How to Wash a Car

Washing your car is one of the simplest, most inexpensive things you can do to keep your car looking new - and keep its resale value high. Contaminants like bugs, tree sap, road salts, pollen, airborne pollutants and bird droppings all do damage your car's paint, and become harder to remove the longer you leave them. Washing your car sounds simple enough, but doing it incorrectly can damage your finish. You should be washing your car once or twice a month, or as needed if dirty. There are all manner of cleaning products, tools, complicated how-to's and magazine articles available detailing how to bring your car to showroom-shine, but for the average car owner, these simple steps are more than enough to have your vehicle turning heads year-round.

  • Step 1: To wash your car, you will need the following:
    • Two buckets
    • A quality car wash solution (if you are planning on waxing your car, you will want to avoid car wash soaps with wax included in the mixture)
    • A sheepskin wash mitt (avoid synthetic sheepskin if possible)
    • Clean, soft rags (some stores will sell big bags of these very inexpensively)
    • A quality chamois
    • Garden hose with a spray nozzle, preferably with selectable settings
  • Step 2: The reason you need two buckets is actually the most important - and most often missed - step in washing your car. Fill one bucket with clean fresh water. Fill the other bucket with soapy water, following the directions on your car wash solution. The bucket with the clean water will be used to rinse your wash mitt after every section you clean - do not put the dirty wash mitt into your clean soapy water before rinsing the dirty and grime off in the rinse bucket first! This helps prevent scratches and swirls from forming on your car as you clean. Replace the clean rinse-water when it becomes too dirty.
  • Step 3: Rinse your vehicle from top-to-bottom with a strong jet of water from the hose. Pay special attention to creases and cracks in the body-work where contaminants and dirt can hide. Do not use the hose too close to the vehicle as paint damage can occur - you can clean the surface dirt off quite adequately from a few feet away.
  • Step 4: Once rinsed, thoroughly soak your wash mitt in your soapy water mix. Starting at the top of the vehicle, pick a section and begin running the wash-mitt over the surface of the vehicle. Do not press too hard - the weight of your hand is usually enough. Rinse your wash mitt in your clean water bucket, and rinse the section of your vehicle you have just washed. Instead of a firm jet of water, use a more gentle shower of water which will 'sheet' off your car, leaving fewer water beads. Repeat this until all the sections of car are finished, remembering to work from top to bottom. Do not use your wash mitt for very dirty areas such as your wheels, tires, wheelwells or any area with caked on dirt!
  • Step 5: After the body of your car is clean, use the soft rags on your tires, wheels and other especially dirty spots with plenty of soapy water. For wheels and tires, you may purchase special cleaners that can make the job easier, but there is no substitute for effort. Using the rags, clean your tires, wheels, wheelwells, mudflaps or any other area you imagine might be especially dirty. You will see how quickly the rags get black and grimy, and see why you wouldn't want to use your soft wash mitt on these spots - imagine what all that grime would do if rubbed into the paint on the rest of your car!
  • Step 6: Give your car a final rinse from top to bottom, ensuring no soap remains behind. For a spot-free finish, take the time to dry the paint on your car as fully as possible with a chamois. Not only are water spots on a car you just spent so much time cleaning unsightly and disheartening, but as the water beads evaporate, they can take tiny bits of the car's finish with them. It is worth the extra few minutes it takes!
  • Step 7: Take your shiny vehicle for spin around the block - you deserve it.

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