It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive: whether it’s a slick sports car or a family-friendly minivan with a few bumper stickers on the back, you want to take the best possible care of your car if you want it to last for a long time and drive plenty more miles.
Of course, washing your car is one of the most important factors if you want to keep it in good condition. But you can’t just blindly wash your car, you have to do the right way. There are many horror stories of car owners who just wanted to wash their car and ended up taking off the entire paint job by accident.
Here’s how to wash your car properly to best care for its paint job and avoid those characteristic swirl marks.
You should never use just any old cloth to clean your car. The first thing that you should do is make sure that you have a clean, soft cloth to do the first wipe-down with; there are special cloths available at the car goods or hardware aisle that are designed to protect your paint, and we’d recommend that you have a couple of these on hand before you start.
It’s also worth saying that it’s much better and safer for your car’s paint to use a damp cloth instead of a dry one: using a dry cloth to wipe down dust and particles can risk fine scratches in the paint, and usually using a damp cloth is enough to prevent this from happening.
Does your car have decals or bumper stickers that you would like to get rid of? This has to be done carefully. Although dishwashing liquid is a common trick for people who are trying to get sticky stickers off of glasses and jars, you should never do this with your car: it will surely destroy your paint job. Instead, use something more neutral—such as coconut oil—to get rid of the decals. Make sure that you wipe it off properly and remove any traces of the glue underneath the sticker before you start cleaning your car.
Never use dishwashing liquid or detergent of any sort to clean your car. There are even reports of some people using normal soap to clean their cars. You don’t know what’s in the average dishwashing liquid or detergent, especially because there are thousands of different brands available on the market—and none of them are designed for cleaning a car’s finish.
Instead, purchase some car washing soap from your local auto shop or supermarket. That way, you know that it’s designed to clean and protect specifically your car’s finish and will keep it in good condition for years to come.
When you’re done cleaning your car, the next step is rinsing. This isn’t as straightforward as most people think. Ensure that you use clean water to rinse your car. Do this with a bucket instead of using a hose, especially if you live in an area where there are ongoing water restrictions. It pays to be environmentally conscious!
Once you’ve rinsed your car properly, it’s time to get down to polishing. Here, you want to use the same rule as when you chose the soap: choose only products that have been specifically designed for use on car finishes—anything else, and you only risk scratching or dulling your paint job.
There are also specially designed cloths and buffers that you can use to polish your car, and this protects your car finish from any scratches. Never use the same rag that you use for the actual cleaning earlier on to polish; you could also risk scratching or dulling the paint.
Not everyone does this step when it comes to their cars, but we strongly suggest that you follow this step too if you want your car finish properly protected from damage, including sun damage and other marks that might come along with weather conditions and wear-and-tear as you drive your car.
Once your car has been properly washed, rinsed, and polished, all that’s left is waxing. There are many brands of approved car wax available on the market and you should always use a proper buffing tool for this, or an approved sponge. A cloth can and will scratch your finish.
Apply wax liberally, though not too liberally—you don’t want a thick layer of it on your paint-job.
Once you’re done, make sure to throw a shadow net over your car to protect it from any other possibly damage in the sun, or park it safely inside your garage.