How to Clean Your Car the Right Way

A clean car makes a great first impression. We’re here to help you keep it that way.

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Whether your automatic or full-service car wash uses bristles, a brushless system or noodles, they all rub that media against the paint and leave tiny scratches. Those little scratches add up over time.

Hand Wash

Washing your car by hand is a process of meticulously cleaning every inch of your vehicle. The first step is finding a spot for washing your car that will be free of any obstructions that can get in the way or leave behind water spots. Next, you’ll need a good hose that won’t leak or kink. Finally, you’ll need some tools and detailing products to make the process go smoothly. We recommend using a non-abrasive soap made specifically for auto bodies, but baby shampoo will work just as well if you don’t have access to specialized washing products.

It’s important to remember that washing your car by hand can damage the paint if it’s done poorly. If you’re not careful, your car can be left with tiny micro-scratches that can eventually dull the finish. This is because the clear coat finish can’t shed water as easily when these small scratches are present.

The good news is that you can prevent this from happening if you know what you’re doing. One of the best things you can do is use a high-quality wash mitt that’s designed to reduce the risk of scratching. You can also invest in a drying towel that will help you quickly and effectively mop up any excess water from the paint. Start with the roof and move downwards, always avoiding any areas where dirt might gather.

Rinseless Wash

A rinseless wash allows you to skip the rinsing step of traditional washing, which is especially helpful when dealing with a very dirty vehicle or when in an environment with water restrictions. A good rinseless wash will encapsulate dirt particles, which makes the removal of them easier and less likely to cause scratches. Additionally, it will also act as a lubricant during the washing process, further protecting your paint from scratching.

When using a rinseless wash, it is important to work on one panel at a time. This will help prevent the risk of water spots, which can typically be caused by soap residue drying and reactivating on the vehicle in direct sunlight. Most rinseless car wash products will have a built in lubricant that can be reactivated with a spray of water, which is a great way to avoid this problem.

To use a rinseless wash, simply fill your bucket with the product and add 4-5 gallons of clean water. Toss your wash mitt or sponge into the solution, or place a Grit Guard Insert in your bucket to keep the dirt from clinging to your wash media. Dunk your wash mitt or towel into the rinseless solution bucket to remove the dirt and then clean the surface of the vehicle. After each panel, inspect your work and if needed, spray or wipe the surface again with the solution to reactivate it.

Shampoo

A car wash shampoo is a specially formulated cleaning liquid used in combination with a wash mitt to safely clean the exterior of the vehicle. It provides lubrication that helps prevent scratching and leaves a layer of wax on the vehicle to protect it during washing.

While household cleaning products like dish soap can technically be used to clean a car, they aren’t designed to stay on the surface for long and can actually dry out the paint. Additionally, using dish soap can leave a film and residue on the surface which will require more scrubbing with a washmitt to remove than if you had used a proper car wash shampoo.

Many of the car wash shampoos we carry here at AD contain special additives to achieve a particular result such as gloss enhancers, glaze oils or extra cleaning abilities like fallout removers. Some may have added ceramic-infused protection to give unprotected paintwork a layer of lubricity early in the detailing process or they might be a low-foam formula that saves on rinsing water and drying time.

One of the most popular types of shampoo on the market is a car wash and wax shampoo. This type of shampoo provides both the cleaning power to safely remove normal accumulations of dirt and film from a car’s exterior while leaving a layer of wax to protect the finish. This makes it ideal for a full-service hand wash with a foam cannon and helps ensure that your detail clay work will be done without any risk of scratching the paint.

Wax

Many car-washes offer a number of add-ons, including spray wax. While applying a coat of wax can make your car look shiny and new for a few days, it doesn’t actually protect the paint. CR spoke with a number of experts — car-wash owners, paint specialists, and detailers — who all agreed that spray wax is essentially useless and may even worsen scratches on your vehicle’s surface.

Rather than spraying a liquid or paste wax onto the entire car, most car wash services use some sort of automated wax application system. These include either an arch that uses a set of nozzles to apply liquid wax or triple foam wax, or a system that applies an automatic wax with a special sponge. The results are often inconsistent, and it’s hard to know whether the products your car is getting are quality or not.

Spray wax can also damage your car’s finish if the paint is not completely clean or dry before it’s sprayed. This is because any dirt or debris left behind on the paint will be rubbed in and then covered with the spray of the wax, which can exacerbate existing scratches.

To avoid this, be sure your vehicle is cool to the touch when you’re washing it and using a soft microfiber towel that is regularly rinsed and switched out for a fresh one (spotter towels are best for this). Then, when you’re ready to apply wax, start on the top of the car and work in small circles until you have a thin coat of wax that has hazed over.