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Here is the ultimate guide to washing your car at home. This guide will give any car owner, whether they are a novice cleaner, or an experienced cleaner a helpful insight into the many ways in which you can safely wash your car at home with minimal products. It also offers general car cleaning hints and tricks that is loved by professional car cleaners and car enthusiasts.
You can also refer back to this guide whilst cleaning your car, as it has many step by step guides on how you can confidently wash your car knowing that it is very unlikely that you will cause damage to it and that the end result will look clean and shiny.
- Best Weather to wash your car
- Best Time to Wash your car
- Shampoo and Alternatives
- How to Wash Your Car
- How to Wash Your Car Without a Hose
- How to Wash Your Car with a Pressure Washer
- Tips to Avoid Scratching When Washing Your Car
- Drying Your Car After Washing It
- Things to Avoid When Washing a Car
- Wrapping Up
Best Weather to wash your car
It’s a good idea to avoid washing your car in direct sunlight and hot temperatures, because the direct sunlight may dry the soap before you wash it.
The best weather to wash your car in, is a mild, cloudy day as the sun rays are not as harsh as they would be on a warmer day. This will prevent any interference from harsher sun rays and get you the best result.
Can you wash your car in the rain?
Despite the fact that your neighbours may think you are crazy, there are many reasons why you should not wash your car in the rain. The rain does little to help in terms of a pre wash as it is not heavy enough to wash away even large amounts of excess dirt. It will also wash away car wash shampoo prematurely, before it has had the chance to work it’s magic.
Finally there is the issue of drying. We’ll come on to discuss the importance of drying your car after washing it later on, but in essence it becomes a lot harder during rain and you may miss spots which could cause a patchy result.
However, there are no reasons why you can’t wash your car before it rains, you just better hope it doesn’t come down earlier than expected!
Washing in Winter
Cars need to be washed all year round, if you want to keep them looking clean, shiny and pristine. It’s especially important in winter when there is excess salt on the roads that can damage your paintwork if left for long periods of time.
Here are some things to remember whilst washing your car in the winter:
- Avoid washing your car in below zero temperatures as the water freezes
- Never use hot water on your car, stick to luke warm
- Take extra care when washing your car, as the surface of the ground may be slippery
Best Time to Wash your car
Car experts believe early morning or early evening is the best time of day to wash your car.
The best time of day to wash your car during summer months is early in the morning or later in the evening. In the Winter we have shorter days, meaning early mornings and evenings will be dark, so try and aim to wash your car during the day during winter months, but you should also try to avoid washing your car on sunnier days.
Can you wash your car at night?
No, you shouldn’t wash your car at night, because not only it will be harder to see, but you also will not be able to fully dry your vehicle as the temperatures start to drop and there is moisture in the air.
There is also a danger to washing your car at night, as your visibility will be poor, and you may inflict marks and swirls in your paintwork, it is better to wait until daylight to wash your car, as you need to be able to see how you are cleaning your car.
Shampoo and Alternatives
It is important to use proper car shampoo, because it easily breaks up the dirt, meaning it does not drag dirt and grit along your paintwork and this therefore prevents swirl marks and scratches in the paintwork. It is also important to use car shampoo which is in date, as products can lose their quality over time.
You should also use a sheep wool material washing mitt as it absorbs grit and dirt.
Can I use bubble bath or shower gel to wash my car?
You should avoid using bubble bath, shower gel or anything else that hasn’t been formulated especially for washing your car. This could damage your paintwork as these types of household soaps aren’t formulated for use on a car’s paint, it may even go as far as stripping off the protective wax from the body of your car.
In a similar respect, would you wash your hair with shower gel or bubble bath? Most people wouldn’t because they know that shower gel and bubble bath may not remove the dirt and oils from our hair as well as shampoo would, and this is the same for cars, like shampoo for hair, there is a reason why car shampoo has been formulated and therefore it is important that we all use car shampoo and not any other soapy alternative.
