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Detailing DIY Articles

Wash & Dry
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Clean with Clay
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Quick Detailing
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Tar, Sap & Bugs
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Sonic Blast
Are you Over Polishing?
Carnauba Wax a Dinosaur?
Orbital Polisher Use


"Detergents can dull your car's finish..."

If there is a single maintenance that offers the biggest benefit to your car's appearance, it's keeping your car clean through regular washing. Washing is the process of removing loose dirt and road film on the top of your car's paint surfaces. That means more than just a good hosing. You have to scrub it with shampoo and a sponge or wash mitt. 

Washing can be a double-edge sword, though, as even the mildest soaps can remove the protection from your car's paint, causing oxidation (paint starvation). Detergents can dull your car's finish even faster. For many years, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and many other fine automobile makers recommended using only pure water to wash your car. 

The high-quality car wash shampoos made today are very gentle on paint, plastic and rubber.  A good car wash shampoo provides lubrication to prevent scratching and conditioners to maintain the shine.  Be sure to select a quality product that's not counterproductive to your detailing efforts.

The high-quality car wash shampoos made today are very gentle on paint, plastic and rubber.  A good car wash shampoo provides lubrication to prevent scratching and conditioners to maintain the shine.  Be sure to select a quality product that's not counterproductive to your detailing efforts.

My preferred product is Sonus Gloss Shampoo, which restores gloss and slickness to your paint as you wash.  It also rinses fast and clear, because it does not have a lot of artificial suds.  If you like the suds, you'll love Meguiar's NXT Generation Car Wash.

As well as a good shampoo, it takes a variety of tools to correctly wash a car.  I like using brushes to clean hard-to-reach areas, such as between body panels.  I also like using brushes on lower body panels, where road grease and tar collects.  Make sure your brushes are paint safe, such as this wash brush from OXO.

A towel is a towel, right? Unfortunately, this is not correct. If you grew up in a house like mine, Mom retired the old bath towels to the garage for car and dog duty. What Mom didn't realize is that most bath towels use a backing material that contains heavy polyester thread. The edges of the towel are stitched with polyester thread, too. Pound for pound, polyester is stronger than steel. This is great for long-lasting bath towels, but it's not so good for your car's paint. Traditional polyester and polyester blend thread scratches automotive paint finishes. Use paint-safe microfiber towels, such as the Sonus Ultimate Drying Towel or the Sonus Der Wunder Drying Towel.

Your choice of wash tools is important, too. You should find a wash tool that is comfortable for you to use, but take a few things into consideration. First, your wash tool should hold a lot of soapy water. The more it holds, the more soapy water you can get on your car. This is important for lubrication. The lubrication created by soapy water is what prevents dirt from scratching your paint.

Use a wash tool that cleans easily, too. If it does not easily release dirt and grit, it's not safe. I like wash tools with a lot of fibers, like a lamb's wool mitt or a cotton-chenille-covered sponge. Contrary to many beliefs, the natural sea sponge and the boar's hair brush are not good wash tools. Modern wash tools make these items relics things of the past. A paint safe wash brush can be used on the lower body panels, but should not be used above the bottom-of-the-door line.

The recent popularity of microfiber has created a large number of microfiber products, including microfiber wash mitts.  In my own testing I have concluded that many of the microfiber wash mitts are not paint safe.  If the fibers have hooked or split ends, designed for dry cleaning and dusting, the cloth will not be free-rinsing. This means that the cloth will retain dirt until it is heavily agitated in a washing machine.  The retained dirt particles may scratch your paint.  This microfiber wash mitt from Sonus is paint safe and offers easy car... just toss it in the wash.

For drying, a combination of tools may be necessary. The sheepskin chamois has been used for centuries as a towel for drying. This naturally soft leather is very absorbent. All-natural chamois are still a good choice, but they are not as effective or as easy to use as a quality microfiber drying towel.

If you like to dry in a hurry, there are paint-safe squeegees available that will quickly remove 80% of the water from your car with just a few strokes. Follow up with a good towel, and you're done. If you use a paint-safe squeegee, be careful. It only takes one small dirt particle between the blade and your car to create a scratch.

Here are some tips to make washing easier:

  1. Wash the tires and wheels first.  If you wash the car body first, the water will dry and spot your car before you can finish washing the tires and wheels.  Do not use the same wash water on your car's paint as you do your tires and wheels.  Throw it out and refill your bucket.

On well maintained wheels, I use a strong car wash solution to clean the tires and wheels.  I have a variety of brushes and sponges in my bucket to get into all of the nooks and  crannies.  If the wheels have caked on brake dust I use a few shots of my favorite wheel cleaner.  Once a month or so, I like to use a tire & rubber cleaner to deep clean the tires, removing all of the tire dressing.

