some soapy suds and wring them out onto the car. Washing a car is like dusting a bookcase, you want to start at the highest point and work your way down. So wring you out some suds onto the top of the car, then rub your sponge in circular to elliptical patterns over the entire top. Then rinse, do not try and wash and rinse the entire car all at once as this will create soap streaks and spots from the drying soap. You want to wash by sections and areas.
My method is wash the top, then all the glass and then the hood. Often if it is a smaller car, I will wash the hood, both front fenders and the front bumper cover at once, then rinse. Then I wash the trunk lid and usually the back bumper cover, depending on how much surface area there is to wash. Going down the doors on one side at a time, then rear quarter panels one side at a time to finish up the main body.
To properly wash your car, you will want to wash all the other areas you may never think of. There are door jamb areas, the trunk jambs and seal areas as well as the inside of the fenders you see when you open the hood.
First open the doors, and using the cloth/rag this time, with it mildly saturated with your car wash soap, wipe down all of the painted area of the inside of the door. Proceed to all the painted areas of the jamb, which would be the opening you see when the door is fully open. Also wipe down all the rubber seals as this will increase their life span and sealing ability. Now raise the trunk lid and do the same process. Wipe the inside edge of the trunk lid and then all the gutter, jamb and seal area around the opening of the trunk. Again wipe the seal down as well.
Open the hood and wipe the inside of the fender. This would be the area where the fender rolls under the hood. Also wipe the edge of the hood while it is open. It is a little overkill but you could always go back and wipe the soapy residue off with a fresh water only saturated cloth.
TIP: For those who live around the wooded areas that have to deal with tree sap. Use Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton or microfiber cloth to remove it. I found it best to pour a little alcohol onto the sap spot and let it eat in for a few seconds before rubbing. Doesn’t hurt to get your cloth really wet with the alcohol. Do not worry, the alcohol will not hurt the paint. However I would rub these sap spots off first before washing the car.
How To Towel Dry A Car
Now you don’t always have to towel dry your car but to get the best look and to avoid water spots, it is best to do so. For me, as long as the vehicle isn’t in the direct sunlight, I will let it drip dry for no more than 5 minutes, but this really depends on the weather and your area. Using a Shammy (Chamois) is my favorite method because the wetter the Shammy the better it does pulling the water off the car.
Using the Shammy, I will start again at the top of the vehicle and work my way down. I found it works best if you first wet the Shammy and wring it out. Then spread the Shammy out like you were putting on bed sheets. Lay it on the top and just drag the water off to the sides. You will have to wring your Shammy out many times even from dragging the water off. Once the majority of the water has been drug off, then start wiping the car with the Shammy. This is a wring and repeat many times till all the water has dried off.
Door jambs, under the trunk and hood areas are not clearly visible, but it is still good to keep them clean. The reason is to avoid rust and paint failure down the road. Most people are unaware that leaving a car dirty all the time is what starts the clear coats to peel and rust to form. This happens because the dirt attaches itself to the paint. The dirt then holds in moisture, this turns the dirt into like a mild acid, well depending on the type of dirt and the area you live in. Remember the above mentioned about living around the beach? These attached debris’ then start eating into the clears or paints and works its way into the metal. So keep your car clean…
After using the Shammy to remove all the water, I personally use an all cotton medium size bath towel and kind of hand buff the car with it. You can certainly use a clean dry microfiber towel as well. The hand buff just ensures you get any little water droplets you may have missed and it shines the car up. Plus if you plan on waxing afterwards, it prepares the car for a dry surface to rub with wax.
Waxing A Car
On this procedure, I will be brief. I will soon provide a link to another article on “How To Wax A Car”, so be sure to check back.
The same as washing the car, you want to be out of direct sunlight and high heat. Ideal would be if you could roll the car into a garage or under a carport. Although many wax and polish manufacturers claim it no longer matters if the car is in the shade or not. I say better safe than sorry in my opinion.
My favorite wax/polish has always been Duragloss Automotive Polish and Cleaner. I have built Street Rods and Show Cars for many years and I have always love the look and the longevity of it. But I have also been impressed by the Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax. Both do a great job, although the Duragloss I think does a better job removing mild swirls and scratches.
It is always best to follow the instructions that come with any wax or polish but usually they are pretty similar. You take you an all cotton rag or microfiber cloth and wet it. Wring the water out to where the water isn’t all gone but mostly. Pour a spot onto your rag about the size of the bottle opening. Do not pour a lot onto your rag nor do you pour it all over the car, if you do, good luck on the elbow work to get it off. It is better to apply a little than a lot.
It is always best to try a small section, let it dry to a haze and then with a dry rag, rub it off. You want to test how hard it is to rub off by how much you put on. Once you figure out how much to apply that makes it easy to rub off, start again at the top and work you way down. Usually on the top of the car, I will do half the top at a time. Same with the hood, I will do half then work the other side but again depends on the size of the car. If it is smaller car, I will do areas at a time.
