How To Wash Your Car Properly

Are you one the few that still hand washes your car own car? Many people today, keep car washing services in business. However, many don’t realize that some of these machine type services, can be really hard on the paint. I prefer and suggest, to do it yourself. The question is, do you know “How to wash your car properly”?


Car Care

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 vehicle can be a little more complex than you would think. Although still not that more time consuming to do it right.

Best Time and Conditions to Wash a Car

can I was a car in the sun

Many might 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, when the sun heats up the surface of your car, soap and water dry and evaporate quickly. 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 in 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, so figure out what you like. 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. 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. Plus the shiny coating you apply, attracts dirt to it faster.

I use Bleche Wite Tire Cleaner to get the best new tire look. Use a bucket with regular dish-washing liquid, a tire scrub brush and something to wash your actual wheel with. The type of brush, sponge or rag to clean the wheels with, depends on the type of wheel you have. Hub caps or a sport wheels usually take different cleaning tools. I use Meguiar’s Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner on both hub caps or aluminum wheels.

You will want to clean and scrub the tires and wheels while the vehicle is dry. Spray the tire cleaner on the tires and then spray the wheel cleaner onto the wheels. Go around all four wheels applying the cleaners. Jump back to the first tire sprayed with the cleaners. Scrub the tire first and then the wheel. 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.

how to wash a tire
Now Onto Pre-Washing The Main Car

Before you get started on the main body. Either pour and rinse out the soapy water used for cleaning the wheel, or use another bucket. Tire cleaners can streak the paint really bad, sometimes to the point that even buffing will not remove them. I recommend using a different bucket. Better safe than sorry, always use a car wash soap or a dish washing liquid.

Ensure that all your windows are all the way up and the doors are shut tight before spraying the car. Pre-washing is really simple, just hose the car down really well. It's a good idea to go around the car blasting off as much dirt as you can. Rubbing dirt and grim with a cloth or sponge can scratch the paint. Again, do this in mild to lighter temperatures. This allows the water to soak into the dirt to help loosen to reduce rubbing.

Clean your interior glass before getting the vehicle wet. Once the vehicle is wet, the moisture around and inside the vehicle is higher. Your glass will streak more if cleaned after the wash. Streaking can be worse if you already live in a high moisture area. My procedure is, clean all the interior glass with Eagle One Glass Cleaner. Then vacuum the car completely out, including the trunk. Start the pre-wash and finally the actual wash.

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

properly washing a car

The first thing you are going to need is a clean bucket. Then 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.

A good reason to use a pressure washer. High pressure water removes dirt; mud; bugs; grease and grime, better than the pressure of a water hose. The benefit is, the more debris you can get off the paint. the less damage to the finish. Rubbing the debris with a rag or a sponge when washing, can leave scratches and swirls. 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.

Car wash soaps lubricate your cloth or sponge. As the dirt breaks free, it gets trapped in your cloth or sponge. Now it's almost like washing with sandpaper. Other benefits of using a pressure washer. It makes washing the engine compartment easier. It's excellent for cleaning 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.

Using A Pressure Washer

I know many people have gasoline powered pressure washer that range from 1500 to 3500 psi. These are great for cleaning driveways, sidewalks, decks and even the house. However, the higher pressure may be too harsh on a paint job. I use a lower powered washer, less chance of damaging the paint if you get too close. If you decide you want to use your manly pressure washer, turn the pressure down or don’t get too close.

Recommended Items For Washing

  • Water Hose or PSI Washer (optional)
  • Bucket (Clean)
  • 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
  • Wheel Cleaner
  • Glass Cleaner
Choosing Your Car Wash Soap

After you have pre-washed with the hose or pressure washer, now it is time to wash. You will use a cloth or a sponge with soap and water. Choosing your soap is going to be based on couple of things. The type of finish your vehicle has and the environment in which your car is exposed to.

Let's get this one out of the way first. There are those that have cars that have primered parts if not the whole vehicle. Some cars have peeling paint or may need body work. I highly recommend not washing a car in these conditions with a car wash soap that contains wax or additives. In these cases, I use plain dish-washing liquid, Ajax has been my favorite. Dish-washing liquids remove dirt and grease really well. It 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. These ocean residues will stick to your vehicle overnight. When the sun and heat gets to your vehicle, it is baked on, and hard to get off. To remove these residues, you can use dish-washing liquid or mix some in with your car wash soap. That will help cut the ocean residue better than anything.

Soap Recommendations

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 is going to work great. Both of these soaps are great about not removing the wax off your car. 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. I have used them and they work fine. They are really great if you don’t have time to wax your car regularly. However, 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, 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're interested in using a Wash and Wax Car Soap, I recommend the same brands as above. The Chemical Guys Extreme Body Wash Plus Wax and the Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax are both really great products. 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. The Car Wash Soaps without the wax, cut the grease and grime better. Good brands of car wash soaps are designed not to remove your wax jobs.

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 this is more towards the bottom of the car. 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.

With all that soap in the sponge, it also lubricates the surface, making removing dirt less harm to the paint. A cloth will retain the soap but not hold as much, so less lubrication. Cloths are more abrasive than a sponge, so you will put mild scratches in the paint when using it. However, a sponge can trap dirt in it and also scratch the paint. That is why it is important to always dunk and wring your sponge.

