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How To Properly Wash A Vehicle.

When properly washing your vehicle, the objective is to minimize the potential for scratching and swirling to the exterior of your paint’s clearcoat. The washing and drying of a vehicle are the biggest contributors to scratching and swirling.  It is highly recommended that you wash a vehicle early in the morning or later in the afternoon when temperatures are lower. Washing in the shade is also an option to minimize any impact from the heat associated with the sun. As a practical matter working directly in the sun greatly challenges your ability to properly wash the car because if warm enough the car’s surface will begin to dry before you are able to completely wash the vehicle.  You will find it to be a frustrating and annoying experience.


Step 1: Safety first. 

Utilize the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). It is recommended that you wear gloves (Nitrile preferably) and eyewear. Once you are protected its time to wash the vehicle.


Step 2: Pre-treatment of the vehicle’s exterior. 

This can be accomplished by using a rinse less wash product. Pump sprayers are a great solution.  You may also want to dedicate a foam cannon with a pre-treatment chemical for this step of the process. The purpose of the pre-wash is to act as a lubricant for the exterior of the car and assist with lifting the dirt and grime on the surface.


Moreover, pre-treating will help minimize any potential for dirt and debris to damage the exterior during the actual wash process. Once you have sprayed the exterior completely, allow it to dwell for a couple of minutes (follow directions of the product you use) then wash away with a pressure washer or garden hose. Do not allow the pre-treatment to dry on the exterior paint.  Again, the goal is to minimize any opportunity for dirt to mar the exterior of the paint. If using a pressure washer target 1,000 PSI for your wash and do not exceed 2,000 PSI when spraying your vehicle.


Step 3: Clean the wheels and tires. 

You will want to dedicate a bucket to washing the wheels and tires. We want to eliminate any potential for cross contamination when washing the exterior paint. Tools needed for cleaning the tires and wheels include a stiff bristle nylon brush to agitate the tires and a wheel woolies boar hairbrush can be used for delicate wheel faces.  A microfiber mit or towel can also work effectively to clean the wheels. There are numerous tools available to help with this part of the process (see products below). Spray the wheels and tires with pressure washer or garden hose followed by a “wheel and tire” cleaner (P&S Brake buster or Gyeon iron wheel cleaner). You can also use a dedicated foam cannon if desired.  Brush the tires followed by cleaning and agitating the wheels with a wheel whoolie, microfiber mit or towel. Once complete rinse off. If your wheels are ceramic coated, you can add a spray and rinse sealant. CARPRO HydrO2 Lite is a great option as is Gyeon Wet Coat. Spray on then immediately rinse off with a pressure washer or garden hose. This will help ensure you bead and sheet the water off the wheels.


Step 4: Prewash the exterior.   For the prewash we want to provide good lubrication for the exterior of the vehicle. Dilute your product of choice into foam canon. Read the instructions but I recommend adding 2 oz. of Koch Chemie Gentle Snow Foam (Gsf) snow foam for every 16 oz. of water into a foam cannon.  Adams Mega Foam is also a good product to use. CARPRO Lift (for ceramic coated cars) is also a great product for this part of the process. Utilizing a pump sprayer or foam cannon spray the exterior completely and generously. Let the product dwell for a few minutes but do not let it dry on the paint. Then rinse off the vehicle. At this point we should not have actually touched or physically agitated the paint, only the chemical itself and water from the pressure washer should have come into contact with the exterior surface.  


Step 5: Washing the car.  I recommend utilizing the three-bucket method to minimize any damage to your paint’s surface. More specifically, dedicate one bucket for wheels and two buckets for the exterior paint and trim. For washing the exterior, one bucket will be considered your “wash” bucket. This bucket will contain your car wash shampoo of choice.  The other will be your “rinse” bucket. The purpose of the multi bucket set up is to minimize any potential for damage to the paint by creating a way to transfer dirt and grime from your wash mits to the rinse bucket as you wash the exterior. Using grit guards at the bottom of each bucket is another strategy for minimizing marring of your exterior surface. Grit guards allow for dirt to fall to the bottom of the bucket. They also act as filter or barrier between dirt and grim and your wash mits. Use microfiber wash mits as they help pull dirt away from the exterior surface while washing. If you do not have microfiber mits you can use a microfiber towel. Wash the exterior surface gently when using microfiber towels.  


When washing the vehicle, work from the top of the vehicle to the bottom. Start with washing the roof followed by the side glass/windows. Then work to middle part of vehicle only shifting to the lower portion of the vehicle last. Think of it as washing the car in thirds. Also, make sure to utilize your “Rinse” buckets every couple of panels. This will allow the dirt and grim to be released from your wash mits. Once you have completely washed the vehicle rinse all the soap/shampoo off with a pressure washer or garden hose.


