||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
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:
Don't wash your car in the hot sun! It will
cause water spots on your paint.
Don't spray cold water on hot glass! The
glass can break.
Don't spray cold water on hot brake rotors!
The rotors can warp.
Don't use acid-based wheel cleaner to clean
wheels! It can cause permanent streaks.
Don't use the same soapy water for paint you used
to clean wheels and tires! It scratches.
Don't use dishwashing detergent to wash your car!
It will remove your wax protection.
Don't use a sponge to wash your paint! It
becomes a "sanding block" when it gets dirty.
Don't rub hard or in circles with your wash mitt!
It can put swirls in your paint.
Don't drop your wash mitt on the ground and then
use it to wash your paint! It scratches.
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
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
First, go to any Walmart and purchase the proper
tools for the job (found in the automotive dept.).
Tire brush (stiff blue concave bristles)
Spoke brush (stiff blue and black bristles)
Body brush (short handle, soft blue flagged
Microfiber wash mitt (floppy blue material)
Bug sponge (rectangular)
Pack small microfiber towels
Pack small terry cloth towels (white)
Meguiar's 64 oz. Deep Crystal® Car Wash (clear
Meguiar's 16 oz. Quik Detailer® Mist & Wipe
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!
YOU MUST WASH YOUR VEHICLE IN THE SHADE SO THE PAINT
SURFACE IS COOL. IF THE PAINT SURFACE IS HOT, THE WASH WATER WILL DRY
BEFORE YOU CAN RINSE IT OFF AND LEAVE A DIRTY FILM AND WATER SPOTS BEHIND.
SPRAYING COLD WATER ON HOT GLASS CAN ALSO BREAK THE GLASS. NEVER WASH
A VEHICLE IN THE HOT SUN!
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).
Take your second 5-gallon bucket and fill it with
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.
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.
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.
Open the hood and vacuum any leaves and debris
from the cowl area below the windshield, close the hood.
Open the trunk or hatch and vacuum the trunk or
rear cargo area, close the trunk.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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
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.
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.