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MGCCWDCC Logo by Bob Vitrikas

How to Wash Your Car

One of the simplest tasks we perform on our cars is to wash it regularly. After doing this for over 50 years (good grief am I that old?), I thought I knew what I was doing. Then I had John Barbour of Omni Detailing ( detail one of my cars. I couldn’t believe the difference! His rates are very reasonable and believe me he is a perfectionist. You will not be disappointed with the results of his work! John has kindly shared his car washing expertise with me and I’m passing it on to you. Enjoy the read! Let’s start with the Simple Stuff.

Top 10 Car Washing Mistakes:

  1. Don't wash your car in the hot sun! It will cause water spots on your paint.

  2. Don't spray cold water on hot glass! The glass can break.

  3. Don't spray cold water on hot brake rotors! The rotors can warp.

  4. Don't use acid-based wheel cleaner to clean wheels!  It can cause permanent streaks.

  5. Don't use the same soapy water for paint you used to clean wheels and tires! It scratches.

  6. Don't use dishwashing detergent to wash your car! It will remove your wax protection.

  7. Don't use a sponge to wash your paint! It becomes a "sanding block" when it gets dirty.

  8. Don't rub hard or in circles with your wash mitt! It can put swirls in your paint.

  9. Don't drop your wash mitt on the ground and then use it to wash your paint! It scratches.

  10. Don't get behind a very dirty car at the car wash!  Grit will be in the brushes and scratch.

Car Washing by John Barbour, Meguiar's Certified Detail Technician:

In washing our cars, everything we do should avoid putting fine scratches (known as swirls) in our vehicle's very thin and somewhat fragile clear coat paint finish, or removing the wax protection. This method will not put swirls in your paint, or remove your wax protection. Following modified Meguiar's recommended procedures, this is the same method I use for every detail I perform for my clients' vehicles.

Improper car washing and improper tools cause almost all scratches and swirls that occur in your paint finish. This happens because the dirt and grit from your vehicle gets trapped in your brushes and mitt as you wash your vehicle. You need a way to clean your brushes and mitt before you dip them back into your bucket of clean soapy water. One way to do this is by using the two-bucket method as recommended by Meguiar's.

First, go to any Walmart and purchase the proper tools for the job (found in the automotive dept.).

  1. Tire brush (stiff blue concave bristles)

  2. Spoke brush (stiff blue and black bristles)

  3. Body brush (short handle, soft blue flagged bristles)

  4. Microfiber wash mitt (floppy blue material)

  5. Bug sponge (rectangular)

  6. Pack small microfiber towels

  7. Pack small terry cloth towels (white)

  8. Meguiar's 64 oz. Deep Crystal® Car Wash (clear pink liquid)

  9. Meguiar's 16 oz. Quik Detailer® Mist & Wipe (burgundy bottle)

  10. Two 5-gallon white buckets, and a small pack of nitrile gloves (found in the paint dept.)

Next, purchase a Meguiar's Water Magnet® waffle weave drying towel. All of these supplies should cost less than $50.00, a small investment for having the ability to maintain the beauty of your vehicle's paint finish! The only other tools you'll need are a good vacuum, and a garden hose with spray nozzle, which most homes already have. Also, save your old toothbrushes as they come in handy.

Washing a vehicle is a process. I always wash a vehicle in three steps. First, I vacuum and clean the interior so as to clean the vehicle from the inside out. Second, I pre-wash the dirty parts of the vehicle, the wheels, wheel wells, door jams, rocker panels, and front and rear fascia with a bucket of soapy water and my brushes. Third, I wash the whole body of the vehicle from top to bottom with a fresh bucket of soapy water and my wash mitt. At every step along the way I rinse my cleaning equipment in a bucket of plain water to avoid contaminants getting into the soapy water bucket. In this way I'm not allowing the dirty water and brushes from the pre-wash step to contaminate the cleaner paint surfaces I'm about to wash. So put your gloves on and let's get started!


