Most car enthusiasts will tell you that it is important to wash your car regularly, though not all of them can tell you all the reasons why. The obvious benefit is an aesthetic one. Removing dirt and contaminants from the surface of your car will allow its paint work to shine through, unmarred by the road grime that accumulates on any car that sees its fair share of miles. Beyond the visual difference, washing regularly can extend the life of your car’s paint job by removing splattered bugs, tree sap, bird droppings, and salt that could slowly but surely degrade the top layer of clear-coat. You’ll also need to have a clean car if you’re planning on waxing it.
The best way to wash a car is to do it yourself, rather than have it pulled along the floor of the automated car wash behind the local gas station. Why? Automated car washes of all types have massive spinning brushes that slap wet, soapy tendrils against the surface of your vehicle, and those brushes are rarely fully rinsed between cycles. In addition to whatever cleaning products the robotic car washing machine sprays and squirts onto your car, those brushes put tiny swirl marks into the clear-coat that you can see in bright sun. (You can always buff them out.)
Car Wash Soap Is Different
Once you’ve made the decision to wash a car yourself, the first step is to find some good car-specific soap. You don’t want to use something generic like dish soap or laundry detergent. Car wash soap (or shampoo) is specifically designed to be less aggressive than products meant to clean a crusty lasagna pan or the shirtsleeve you dragged through your soup last week. You want a cleansing product with good lubricity and easy foaming to lift and suspend contaminants embedded on the surface of your paint. That being said, even narrowing your choices will leave an overwhelming number of options.
We’ll break car wash soap down into three categories: basic, basic with additives, and rinseless or waterless washes. Basic options like Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo & Conditioner are a good start and are usually available at your local auto-parts store. Products like this one remove contaminants without stripping any wax or polish from your paint.
These are also available with additives. The Chemical Guys Bodywash & Wax, for example, performs the same function with the extra benefit of adding a thick coat of wax. Though a wash like this is no substitute for a proper coat of wax, it’s a good supplement to the existing layer of protection between full wax jobs.
Rinseless and waterless washes are ideal for those without access to a water hookup or for folks looking to reduce their water usage. We tested waterless car wash solutions and liked Aero Cosmetics Wash Wax. Both Optimum No Rinse and Ultima Waterless Wash Plus+ are also highly regarded in the detailing community for their excellent lubricity and impressive versatility. These products are desirable because, properly diluted, they can also be used as a clay lube or quick detailer.
Car detailer AMMO NYC has a great video that’s chock-full of tips, tools, and tricks to get the perfect car wash. Here are some highlights:
- Prepare three buckets before any water ever touches the car: Wheels, Wash, and Rinse. Use Grid Guard inserts to ensure you’re not rubbing grit all over your painted or glass finishes.
- If you choose to wash the engine bay, do this before washing the car body itself. Avoid soaking any part of the engine with water. Be sure to remove by hand any leaves or debris stuck in the HVAC vents or hinges before washing. Remember, you’re not scrubbing the engine—you’re just cleansing it.
- When washing your wheels, don’t spray all four wheels with cleaner, then wash them one at a time. Instead, wash and rinse each wheel completely, then move on to the next. Wheel cleaner overspray can damage sensitive parts and finishes; avoid spraying the rotors. If you’d like, you can use your wheel bucket to wash and clean your exhaust tips, too.
- When washing the car body, start at the top and work your way down and around. Avoid severe downward pressure at all times; let the sponge or rag do the work. Don’t let soap dry on the paint finish; rinse and dry as soon as possible.
Now go forth, buy some car wash soap, and get to sprucing up your ride!
Shout-out to the very resourceful r/AutoDetailing for help with this story. If you want to dive headfirst into the world of car detailing, that subreddit is a great place to start!
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