Legendary race car driver Sir Stirling Moss once said, "There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love." Of course, most people could use some serious tutelage in both. The same can be said of washing a car. Put simply, there's a hell of a lot more involved to do it right than the vast majority of people understand. Here are just 13 things you're probably doing wrong when you wash your car.
Regardless, you'll never look at a car wash the same way again.
1. Going to a quarter wash
Forget the annoyance of collecting quarters like you're still going to that shady off-campus laundromat you frequented back in college. You don't want to use the random, overly acidic soap at a quarter wash, and you don't want to have to constantly fight with the hose dangling from the ceiling so it doesn't slam against your car. God forbid you think that the foaming brush -- and all the grit stuck in it from the dirty-ass cars that came before yours -- is worthy of touching your paint. And don't even get me started on an automatic car wash.
What to do instead: Either set up shop in your driveway, or if you're sans driveway, get yourself a waterless wash.
2. Using a regular sponge
I know people who think a sponge is a sponge. Then again, I also know people who drink $6 boxes of wine. If you're the type that likes swirls and other fine scratches in your paint, go right ahead and use a sponge.
What to do instead: Get a good mitt. One made out of microfiber can better lift and trap dirt instead of grinding it into your paint.
3. Letting your mitt indiscriminately touch dirty things
If you mitt drops to the ground, you've already successfully picked up tons of granules of dirt that you definitely don't want coming in contact with your car. Simply rinsing it in a bucket won't fix that. Similarly, there's a special circle of hell reserved for people who wipe their wheels clean and then wash the car with the same mitt. Brake dust is a combination of fine iron and semi-metallic particles sanded off of your brake disc and pad every time you hit the brakes. It does not belong on your paint.
What to do instead: Have a backup mitt on hand, and use a dedicated mitt for your wheels -- if you use it to clean off brake dust even once, no amount of washing will make it fit for your paint again.
4. Using the wrong soap
You need a soap that's gonna suds up a lot, because those suds help move dirt away from your paint to prevent scratches. You also don't want a soap that's too alkaline for various reasons. That Dawn you've got sitting by the kitchen sink? It's practically guaranteed to strip off any wax you've got on your car. In fact, the only time you ever want to use it is if you're about to properly detail the whole thing, in which case it's the only soap to use.
What to do instead: Get something that's actually made for washing your car. If your car has minor scratches already (the kind you can see in sunlight, but can't feel), use a wash that has small amounts of synthetic wax in it. The wax (actually called a sealer) will fill in those tiny scratches and make everything nice and shiny again.
5. Rinsing your mitt in your soap bucket
Would you take the spoon you just used for chili and put it straight into your ice cream? Of course not -- it would contaminate the ice cream, and the same principle is at play here. All the dirt you've successfully lifted with the suds and trapped with the mitt winds up in the bucket when you rinse the mitt. Don't scoop it back out.
What to do instead: Use a second bucket, full of nothing but water, to get rid of as much of that stuff as possible before starting the process anew. Even better, you can put a grate in the bottom of the bucket so when you throw the mitt in, the grit falls through to the bottom.
6. Dumping the bucket of filthy water on the car when you're done
Would you dump a bucket of sweat over your head after taking a shower? Actually, don't answer that... just don't pour that disgusting cocktail of bug guts, dirt, and miscellaneous tar-like pieces of roadkill back over your paint.
What to do instead: Use your hose, rinse your car, and dry it off. That's it.
7. Using way too much water
If you just turn your hose on and let the flow of water do as it may, you're potentially sending over a hundred gallons of water down the street.
What to do instead: Put a nozzle on the end of your hose so you're only using the water when you really need it. Also, in some places, using your hose at all is frowned upon, in which case you're limited to using a waterless wash. If you wash your car weekly, and prevent it from getting too dirty, you'll be just fine.
8. Blasting the water too hard
Blasting the paint with the hardest water jet possible is a fantastic idea, provided your goal is to triple the size of any rock chips, because a pressurized blast of water can work under the exposed edge of the paint and force more up. Think of it like power washing your side walk, only instead of dirt, you're blasting off paint.
What to do instead: Adjust the nozzle until it's basically a fine mist. It will rinse everything nice and easy. As a nice bonus, it'll give you a homemade rainbow if the sun's at the right angle.
9. Only washing what you can see
Next time you see someone washing a car, pay attention to what they actually clean. More likely than not, they're only washing the paint and windows, and neglecting the rest.
What to do instead: OK, now turn the hose up a bit -- maybe not as a full-jet blast, but not far from it, and rinse the wheel wells between the tire and the car. You don't need to scrub, but it's good to blast out any debris that might have gotten caught in there, like grass clippings and the like. Think of it like scrubbing behind your car's ears.
10. Washing in the sunlight on a hot day
There are several problems with this, but they all start with the fact that the sun is going to heat your car's surfaces and make the water evaporate that much faster. The water-and-soap combo is a lubricant of sorts that helps the mitt glide across the paint without scratching it, but also, as the water dries, the minerals within it wind up etching onto the paint. You know how hard it is to get rid of water spots in your shower? It's infinitely more annoying having those on your car, and you can't scrub to remove them.
What to do instead: Wash your car either in the morning or evening when the sun isn't at its peak, or buy a canopy if you don't mind strange looks from neighbors. In a pinch, you can have a helper constantly run water over the car -- it's not exactly an environmentally friendly solution, but it will keep the paint cool and prevent spots.
11. Using a regular towel
Normal cotton towels are neither very absorbent nor terribly soft. What's worse: they're moderately abrasive, so if you're not drying your car with all the caution of a neurosurgeon, you're inviting trouble.
What to do instead: Use a good-quality microfiber towel; because of the way it's constructed, it will hold more water before reaching its saturation point. If you get a good one (read: not bargain basement at the local big-box store) it won't scratch your paint, either.
12. And washing it in the normal laundry
Most laundry detergents have fragrances and softeners in them. You might think nothing of that, but once you dry your car with a treated towel, you'll notice a streak that reflects like a rainbow, thanks to the chemicals.
What to do instead: Wash your car towels separately, using fragrance-free detergent. If you managed to drop your towel on the ground at some point, go for an extra rinse.
13. Spraying cleaning products wildly inside
The odds are pretty great you're gonna get overspray where you don't want it -- like all over your windows -- if you try to spray directly onto a given surface without proper care.
What to do instead: Either spray your cleaner onto a clean rag or an old sock, or get some pre-moistened quick detailer wipes. It's not just better, it's easier.
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