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How to Hand Wash a Car Properly

Author: Sanath Pollemore
by Sanath Pollemore
Posted: Nov 26, 2018

1. How to Decide if You Need to Wash Your Car

It goes without saying that one should wash their car when it is visibly dirty – dirt all over the tires and body – but what about when it isn’t visibly disgusting? The car experts recommend washing a car every two weeks throughout the year as a rule of thumb. However, they also advise to wash your vehicle more often in the winter, especially when the roads are coated with rock salt, and if you live in an area near an ocean, as salt of any kind will corrode the metal body of a vehicle and cause it to rust if allowed to sit on the metal.

2. Hand Car Wash VS. Automated Car Wash

When you do decide it is time to wash your car, you may find yourself wondering if you should take the old-fashioned hand car wash approach or if a quick stop through an automated car wash will work just as well. Because, honestly, a car wash is much easier and more convenient than taking the time to physically wash your car, and is it really that bad for your paint job?

Well, as with most choices, there are pros and cons for both methods of washing your car. The pros for using a car wash are somewhat obvious; being that they provide a relatively thorough cleaning of your vehicle in a short duration of time without you having to lift a finger. But, an automated car wash can be hard on your car’s paint, can leave unsightly water spots, and are not able to reach some areas on your vehicle. Using the old school hand car wash method on your car takes more time and energy but allows you to reach all sections of your car and allows you to focus on the particularly dirty areas that a car wash may miss.

So, in short, hand washing your vehicle truly is the best method to cleaning your vehicle, if you do it correctly. So, if you are sold on hand washing your car, here is a short guide to help you hand car wash your vehicle properly without damaging your car’s paint or finish.

3. Washing Your Car

Materials Needed

  • Water hose with access to large quantities of water

You will use the hose to rinse off your vehicle periodically throughout the wash. It is recommended that you allow the water to free flow out of the hose (i.e. without a nozzle attachment) when rinsing because it is gentler than using an attachment.

  • 2-3 Buckets

It is recommended to use 2 buckets at the minimum when washing your vehicle. You should use more if you have a larger car if your vehicle is very dirty. One of the buckets will be filled with clean water to act as the rinse for the washing mitts or tire brushes. The second bucket will have the car shampoo mixed into the water, serving as the actual cleaning agent.

  • Car shampoo/detergent

It must be noted that you should not use dish soap to wash your car, as dish detergent will break down the protective coating on your car’s body.

  • Microfiber towels

These towels will be used to dry your vehicle after you are finished washing it.

  • Washing mitts and other tools

To properly hand-wash your car, you must have appropriate washing mitts to load with the detergent to wash your vehicle. Most experts recommend using plush mitts such as natural sea sponges, sheepskin mitts, or microfiber sponges. These three recommended materials are proven to be gentle on your car’s exterior and won’t damage the paint.

General Washing Tips

  • Do not wash your car in direct sunlight

Experts advise to never wash your car in direct sunlight, it should always be washed in the shade.

  • Rinse off the area you are about to wash to get loose grime and dirt off the vehicle

By rinsing off the area first before loading it with soap, you can get off all the sharp, loose particles such as dirt and gravel that can scratch your car.

  • Wash your tires and wheels first

Because your wheels are the dirtiest parts of your vehicle, it would make sense to wash them first to prevent cross-contamination with the rest of the car. You should wash your tires and wheels individually, one at a time, and you should also be sure to rinse them thoroughly when you are finished.

  • Empty and rinse out your mitts, sponges, and buckets after you finish washing your tires

You should also wash out your bucket and mitts after you are finished washing your wheels, to prevent contaminating other parts of your car with the dirt and grime off your tires.

  • Work from the top of your car to the bottom

When you wash your car you should always work from the top portion of your vehicle to the bottom, because the bottom portion is always the dirtiest. You want to wash the upper section of the car and windows first to prevent dirt from transferring to a part that you have already washed.

