There are few feelings better than stepping back after washing your car and basking in its gleaming glory.
Unfortunately, getting your car to that point takes a bunch of effort and a little know-how.
Step #1 — Pre-rinse and pre-wash
The first step to washing your car? Pre-wash it. Yeah, I know. Washing your car before you wash your car but it’s a super important step in the process.
Pre-rinsing and pre-washing removes the worst of the dirty, grime and contamination before you start work with a sponge. Removing all that junk means there’s less to get trapped under your sponge and, therefore, less to scratch your paintwork.
Quite how thorough your pre-wash needs to be depends on how dirty your car is to start with. If you’ve just come back from a track day or rally session, I’d spend a good 20 or 30 minutes washing the muck of your car. On the other hand, if you’re washing your car every weekend, you can probably get away with a quick five-minute rinse.
The easiest way to pre-wash your car is with a power washer as it can dislodge dried mud and muck. However, if all you’ve got is a hose, that’s fine too. Just take your time, be thorough and remember that the more time you put in here, the better the result will be down the line.
I’m often asked about specialist products — traffic grime buster, after snow cleaner, that sort of thing. They’re all specially designed to break down a specific form of dirt and they do work. That said, they tend to cost a fair bit and I’m not convinced it’s worth the investment.
Pre-wash foams are another popular product. I’ve got more time for these as they’re cheaper and really do break up all the grime before you hit it with the water.
Step #2 — Full wash
Pre-wash done, it’s time to get to the good stuff. The actual wash. Nailing this step means you’ll get a great finish while avoiding scratches and swirl marks.
For the wash, you really only need a few things: two buckets, a decent car shampoo and a car wash mitt or high-quality sponge.
In one bucket, mix shampoo with water in the ratio specified on the bottle. Also, pick up a decent shampoo as you will notice the difference. In the other, pour in warm water. This second bucket is for rinsing your sponge or mitt so the first bucket stays nice and fresh.
Start by cleaning the top of the car and work your way down. This way, you don’t have grimy soap running over a freshly cleaned section. Also, since the wheels and lower bodywork are the dirtiest, you’ll want to do these sections last.
Step #3 — Rinse and dry
Once you’ve cleaned all the bodywork and glass with your sponge or mitt, you need to rinse all the dirty shampoo off. Again, start at the top and work down the car, paying particular attention to any pooling water.
Once you’ve washed away all the shampoo and loose dirt, it’s time to dry your car.
Now, a lot of people will recommend using a chamois leather or a squeegee. I’m not really a fan of either. Both work by dragging or pushing the water over the bodywork and both will cause scratches if and hard bits of dirt get stuck between it and the bodywork.
Instead, I recommend you use a microfibre drying cloth. These super absorbent towels soak up the water and don’t require pressure to work. So even if you get a bit of grit stuck in the cloth, it won’t scratch the paintwork. (Or, at least, it will scratch it less.)
I’ve experimented with drying aids with mixed results. Yes, they help the water bead but you still spend the same amount of time drying off each bodywork panel.