The scratches I am talking about are really faint, you will only see them in certain lighting. They look like buffing streaks in the paint. However, after a length of time of washes, the paint will dull from these scratches,

My Procedure Washing

The first thing I do, go back over the car with water. This keeps the surface temperature of the vehicle down, and helps the soap spread better. Washing a car is like dusting a bookcase. You want to start at the highest point and work your way down. Wring out some suds onto the top of the car. Rub your sponge in circular to elliptical patterns over the entire top. Rinse, do not try to wash and rinse the entire car all at once. This can create soap streaks and spots from the drying soap. You want to wash by sections and areas.

My method is wash the top, and all the glass. If it is a smaller car, I will include the hood, both front fenders and the front bumper cover. I call this washing an area, then I rinse, to move on to the next area. Then I wash the trunk lid and usually the back bumper, then rinse. From there, I'll go downone side rinse then the other side. This also depends on the size of the vehicle. If it is large, I will break it down, fender, doors and quarter panel. 

The Hidden Areas

To properly wash your car, you will want to wash all the other areas you may never think of. There are door jamb areas. Trunk jambs and seal areas as well as the inside of the fenders you see when you open the hood.

Open the doors and use a cloth mildly saturated with your car wash soap. Wipe down all of the painted areas inside of the door and door jams. Also wipe down all the rubber seals as this will increase their life span and sealing ability. Raise the trunk lid and do the same process. Wipe the inside edge of the trunk lid and all the gutter, jamb and seal area around the opening of the trunk. Again, wipe the seal down.

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 clean water 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

how to towel dry a car

You don’t always have to towel dry your car. Although, to get the best look and to avoid water spots, I highly recommend it. As long as the vehicle isn’t in the direct sunlight, it can drip dry for about 5 minutes. This really depends on the weather and your area. Using a Shammy (Chamois) is my favorite method. 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 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.

After using the Shammy to remove all the water, use an all cotton medium size bath towel. Do a light rub, hand buff to dry up any remaining water. 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 apply the wax.

Dry The Jamb Areas

Using a Shammy or a towel, wipe the door jambs, under the trunk and hood areas. Wipe any areas that are not clearly visible. Wiping the water out of hidden areas help keep the dirt from packing back up. You may not be aware, but leaving dirt on painted surfaces leads to paint failure and then rust. That is why it is important to keep the jambs and under truck and hood areas clean. If you live in an area where the roads are salted often, or live around the oceans. These area are known to rust out vehicles, This rust usually starts from the hidden areas that don't get washed correctly.

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 Show Cars for many years, and I have always loved the look and the longevity of it. 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.

How To Apply Wax/Polish

It is always best to follow the instructions that come with any wax or polish. 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's always best to try a small section first. Let it dry to a haze, 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, to where it's easy to rub off. Start at the top of the vehicle, and work your way down. Usually on the to, I will do half the top at a time. Same with the hood, I will do half then work the other side. However, this depends on the size of the car. If it is smaller car, I will do the larger panels 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 on rubber, glass and plastic black trims. If you do, a mildly wet rag should get it off.

How To Wash A Motorcycle

washing a motorcycle

I have added this section, because washing a motorcycle is a little different than a car. 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. On my bike, I remove the seat as it comes off easily, I usually clean it separately. With the seat off, it allows me to wash my side covers thoroughly and all the dust under my seat. If your bike has nylon saddle bags, remove them and clean them separately.

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. However, I've seen instrument clusters fog up on the inside where the hose got it 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 a windshield, then you are aware of all those smashed impacted bugs. Noticed they just don’t come off with soap and water. For windshields, I have always used All Kleer, it does a 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 try it out, please let me know what you think of it. It is called Shield Solutions, go to the site and watch the videos. It does great on windshields, headlamps and signal light lenses.

Don't Wash Away The Lubrication

Lubrication is key on a motorcycle's operations. So when it comes to washing it, be careful. Granted, they are designed to run in the rain, mud and so forth. However, when you wash a motorcycle with soaps and de-greasers, you are removing it’s key lubrication. If your bike has a chain, you'll want to lubricate it after the wash. Many bikes have grease fittings for the rear sway arm, you'll want to grease those after a wash as well.

For dirt and motocross bikes, it is really crucial to lubricate them after every wash. These type bikes run in dirt, wet mud, and grime that will eat up pivot points and bearings.

Why It’s Better To Hand Wash

hand washing a car is better

As mentioned, many people are not aware that automated machine car washes can be detrimental to your car’s paint. Automated machines that are brushless, are not bad at all. They use high pressures to wash the car and then use air to dry. Nothing ever touches the car’s surface. However, if you have a bad paint job, this could 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. These brushes are drastically bad for your paint. They are never washed and wrung out, and they go from one dirty car to the next. The material they're made of has to be durable to wash as many cars as they do per 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. It is covered in heavy mud and grime. Your car gets to be the first one that helps remove the mud residuals out of the brushes. So do you think that mud is going to be good for your paint? I've seen a car scratched all to pieces from going through on of these car washes during the winter. The water had frozen on the tips of the brush, and just beat and scratched the car to death.

Do What's Right For The Paint

Hand washing of course takes longer, and in today’s world, we're all in a hurry. But it's by far your best option if you want the best look and the best protection for your 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. See if they have a crew that 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 “$2” 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 a few minutes to fill it up. This would also be an alternative to buying your own Pressure Washer. However you will spend more than the $2 these washes offer for one wash. It will take two to three runs on the service.

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 run across some crazy unheard of stuff.

If your vehicle is used and you don't know its paint history. You'll want to test all products before going at it full steam. Your vehicle may have been repainted at a body shop that used synthetic enamel paints. This types paint has no durability at all. I have seen top brand waxes eat right into these type of paints. So if your vehicle already looked dull when you got it, test your products. Try them in a small out of the way place before applying it all over.