  1. Make sure your car is cool.  If possible, work in the shade.  A hot surface causes the wash and rinse water to evaporate too quickly, increasing the likelihood of water spotting.  One trick is to park on a slight incline.  This allows rinse water to run off moldings, trim, and recessed areas better.  Start by thoroughly wetting the car's finish with a medium spray of water to remove loose grit and surface dirt.

Here I'm breaking my number one rule -- I'm washing a car in the sun.  If you have to work in the sun, work fast and keep the car wet by rinsing often.  This is morning sunlight and the temperature is below 72 degrees.  If it was much warmer I would not be washing the Boxster in the sun.  You be the judge. 

The wash tool I'm using is an old wool wash mitt.  I've had it for years and it does a great job.  Notice that I have parked the car on a slight incline.  This helps to drain the water from cracks and crevices.  It also makes rinsing faster.

TIP: Follow the shampoo manufacturer's directions for the proper mix ratio.  Using too much shampoo is wasteful and may leave an oily or soapy residue on the surface.

  1. Use a car wash shampoo specifically formulated for automotive use.  Look for a shampoo containing surface conditioners.  Surface conditioners act as a lubricant, allowing sand and abrasive grit to slide off in the rinse water without scratching the paint.  Quality car shampoos cost a little more but are worth every penny if you own a dark-colored car (dark cars show every little scratch).
  2. I prefer a chenille wash pad, or sheepskin wash mitt for washing.  These tools have a large number of fine filaments that draw dirt and grime away from the surface being cleaned into their internal structure.  Synthetic (flat sided) sponges and wash cloths can trap dirt, grit, and grime on the surface, which can scratch your car's paint.  If you use a natural sea sponge, use the outer soft side for washing, not the harder cut side, and always rinse new sponges thoroughly to remove any remaining sand or shell particles.  100% cotton chenille wash mitts and pads are also excellent as they hold lots of soapy water and are gentle to your paint.
  3. Start washing from the top down and rinse the car often. Frequent rinsing is especially important if you are using a wash containing natural oils.  While these oils cushion the paint and minimize abrasion they are heavier than water and can leave a film if allowed to sit on the car.  I use a final rinse of free-flowing water (nozzle off the hose) allowing the water to sheet off the car.
  4. For stubborn problems on your paint, I recommend a tar and bug remover.

If the car has bugs on the grill and bumper area, I pre-treat the bug spots with a paint safe insect remover to safely remove stubborn bug remains.

Before drying, your car should be freshly rinsed and free of visible dirt, grease and oil.  Here's how:

  1. Using a clean waffle weave drying towel or chamois, start at the top of the car and work down, drawing the towel or chamois across the surface in a straight line.  If using a natural chamois, use the rough side to dry the car.
  2. Repeat wiping until the surface is mostly dry then finish drying with a dry microfiber towel or hand size waffle weave towel to remove any remaining droplets or streaks.
  3. Use a terry detailing towel to dry your tires and wheels.  Do not use your chamois or good microfiber towels on the tires and wheels, as it will become soiled.
  4. Open the doors and use your microfiber detailing towel to dry the door sills and jambs.  Wipe under the door and along the door edge, as well.
  5. Open the trunk and hood and wipe down the jams and seals.  On the engine, use your damp towel to remove dust and light oil from the top of the engine and engine compartment surfaces.  While the hood is open and you have a towel, check your oil.  After working in the engine compartment, put the dirty towel in the wash and don't use it on your car again until you wash it.  

If you hate drying, as I do, an alternate way to dry your car is with a special paint safe squeegee (often called a "water blade").  The Water Blade thoroughly removes water in a fraction of the time it takes with a chamois.  Most paint safe squeegee's apply less friction to the paint than a terry cloth towel.  I use a paint safe squeegee on my windows and large flat surfaces follow by a waffle weave towel.  It's very fast and easy.

Regardless of how gentle your car shampoo is, or when you last waxed your car, driving and washing deplete the wax or sealant protection you've applied to your car.  For this reason, I like to use a quick detailing spray on my car after washing.  A good detailing spray renews the just waxed shine and extends the life of your wax or sealant.

Regular washing is very important to maintaining your car's appearance.  Most people forget some of the simple, quick steps that can keep a new car looking new.  Take just a few extra minutes when you wash to wipe down the engine, door jams and trunk.  Keeping these areas clean prevents a bigger cleanup job later.  To make your job easier and more enjoyable, invest in a few good detailing tools.  Quality wash and dry tools make a huge difference.