Can I wash my car with just water?
Most people have probably washed their car with just water in desperate measures if they have not had the appropriate shampoo available and they have also most likely seen insufficient results. There needs to be a car shampoo used in order to help lift the dirt away from the paintwork without causing damage.
How to Wash Your Car
Washing your car with a hose is the most popular method of washing your car, here are some top tips on how to perfectly wash your car with a hose.
The correct equipment to use is:
- A hose
- Car shampoo
- A wash bucket with a grit guard
- Microfibre wash mitts X2
- Microfibre drying towel
1. The Pre-Rinse
An often overlooked step is the pre-wash. Using a hose pipe with a spray attachment, the pre wash helps get rid of excess dirt and paves the way for the wash mitt. If you have a pressure washer and a snow foam lance, you can use snow foam for a deep pre wash.
2. Washing With the Two Bucket System
The newest washing method among car detailers is the two bucket system. In bucket A, add some of your car shampoo along with the required amount of water as per your instructions. Luke warm water is best, this will improve the performance of the soap due to a lower viscosity and will help loosen dirt. In bucket B, add cold rinsing water only.
To summarise the two bucket method, you’ll be using the soapy water in bucket A to wash the car, however, you should rinse the mitt in the clean water of bucket B before every dunk in to bucket A.
Start with the roof and mid-section and leave the lower part of the body and rocker panels until the end. It is important to follow this rule as the majority of dust, dirt and grit from the road is on the lower half of your cars body and you do not want to spread it to the top of the car.
Tip: Use the straight line technique, this means washing in lines, not a circular motion. This doesn’t put any pressure on the paintwork and prevents any unwanted and unsightly swirl marks.
3. Rinse Section by Section
As you wash each section, you should rinse it off with a hose. You don’t want the soap to dry on the paint so it’s important to do it this way.
You should ensure the car remains wet throughout washing it, this will allow you to properly dry it with a microfibre cloth. If you allow it to drip dry, it could leave water spots.
You will now need to use your microfibre drying towel, make sure it is clean and gently use the towel to dry the whole exterior of your car. We’ll cover drying tips later on.
How to Wash Your Car Without a Hose
There is an alternative method for situations where you do not have access to an outside tap or cannot use a hose pipe (such as during the hosepipe bans that occasionally hits areas of the UK).
This is particularly useful if you keep your car a long way from your house, or you live in an apartment or flat that makes it hard to wash your vehicle.
You will need:
- A waterless carwash solution (of high quality)
- Microfibre cloths (the more the better)
1. Remove Dirt with Waterless Car Wash Solution
Spray the waterless car wash solution onto a section of your car’s body. Wait for the liquid to develop so it easily lifts away the dust and dirt from your paintwork. Using the straight line method (see above) use a clean, dry microfibre cloth to gently remove the dirt.
Avoid putting pressure onto your bodywork, let the solution work for you. Make sure you clean the roof and midsection of your car before cleaning the bottom as the bottom of the body has the most build up or dust and debris and leave the wheels until the very last.
2. Buff with a Clean Area of Cloth
Use the other side of your microfibre that does not have solution on it to buff the remainder of the product into your paintwork. If you use a high quality waterless car wash solution, there will be no swirls or damages to your paint work.
With this method of washing your car, you may find that your microfibre cloths quality become dirty, make sure you have a few clean microfibre cloths handy, so you avoid putting dirty cloths onto your car. Then you are finished! This must be the quickest method of cleaning the exterior of your car.
How to Wash Your Car with a Pressure Washer
There have been debates on whether you should pressure washer to clean your car.
It is not a good idea to use a pressure washer for applying car shampoo as most car shampoos are not formulated for this, but pressure washing is good for a pre-wash and rinsing, and it takes less time than any other method of washing your car.
Here are some tips for pressure washing your car:
- Keep the nozzle at least 1m away from the cars surface, the closer the hose is to the paintwork, the more damage it is likely to cause. If there is not enough pressure, slowly move it closer until you can remove the dirt.
