We want to make sure that your car looks every bit as good as it drives. As well as using quality products and methods, we also offer our expert advice to help you take care of your car on a regular basis.
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See below for further information on taking care of your car at home. From specialist products to car washing tips and tricks, we recommend the following pieces of advice.
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How to wash your car without causing damage
See our step-by-step advice for the Two-Bucket Wash Method
On any given day, you will undoubtedly see someone either washing their car or getting it washed via an automatic car wash. Washing a car is the simplest and perhaps the single most effective way to enhance and maintain a car's appearance and it is the one thing that car enthusiasts do most often.
Strikingly, however, the majority of people (and places) wash cars improperly. While there is no approved way to wash a car, there are a number of wrong ways! In this section we will cover, in detail, how to wash a car so as to minimise the creation of unwanted and unsightly paint swirls or scratches.
Dark coloured cars, in particular, require the utmost care and patience. A properly washed car's paint surface will easily last 1-2 years before requiring a pure polishing step to remove any slight paint imperfections imparted through washing.
The first thing you will need to do is make a small investment in some products that will enable you to perform the best wash possible.
- It is essential that you use two buckets when washing your car – this is called the "two-bucket wash method" after all. Just think for a moment how most people wash a car (assuming they are not already using the two-bucket method). Most likely they get a single bucket, put soap in it, fill it with water, get a sponge, spray their car down, and start washing – repeatedly putting the sponge into the wash bucket, rinsing it out and getting more suds. Using a single bucket implies putting a sponge into dirty water and using that dirty water/soap mixture to wash… The sponge picks up grit and holds it on the surface, slowly but surely imparting scratches in the paint. An easy and effective fix to this is simply to use two buckets. One bucket for water only (a rinse bucket) and the other bucket for a soap/water mixture (a wash bucket). 5-gallon buckets are highly recommended for this method as two-gallon buckets are simply too small. Go ahead, get two buckets, label them ‘Rinse’ and ‘Wash’ with a marker and you are good to go.
- It is also essential to invest in a quality wash mitt. A microfiber or lambs wool wash mitt is highly recommended. There are a multitude of wash mitts on the market. Microfiber products are very popular and will be for quite some time as they offer car enthusiasts a very nice all around solution.
- Another essential item is a large, high quality drying towel. I highly recommend a ‘waffle weave microfiber towel’ as they are designed to absorb a lot of water and will not scratch the paint surface.
- Finally, you will need a high quality car wash soap. Your choice of soap is actually very critical. DO NOT use dish washing soap! Dish washing soap, contains a number of surfactants and detergents that will quickly and effectively remove not only dirt/dust/oil/grime but also any existing wax protection that you currently have on your car. You will find a plethora of dedicated car wash soaps on the market. A perfectly PH-balanced soap is highly recommended and a majority of the top product distributors produce high quality soaps. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how much product to mix.
- Optional, but highly recommended, is a set of Grit Guards. Grit Guards are pieces of circular plastic that fit into 5-gallon buckets to serve the simple purpose of keeping grit off your wash mitt – grit falls to the bottom of the bucket and the Grit Guard will prevent it from flowing back up into the water. In addition, Grit Guards prevent your wash mitt from going down to the bottom of the bucket where it will attract dirt.
When it actually comes to the washing process, the first thing you should do is rinse off as much loose dirt and grime as possible using a hose or a pressure washer. If you opt for the latter use an RCD safety device, observe a safe working distance and don't be too aggressive with the power setting; high pressure jets can knock sticky balancing weights off alloy rims and, in extreme cases, can also strip paint from sharp edges (around wheel arches for example). It is worthwhile taking the time to thoroughly rinse the wheels and the insides of the wheel arches at this stage, as it makes later work with the microfiber wash mitt easier and less mucky.
After rinsing (and foaming if desired), the next thing you should do is wash all of the exterior surfaces bar the wheels and the insides of the wheel arches using a good quality lambs wool or microfiber wash mitt in conjunction with a mild shampoo and the two bucket wash method. Start with the roof, and then work down, washing the windows, the bonnet, the boot, the upper halves of the sides, the lower halves of the sides and finally the front and rear bumpers and the sills. Rinse the mitt thoroughly after every panel, and don't be stingy with the suds; make up a fresh bucket if necessary. The same goes for the rinse bucket; the rinse water can get dirty very quickly, so keep an eye on it and replace it whenever necessary. When using the wash mitt, try to follow the lines of the car and use only back and forth or side to side motions; circular motions will only make swirl marks more pronounced if you are unlucky enough to inflict any. It is better to wash your car in the shade if you can, so as to prevent the suds from drying out before rinsing off. If this is not possible, you should begin rinsing off sooner, panel by panel on really hot days. When rinsing off, try using a hose with all of the end attachments removed; this encourages the rinse water to sheet off the panels and makes drying off easier.
