It’s that time of year when we find the longer daylight and summer road trips give us a good reason to get our ride clean and shiny.
If you own a car or truck you may have washed it in a car wash or your driveway. Some car wash places are fully automatic and drag you car through or it may be coin operated and have a wash wand or two.
Probably the best way is to skip the pay car wash and do it yourself in your own driveway. Some apartments have an area reserved for washing cars and if so you might count yourself lucky.
Key to successfully washing your ride is to be prepared. Make sure you have a good long hose and plenty of water. A good hose nozzle can make this job quick and easy. Sure there are the pistol grip types and there are plenty of the multi-spray types that are great for gardening. My latest favorite is a twist type with a large nozzle that allows for a lot of adjustment to the spray pattern.
The bucket you use is also important. At one time I used to use a large rectangular wash bucket that held plenty of cleaning solution. Today I use a dual bucket system so that I can rinse the wash mitt in water separate from the soapy water that I wash with. That keeps more of the grit and grime out of the detergent and consequently there is less chance of scratching the paint.
Use a detergent that is formulated for car paint. Often it is labeled a car “shampoo”. Using dish detergent is definitely a NO-NO. Be kind to your car’s paint and use a detergent made for the purpose of washing your car. I don’t usually use one with “wax” in the mix because I just want to wash the car and will apply wax later. Some of the car wash soaps with a “wax” included will leave an annoying film on the window glass.
Find a shady spot to park your car or truck in and drag out your hose. Make sure that all the windows are closed up tight and flip the windshield wipers off the glass. Turn on the water and give the vehicle a good rinse. Start with the top and work your way down. The bugs on the front will need a couple of blasts. One to soak and loosen them, then another blast to get them off. As you move down the car body you will notice that there is more dirt on the bottom than the top. Keep that in mind when it comes time to wash with soap.
You will use a broad spray on most of the body and then a concentrated fine power point of water around the wheels and brakes. Rinse the wheel wells of stuck on dirt and mud.
Now it is time to get some shampoo on the paint starting, again, with the top of the car. Remember that the wash mitt and soap is loosening the dirt and getting it in suspension so that you can rinse it off with a hose. So plan to wash a section, rinse it, then move on to the next section – moving top to bottom. I use the wash mitt like a sponge. I don’t wear it on my hand. I just use one side and flip it to a fresh side if it starts to get too soiled. Then I rinse it off and get fresh soap on it.
I wash the roof, rinse, then down to the bottom of the windows, rinse, then the hood (bonnet), rinse, then the trunk (boot), and rinse. Depending on how dirty the car is I may just do the section below the windows to only half way down before I rinse again. The front grill and bumper will probably need a lot of attention with a couple of washing and rinsing cycles as a lot of road grime and splattered bugs accumulates there.
The rinse and wash buckets that I’m using now have a grid on the bottom so that I can scrub the wash mitt against the grill and get grit and grime off the wash mitt. The heavy stuff stays below the grid and doesn’t end up rubbed on the paint finish leaving scratches. The bottom part of the bodywork is usually really dirty and it is best to wash in smaller sections so that the wash mitt can be rinsed clean of grit – again, to keep from scratching the paint unnecessarily.
When the body has been completely washed and rinsed, you can move on the wheels and tires. Remember that both are covered with brake dust. Brake dust is nasty stuff and you don’t want to rub any of it on your car’s paint if you can possibly help it.
I use a couple of scrub brushes for my wheels. It depends upon the spoke design what works best with cleaning your wheels. If you need to use a wash mitt, use one that you ONLY use on wheels. This is to keep brake dust from being rubbed into your paint. Yes, many alloy wheels are painted, but brake dust is nasty stuff. If you need to use something stronger than the car wash soap, try Simple Green. Stay away from cleaners with alkaloids as they can ruin a wheel’s finish. Always rinse the wheels and brake area very well with water.
With the body washed and rinsed it is time to dry it off. At one time chamois were the tool of choice. Chamois are pieces of leather that absorb water and can be wrung out and used again and again. Today I use 100% cotton towels. Cotton because it won’t scratch the paint the way polyester cloth will. I keep a set of old cotton bath towels for this purpose and when I launder them I use a minimum of detergent so that they won’t transfer any soap when they get wet as I am using them to dry a car. Some people like the newer microfiber towels and I see nothing wrong with that, I just like my cotton towels.
As you dry the car’s exterior don’t forget the nooks and crannies. The door jams will have plenty of water over spray in them. Check under the fuel filler door for more water. Be sure to dry the windshield and flip the wipers back in place before you raise the hood. Otherwise you will likely jam the hood into the wiper arms. Pop the trunk and wipe all the water out of the areas under the trunk lid as well as the nooks between the gasket and bodywork.
Move on to a fresh towel if it gets dirty or too wet. Dry the wheels with their own towel and keep it away from the bodywork. Throw all the used towels and wash mitts into the washing machine.
When the car is dried you can then think about wax, or maybe it is time to clay bar the finish. Clay bar allows you to pull the last bits of grit, dirt, overspray, and other contaminants from the paint. How do you know when to use a clay bar? Run your hand across the clean paint. Does it feel rough? A clay bar application will turn it glass smooth. Clay bar does not require a lot of hard rubbing. On the contrary you should not have to rub hard at all. It is not a polish either and will not remove the car’s paint or clear coat. Used as directed, it just gets the junk out of the paint and gets it ready for wax.
Not all car waxes are created equal. Stay away from waxes with “cleaners” in them. “Cleaners” is code for polish. If you need to polish your paint, have it professionally done. I used to recommend only a carnauba wax, but some of the synthetic “waxes” are excellent at really making your paint pop! My current favorite is Meguiar’s Ultimate paste wax.
Wax should be applied in a very thin layer and you can use 100% cotton towels or microfiber towels to rub off the excess wax.
Be sure to have your sunglasses handy because your ride will really shine!