The Hows, Whens, and Whys of Washing Your Car

25 Jul

It used to be a good car wash was all it took to remind me how much I loved my vehicle. That was back before the evergreens lining the driveway generously
dribbled sap on the hood, before a flight of dragonflies sacrificed itself on the grille, before I ran out of the energy required to break out the turtle wax and elbow grease on a regular basis. As you know, hindsight is 20/20 and, if I’d known what a few years of neglect could do to an otherwise beautiful sport utility wagon, well… Oh, who’m I kidding? I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

But if I had, what would it have looked like?

  1. I’d have chosen a shady spot in which to bathe my baby since direct sunlight can dry some areas faster than others, leaving streaks or spots. I also would have made sure the vehicle was relatively cool to the touch.
  2. I would have filled two buckets – one with clean water, the other with a mixture of water and an approved vehicle cleaner (see mixing directions on the the product container). Experts say NEVER to use household detergents
    like dish soap as they can strip the wax from your paint job, leaving the
    layers underneath more susceptible to damage.
  3. I would have rinsed the entire vehicle to flush away all loose debris.
  4. I would have readied a couple microfiber wash mitts – or natural sea sponge, sheepskin, or cotton chenille towels – for washing. They are softer and less likely to trap debris that can scratch paint.
  5. If I were cleaning wheels and tires, now would have been the time to do it. I’d’ve been sure to thoroughly rinse each before moving on to the next. When
    finished with this step, I would have thrown the used towels/mitts in the
    laundry and grabbed new ones for washing the body.
  6. I would’ve washed the vehicle in sections from the top down, rinsing the mitt/towel in the clean water before dunking it back in the soap solution.
  7. When the entire surface area was clean, I’d have taken the nozzle off the hose and let water run freely over the entire vehicle, from the top down.
  8. I’d have dried the vehicle with a microfiber drying towel (NO terry cloth or bath towels! They can shed lint and most are not likely to be paint-safe) starting
    with the windows/mirrors, moving to the auto body, catching the
    under-and-insides of car, trunk and hood jambs, and finally used a separate towel to dry the wheels and towels.

Experts recommend washing your vehicle once a week. That may sound excessive but contaminants, like sap, dead insects, and bird droppings, can eat away at your paint and, the longer you let them sit, the more damage you’ll have to repair. When it comes to the frequency of *waxing*, however, opinions vary. You’ll have to consider factors like your
geographic location, whether your vehicle spends most of the time parked indoors or outdoors, the quality of paint, and just how much energy you really want to expend.

Or, you can just do what I do: buy an aged 4-wheel drive SUV and pretend its rugged image is just enhanced by that layer of filth.

(For more detailed instruction and product suggestions, visit:

Tips Series – Washing 101