Step one:

  1. Hook up your garden hose and spray nozzle. Using 1 ounce of car wash soap and the spray nozzle, mix a half-bucket of soapy water in one of your 5-gallon buckets (the bucket will appear full, but actually be half soapy water and half suds).

  2. Take your second 5-gallon bucket and fill it with plain water.

  3. Remove all trash from the vehicle. Remove the floor mats from the vehicle and vacuum the interior. Thoroughly vacuum the floor mats using the vacuum's brush attachment.

  4. Take one of your microfiber towels and wring it out in the soap bucket. Wipe down the dash, steering wheel and column, console, seats, door panels, etc. with the damp towel.

  5. Wring out a white terry cloth towel in the soap bucket. Wipe down the floor mats, vacuum the floor mats again, and reinstall them in the vehicle. Rubber floor mats should be washed and dried. Wring out your towels in the bucket of plain water and set it aside for use later.

  6. Open the hood and vacuum any leaves and debris from the cowl area below the windshield, close the hood.

  7. Open the trunk or hatch and vacuum the trunk or rear cargo area, close the trunk.

Step two:

  1. Open the driver's door and gently spray only the door jam and around the inside door edges. This takes a little practice so as not to spray water into the interior, but if you do, don't worry, just take your terry cloth towel and wipe up the overspray. Take your body brush (the one with the soft flagged bristles), dip it in the soap bucket, shake it out some, and wash the door jam and inside door edges. Rinse the door jambs with a gentle spray. Rinse the body brush in the bucket of plain water. Close the driver's door. Open the driver’s side rear passenger door (if it's a 4-door vehicle), and repeat the same washing method for this door. Close the door. Open the trunk or hatch, and repeat the same washing method. Continue around to the passenger side of the vehicle and repeat the same washing method for each door jam and the inside door edges as you did on the driver's side. Make sure all doors and windows are closed.

  2. Starting at the front passenger side of the vehicle where you just finished, spray only the wheels, wheel wells, and lower side of the vehicle below the door handles. It's not necessary or desirable to spray the whole vehicle yet. Dip your body brush in the soap bucket and wash the front wheel well and wheel face. Dip your spoke brush and wash between the wheel spokes. Dip your tire brush and wash the tire. Spray everything well to rinse. Rinse the body brush, spoke brush and tire brush in the bucket of plain water. Repeat for the rear wheel well, wheel, and tire. Spray the lower side of the vehicle again, dip your body brush in the soap bucket, and wash the lower side body panels and rocker panels. Be sure to scrub well under the rocker panels (your tire brush works well for this). Spray everything well to rinse. Rinse the body brush in the bucket of plain water.

  3. Move around to the rear of the vehicle, and if there's a lot of dirt on the rear (as SUV's often have) spray this off now. Using the body brush, wash the dirty areas, the bumper, and under the bumper as before and rinse well. Rinse the body brush in the bucket of plain water.

  4. Move around to the driver's side of the vehicle. Starting at the rear wheel and moving to the front, wash and rinse everything as you did on the passenger side. Open the fuel filler door on either side, wash it out (using an old toothbrush) and rinse, then close it. Rinse all your cleaning brushes in the bucket of plain water.

  5. Move to the front of the vehicle and spray the front of the vehicle. Dip your bug sponge in the soap bucket and clean any bug splatter you see off the front of the hood, headlights, grill, bumper, and under the bumper. Rinse each section as you go. You usually have to clean each section twice or more before you get all of the bug splatter off. Clean the windshield and the rear view mirrors in the same way. Take your time and do a good job on the front, as this is the main focal point of the vehicle.

  6. Now, spray off the whole vehicle. Empty your soap bucket and rinse it out. Rinse off your brushes and bug sponge in the bucket of plain water and set them aside to dry.