  • Dip your mitt in clean water first then reload the mitt with the soapy water

When you rinse off the mitt in the water only bucket, you are rinsing off some of the loose particles of grime off the surface, essentially creating a clean surface for the detergent to soak into on the mitt. This clean surface will help prevent the formation of residue swirls on your vehicle after you rinse the suds off.

  • Rinse your vehicle often during the washing process to prevent water marks

Water marks form when water droplets evaporate off your car and leave behind mineral residue. Rinsing off your car throughout the wash process will help prevent most water marks from forming on your vehicle’s body, especially during hot weather.

4. Drying Your Car

Should you let your car air dry in the sun after you finish washing it? Or should you take measures to speed along the dry process? Car experts advise against letting your car air dry in the sun when you are finished washing it. "Why"? Well the answer is simple: water spots.

Water spots are the product of mineral residue left behind after water evaporates off your vehicle. Because all sources of water contain minerals, there is no way to prevent the formation of water spots other than taking measures to help your car dry without relying on water evaporation.

So, since letting your car air dry is out of the question, how are you supposed to dry your car off after a good wash? The first method you can use to help speed up your car’s drying is to use a damp microfiber towel that will help prevent friction when rubbing against the paint. Because microfiber towels consist of tiny, microscopic cotton fibers that help diminish lint from being transferred on surfaces, they should be used slightly damp to help smooth down the fibers even further. This, in turn, helps create an intensely smooth surface that will prevent any lint or dirt particles from becoming trapped between the towel and your car’s exterior, greatly reducing the amount of damage your car’s paint will experience from the repetitive drying motion.

They also recommend driving a short distance such as driving down your driveway and down a few side streets and back to help your car dry faster. The last tip they give is to never underestimate the value of pressurized air, including the small containers of pressurized air that you can find at any convenience store. Using a small bottle of pressurized air can help greatly reduce the drying time on some of the harder to reach or more delicate areas of your vehicle, such as the windshield wipers, vents, and grill of your car. If you have a large pressurized air machine, you can also use it to help speed up your car’s drying process.

On the other hand, it is not recommended using any type of towel that is made of cotton, as the fibers can be harmful to your car’s paint job and will also leave lint residue on the exterior. They also advise against the use of advertised products such as "ShamWow" or chamois. Both products are made of synthetic materials that will create friction by dragging against the surface of your vehicle, causing damage to your car’s finish.

To Wax or Not to Wax?

The final step to a properly hand washed car is completely optional, and it involves applying a wax finish to your vehicle after a thorough cleaning. Having a wax finish on your car is relatively important, as it provides a second layer of protection to your car’s exterior that can take the daily abuse of airborne chemicals, tree sap, and other grime that builds up on your car. Because the wax creates a sacrificial layer of protection from the usual abuse, your paint job will hold up for a longer duration of time than without a wax layer.

Most experts recommend waxing your car approximately twice a year. If you live in an area that has intense sun or salt exposure, it is recommended for your car to get waxed anywhere from three to four times a year instead of the usual two.

Related: 12 Ways to Stay Awake While Driving


In conclusion, learning how to properly hand wash a car is one of the best skills to add to your arsenal of ways to keep your car looking good all year long. While hand washing your car is labor intensive and time consuming, the pay off is worth it in the long run. Hand washing your car is gentler on your paint job and allows you to customize how thorough your cleaning is on specific sections of your vehicle.

After a good hand washing, always remember to dry your car through a short drive, damp microfiber towels, or pressurized air machines to prevent the formation of water spots on your vehicle’s paint. You should also wax your car around two times a year, unless you live in a sun intense area or in an area where salt is constantly in the air. In that case, you should wax your car around three to four times a year.

Knowing how to properly hand wash your car is one of the easiest ways to extend your car’s paint job and will help your car looking fresh year round.

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Sanath pollemore is best blogger and writer alll niche.

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Author: Sanath Pollemore

Sanath Pollemore

Member since: Nov 22, 2018
Published articles: 24

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