How do I Wash a Car?

Everyone knows how to wash a car, don’t they?  But, if you think it’s OK to use washing up liquid and a sponge, then you better read on!

Did you know that washing up liquids contain salts, moreover they contain detergents that are great for cleaning, but will also remove protecting polish!  The nice soapy water is excellent at breaking down surface tension in order to seep into every little nook and cranny, under chrome trims, rubber seals and panel joints.  Then the salts can set to work, hidden away from view!  There are plenty of purpose-made car shampoos to choose from. Choose carefully, the type of shampoo is important, it needs to be tough enough to dissolve dirt and grime, but not so aggressive as to remove previously applied wax. 

Traditional sponges provide no adequate means of lifting particles of dirt safely away from the surfaces being washed. Instead, dirt particles are trapped against the face of the sponge and moved around over the underlying surfaces, creating fine scratches. Immediately visible as swirl marks, particularly in sunlight, over time these wear and flatten the paint.

Modern lambswool or microfiber wash mitts feature a deep pile that enables particles of dirt to be drawn safely away from the surfaces being washed and, because the pile is fairly loose, particles of dirt can easily be rinsed out.  However, wash mitts are more prone to snagging, which can damage both wash mitt and delicate trim parts, not to mention the difficulties in removing that piece of wedged lambswool. Therefore, particular care has to be taken around trim and brightwork. It is useful to have two mitts, one for the main body and one for the arches sills and valances, that tend to be much dirtier and often have tar or oil contamination.

Another victim of modern science is the traditional chamois leather. Replaced by heavyweight waffle weave microfibre towels, capable of absorbing many times their own weight in water. These have the advantage of ultra soft fibres to reduce the chances of marking and are considerably easier to clean and maintain. Again a second towel is useful.

Now to the method of washing. The first thing to do is to rinse off as much dirt as possible using a hose or a (low) pressure washer. Pay particular attention to the insides of the wheel arches, front and rear valences and under the sills.

Always use two buckets, the first filled with shampoo solution and the second with clean water, for rinsing the wash mitt to release any trapped particles of dirt. Starting with the roof, wash with soapy mitt, rinse with clean water, reload with suds and then work down, washing the windows, the bonnet, the boot, the upper halves of the sides, the lower halves of the sides and the front and rear end.  Changing wash mitt, move on to the sills, wheels, wheel arches and front and rear valances. It's important not to let the panels dry off before rinsing or  water marks will result.  If the car dries too quickly, rinse regularly with the hose.

It may be necessary to refill both buckets during washing, the shampoo solution will be used up and the rinse water may become too dirty to be effective. 

Next step is to rinse the exterior off with clean water from the hose. Then dry the car, to avoid the formation of water spots, formed from the impurities in the water. These may cause damage to the surface of the paint if left.

Once the car is superficially dried, it’s time to remove trapped water from trims and channels.  The best method is to use a high pressure air supply with small hand nozzle attachment.  Working again from top to bottom, blow along the roof gutters and window surrounds, drying off the exposed water with the towel. With the doors bonnet and boot open work round the car, again finishing with the wheels.  It’s a good idea to have a further towel for this purpose as it will easily become marked from the window rubbers and wax or grease from the doors and latches.  If you do not have access to an air supply, you can take the car for a short drive, but remember to wipe any water staining that occurs from the water being blown out, when you get back.

Finally, to be really professional, put away the tools you have used, making sure everything is clean and ready for next time.  Remember to rinse out your wash mitts and drying towel. They should be regularly cleaned in a washing machine at a low temperature using a gentle non-biological liquid detergent (avoid soap powders and detergents containing bleach or fabric softeners), before allowing everything to dry out naturally.

Now it's time for polishing! Oh, and the interior...


There are so many products on the market that it is impossible to recommend some for each and every application.  To simplify things I can say that I generally use all Autoglym products and have found very good results in every case.