- Do not use a pressure washer on your car if your car is sitting on a pebbled or shingled surface, as the pressure of the pressure washer may cause pebbles or shingle to move and hit the body of your car and this will cause some nasty damage to your car’s paintwork.
- Do not use your pressure washer on a high strength setting.
- For a professional standard pressure wash, use a snow foam gun attachment with the pressure washer to cover the paintwork completely in snow foam in order to break up the dirt particles and to also help to revive the paintwork. Then use a microfibre mitt with a bucket to rinse the snow foam off.
- Do not use the pressure washer on areas where paint as chipped, as this may cause more paint to chip away.
- Make sure all your windows are closed, as you do not want to pressure wash the interior of your vehicle.
- As previously mentioned, make sure your car is not being washed in the middle of the day when it is extremely sunny.
Tips to Avoid Scratching When Washing Your Car
1. Use a microfibre wash mitt instead of the classic big yellow sponge.
It is a good idea to avoid using sponges as a tool for washing your car, as the sponge holds on dirt and debris and you could be dragging dirt and debris on your paintwork. This is why car enthusiasts and professional car cleaners swear by using microfibre wash mitts as they do not hold the dirt and dirt does not cling to those type of mitts.
2. Use a grit guard in your buckets
If you are using a bucket as part of your washing process, make sure you always put a grit guard in your bucket as this will prevent dirt from staying on your wash mitt. A grit guard is the one of the most important things you will buy, if you are serious about avoiding scratching your car whilst washing it.
3. Do not wash your car in the dark
If there is poor visibility it will be harder for you to see how you are washing your car and you won’t be able to spot delicate areas like scratched paint, as you would if you were washing your car during sunlight hours of the day.
4. Avoid using car shampoo which have a degreaser
Shampoo with a degreaser will strip any protection or wax that you have on your paintwork, causing the paintwork to then become brittle and then each time you wash your car, you are then at risk of creating further damage to appearance and body of your car.
Drying Your Car After Washing It
It is very important to make sure you dry your car after washing it because, if you leave it to air dry, it will look like it has never been cleaned, because watermarks will run, and it will make your paintwork look unsightly, so this then defeats the object of washing your car, as it will look as bad as it looked prior to washing.
Another thing to consider is that you should only use a microfibre cloth to dry your car with. This is because Microfibre cloths do not leave marks or streaks, opposed to using an old rough bath towel which might actually cause streaks and scratches to your paintwork. So basically, any type of fabric you use to clean and dry your car with should be microfibre.
Always use the ‘straight line method’ when using a cloth of mitt to touch your paintwork with, this is because swirls and circles can cause micro scratches, whereas if you are gentle and you go up and down on the paintwork, you are less likely to rub it and cause scratches.
Things to Avoid When Washing a Car
We’ve covered all of the do’s, now here are a few things to avoid when washing your car:
- Never tip your dirty bucket of water over your car when it has been cleaned, it does not give it an extra clean.
- Never use any soap but car shampoo.
- Avoid using sponges.
- Don’t use out of date products as they will not work to the best of their ability.
- Avoid using hard water if you can as it can look streaky on your paintwork, you can help this by buying a water softener.
- Avoid washing your car in strong sunlight.
We hope you found these tips useful. Whatever method you choose to wash your car is personal to you. Someone isn’t better than you because they have decided to wash their car using professional products with the longest method of car washing, if you have decided to wash your car without using water.
What matters is, that you have a good knowledge of how to wash your car without potentially harming the body and the appearance of the car and that you now feel confident enough to wash your car with pride, knowing that it is going to look amazing once cleaned. Happy cleaning!
Ellie used to work in a Vauxhall dealership but has now turned her passion to writing about cars instead. Ellie currently drives a Corsa but as an electric vehicle fanatic has her hopes on one day owning a Tesla. It will, of course, be grey as she only ever owns grey cars.