Washing and Detailing Your Vehicle – Part 1
An important part of maintaining an automotive finish is washing the vehicle thoroughly and properly. It seems like a quick and simple task but using the wrong products or making small mistakes can create a disaster which I will point out in this article as we go through the steps. In the supplies list is the products I use and trust and can be bought at almost any auto parts store or big box store. One thing to remember is never use anything not designed for doing the task. I hear of people using dish soap to wash their cars….. Not a good idea. Use a quality soap that is made for the job as it contains chemicals to lubricate the paint and lift dirt as to not scratch the finish as you are washing. Quality car shampoos also wont strip any wax from your paint as household soaps do.
I highly stress the rinsing stages in this process due to the damage loose dirt and dust can do that is on the surface of the vehicle during washing and drying. This task becomes much easier once the surface is completely prepped, cleaned, and sealed with a quality wax (more on that in the Paint Surface Prep and Waxing article).
I am familiar with both commercial products and consumer products but will be discussing the consumer products I use as they are easier to find. Even the consumer products I use provide quality results that you will find in most commercial products.
Supplies You Will Need
- Water hose and Spray Nozzle with a strong jet stream.
- An automotive shampoo. I suggest Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Shampoo and Conditioner.
- A Wash Mitt such as this Microfiber Wash Mitt. I use 2 and you will see why here in just a minute.
- A bucket for your soapy water. I just use a really clean or brand new 5 gallon bucket that can be picked up at any hardware store.
- A synthetic chamois for drying. I love The Absorber Chamois.
- A bug sponge
Step 1 – Initial Rinse
Rinsing the vehicle before you wash is probably the most neglected and underestimated step of detailing your vehicle. Just standing back spraying the car and getting the car completely wet just isn’t enough and can result in some surface damage during the washing stage. The main purpose is to get as much loose dirt and dust off of the vehicle as you can. The loose dirt and contaminants flow down so you will want to start at the roof, hood, and trunk using a water nozzle with a strong jet stream. Once you think those are rinsed to satisfaction, spend another minute or two and keep rinsing then move to the sides and front of the vehicle getting as much dust and dirt as possible off the vehicle. If at all possible, wash your car in the shade as you don’t want to spray cold water onto a hot car. You will find any missed cracks in your windshield really quick and if you didn’t have any cracks you may become the lucky participant of a brand new one.
Warning: If your vehicle is covered in chunks of mud, you may want to start at the car wash and use their high pressure hose and soap brush to get this off. The car wash attendant will hate you but you will love me. Scrubbing mud off with your wash mitt will create a disaster in your surface finish.
Step 2 – Washing
Using the cap of the Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Shampoo and Conditioner, put 8-10 cap-fulls of soap into your empty and clean 5 gallon bucket. The mix is 4 caps per gallon so filling the bucket half way with water will be the proper amount for this mixture. I like to fill the bucket about a quarter way with an easy stream of water and then fill to half way with a strong stream to get the soap and water mixed. The reason I do it this way is because if I use a strong stream of water from the start all I get is a bucket full of suds and about a gallon of water. Drop your wash mitt and bug sponge into the bucket and get them thoroughly saturated with soapy water and save the 2nd mitt for just in case you drop this one. When you drop your wash mitt on the ground it picks up all the dirt and grime on the ground so having a second one around is helpful because you don’t want to use that mitt again until you have washed it and know for a fact there is no dirt in it. Washing with a dropped mitt would be like dropping sand on your car and rubbing it around.
Start with a quick pass over your bumper, grill, and windshield to get bugs soapy so they soak a little bit, this helps to remove them. Starting at the roof of your vehicle gently scrub the surface with the mitt frequently dipping it into the bucket keeping it soapy and wet. From the roof move to the windows, bumper, and trunk skipping the windshield as your going to be washing this with the bug sponge. When you start on the sides of the vehicle pay close attention to the heavy road grime areas behind the wheels and the most lower parts of the vehicle. If you have trouble with these areas switch to the bug sponge and scrub these areas as well as the bumper, grill, side view mirrors, and windshield to get the bugs off. The bug sponge will not remove gum and road tar that has splattered onto the car so don’t try scrubbing through them as you will probably go through the clearcoat and/or paint around it before those come off. I will explain how to remove this in the prep and wax article as well as removing tree sap from the surface of your car. Sap will also most likely will not come off with soap and water, don’t try scrubbing it off. It is much easier than scrubbing it with a sponge if done properly.
