Tips for Washing Your Car Like a Pro

Tips for Washing Your Car Like a Pro

Tips for Washing Your Car Like a Pro
Reading Time: 6 minutes

According to 72 percent of customers who have their cars professionally washed every few months, car washes are time-consuming and expensive. A traditional car wash typically costs more than twenty dollars and can get even more expensive during Canadian winters, when cars receive the worst beating: moisture in the air quickly produces rust under your vehicle and corrodes the paint.

As a rule, you should wash your car at least every two weeks. Fortunately, with a few simple tools and the tips below, you’ll be able to wash your car like a pro.

What Kind of Products Should I Use?

To wash your car properly, you’ll need a quality car shampoo, a wash mitt, and car wax.

Quality Car Shampoo

Use car wash soap with a balanced pH. A highly alkaline (caustic) or acidic cleaner can strip your car’s paint of a pre-existing sealant. A neutral pH car wash soap will clean your car effectively. Look for one that has a heavy-foaming formula. Loosening dirt and grime is easier with a heavy foam, which means a safer and easier wash for you, too.   

Do not use household cleaning agents like dishwashing detergent, hand soap, or glass cleaner. These products are not formulated for use on paint, and can be corrosive. 

Sponges and Cloths

A big sponge can be more efficient than a small one, allowing you to clean a wider area in one swipe. Alternatively, some car owners prefer using a special synthetic cloth. 

Keep in mind that wheels and tires may be coated with sand, mud, and dust, so use a separate sponge for them. If mild soap and water don’t work, use a wheel cleaner, but make sure it’s compatible with each type of finish (paint, chrome, clear coat) on the wheels.

Microfibre Mitts

These mitts have long strands of microfibre, making them safe for interior detailing and glass. They won’t leave any damage or swirl marks. Microfibre mitts are easy to clean and last longer than wool mitts. They are effective at removing dirt that’s stuck to paint, but hold less soap than wool. 

Wool Mitts

These mitts are soft, plush, and hold a lot of soapy water. And because they quickly lubricate the paint, you’ll end up with fewer micro-scratches and swirls.  But sheepskin washes or wool mitts don’t last as long as synthetic mitts. You may also find them harder to clean than synthetic mitts.

Car Wax

Dark-coloured cars show more scratches than lighter ones. There are various waxes that you can use for your car. If your car is newer (a year old or so), consider spray wax, which is best for new cars and is suitable for plastic. Spray waxes are the worst, though, when it comes to durability.  

If you’re looking for durability, liquid waxes are tops, but they require time and skill to apply and buff evenly. If you’re looking for a wax that is easy to apply, use a paste.

When Is the Best Time to Wash Your Car?

Most experts skip washing their cars when the temperature dips below freezing. After a wash, make sure to dry your car thoroughly before going outside. When the icy air hits any water that remains on your door handles and locks, they can freeze. 

You should also choose a time of day when your car is out of direct sunlight. If your car is hot, it may be difficult to wipe off quick-drying shampoo. As well, thoroughly rinse the car to prevent spots.

How Do I Get Rid of Water Spots?

If your car has dark or black paintwork, follow these three steps to quickly remove water spots.

  1. Examine the water spots. If they have ringlets in them and feel rough, there may be hard water or acid etching. Hard water contains minerals, and when the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind as residue.
  2. Use a wash mitt. Wet the area where the water spots are by using a wash mitt. If water spots are new, wash and thoroughly dry the area.
  3. Use a vinegar solution. Fill a bucket with one part distilled white vinegar and one part clean distilled water. Do not use regular tap water as it may contain minerals. Apply this solution for at least 10 minutes before rinsing the area with water and drying it thoroughly.

How Can I Avoid Swirl Marks?

Just like water spots, swirl marks are often caused during the washing process. These marks are fine paint scratches—also known as micro-marring—that you can see when light hits the car’s surface.  

Swirl marks can be seen more easily on darker-coloured or black cars. There are some things you can do to prevent swirl marks.

  •     Keep your sponges and mitts clean. 
  •     Don’t use harsh polishing compounds or paint cleaners.
  •     Avoid using a worn-out chamois. 
  •     Try to avoid polishing machines and buffers. 

Can I Wash a Hot Car? 

If the temperature in your car is above 140°F to 150°F, let it cool down to 70°F to 80°F first. Keep in mind that heat can cause physical damage and corrosion.

When it’s hot, try to avoid washing your car in direct sunlight. Again, shampoo residue and water may dry quickly when exposed to high temperatures. 

If you can’t avoid the heat, wash your car early—before it gets too hot—or after sunset. You can also wash your car in the shade. Whatever you do, choose a suitable shampoo product for the temperature.

What’s the Most Effective Way to Dry My Car?

The most effective way to dry a car (while ensuring you prevent water spots or swirl marks) is by wiping the surface with a soft chamois, cloth diapers, or microfibre towel, or by using pressurized air.


Use a chamois made of either mountain goat or sheep leather. These absorbent, soft, and generally non-abrasive wipes won’t harm your paint. When wiping, start at the top and work your way down. Some chamois can be a little abrasive, so choose one that is soft enough that it won’t create swirl marks.

Cloth diapers (lint-free)

You’ll need three diapers. With your dominant hand, wipe off most of the water and follow it up with your other hand. Use the third diaper to completely dry the glass and prevent water stains. Then wash and rinse the diapers thoroughly.

Microfibre towels

Microfibres won’t leave any streaks on your car. Lightly dampen the towel before you begin and, again, start at the top and work your way down.

Pressurized air

After rinsing your car, wait two minutes before drying it completely with pressurized air. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are some of the most common mistakes that people make when washing cars.

  1. Using dish soap or other household detergents. Keep in mind that dish soap or other detergents may be too harsh on the car’s paint and can cause corrosion. 
  1. Cleaning the tires and wheels last. These are the dirtiest parts of the car. If you clean these parts last, you’ll risk splashing brake dust, dirt, and debris back onto the clean paint. Also note that car shampoo is designed to clean paint, not your tires. At the same time, wheel- or tire-cleaning products are designed to clean rubber, not your car. 
  1. Washing your car in direct sunlight. Water spots are most likely to form when you wash your car under the hot sun. Also, shampoo can dry very quickly under the sun, creating spots.
  1. Overwaxing. It’s important to wax your car, but overwaxing may lead to wax build-up, and the extra wax will make your car’s finish appear dull. According to experts, two coats of wax is enough.
  1. Drying your car with a regular or abrasive towel. Old T-shirts, regular towels, and your old chamois are abrasive and will result in tiny scratches on your car. 
  1. Wiping still-dirty spots with a drying towel. You could transfer the dirt from these missed spots to other clean parts of your car. Instead, use a damp microfibre towel, which will reduce the friction between the towel and any remaining dirt on your car. 

Are Automatic Car Washes Bad for Your Car?

Yes, automatic car washes are bad for your car. The brushes are usually not properly maintained and may be abrading your vehicle’s paint, causing swirl marks. These marks or micro-damage can be repaired by removing the damaged coat layer using compounding and polishing, but paint correction techniques such as these usually run upward of a thousand dollars. 

These damages build over time, dulling the paint as the scratches become more noticeable. Even touch-free washes cause damage. When high-pressure hoses (water or foam cannons) are used, they may damage the paint. Also, touch-free washes don’t reach some areas.

Between harsh summers and frigid winters, your car gets quite a beating. Washing your car regularly will make it more resistant to scratches and nicks, and keeps its trade-in value high. If you keep these valuable tips in mind, your clean, shiny car can be as flashy as a Ferrari (or close to it)! 


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