Step three:

  1. Using your car wash soap and spray nozzle, mix a fresh half-bucket of soapy water in your 5-gallon bucket. Take your microfiber wash mitt and dip it in the soap bucket. Remember, we already washed all the dirty parts of the vehicle in step two, so this will go quickly! Starting at the top of the vehicle and working down, wash the roof (you may need a step ladder for this) and rinse with a spray of water. Rinse your mitt in the bucket of plain water. Next, dip your mitt in the soap bucket and wash all of the glass areas and rinse. Rinse your mitt in the bucket of plain water. Next, dip your mitt in the soap bucket and wash the hood and front of the vehicle and rinse. Rinse your mitt in the bucket of plain water. Next, dip your mitt in the soap bucket and moving from front to back, wash the driver's side body panels and wheel arches and rinse. Rinse your mitt in the bucket of plain water. Next, dip your mitt in the soap bucket and wash the trunk and/or rear of the vehicle and rinse. Rinse your mitt in the bucket of plain water. Next, moving from back to front, finish by washing the passenger side body panels and wheel arches and rinse as before. Now, rinse your wash mitt in the bucket of plain water, wring it out, and set it aside to dry. Set your soap bucket aside but don't empty it yet. Rinse the whole vehicle very well with a strong spray of water and set your hose and nozzle aside.

  2. Take your Water Magnet and rinse it with the spray nozzle, then wring it out. Fold it in half length-wise, then fold it in half again end-to-end. You should now have a nice rectangular pad that fits well in your hand to work with. Starting at the top of the vehicle and working down, slowly dry the roof, then all the glass areas, then the hood and front, then the trunk and/or rear, and finally the sides of the vehicle. Wring the water out of the water magnet as you go. When you're done, rinse your water magnet, wring it out, and set it aside to dry. You must protect your wash mitt and Water Magnet from becoming soiled, so don't "reach under" the rocker panels or under the bumpers with these where they can become soiled. Instead, use your terry cloth towel you used in step one for these areas. Save your wash mitt and water magnet for use only on the clean surfaces of the vehicle.

  3. Open all the doors and the trunk or hatch so they can dry out. Take your terry cloth towel you used in step one and wipe out all of the door jams, inside door edges and sills. Wring out your towel in the soap bucket as needed. Use the same towel to dry the wheels.

  4. You're done! Wash your terry cloth towel out in the soap bucket, rinse it with the spray nozzle, and wring it out. Empty your soap bucket and rinse it out. Put all your brushes and your bug sponge in the bucket, and hang your terry towel, wash mitt, and water magnet over the top edge to dry. Put your Meguiar's car wash inside the bucket so everything will be in one spot ready to go the next time you wash your vehicle.

Here are some additional tips you’ll find useful:

  • Grit Guard:
    There's another tool you can add to your arsenal to help prevent scratching your paint finish when washing your vehicle. The Grit Guard™ is an insert that fits in the bottom of your 5-gallon bucket that separates the dirt and grit in the bottom of the bucket from the clean wash water and your mitt above it. It was invented by Doug Lamb, a car enthusiast who got tired of finding scratches in his beautiful paint finish after carefully washing his vehicles. I use a Grit Guard™ in all my wash buckets every time I wash a vehicle. I'm always amazed at how much dirt and grit is trapped in the bottom of the bucket even after washing a "clean" vehicle I've pre-washed. If you hand wash your vehicle at home and are serious about preventing swirls in your paint, I urge you to get a Grit Guard™! As an added service to my clients, I keep a stock of these on hand that you can purchase at my cost of $10.00 each. You'll want one for each of your 5-gallon buckets.

  • Wheels:
    Wheels are an important focal point of your vehicle, so I always spend extra time cleaning the wheels. There's a lot of confusion about which wheel cleaners to use on which wheels. To keep things simple, remember that whether they're alloy, chrome, or painted, virtually all factory wheels today are clear coated, like the rest of the paint on your vehicle. So wash your wheels with soap and water like the rest of your vehicle. If the wheel is really dirty, wash it a second time, and rinse. If there's baked-on brake dust that still won't come off, you may use Meguiar's Hot Rims® All Wheel & Tire Cleaner (Walmart automotive dept., E & M, or any auto store) and a toothbrush to remove it. This is a mild acid-based wheel cleaner, so wear eye protection and your nitrile gloves. Work on only one wheel at a time. Spray a small amount of the wheel cleaner on the areas of brake dust, and let it dwell a few minutes as you agitate it with a toothbrush, and rinse. Repeat this process until the wheel has been cleaned to your satisfaction. Each time you'll remove another layer of brake dust, and allow the wheel cleaner to penetrate the next layer until it's all been removed. It's only necessary to clean the wheel face and the inside of the rim between the spokes. Cleaning the back of the wheel requires removal of the wheel, which I don't do except on show cars.

