Car washing guide/technique

  • In this thread I hope to explain some good practices for washing a car that help in the prevention of inflicting swirl marks to paint.

    Whats Wrong With A Sponge?
    Millions of people wash their car using a sponge. But if you read through this thread you will see that hardly any valeters are washing their cars using a traditional sponge… Why is that? It all comes down to the flat face of the sponge:

    Imagine automotive paintwork with your typical dirt and grit particles stuck on the top of the paint, that you want to wash off to reveal your car's shine. Some of these dirt particles are sharp:

    Now, if you place a sponge down on top of these grit particles as you would do if you were washing your car with a sponge, the grit particles become trapped between the face of the sponge and the paint - they have no where to go owing to the flat face of the sponge:

    When you wipe the sponge across the paintwork, you wipe the sharp grit particles straight across the paint. As they move over the paint, the dirt particles leave a thin hairline scratch:

    These little scratches are highly visible in bright light because they catch the light, and this is what gives you the dreaded swirl marks that rob your paint of gloss and colour and ruin the car's look.

    Wash Mitts
    Lambswool and Sheep Wool wash mitts have been developed to get around the problems of sponges trapping grit particles by the flat face. If you run your fingers through a lambswool mitt, you can feel that it is deep pile and not flat faced:

    Returning to the grit particles on paintwork, when the wash mitt is placed onto them, the grit particles are absorbed into the mitt - safely away from paintwork so that they cannot scratch the paint:

    Therefore, sweeping the mitt across the paint doesn't sweep the grit over the paint also and so you don't inflict lots of tiny hairline scratches.

    Note: While wash mitts are considerably better than sponges, it is impossible to completely avoid inflicting the odd swirl marks here and there using a wash mitt. What follows in this thread are tips on how to keep these inflicted swirls to an absolute minimum.

    Which Wash Mitt?
    There are a great number of wash mitts on the marked nowadays, ranging from lambswool and sheep wool to cotton chenille to microfibre. In my experience the best mitts are the lambswool and sheep wool. When choosing a mitt, choose one with a soft deep pile that will be kind to paintwork. Two excellent mitts are:

    Meguiars Lambswool Wash Mitt Eurow Sheepskin Wash Mitt and there are others too.

    So Many Shampoos! Which to Choose?
    At the end of the day, shampoo choice for your car is going to come down to personal preference. But there are so many shampoos on the market its hard to know which ones to go for! A couple of things to look for when choosing a car shampoo:

    1. Lubricity in the washing solution - you want a shampoo that makes the washing solution feel nice and lubricated so that dirt particles can be encapsulated by this lubricant and any that aren't absorbed into the wash mitt will slide off the paint without scratching in the rinsing water. Soapy suds are pleasing and can make car washing fun, but lubricated wash solution is more important.

    2. A shampoo should contain no harsh detergents if you are washing a car that you have spent many hours polishing, sealing and waxing. Harsh detergents strip wax straight off the paintwork leaving your paint surface dried out and unprotected. Fairy Liquid is therefore a big no no for washing cars. You feel what happens to the skin on your hand if in prolonged contact with harsh detergents, it dries the skin out - it will do similar damage to paint.

    With this in mind, there are still a huge number of car shampoos that fit the bill - ones that I have used and rate are the following, so if you're struggling on which to choose, try one of the following:

    Meguiars #62 Bodywork Shampoo & Conditioner (my favourite)
    Meguiars Gold Class Bodywork Shampoo & Conditioner
    Meguiars Hyper Wash (awesome dilution ratio of 400:1 - lasts ages!)
    Poorboys Super Slick & Suds
    Pinnacle Bodywork Shampoo & Conditioner
    Einszett Perls

    What is the "Two-Bucket Method"
    Again, millions of people use a single bucket of car wash solution to wash their car, but I am asked time and time again what is it.

    As suggested by the name, the two bucket method uses two buckets, not one. In the first bucket, you have your car wash solution as normal. In the second bucket you have clean fresh water. First off you soak your mitt in the wash solution and begin washing the car (as described below). Then, before dunking the wash mitt back into the wash solution, you rinse it out in the second bucket of fresh water - this rinses out the dirt and grit particles from this mitt so that they cannot come into contact with your paint, reducing the number of swirls inflicted.

