10 Ways to Wash a Car Like a Pro

Even though we all wash our cars, some of us may question whether there is a better approach.

Sure, driving into an automated vehicle wash, depositing a few dollars, and letting the programmed spray nozzles and brushes do their thing is the easiest thing in the world. However, that technique will never produce the greatest possible sheen, and those dirty, grit-holding cleaning machines might damage your paint over time. Washing your automobile by hand provides a much better, more thorough clean — with less paint damage.

Unfortunately, unless you know what you’re doing, you could wind up with fine scratches and swirl marks in your car’s paint, as well as a dull finish.

Do you want to achieve that concourse-worthy gleam? We’ll walk you through how to wash a car to obtain a professional-level clean, including recommendations on the best tools and materials to use and how to use them, with a little help from eBay’s auto care specialists.

1. Get ready

Every car wash should begin with a condition assessment, as simple (or as needless) as it may appear. Are you getting ready to take on a caked-on layer of hardened mud off-roading rig or a dusty collectable classic? Answering these types of questions will help you decide which of the steps below you should take and which you may forgo for the time being.

If at all possible, this first step should also include parking your automobile in a shady spot away from direct sunlight. This will not only limit the quantity of water spots left after rinsing, but it will also reduce the likelihood of your cleaning and polishing solutions drying out on your car’s surface.

Another tip: make sure you have at least three buckets on hand. One for rinsing your washing mitt or brush in between stages, one for car soap or shampoo, and one for your wheel and tire cleaning.

2. Debris (Optional)

There’s no need to overthink it if the only grime on your garage-parked classic is a light layer of dust; you might be able to get away with only a fast dusting. Get an excellent auto duster and make your way across the vehicle, lightly sweeping each surface without putting pressure on the body panels.

To reduce the chance of scratching your paint, good automobile dusters are generally sprayed with paraffin wax or something similar, but you should be aware that dusting might introduce tiny, microscopic scratches over time. Still, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little polish and wax, so there’s no need to get too worked up about it.

3. Wash the exterior of the vehicle

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Now for the major event: washing your car’s exterior. Don’t believe what you’ve heard about starting with a good spray of plain water. If you want your finish to last, you must first emulsify any grit on your car by coating it in a thick layer of lubricating soap to prevent it from scratching or dulling your paint.

Begin by inserting your washing mitt into the soap/water combination and dripping suds onto the panel before gently rubbing back and forth across the paint.

Any surplus suds will drip down the sides of the car, emulsifying the grit and reducing the amount of ground you have to cover as you drive.

Next, repeat the process on the body sides, making your way around the automobile until every square inch is covered in suds.

Remember to rinse your mitt completely in plain water to eliminate any excess grit before immersing it back into the soap/water mixture at regular intervals.

Only use reputable brand soaps and shampoos that are specifically developed for cars, and avoid using dish soap or any other ill-suited detergent unless you want to remove every ounce of wax from your car. Furthermore, only apply minimal pressure during this stage to avoid scraping dirt into your car’s paint.

4. Clean the Tires and Wheels (Optional)

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You may want to skip this step depending on how filthy your wheels and tires are. After all, they’re always in contact with the road and the principal beneficiary of any dust generated by your brakes, so they’ll almost certainly become dirty again in no time.

If you do decide to clean your wheels and tires, make sure you use a dedicated bristle brush and a quality, purpose-made wheel and tire cleaner solution. (Avoid using this brush on the body of your automobile since any metallic brake dust it picks up can harm the paint.) Apply the cleaner, making sure to get it in between the spokes and onto the wheel barrel’s walls, then agitate it lightly but completely with the brush.

5. Finish with a rinse

Start at the top of the car and work your way down, spraying liberally with plain water to wash all of the soap and filth off and into the gutter. If you’re using a garden hose, don’t worry too much about the water pressure; excessive water pressure is only a problem when you’re using a pressure washer.

After you’ve finished rinsing the automobile, properly towel it dry for the greatest effects. Hard water marks on your car’s paint will be less likely as a result of this.

6. (Optional) Use a Clay Bar

If you’re not aware with clay bars, they’re a standard vehicle cleaning product that helps to remove imbedded pollutants from your paint’s surface. You lubricate a portion of the automobile, then wipe clay over it to pick up fine metal particles, tiny dust particles, and other minute but significant amounts of debris that can chip away at your paint over time.

You should repeat this technique at least twice a year for the optimum benefits, while most people only need to do it once a year.

Get a decent clay bar and tear it into four equal pieces to begin.

