Whether you’re a car-loving fanatic or someone who uses their vehicle just to get from point A to point B, there’s no way you can dodge cleaning it.
Although cleaning your car is often thought to be a tiresome chore that nobody wants to spend their weekend doing, it’s can’t be avoided, nor should it.
The key to cleaning your car efficiently and easily at home is having the right supplies and the working knowledge of how to use them.
By systematically working your way through the steps to achieve a clean car, you’ll no longer find it as boring as you once did, especially once you see the showroom finish you end up with.
How do you clean a car the right way?
The first step is having the right supplies to meet the different steps to the job, including a wash, wax, wheel cleaner, and window cleaner, just to name a few. Secondly, the order in which you clean will have the best results, with a rinse of the entire vehicle being first and a coating of protective wax the last.
We’ve created the ultimate DIY car wash guide to help you achieve the perfect wash and with a lot less effort than you might realize.
We’ll show you exactly what you need, why you need it, and how to apply it, to get the look of a professionally detailed vehicle with minimal effort, and a newfound respect for washing your car.
- 1 The Importance Of Cleaning With Care
- 2 The Tools You’ll Need For A DIY Car Wash
- 3 The Perfect Conditions To Clean Your Car
- 4 Step By Step Guide To Cleaning A Car
- 5 Can You Wash A Car Without Water?
- 6 Related Questions
The Importance Of Cleaning With Care
If you’re like most people, you look at cleaning your car as a dreaded job that just has to be done.
You might give it a quick once over with a hose and some detergent once every few months, not realizing how much damage you could be doing.
As one of the biggest investments we’ll ever make, it’s important to treat our cars with care, especially when cleaning them.
Using basic washes that weren’t designed for the sensitive surfaces of our car’s paintwork will do more harm than good, and quickly devalue the worth of one of your biggest purchases.
The purpose of cleaning your car is not just to make it sparkly and new again, but for its preventative measures.
Everything from the sun’s ultraviolet rays to acid rain, can do serious damage to the layers of paint on your car and decrease its value significantly, so washing your car is about more than just getting rid of the dirt.
It’s common for cars to get chemical or abrasive damage from the cleaning process itself, and this can be true whether you do the job at home or take it to a drive-through car wash.
There are degreasing chemicals and abrasive compounds that remove the protective from your car’s surface and damage the paint, which is why it’s essential to shop for something made specifically for car paint, and any other requirements your vehicle has.
Another reason why regular and correct car washing techniques are needed is to prevent rust build-up, which can be heightened with exposure to the elements without a regular cleaning schedule in place.
With the right car care products, you’ll reduce the chance of rust occurring and keep your vehicle in top condition for longer, ensuring this important investment holds its value.
The Tools You’ll Need For A DIY Car Wash
Before you can attempt a DIY car wash at home, you need to get your supplies in order.
For most serious car lovers, all of their cleaning supplies are kept together in a kit, and it can be helpful for everyone to have one of these.
Not only does it ensure you have everything you need, but it takes the stress out of rounding up the supplies when the time comes to clean, and leaves you with one less job.
Check Compatibility with Your Car
As you’re choosing cleaning and car care products, you’ll want to make sure that they’re compatible with your vehicle.
Not every product was made to be all-purpose and applying the wrong one can be disastrous.
These are some things to consider when determining whether or not the supplies will work with your vehicle:
Where you live and the usual climate should impact the type of care you give your car.
Cars that reside in colder climates with snow and sleet are more susceptible to rust and other types of exterior damage, whereas vehicles in hot climates need additional protection from the sun.
Where and how your car is stored should also come into consideration.
The car’s paint finish will need to be considered when shopping for supplies.
Sometimes lighter or darker color cars won’t work as well with a particular type of car wash, or you might want a special wax to keep the finish protected for newer or more expensive cars.
Wheels can be made of alloy, aluminum, chrome, and many other materials, so make sure you understand what yours are first.
Cleaning the wheels of a car is just as important as the body but not all products were designed to suit every type of wheel, and you can do serious damage if you apply the wrong one.
Effort and Agenda
Think about how often you want to clean your car and how much time and effort you’re willing to put in.
You might choose something like a waterless car wash if you don’t want to do a full clean once a month, or prefer a multi-step process that washes and protects your vehicle every time you clean it.
