The Best Carwash is a Hand Wash
"We recommend hand washing," says Mike Pennington, director of training at auto-surface-products giant Meguiar's. "Our customers enjoy doing it. It's not a chore." Hand washing gives you a chance to experience the tactile shape of your baby, and it's also a great way to inspect and familiarize yourself with the car's surfaces.
But, Pennington says, don't be like the 60 percent of the population that uses dishwashing detergent when washing the car. It gets the car clean, but strips any protective wax coatings, exposing the vehicle to possible nicks, scratches, and stains. A carwash solution will preserve your car's finish.
When water evaporates, it leaves minerals and dirt on the surface of your car. So when you're done with the wash, dry the surface with a rubber-blade squeegee. One example is the California Water Blade, a large silicone squeegee that some of our photographers use to dry cars quickly during photo shoots.
Clean Paint is Bright and Shiny
Often it takes more than just a wash to get your paint clean. Bird droppings and man-made pollutants settle on the paint and, after a while, can saturate through wax and clear coatings into the color coat underneath. With your car still out of the sun, run your dry hand across the surface of the paint. If it feels rough, it needs to be cleaned.
There are two ways to clean contaminants, as well as stained and scratched old wax, off your paint: chemically or physically (though Pennington says it usually requires a combination of the two). Paint cleaners are liquids that remove wax, and also clean the top layer of the paint by removing unwanted environmental chemicals that have bonded to the paint. Cleaners can also remove small scratches called swirl marks from the paint.
The second method is to clean paint by rubbing a small block of paint-cleaning clay lubricated with a liquid cleaner wax. "It's a safe way to remove contaminants," Pennington says. "You don't need a trained person or a machine." Just make sure you don't use a piece of clay if you have dropped it on the floor.
Polish to Smooth Out Paint
The purpose of polish is to smooth the surface of the paint, which will make it shine and help your car look newer. (Some polishes contain wax, which also protects the paint, but the wax doesn't smooth the paint itself.) When you polish your paint, you can use an oscillating polishing machine. The pros use a rotating polishing machine, which works faster but will harm the paint if you're not careful. For DIYers new to detailing, oscillating buffers are more forgiving.
The pros have a trick to measure their results: Hagaman tells us that they can hold a ruler perpendicular to the surface of the car and see how far its reflection stretches. The higher the number they can read in the paint, the glossier the paint.
If your car has bird droppings, dead bugs, sap, or other hard-to-clean stains on the paintwork, apply car wash soap directly to these stains. The guys at Mothers use a spray bottle filled with undiluted car wash soap.
If the wheels are really dirty -- and they probably will be -- wash them before the rest of the car. Don't wash the wheels if they are hot, as the heat will evaporate the cleaner and cause spots. You can use regular car wash soap, but a dedicated wheel cleaner (we used Mothers Wheel Mist All Wheel Cleaner) makes the job easier.
Spray the wheels with a hose; consider wearing eye protection, as you never know what sort of gunk will get flung up. A soft brush is the best way to clean wheels, but if you are going to use a mitt or a sponge, don't use the same one you'll be using on the rest of the car! It may pick up dirt from the wheels that could scratch the paint. Use an old, dirty wash mitt or sponge. A detail brush or an old toothbrush is the easiest way to clean out small openings. Rinse thoroughly. Once you're done, take a step back -- it's amazing how much better a car looks with just clean wheels!
Rinse down the car, starting at the roof and working your way down. Pay special attention to the area around the windshield wipers, as leaves and dirt tend to collect here.
After rinsing, open up the hood and trunk and clean out any accumulated leaves and dirt. Spraying water with the hood open is not recommended, especially if you have some place to go that day; if the engine's electrical bits get wet the car may not start, plus the hose pressure can damage rubber seals that may have gotten brittle with age. The best way to clean these areas is to put on latex gloves and scrape out the dirt with your fingers.
Why two buckets? A separate rinse bucket will remove the dirt that your wash mitt picks up. If you use a single bucket, you'll be depositing all that dirt into the soapy water, loading it back onto your wash mitt, and rubbing it all over your car!
Fill one bucket with car wash soap and water (mixed as per the instructions on the bottle) and the other bucket with clear water. Dip your wash mitt in the soapy-water bucket, wash a small section, then rinse your wash mitt in the clear-water bucket before reloading with suds.
Scrub your car from the top down. Don't press too hard on the mitt -- you want to avoid grinding in dirt that could scratch the paint. As you wash, it's important to keep the car wet, especially when you get to difficult patches such as bird droppings and sap. Use your hose to mist the car as needed. Sap can be removed with gentle thumb-nail pressure, but be careful not to get over-zealous and scratch the car.
Don't ignore small cracks and crevices, as these are places where dirt loves to collect. The wash mitt allows you to apply finger-tip pressure to many of these spots, but some areas may require a detail brush or a bit of improvisation. Be gentle when using a detail brush -- you don't want to scratch the paint or damage old, brittle seals.
After you've scrubbed down the entire car, give it a quick once-over with your sudsy wash mitt. This will help avoid water spots -- most car wash soaps have an anti-spotting agent. (Dish soap doesn't, another reason not to use it.) Remember to rinse and reload the mitt frequently and work from the top down.
For your final rinse, remove the spray nozzle from your hose. Rinse from the top down, using a gentle stream of water to flood the surface of the car and allow the suds to cascade off autel. Keep the hose close to the car; extend your index finger or thumb just past the edge of the hose to avoid accidentally scratching the paint.
It's important to dry the car quickly to avoid water spots. We used Mother's waffle-weave drying towel, which is designed to absorb ten times its weight in water. You simply spread it out on the car and drag it across the surface, and it will pick up most of the water without scratching. It's much easier than using a chamois and less likely to scratch the car.
Use microfiber detail towels to remove any excess water. Open the trunk, hood and doors and use a microfiber towel to wipe out the doorjambs and other hidden areas; otherwise water will drip out and leave spots Autel MaxiSys MS908.
That's it, you're done! If it's been more than a year since you've waxed your car, or if your rinse water didn't bead up (form distinct round droplets) on the surface, it's time for a coat of wax (and perhaps a deep cleaning).