Just apply, let dry to a haze and rub and buff off with a towel. Basically rinse and repeat until the entire car is finished. Avoid getting the wax/polish one rubber, glass and plastic black trims. If you do, a mildly wet rag should get it off.
How To Wash A Motorcycle
Now I have added this section because washing a motorcycle is a little different than a car for a few reasons. Soon, I will be creating a more in-depth article on “How To Wash A Motorcycle”, so please check back.
To correctly clean a motorcycle, you have to consider things that come apart. Like on my bike, I remove the seat as it comes off easily. I usually clean it separately, but with it off, it allows me to wash my side covers thoroughly and all the dust that collects up under my seat.
Washing and waxing the painted parts will be the same as washing a car. Keep in mind, it’s best to be careful around your instrument cluster, depending on the type of bike and year. Everything on a bike should be weather proof but I have seen instrument clusters fog up on the inside where it got hit with the hose at the wrong angle. There is also the ignition key switch, no need in forcing water and soap down inside it.
If your bike has nylon saddle bags, remove them and clean them separately. If your bike has a windshield, then you are aware of all those smashed impacted bugs that just don’t come off with soap and water. For windshields, I have always used All Kleer, it does a pretty good job melting the bugs away to where they will wipe off. Plus it adds a protective coating to help keep the bugs from sticking so bad the next time. Works great on helmet visors as well.
There is a newer windshield cleaner that is pretty impressive, so I recommend checking it out. If you buy and try it, please let me know what you think of it. It is called Shield Solutions, go to there site and watch the videos. It does great on the windshield and the headlamp as well. Both of these products work great on signal light lenses as well.
Lubrication is key on a motorcycle when it comes to washing it. Now granted, they are designed to run in the rain, mud and so forth, but when you wash a motorcycle with soaps and de-greasers, you are removing it’s key lubrication. If your bike has a chain, you need to be lubricating it after the wash. Many bikes have grease fittings for the rear sway arm, you want to grease them after a wash as well.
For dirt and motocross bikes, I ran across a good post that can better explain “How To Wash Your Dirtbike“. For dirt bikes, it is really crucial to lubricate them after every wash. Not only due to the soaps and de-greasers but the wet dirt and mud as well.
Why It’s Better To Hand Wash
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many people are not aware that automated machine car washes can be detrimental to your car’s paint. Now the machines that are brushless are not bad at all. They use high pressures to wash the car and then use air dryers, so none of it ever touches the car’s surface. However if you have a bad paint job, they can always start peeling the paint off.
The more common automated car washes use brushes. Either the kind that spin or the ones that go back and forth. Here is where these are drastically bad for your paint. They are never washed and wrung out, they go from one dirty car to the next. The material they are made of has to be durable to wash as many cars as they do in a day. So these brushes aren’t the softest it needs to be to avoid scratching the car.
Imagine waiting in line at a car wash and a massive four wheeling truck is in front of you just covered in heavy mud. Your car gets to be the first one that helps remove the mud residuals out of the brushes because that mud is still in there. So do you think that mud is going to be good for your paint? I have seen a car scratched all to pieces once from going through on of these car washes during the winter. The water had frozen on the tips of the bristles of the brush and just beat and scratched it.
Hand washing of course takes longer and in today’s world, none of us have much time. But it is by far your best option if you want the best look and the best protection for your vehicle’s paint. If you do decide to use a car wash service, do some research and ask for a service that has a machine that is brushless and that a crew hand towels the car at finish. Those services would be your next best step to hand washing it. Of course they cost more than going to a “Buck and a Quarter” Self-Serve Car Wash but you do usually get good service.
The Self-Serve Washes are not bad either if you have some time. The wands are really high pressure but the volume of water is low. So if you brought you a bucket, plan on spending about 3 minutes to fill it up. But this would be an alternative to buying your own Pressure Washer. However you will spend more than the $1 to $2 these washes offer for one wash.
How To Wash Your Car Conclusion
No matter what you are washing, car, truck, boat, RV, tractor, lawnmower, motorcycle or even a bicycle. You have to be careful where you are washing and be mindful of what will need lubricated after the wash. Also not all soaps are going to remove all debris. Sometimes it takes a different product to remove certain types of debris. Even then, you have to be careful it isn’t going to harm your paint or windshield.
Always test a product out, don’t always take the word of someone else or even the provided instructions. All products have disclaimers for a reason. Everything I have mentioned above is based off my experiences. However, in my experiences, I have ran across some crazy un·heard of stuff.
If you are driving a used car, you especially want to test all products before going at it full steam. Your car may have been repainted at a body shop that used synthetic enamel paints which have no durability at all. I have seen top brand waxes eat right into these type of paints. So if your car already looked dull when you got it, test your products in a small out of the way place before applying it all over.