Gather Your Supplies
With a better understanding of the specific needs that your vehicle has, you’ll find it easy to shop for the right supplies.
Here are some of the basics for achieving a DIY car wash that’ll rival any professional detailer.
Bucket, Sponge, Cleaning Cloth
Having three five-gallon buckets of water instead of one is essential.
One will be for the soapy water that contains the car cleaning product, one for the wheel cleaning product, and the other with clean water, used only to rinse.
The best cleaning cloth is a microfiber towel as they’re known for being gentler than others and will reduce the amount of abrasion and swirl marks that occur after cleaning.
A dedicated car washing product is crucial, and easily the most important supply of all.
Other washes can be abrasive and strip the protective oils from your car’s paint layers, so choose one made specifically for cars for the best results.
These are usually mixed with water to create a foamy wash that’s applied to the car.
Wax and Polish
Many people assume waxes and polishes should be left only to obsessive car owners, but they should be a staple for everyday people as well.
Car wax provides a protective coating to the paintwork that not only adds shine but protects it against the elements and other damage.
Car polish isn’t always needed but will make a major transformation to the end result, as well as smooth out any small scratches the bodywork might have.
Wheel Cleaner and Wheel Brush
Rather than washing the wheels with regular car wash, you should have a wheel cleaner in your arsenal, and more specifically, one made to suit the finish of the wheel.
These go above and beyond what a standard wash does and can remove brake dust and other built-up debris from the wheels.
A specialized wheel brush will help you get into the crevices of this part of the car but protect it from damage at the same time.
To add the wow factor at the end of your car cleaning, you can add a layer of shine to the tire. This can make old tires look brand new and help bring some luster back to the sometimes-dull part of the car.
Most car wash products would advise against being applied to the windows, yet a lot of people still wash theirs with it.
A window cleaner can be applied after the wash to remove any streaks from the windows, windshield, and mirrors, and improve visibility for the driver.
The Perfect Conditions To Clean Your Car
An often-overlooked part of cleaning your car is the timing and location in which you do it.
Many people assume that washing the car outside on the weekend is the easiest approach, and while that’s true, you need to be sure the conditions are perfect.
During summer, the best time to wash your car is in the early morning or late evening, as the sun is away and unable to do any damage.
In the cooler months, find a time where the sun isn’t beaming down on your car and temperatures aren’t too extreme.
Just as intense heat can damage the paintwork, especially with the addition of cleaning agents, so too can cold snaps.
If you’re not able to avoid washing it while the sun is at its full power, ensure that it’s uncovered and there’s no direct sunlight on it.
Wherever possible, look for a car cleaning bay or covered driveway to get the job done, so that the products aren’t compromised and the car doesn’t dry out too much under the full force of the sun.
Step By Step Guide To Cleaning A Car
Cleaning a car is never a one size fits all approach, and even the individual car owner will have different needs at different times when it comes to making theirs shine again.
With a basic routine in place, you can easily adapt it to suit what you and your vehicle need, as well as having a solid supply of the best car cleaning products ready to go at all times.
Step 1: Inspect the Car
Each time you wash your car, you’ll need to take a different approach, and there are many reasons why you do this job.
To determine how much effort you have to put in and the types of products you’ll use, inspect the car thoroughly from front to back.
You might notice the wheels need shining, there’s chips or scratches in the paintwork that have to be removed, or that it looks good and just needs a basic clean.
Assess the damage and make a mental note of what’s to be done, and then gather the supplies required.
Step 2: Rinse
An often overlooked step of car washing, but one that’s essential to a thorough clean and less effort, is rinsing it off before you begin.
Not only does this get rid of some of the mess before you begin, but it also prepares the surface for the car wash products that’ll go on next.
Using the hose with a good amount of pressure, wash off any debris and dirt that’s visible. Wet all over the surface of the car, the rearview mirrors, the wheels, and the roof of the car.
This will help break up any larger bits that need to be cleaned and make less effort for you when it comes to scrubbing the car.
The car should still be wet when you start washing it, so don’t let it dry off in between steps.
Step 3: Clean
Washing the car is made easier with the right products and a plan for the order you’re going to clean in.
Follow this guideline for washing your car and what parts should be done first:
- Wheels: Wash the wheels with your dedicated wheel cleaner and a wheel brush, and try to avoid applying any to the tires themselves, unless otherwise advised. The tires can spray this product on the rest of the car and it might strip the paint, so be careful with the application. Wash off the wheels when you’re done with clean water and move on to the next part.
