Most common car washing mistakes

Buying a car is a major financial investment, no matter which make or model you go for. It’s natural to want to take good care of it to keep it running well, and looking its best.

Washing a car may seem pretty straightforward; how wrong can you go? Well, it turns out there is a right and wrong way to wash your car at home. When done properly, regular washing can extend the life of the paint job and turn heads as you drive by. Improper washing, on the other hand, can degrade and dull your car’s finish over time.

Here are the biggest mistakes you can make when washing your car at home.

Washing with a kitchen sponge

A flat sponge can clean your car, but it will likely damage the surface of the paintwork and that will show itself as a mass of light scratches and swirl marks.

Even if you’ve done a thorough pre-foam and rinse, there will still be tiny particles of dirt on the car. These small particles get trapped between the flat sponge and the car and cause damage when drawn across the paintwork.

Car mitts or cloths purposefully made for car washing are made from long fibrous materials that draw in and hold any loose particles of dirt, keeping them away from the paintwork. They also absorb and hold water just as well as sponges.

Using dishwashing liquid

Don’t use dishwashing liquid, soap or anything other than proper car wash detergent to clean your car’s exterior. Soap and dishwashing liquids are designed to break down grease, which is why they do such a good job on your plates and cutlery, but they will also strip the paintwork’s wax protection and encourage rust.

Designated car shampoo products are specifically made to help keep the paint looking fresh and guard the clear coat, and they’re gentle enough so they don’t remove existing wax.

Using only one bucket

Using two buckets is very important. One of the biggest car-washing blunders is rinsing out a dirty cloth or mitt in the clean suds bucket. When you do this, you’re not removing the dirt – you’re just putting it back on the car and spreading it around. So, use one sudsy bucket for your clean and a second one (full of clean water) for thoroughly rinsing out that grimy cloth. Once it’s thoroughly rinsed, dip it back in the soapy water and continue.

For extra protection, use grit guard inserts in both buckets. These are plastic insert grates that sit just above the bottom of the bucket. Dirt sinks to the bottom of the bucket, and the insert prevents your cloth or mitt from picking it back up.

Don’t use a cloth or mitt that’s been dropped on the ground without thoroughly rinsing it out first. It may have picked up dirt particles that can scratch the paint.

Washing in a circular motion

It might feel right but washing in a circular motion can leave swirl marks. You may have noticed these light circular scratches when a car is parked in direct sunlight. To avoid such damage, move the cloth or wash mitt lengthwise across the bonnet and panels.

Not cleaning the wheels last

The wheels are probably the dirtiest part of the car and may need a strong jet wash to get a full clean. Wheel wells, hubcaps and rubber tyres collect all sorts of abrasive gunk that you don’t want anywhere near your car paint. Cleaning wheels first can get rid of this dirt and save you from worrying about spraying it all over your freshly washed car.

Think of the wheels as a separate job and use a different bucket and cloth to the rest of the car. Work on one wheel at a time and ensure the wheels are cool before you start, you may need a soft brush to get into the nooks and crannies.

If you choose to use a dedicated wheel cleaner, make sure the type you buy is compatible with the wheel finish (chrome, clear-coat, paint, etc.) If you’re not sure, go with a wheel cleaner that’s labelled “safe for all wheels”.

Going in without a plan

Before you start, think about how you’re going to tackle the job. It’s recommended to wash the car in sections, moving systematically from top to bottom in the following order: roof, then window supports and windows, then the top of the bonnet and upper panels, followed by the middle of the doors and the boot, the front bumper, lower panels, lower part of the doors and, finally, the back bumper.

Remember to replace the water in the buckets as you go, while also rinsing your cloth regularly (or replacing it if it gets too dirty).

Leaving the car to air dry

The job isn’t quite finished after washing. Leaving the car to air dry in the sun, or taking it for a spin around the block, can leave lots of watermarks and smears.

Using a dry chamois or microfibre cloth to remove moisture then applying a coat or two of wax can protect the paintwork from scratches, help maintain the car’s value and make it nice and shiny.

You’ll be able to tell when the car needs waxing by watching how water runs off it – if it doesn’t form nice beads then you need to wax your car again or top it up with a quick detailing wax.

How often should you wash the car?

The answer is simple – wash your car when it’s dirty. If it’s dirty, give it a wash. If it isn’t, find something more fun to do (like going for a drive).

For some, washing the car is just another chore that needs to be ticked off, for others, it’s almost an obsession. But can you wash your car too often? While washing your car improperly can damage it, washing it as often as you’d like won’t hurt your vehicle, even if you do it every week.

Keep in mind, however, that if you wax your car you may need to reapply that wax after each wash depending on how well it holds up. Therefore, washing it every day or even every week could be seen as excessive, unnecessary and more work than is needed, but if you have the urge to wash … wash away.

Do you have any tips to add to keep your car clean? Why not share them in the comments section below?

Also read: This common problem escalates your likelihood of a car crash

Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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