    A grit-guard is also a very worthwhile investment and sits at the bottom of the bucket (I have two, one in the rinsing bucket and one in the wash solution bucket). When dunking your mitt into the fresh water bucket, rub it across the grit guard to increase the amount of grit particles which are removed from the mitt. Also, it keeps them trapped at the bottom of the bucket so even less chance of the mitt picking them back up and them reaching your paintwork to inflict scratches.

    Here I describe the generic technique I use to wash cars...

    Wheels, Arches, Door Jambs
    Start with these. When washing your wheels using a wheel brush, the shampoo solution (or wheel cleaner solution) can spray up onto paintwork, and if you've just cleaned the paintwork, you'll end up needing to clean it again to remove the dirty spray from wheels! Don't forget to open all doors and boot and clean the doorjambs and the insides of the door (without getting wash solution into the locking mechanisms, I cover these up) - these areas can pick up a lot of dirt as well and it adds something a little extra to open the door and see the jambs as clean as the rest of the car as these areas are often forgotten about.

    This loosens up dirt and wets the paintwork ready for washing. Using a hose pipe, direct a gentle spray of water at the paintwork at a shallow angle. If you blast the paintwork with high pressure at ninety degrees to the paintwork, you'll force grit into the paint and cause scratches. Just a gentle spray of water to wet the paintwork is all that is required. If you don't have access to a hose, use a watering can with the rose fitted to produce a gentle spray of water:

    This is the major stage of the washing process, and the time when most scratches can be inflicted if care is not taken. This removes fresh surface contamination from paintwork such as dust, grit, mud, road film etc... Add the correct amount of car wash solution (according to the dilution ratio on the bottle) to your bucket and fill with water to produce suds and lubricated wash solution:

    The water can be cold, or warm - I prefer warm water as it keeps my hands warm, especially in winter!!

    Now, use the two bucket method described above. Use two wash mitts - one for the top areas of the car (roof, bonnet, upper sides above the wheel arch line) and one for the lower areas (below the wheel arch line, front and rear bumpers). Use a light parallel motion when washing, with out applying forceful pressure that will inflict scratches.

    If a mark is stubborn and wont come off with gentle movement of the wash mitt, it will require a stronger cleaner such as tar remover or clay. Start from the roof and work down, therefore the large quantities of dirt that form on the lower parts of car are not transferred to the traditionally cleaner upper areas of the car. Try to avoid letting the shampoo dry on the paintwork as this will cause streaks and soap spots, for this reason try to avoid washing in direct sunlight. If you are in direct sunlight, it may be necessary to wash and rinse a panel at a time. Continue until the car is completed.

    Once washed, the next step is to rinse away the soap bubbles and film. If using a hose I first of all use a light spray of water to wet the paintwork (using the rose on the watering can), just like the pre-rinsing step. Then follow this up with a flow of water from the hose (rose off the water can this time). Most shampoos are free rinsing and require this flow of water to make the rinsing water "sheet" off of the paintwork. (This sheeting effect will work best on well sealed and waxed paintwork). On a sealed/waxed car, keep rinsing until the water sheets cleanly off the paintwork and leaves behind only water beads and not flat regions of water. This makes the car essentially self drying! Rinse from the top of the car down.

    Another risk stage as far as scratches are concerned. First off, I find that using a waffle weave drying towel is far safer and more effective than using a chamois leather. A couple of examples of good quality waffle weave drying towels are:

    Meguiars Water Magnet Drying Towel
    Poorboys Waffle Weave

    Also Pakshak towels are very very good too! Rather than sweeping the towel across the paintwork to remove the water, I prefer to pat dry the car. The sweeping of the towel has more risk of inflicting scratches as stray grit particles may be picked up and inadvertently swept across the paint inflicting swirl marks. Instead, pat dry the car by laying the towel down over the wet paintwork. Gently pat the towel, then lift off the paintwork. The towel will absorb the water to dry the paint. A thin film of water may be left behind but this will quickly evaporate to leave a sparkling, streak free finish.

    And there we have it - safe washing technique to avoid inflicting dreaded swirls into paintwork.


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