- Headlights: The plastic covering of car headlights should be cleaned to keep them effective on the road. If they’re looking dated, you can use a headlight restoration kit to bring back their shine and transparency.
- Body: Ensure the car is still wet from the initial rinse, and give it another if needed. With the loose contaminants done, you can mix your car wash product to the bucket of water, and then dip in your sponge or microfiber towel. Start with the roof of the car first and work your way down. Rinse off each part when you’re done so the cleaning agent doesn’t start to dry on the paint. With the car clean, dry it off with a microfiber towel so there’s no water left on the surface.
- Windows: Finish by cleaning the windows, using only a dedicated car window cleaning product. Household window cleaners usually contain ammonia, which can be detrimental to the paint surface of your car.
Step 4: Repair and Polish
Inspect the car for blemishes, as these might be easier to see now that it’s cleaned.
Using a car scratch compound or clay bar, treat each of the problem areas until you restore the smooth finish.
If you’ve found larger scratches or dents that can’t be fixed with your home products, your car might need to be taken to a professional to have the paint restored.
With the scratches and oxidization fixed, you can apply a coat of car polish if you wish. This can be done by hand or with a dual-action automatic polisher.
Step 5: Wax
A common misconception is that car wax is only about adding a layer of shine to your car, and while it does provide that, it’s more about protection.
With the right wax, your car will be protected against UV damage, minor scratches and swirl marks, and other harsh or corrosive properties that can destroy the paint.
The best options for cars are carnauba or polymer wax, depending on the finish you want and how much effort you want to put into it.
Step 6: Protect
With your car clean and dried, and a layer of wax added for protection, you’ll need to continue this level of care.
Where possible, your car should be parked undercover or in a garage so it’s not exposed to harsh elements.
Otherwise, you can use a car cover to lay over it when it’s not being driven that can do the same.
This will not only protect the paint but increase the amount of time in between car washes, so it’s a crucial step.
Can You Wash A Car Without Water?
If you’re the type of person who dreads washing their car, using a waterless car wash might sound like a dream come true.
Invented as a way to make car care easier for the washer and friendlier to the environment, waterless car wash is an effective way to keep your car looking good in between those big and daunting washes.
Waterless car wash is a highly lubricating product that goes on without the need for water.
The chemical compounds within it attach themselves to the dirt and grime buildup on the vehicle and strip them away, all with minimal effort.
By not having to fill up gallons of water in buckets and gain access to a hose, you can clean your car with just a microfiber towel and the right product, so they’re a real time-saver.
The best way to use a waterless wash is in between the more thorough washes you do with a bucket and hose, as it’s not capable of providing such a deep clean.
Having a waterless wash now and then reduces the work you have to put into a bigger clean as well.
This type of product is great for people who don’t take their vehicles out often, those who are careful not to get them dirty, and serious fanatics who want to keep them sparkling between washes.
Washing your car doesn’t have to be a chore, provided you have a good routine in place and products that make the job a lot easier.
Every responsible car owner should know the basics of how to give a good DIY car wash so they can avoid the harmful automatic washes that so many of us rely on.
If you’re still unsure on how to wash a car the right way, read on to see our answers to some common FAQs.
What Household Products Can I Use to Wash My Car?
The paintwork on a car’s body is sensitive and requires products made for it specifically others it can damage the paint and strip protective layers from its surface.
Using household cleaners like dishwashing detergent or other home remedies is too risky when it comes to cleaning something as expensive as our cars, and should be avoided at all costs.
How Often Do I Need to Wash My Car?
The frequency with which you wash your car depends entirely on how often it’s used and in what conditions it drives in.
Someone who drives their car regularly and exposes it to things like road salt and UV damage should wash their car every few weeks to keep it clean and prevent damage.
Otherwise, cars that are on the road less frequently will only need to be washed once a month or two.
Can I Use a Drive Through Car Wash?
Automatic car washes are one of the biggest causes of damaged paintwork, so you should wash your car by hand with the right products when possible.
The reason for the potential damage is due to the brushes used in the machines, as they’re abrasive enough to strip paint, and leave scratches and swirl marks on the bodywork.
If you do use an automatic car wash, a touchless one that uses high-pressure water jets is the safer option.