With the bodywork and the windows now washed, the next thing you should do is swap to a different microfiber wash mitt and tackle the wheels. I use a different colour wash mitt for the wheels as I don’t want to get break dust contaminates onto my body work wash mitt. If they are particularly dirty you can scrub them first with a soft tipped wheel cleaning brush and some specialist wheel cleaner. Make sure you follow the instruction carefully as some can be quite aggressive if left on too long. Be particularly generous with the suds and take the time to get into all of the nooks and crannies and remove all of the brake dust. After washing all of the wheels, finish the process by washing the insides of the wheel arches, rinsing your wash mitt regularly. Finally, rinse everything off with the hose, including the bodywork again if it dried off during the intervening period. The penultimate step in the wash process is to dry all of the exterior surfaces. This is important, because leaving your car to dry off naturally can lead to the formation of unsightly water spots, which can actually damage painted surfaces if not removed. Although you are now working on clean surfaces, you still want to minimise the risk of inflicting swirl marks when drying off. For this reason, pat drying with a microfiber drying towel instead of a traditional chamois leather. In contrast to traditional chamois leathers, microfiber drying towels are capable of absorbing many times their own weight in water, meaning that you can dry most cars without wringing out once, and are considerably easier to clean and maintain than traditional chamois leathers.
The final step in the washing process is to pack away all of the tools you have used, making sure everything is clean and ready for next use. Firstly, rinse out your buckets and wheel cleaning brushes thoroughly and then leave them to dry out naturally. Secondly, rinse out your wash mitts and drying towel and then wash them all in a washing machine at a low temperature using a non-biological liquid detergent (avoid soap powders and detergents containing bleach or fabric softeners) before allowing them to dry out naturally.
- Don’t wash your car in the sun, if at all possible. There are a few reasons for this. The main reason is that the temperature of the paint’s surface gets very high (upwards of 150F) and this tends to ‘soften’ the paint. Washing and drying a very hot surface will increase the possibility of marring the surface. In addition, the hot car surface will significantly increase the creation of water spots.
- When drying your car, the typical method is to wipe the microfiber towel over the surface – this has the potential of introducing some minor surface marring if you apply too much pressure. One method to avoid this is to completely open the towel, lay it on the surface of the car and ‘drag’ it across the surface without adding any pressure (except for its own weight). Another method is to ‘pat’ the car with the microfiber towel to avoid any and all dragging. Fold the microfiber towel frequently and don’t use the same side twice.
- Don’t let water dry on your car. Depending on the climate (temperature, humidity, sun, clouds, etc.) you may have to wash the car fairly quickly to prevent water from drying on the surface.
- After rinsing the soap off your car you will most likely have a lot of water beading. This occurs from polymers that are added to the car wash soap as well as the existing wax. As a result of this beading, your drying towel may become saturated quickly. One way to circumvent this is to remove your spray nozzle from your hose and let the water from the hose ‘sheet’ the water beads off your car’s surface.
- The fact is that, while the intent is to minimize surface marring to a maximum, simply touching your car’s surface will impart some level of marring. Washing a car without touching the surface is not possible, even with a pressure washer (which is not recommended). Drying a car without touching the surface is possible, however, with a leaf blower – simply work yourself around the car continually blowing hot air over the surface.
- Be careful not to apply too much pressure on the wash mitt – you are trying to remove the dirt/grime from the paint surface without marring it. As such, while moving the wash mitt over the car’s surface, try to imagine that you are applying sun screen to badly sun-burned skin…light pressure is all that is necessary. For stubborn spots, let the soap soak a bit longer than usual – let the soap do its job.
- If you have a cloudy film on the paint surface after drying then you most likely used too much soap in your soap/water mixture – reduce the quantity of soap in the future to prevent the formation of a film. A measuring cup is essential when measuring the amount of soap to use.
- You should remove tags from all towels as these will mar the surface of your car’s finish.
- Finally, if water doesn’t bead off your car and hangs in sheets the car needs to be waxed as the protection has been washed off.