Set three aside for the time being, then flatten the fourth into a circle the width of three fingers.

Using a clay bar lubricant, apply it to a tiny part of the car’s body.

Begin sliding the clay piece back and forth through the lubrication (you’ll see the clay becoming easier to slide as it takes up small particles).

Move on to the next little area of the car body after sliding is no longer a chore.

Regularly check the clay for clarity as you go. If the clay becomes unclean, either turn it over or knead it frequently to disperse pollutants throughout the clay so they don’t come into contact with your paint. If you drop your clay piece or it becomes too filthy to use, simply throw it away and pick up one of the other pieces.

7. Polish (Optional)

Polishing your car reduces the appearance of fine abrasions and swirl marks, resulting in a smooth, mirror-like paint. Car polish, on the other hand, is an abrasive substance that removes a small amount of paint each time you use it. Polish your paint no more than once a year to keep it looking new, and don’t overdo it.

What’s the first step? Invest in an orbital polisher. A random orbital polisher or a dual-action polisher is recommended for beginners since it reduces the possibility of paint burn and swirl marks. Keep in mind that these polishers function by rapidly spinning a pad over your paint’s surface. The outside of the pad spins at a faster rate than the center. More friction equals more heat and abrasive action, and more heat equals more abrasive action. Because of this, peaks and creases in the bodywork are more vulnerable to burning, so be cautious.

Wipe a moderate area of bodywork with a decent quality polishing compound applied straight to the pad. If your polisher has a variable speed option, you can use it to assist you achieve this. Once the compound has been applied to the body, increase the speed and work that portion carefully and meticulously until every square inch has been touched up. Use a cutting compound or anti-scratch polish to remove deeper scratches.

Take your time here and make sure none of the compound dries out while you’re working. If the pad you’re using becomes excessively contaminated or caked with dried-on chemical, swap it out.

8. Waxing

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Now comes the most enjoyable part of the procedure: waxing. Wax fills in micro-abrasions on the paint’s surface and seals it to keep it protected from the elements. It’s the single most critical step in getting your car to shine like it did when you first saw it on the showroom floor.

There are several easy-to-apply spray waxes on the market, but we recommend using a high-quality liquid wax for the best results. To apply by hand, dampen one side of a foam applicator pad and distribute a little amount of liquid wax over it. Wipe it onto the car’s body in small, circular motions and spread it out across a relatively wide region. Before moving on to the next section, spread and smooth it out as much as possible. When one panel is entirely covered with wax, flip the pad over and buff the wax with bigger circular strokes using the clean side.

9. Keep Your Glasses Clean

For ten out of ten driving jobs, being able to see clearly is critical, but if you’ve been cleaning your car’s windshield and windows using an ammonia-based glass cleaner like Windex, stop! Over time, the ammonia can harm the coatings on the glass. Instead, always use an excellent car-specific glass cleaner and a specialist windshield cleaner brush (see our best choices here). It will make it easy to get to those hard-to-reach places.

If you want to totally remove streaks or caked-on grime, don’t be afraid to wipe your glass numerous times, especially on the outside. To finish, use a clean microfiber cloth to apply a water-repellent solution like Rain-X (really, the thing is like magic). Rain-X makes a two-in-one glass cleaner and anti-fog product for inside the cabin that helps reduce window fogging.

10. Keep the interior clean.

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Without a good, comprehensive cleaning of the car’s interior, no professional car wash would be complete. Start by vacuuming and brushing the carpeting. Brushing your carpet may seem pointless, but trust us when we say that you’re not vacuuming correctly until you brush it first. Brushing loosens sticky dirt and other debris, making it simpler for your car vacuum to pick up.

Next, clean the interior with a good interior cleaner, such as Meguiar’s All-Purpose Cleaner. Be mindful that cleaners like this one come in concentrated form, which means they’re too concentrated to use straight away. Always dilute the cleaner properly by diluting it with normal water. Most surfaces can be cleaned with a higher concentration, such as four parts water to one part cleaner, while more delicate materials (such as leather) should be cleaned with a more diluted form, such as ten parts water to one part cleaner, and always test it in an inconspicuous area first.

Alternatively, you can use a leather cleanser and conditioner designed specifically for automotive use. These treatments have been particularly created to remove dirt and filth from your leather without hurting the finish, as well as to revitalize it by replenishing lost moisture and preventing it from drying out. Conditioning is an important but frequently overlooked aspect of leather care, and unless you want your leather upholstery to be hard and split, you should clean and condition it at least twice a year.

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