Best way to wash a car without scratching it

The more you drive your car, the more often you will have to wash it, especially in the winter months.

Unfortunately, most swirl marks happen due to improper techniques used while washing and drying a car.

Learning the best way to wash a car without scratching it will keep your car looking good, and prevent the need for any paint refinishing.

There are many different methods of washing, admittedly some are better than others. As long as you take your time and go through the stages, you shouldn’t have any issues.

My regular wash includes a pre-washing stage (snow foam), followed by a two bucket wash, and then I’ll dry the car off before protecting it with sealant or wax.

Scratches will happen almost every time something comes into contact with your paint, however, we can minimize the number of scratches by washing the car properly.

If it’s too late and your car is already covered in swirl marks, don’t worry it’s easy to fix. Learn how to prevent and remove swirl marks using my guide.

How often should you wash your car?

Washing your car can be a relaxing Saturday in the sun or for some people a complete chore. No matter where you sit on this spectrum, you’ll want to know how little or how often you can get away with washing your car.

It’s a bit of an odd question. You don’t hear people asking how often they should wash themselves.

Instead, they ask how often they should wash their vehicles? as if they’re asking for permission to wash it more or less than they currently do.

The general rule of thumb is once it’s dirty, it needs to be washed.

Someone who enjoys washing their car is going to do it more frequently than someone who doesn’t. It really doesn’t matter.

“Experts” may say try to wash it fortnightly but someone who lives in Canada with a car that constantly gets covered in road salt will have to wash it more frequently to prevent salt build-up and potential acidic reactions causing rusting.

When you feel as if you need to wash your car, you definitely need to wash your car.

Equipment you will need to wash your car

The equipment you’ll need is based entirely on how much of a wash you’re planning to do.

My suggestions below are based on the assumption you will be performing the minimum maintenance wash that an enthusiast or hobbyist detailer would perform.

Here’s a list of what you’ll need to perform a maintenance wash with explanations as to what each tool does.

Pressure Washer or Hose – I believe that a pressure washer is a must-have for anyone that likes to keep their car clean. It speeds up the process a lot, will let you experiment with different attachments and lets you add foaming into your car washing routine.

Car Soap – There are so many articles and videos on using different types of soaps to wash your vehicle it’s worrying. Why would you choose to use something designed to wash dishes on your paint?

That being said, a lot of the cheaper car soaps is just as well being dishwashing soap, they’re full of the same highly corrosive ingredients.

Do yourself a favor and invest in good car soap, they’re not that expensive and are specifically designed to take care of your paint and even enhance the finish.

Wheel Brush –These brushes are a little rougher, they’re designed to get as much road grime and brake dust out of the hidden and hard to reach areas.

While they won’t necessarily scratch the face of your alloys, many people avoid using it on the front as they’re scared it could scratch them.

2x Microfibre Wash Mitts – Sponges or wash mitts, they both do the same job. If you have one and not the other, don’t worry, you can still wash a car.

3x Buckets (Preferably with grit guards) – It’s important to have three buckets so that you can use one for the wheels and 2 for the 2 bucket wash method. It’s by far the safest contact wash method to date.

Grit guards aren’t necessary but are a good addition. They trap all of the grime and debris that get transferred from your sponge in the bottom of the bucket making sure you don’t put it back onto your paint.

Many Microfibre cloths – You can’t have enough microfibre cloths as a hobbyist detailer or someone that frequently washes their car(s). Use these to dry your car after washing to prevent streaks and water spots.

Glass Cleaner – Most people don’t give their windows the love they deserve. Use a glass cleaner and see clearly at all times.

Wax / Sealant – An optional finisher that enhances the glossiness of your paint and temporarily lessens the effect of UV rays, acid rain, and other weather type damage on your car.

How to wash your car

Cleaning your car is a very simple task that many people manage to make confusing. When I first got into detailing, thanks to all the information and products out there on the internet I was completely overwhelmed.

After a while, I finally got the art of detailing down. I also learned how to explain it to beginners so that it’s easy to understand and will not scare them away!

When washing the exterior of your car you should clean the wheels & exhaust first, paintwork second and then the glass last.