Once your vehicle is completely washed and soapy rinse as you did before you started washing the vehicle and very thoroughly as to get all the soap and now loosened dirt off of the vehicle. You should be able to see any areas you missed as your rinsing, quickly hit these areas with the wash mitt and rinse. If you have somebody helping you, they can be rinsing as you are washing, as this is also helpful to keep the car wet and prevents it from naturally drying.
Additional optional things you can do:
- During the initial rinse of the vehicle, also open the doors and rinse the door jams carefully as to not get water in the car and use the bug sponge to wash these areas also. Door jambs hold a lot of dirt and your car will only look that much better.
- Have an extra 2nd bucket of clean water to rinse the mitt before re-soaping it. Dip the mitt in, swish it around and wring the mitt out and this will keep any dirt and sludge out of the soapy water.
- Wash 1/4 of the car at a time then rinse, this helps if you are working alone to help prevent the soap from drying on the car re-wetting the whole car as to also prevent the water from drying as you are washing.
Step 3 – Drying
Drying is another very important and missed step. I can’t believe how many people wash their vehicles and after rinsing they call it done. Not drying your car with a good is chamois asking for trouble. Water has lots of contaminants and minerals that will be left behind and can stick to your paint and glass and become difficult to remove later. I have spent hours removing water spots and water stains from paint and glass and it’s not fun, at all. It is a time-consuming process and can easily be avoided by spending 10 minutes drying your car.
Rinse your chamois and get it really wet and pliable. Most chamois when dry become rock hard and you wont want to put it up to your car at this point. One of the other reasons I use the The Absorber Chamois,
it comes with a tube to protect it from dust and dirt and can be stored moist so it will be soft and pliable next time you use it. Just a quick rinse is all it will need. Be sure to keep soap and other chemicals away from your chamois. Do not dip it in the soap bucket to wet it, use only clean clear water.
Starting at the roof of the vehicle (as always), start wiping away the water pushing any excess water to the sides and wring out the chamois as often as needed. Next moving to the hood, trunk, glass, and sides continue drying and wringing out the chamois drying all the surfaces. Do not use the chamois to dry your tires, wheels, or door jambs. Use a terry cloth you may have around the house to dry these areas.
The more you use the chamois the more absorbent it becomes over time. Take great care as to not drop your chamois or let it touch the ground while drying as it will also hold and pick up dirt and you will be rubbing dirt all over the paint and scratching it. If you do drop it or it touches the ground, rinse it really really well and make sure there is absolutely no dirt on it.
Last but not least
As you can tell, I am partial to Meguiar’s Car Care Products due to their quality products. I have been using them for years as well as other products and over time Meguiar’s has gained my trust for easily available consumer products. I can usually find all their products I need at the auto parts store as well as Target and Wal-Mart. Their products are also available at Meguiar’s Direct.
In the next article I will go over prepping paint to make it smooth as glass by
removing contaminants as well as light overspray, tree sap, and waxing it with a quality sealant. This process of prepping, cleaning, and paint sealant will make a once tedious task of washing your car a much more enjoyable experience. Keeping your paint in tip-top icy smooth condition will help keep bugs, overspray, bird droppings, and airborne contaminants from sticking as bad as they do. When rinsing your car after washing water will bead up and literally fall off your car when properly taken care of,reducing the drying time literally in half. You will also find out which paint sealants and/or waxes I use and why as well as some popular myths. If the water isn’t beading up like in this photo, you are ready for some surface prep and sealant so stay tuned for the next installment. I didn’t go into cleaning wheels and tires as that is for another article. Although you would be cleaning wheels and tires during the washing part I am stressing surface care and protection. I will save the details for an upcoming ‘Details of Detailing’ article.