Dick Lovett

10 min read

How To Wash Your Car Correctly

With ‘stay home’ in full swing we know many of you will be finding ways to fill the hours! With local car washes closed, perhaps it’s time to take up washing your car yourself. Using incorrect techniques can risk damaging your car's paintwork and thus its decreasing resale value so here’s our top tips on washing your car at home.

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How often should I wash my car?

This is up to you, not all cars need a wash every weekend and sometimes, you may not have time to do it. Some may think in winter you need to wash the car more often due to wet roads spraying dirt and salt onto the car, however summer is just as bad with dust or pollen sitting on the paintwork making it feel gritty. Don’t forget bird droppings can etch into your paint so are best dealt with quickly.

You should avoid touching the paintwork if it feels gritty otherwise you can cause swirl marks. These are light scratches in the paintwork which appear worse when looked at in the sun’s reflection. Washing every 2 weeks to a month is ideal but to avoid creating unsightly swirl marks, you need to use the correct techniques. 

What do I need?

  • 1 microfibre or lambs wool mitt
  • Wheel brush
  • 3 buckets
  • Multiple microfibre towels (for drying)
  • Car soap
  • Wheel cleaner
  • Pressure washer (garden hose will be ok)

Step 1: Check the weather

Before committing to a car wash, you should take into account the weather. If it's below freezing, not only are you going to get cold, water may freeze on the paintwork and if it's too hot and sunny, the water / shampoo will dry on the paintwork, creating extra work as you may have to polish out any water spots / streaks. 

Step 2: Wash the wheels

When cleaning a car you should start with the wheels, this is because any dirt you flick up / off won't affect the already dirty car. You should start by filling one of your buckets with water (warm water in winter) and place your wheel brush in here. This is going to be your ‘dipping bucket’ for when you need fresh water.

Next rinse the wheels off, this removes some of the dirt without you having to touch it. Apply your dedicated wheel cleaner, it's best to avoid acidic wheel cleaners as they may cause corrosion however if your wheels are thick with brake dust, it may perform better.

Alloy Clean

Once left to soak for a short while (do not let dry) begin to work the product in, removing the dirt and brake dust from the wheel, dip your brush in the clean water to remove the contaminates every so often. Once the wheel is clean, rinse thoroughly, going back over any spots you have missed and repeat until you have cleaned each wheel.

You can go a step further here and clean the outside tyre. This will prepare the wheel for any tyre dressing you wish to apply - cleaning the tyre will improve the lifespan of the dressing. This is also a good opportunity to check the tyre for any damage or cracking.

Step 3: Pre-wash 

Much like with the tyres, pre-washing aims to remove some contamination before the contact wash which is crucial for limiting swirl marks and scratches. It's best to use a pressure washer during this however a garden hose will be suffice. 

At this stage, you can also use soap to help decontaminate the paintwork before touching the paint. If you own a pressure washer, you can buy a foam lance. This covers the car in a thick foam which pulls the dirt down and onto the floor and if you are using a garden hose, you can use a foam gun, this acts the same as a foam lance but the foam won't be as thick. Both require a dedicated foam shampoo.

Snow Foam Gun vs Lance

It's worth noting here, if your car has a ceramic coating applied, you should use products free from wax and use PH Neutral cleaners. This is to avoid changing the chemical structure of your ceramic coating, forcing it to lose its cleaning / water beading qualities.

After around 5 minutes, you should rinse the foam off, going from bottom to top. The reason you don't go top to bottom when using foam is because you would dilute the product as you are spraying down making it less effective. 

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Step 4: The contact wash

As mentioned above, if your car has a ceramic coating, you should avoid products with wax in them and use PH Neutral shampoo where possible. If you don't have a ceramic coating, any car shampoo will do. 

You should not use dish soap as a replacement, dish soap is made for removing grease and baked on food therefore you can only imagine what it does to your car's paintwork, it can also damage plastic trim and dry out rubber seals. Car soap is not only designed for cars, it's thicker and contains more lubricant which is great for avoiding swirl marks. 

Fill up your two remaining buckets with water, putting car soap in one of them. Do not use a yellow sponge to clean your paintwork. Whilst this was the go to back in the day, they should be avoided at all costs. Sponges are porous and allow lots of water to be absorbed however, because the face of the sponge is flat, small particles become trapped between the sponge and paintwork which causes them to be drawn over the surface whilst ‘scrubbing’ - even after your pre-wash stage. 

Wash Two Buckets

You should use a microfibre or lambswool mitt. These wash mitts have long fibrous materials which hold water but also trap any loose particles at the base of the mitt, meaning they are kept away from the paintwork. They are only a few pounds extra than a sponge but will save you hundreds in detailing fee's. 

You should start by washing the flat surfaces first, starting with the roof, onto the windscreen and bonnet. It's good practice to dip your mitt into the ‘clean’ bucket to remove any contaminants, squeeze out then grab more soapy water after every panel has been cleaned. You should leave the lower half of the car and rear until last as these are generally the dirtiest sections.

Step 5: Drying

This is where a ceramic coating really shows its benefits, because the water beads and sheets off the paintwork, you can dry the car within a couple of minutes, with minimal effort.

Much like yellow sponges, you should avoid chamois leather for the same reasons and instead use microfibre towels. These not only are excellent for soaking up water, they are great at trapping dirt within its fibres, stopping contaminants from grinding the paintwork.

Microfibre Towels

Again, start at the top and work your way down. You should not need to apply pressure here, so simply gliding the towel over the paint will be fine. You should use between 3-4 towels when drying a car, the more the better.

Step 6: Optional extras

Now you’ve successfully washed and dried the car in the safest way possible, there are a number of things you can do to make the car look even better and protect it in the long term. As mentioned above, applying tyre dressing to the tyres will make it look great but it will also protect them against cracking and UV damage. 

You can also choose to polish the car, however you must ensure the paintwork is free of contaminants before rubbing this in. Whilst your wash has removed most of them, there may still be some embedded in the paint. You can use dedicated ‘clay’ bars to remove this. Simply lubricate the area and rub the clay back and forth until the paintwork feels smooth. Polish will remove some swirl marks but not all of them so you may need to compound to remove the deeper ones and then apply polish.

Following up with a wax or sealant will also help hide swirl marks and produce a glossy / wet look. It will also make your car easier to clean and dry the next time around as water will bead off the car. 

Sheeting vs Wax

You can also choose to apply some plastic trim gel to bring back its showroom finish and dedicated window sealants to help rain bead whilst driving, not only is this cool, it massively improves visibility in adverse weather.

Now if this hasn't motivated you to get out and wash your car, then what will! We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for keeping your car clean and your favourite products, comment below or if you've taken a picture of your car - tag us on instagram @dicklovett.

Fancy trying to clean your cars interior? Check out our guide

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