We clean the wheels first so that we don’t flick contaminants from the wheels onto the paintwork having washed the paint seconds before.

You should always work from top to bottom no matter what area you’re working on because dirt falls down, not up.

Always pre-rinse, wash, rinse again and then dry.

No matter what you’re cleaning you should always rinse first to remove as much loose dirt as possible and increase lubrication. It’s also important to rinse after washing so that you don’t leave any sudsy remnants behind.

Finally, make sure you dry the car off with a microfibre towel or a car dryer so that you’re not left with any streaks or watermarks.

Below is a full breakdown on how you should be washing your car:

Start with the wheels

You always want to rinse whatever you’re cleaning first. Working on a surface without lubrication is going to slow your progress down and potentially damage the surface. Grab the hose and rinse them off.

Once the wheel is rinsed, grab your soapy wheel brush to clean your alloy wheel. Starting behind the spokes and then move into the deeper, hidden parts of your alloys.

Make sure to start at the top of the wheel. Working from the bottom up will only create more work as the dirt falls back down.

Don’t forget! The back of your alloy is caked with brake dust and road grime. It’s often forgotten as it’s not front-facing and something you look at every day but it is crucial that you wash this properly.

Next, choose one of the microfibre wash mitts to wash the face of your alloys and the smaller more intricate details. Make sure you keep this mitt for the wheels only, you don’t want to spread brake dust all over your paint!

Finally, dry your alloys off with a microfibre cloth and repeat the process for the other wheels! Just like anything else you use on the wheels, keep the drying cloth and only use it on wheels.

Clean your paint using the 2 Bucket Wash Method

The 2 Bucket wash method has become by far the most popular contact wash in the detailing industry. It’s a very simple and effective system that has been made with protecting the paintwork in mind.

Ideally, you’d have grit guards in both buckets but you can still wash your car perfectly fine without.

If you don’t already know what the 2 bucket method is, it’s very simple. You have 2 buckets, one with soapy water and the other with plain water in it for rinsing the sponge off.

Every time you go back for more soapy water you should rinse the mitt off in the other bucket first. This will separate the dirt and grime off the car into one bucket, keeping your car swirl free and your soapy water clean.

Thanks to this method you will not be dragging dirt across your car creating mini scratches and swirl marks.

Keep working top to bottom and when you finally get round to the doing the bumpers and rocker panels make sure you’re constantly rinsing the mitt as they’re by far the dirtiest parts of the car.

Again, after you’re finished washing make sure to dry it off to avoid streaks and water spots.

Apply wax or sealant

Polishing car

As I’m sure many of you guys are already aware, protection is optional. Though when it comes to caring for your car and making life easier for yourself it’s time to wax up (or sealant)!

Both waxes and sealants are made to provide protection and enhance the finish of your paint. They also work on glass.

What’s the difference? Carnuba waxes include natural ingredients, is very easy to apply (rub on using a sponge) but wears off fairly quickly.

Sealant, on the other hand, is a chemical-based formula that is more durable and can often double up as an all-in-one finisher. It’s best applied with a dual action polisher and a finishing pad but you can apply it with a microfibre sponge if you need.

Which one is better? It’s a personal preference. If you try a wax out and don’t like the results it gives you you can always use a sealant next time round.

Do not confuse these as a long term solution for protection. The benefits you see from applying wax and/or sealant will be gone by the time you next wash your car. It’s worth your time applying them, but it’s not worth worrying over every little detail.

You can apply wax and sealant but I really don’t see the value in it. If you’re that worried about protecting your paint and enhancing the finish it’s probably time you looked into ceramic coating or paint protection films.

Clean the windows

While you’ve probably rinsed, and washed your windows while doing the paint, you’ve not treated your windows to a proper wash in years.

Having a clear vision of the road is a necessity for all drivers. There is no doubt that having a clear view of the road lessens the chance of you having an accident, so don’t choose now to be cheap.

Invest in a good glass cleaner and make sure to use it whenever your windscreen starts to get dirty. It’s also very convenient if you keep it in the car with some microfibre cloths, you never know when you’re going to need it.

Don’t forget to clean the inside of your windscreen too! I’m guilty of this myself.

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