    CAUTION! Some specialty wheels may be polished aluminum, anodized aluminum, or uncoated magnesium. These wheels must be washed with soap and water! DO NOT under any circumstances use an acid-based wheel cleaner on any of these wheels! The acid will attack the uncoated metal and permanently stain it!

    CAUTION! On older wheels, even if the wheel is clear coated, the finish could be worn thin, chipped, or pitted, allowing the acid to seep through the clear coat and stain the metal underneath. When in doubt, wash older wheels with soap and water!

    The easiest wheel to clean is the one that hasn't been neglected. Wheels that are neglected become so covered with baked-on brake dust that it's virtually impossible to remove without sending the wheel out to a wheel shop and having it reconditioned. If your wheels are new or in like-new condition, wash them every time you wash your vehicle to keep dirt and brake dust from building up on them. That way they'll be easy to maintain with just soap and water. You may want to go to purchase an S M Arnold stock # 85-630 Spoke Wheel Brush. This is a 15" long, flexible, tapered, natural bristle brush with a white plastic handle that'll reach easily between the spokes of your wheel and do a good job cleaning it. As you wash your wheel wells, wheels, and tires, your brushes will become very dirty. Don't dip a dirty brush in your soap bucket! Rinse each brush off with your spray nozzle before you dip it in your soap bucket again.

  • Bug Splatter, Bird Droppings, and Acid Rain:
    One of the most common things I see on almost every vehicle I work on is chemical etching caused by bug splatter, bird droppings, and acid rain. Whenever these contaminants are allowed to remain on your paint finish, the acid contained in them actually attacks the clear coat and etches into it. In severe cases it etches completely through the clear coat. It is by far the most damaging paint defect I see, because in many cases it's too deep to remove by buffing. That’s why it's so important to wash your vehicle often to remove these contaminants before they can damage your paint. Also, a properly applied coat of wax will help keep these contaminants from coming into direct contact with your paint and help protect it. The wax also makes it easier to remove the bug splatter and other contaminants from the vehicle when you wash it.

    In the summer when removing bug splatter from the front of your vehicle is a real challenge, don't resort to strong cleaners and hard scrubbing as both can remove the wax protection. Instead, try softening the bug splatter when you start the pre-wash step. Wet the front of the vehicle with your spray nozzle. Take old terry cloth bath towels and dip them in your soap bucket. Lay the wet soapy towels loosely over the front of the vehicle so they remain in contact with the hood, grill, and bumper. You can also do the same for the windshield and rear view mirrors if you want. Proceed to pre-wash the dirty parts of the vehicle as you learned in step two last time. By the time you get back to the front of the vehicle, the bug splatter will be softened enough to remove easily with your bug sponge.


Finally, your vehicle is clean inside and out. Because of your efforts, your vehicle not only looks good, but it will be easier to maintain and also last longer! I recommend you have your vehicle detailed at least once a year if it's garaged, and at least every six months if it's not. Clean the interior and wash the exterior of your vehicle often between details. Avoid exposure to the hot sun and acid rain by keeping it garaged whenever possible. After you've washed your vehicle, you'll want to keep that "just waxed" look longer using your bottle of Meguiar's Quik Detailer®. Follow the directions on the label to remove smudges, fingerprints, water spots, bird droppings, and other contaminants from your paint finish. Fold one of your microfiber towels in half two times to form a square pad, mist the product on a cool surface, and wipe it off.


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