How to wash your car

Last updated January 11, 2022

Cleaning your car can be a tedious task, especially if it hasn’t been done for a while. However, car washing doesn’t have to be all bad; in fact, it’s generally quite an easy process and can be really satisfying when you know how to do it right.

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Equipment you will need

If you want to start washing your car manually and more regularly, then you should gather a selection of equipment to make sure you do the job properly and don’t damage your vehicle in the process. You should have:

  • A hose or pressure washer (if you don’t have access to these, a bucket of water will be sufficient)
  • Selection of sponges reserved just for car washing
  • Some microfibre cloths or chamois
  • Specific car-cleaning products, like wheel cleaner and car shampoo
  • Two buckets (more on this later)

Making sure you have the correct tools and equipment can make the job a lot easier. They will also reward your hard work with the best result possible.

How to wash a car

There are so many myths surrounding how to wash a car properly, what equipment to use and how often you should wash your car – so many, in fact, that it may seem infinitely easier just to take it to a car wash. However, we’re here to point you in the right direction.

  • The right conditions

    If you can, wash your car on a cloudy day. It may be tempting to wait until the sun’s out but this can dry the car too quickly and leave you with streaks and water spots. No one can control the weather, so if you need to wash your car and it happens to be sunny, try to do it in a shaded area.

    Also, there’s little point in washing your car if it’s raining – this is no fun for you and the car will only get dirty again. It’s best to wait until it’s dry outside otherwise it’s a bit of a waste of time.

  • Pre-wash

    You should initially rinse the car before washing (this is where the hose/pressure washer comes in handy). Spray the car down – if you’re using a pressure washer, be sure to use the softest setting to avoid causing damage to the paint, and try to get rid of the bulk of the dirt and grime.

    Rinsing before washing can help to get rid of any stubborn pieces of dirt, and more importantly any grit that might otherwise get stuck in your sponge. At this stage you should pay special attention to the wheels.

  • Wheels

    Once you’ve rinsed, it’s best to focus on the wheels first. They’re usually the dirtiest part of the car because of the dust they pick up from the road, and cleaning them first can stop dirt from splashing on the parts of the car you’ve already cleaned.

    We recommend having two buckets of water: one for soapy water and one for rinsing. This should prevent any grit becoming lodged in your sponge or brush and scratching your vehicle. Scrub every area of the wheel and try to use a separate brush/sponge for the rest of your car (again, just to stop the dirt from spreading and make your job easier).

    One of the cardinal rules of car washing is to use products intended for your car, so use specific wheel cleaner to get the best results and avoid any damage.

  • Body

    When the wheels are cleaned, you can move on to the main body of the car. Work your way from the top down, again using two buckets and a new sponge. The main reason for this is that grit stuck in your sponge can scratch the paintwork. Scratches in the paint are both aesthetically unappealing and can have a negative impact on your car's value, so pay particular attention if you are washing your car prior to selling.

    You should, again, use specific car shampoo. Using domestic products like washing-up liquid can strip the paint of all its protective coatings. Rinse as you go along instead of leaving everything soapy. This will show areas you need to focus on and prevent you from spreading any dirt around unnecessarily.

  • Manually dry

    Letting your car air-dry is the easiest option – what’s the worst that can happen? Well, you can leave yourself with a streaky finish, and a waste of the hard work you put into cleaning it. To dry, it’s best to use a soft cloth, such as a chamois or microfibre. Microfibre cloths work particularly well, are inexpensive and found in most supermarkets and you can toss them in the washing machine after use. You should buff the car gently to leave it clean and shiny.

  • Interior

    Once you’ve done the outside, you should then take a clean cloth – damp if you need it to get rid of tough stains – and clean the inside and edges of the doors and boot.

    If you keep on top of your interior, it’s likely clean anyway but it doesn’t hurt to give it a once over as well. Remove the floor mats and vacuum them (and give them a shampoo if they’re particularly dirty). Vacuum the floor inside the car and use a multi-surface cleaner for the dashboard – just be sure to check the label on any cleaner used to make sure it won’t do any damage.

    Clean the windows using any domestic product and remember to do both the inside and outside. When this is done, you can rest up – the car will be completely clean. However, you can choose to complete a few extra tasks.

    Removing mould from your car is also an important step in interior cleaning.

  • Detailing

    If you’re a bit of a perfectionist, or you find you really enjoy cleaning the car, you can take a few extra steps after the washing process. You could polish the car for an extra shine using a special polishing product, or even a machine. Just be careful not to do this too frequently, because you can wear away the paint.

    You could also wax the car using specialised wax and a soft cloth – this can add an extra layer of shine and protection for your car, making it harder for dirt to stick. For an extra special step, you could use a clay bar to buff out any small imperfections from the body of the car. These work well on metal bodywork and glass but avoid using them on the plastic coverings of lights.