Step 6: Chemical and Clay Bar Decontamination (optional).  At this point you have successfully washed the vehicle. However, there may still be opportunity to remove other contaminates that have embed themselves into the clearcoat. There are two different forms of decontamination you can deploy on your vehicle. First there is chemical decontamination.  There are several products available for this step and I like a few. There is CARPRO Iron X and P&S Iron buster which provide great results but there are others as well for removing bugs and tar from the vehicle.


For chemical decontamination of paint, glass, metals and wheels of the vehicle spray the product on the vehicle while wet to safely break down ferrous metallic contamination caused by automotive brakes, rail travel, and construction from delicate vehicle surfaces. Ultimately, the chemical decontamination process works by forming a water-soluble complex with the iron particles lodged in the surface, allowing them to be rinsed free, and cleaning deeper than washing or claying alone. This method is also minimal touch when compared to clay bar which can mar the paint.


Once Chemical decontamination is complete, you may then deploy mechanical decontamination, also known as clay bar decontamination.  If clay bar treatment is deemed necessary, utilize a clay lubricant and spray on the surface as you agitate the surface of the exterior paint with the clay bar. The lubricant provides a coat of slick lubrication between the clay bar and your paintwork to mitigate marring the surface of the vehicle.  When claying a vehicle, friction is the key objective not pressure. Apply very light pressure as you move the clay bar over the surface of the paint but it is friction that is key. Once the clay bar process is complete rinse the vehicle. Keep in mind that “clay baring” the car will likely create some marring to the exterior paint which may require some level of paint correction (depending on the condition of your paint).


Step 7: Drying the car.  Remember the washing and drying phase of the process contribute to scratches and swirls. Consequently, you should prefer a touchless method to drying the vehicle. This can be accomplished by utilizing a car dryer that blows warm filtered air.  You can also use leaf blower (corded or cordless options will work). Just ensure to not contact the exterior of the vehicle while drying.

If there is no access to a dryer or leaf blower, use a microfiber towel. It is preferred to use a twisted loop microfiber drying towel when drying the vehicle. The Rag Company Gauntlet towel is a great option.  Also, when drying with a towel use a drying aid to help mitigate against scratching while at the same time providing some form of protection to your paint. I recommend P&S Bead Maker. It lubricates the surface and provides protection at the same time. The application of exterior sealant uses binding polymer monomer technology to produce a water beading, brilliant, long-lasting finish with UV protection.  The surface migrating molecule attaches to the paint surface of a vehicle. Once attached the molecule cross-links and polymerizes on the surface building a hydrophobic durable layer of protection.  To apply, spray the product on the wet surface and use the towel to dry. A little goes a long way so if you use Bead Maker read the directions.


Step 8: Finishing touches, the Tires, Trim and Glass.  Once the car is completely dry transition to dressing the exterior rubber and plastics followed by the glass/windows last. When dressing rubber (tires), I recommend utilizing a water-based solution. I prefer water-based to the supper glossy “wet look” that petroleum-based products provide. The reason is the “wet look” products are likely to sling onto the exterior paint undermining all the hard work put into cleaning the vehicle. The product I tend to reach for is CARPRO Perl but there are many others also. Chemical guys VRP is another good product. For CARPRO Perl dilute to approximately ~1:1. Apply two thin coats with 20 minutes or more between applications. When applying the rubber dressing, I recommend using a foam applicator block, specifically the Adams hex grip pro. It is a tool that provides great control with an effective grip to dress the entire tire.


Next, dress the exterior plastics. Apply the exterior dressing (again I reach for CARPRO Perl) to all plastic trim. For CARPRO Perl dilute to approximately ~1:3 for exterior plastics.  This exterior dressing is a water-based, silicon-oxide multi-use dressing that offers UV-Inhibitors and a waterborne acrylic-resin system to provide water-repellency. The dressing restores richness of color to faded materials leaving behind a matte to semi-gloss finish.  I also prefer to apply the dressing using a microfiber applicator (see list of products below).


Lastly, we will want to finish up with cleaning the glass or windows. There are several fantastic products that can deliver hi definition glass. I usually reach for CARPRO Clarify but I also love Stoners invisible Glass Cleaner. Both are great for leaving a clear streak-free look. When applying the glass cleaner utilize a glass specific microfiber towel such as the Rag Company Waffle Weave but a regular microfiber can work effectively also. Always ensure that you use separate towels for glass, for the exterior and for wheels. Don’t forget to lower the window slightly to clean the top surface of the window!


Step 9: Admire your work. Sit back, grab a cool drink, and admire your work. It is well deserved given the hard work to get to this point.


Check back with me often as I will seek to update my list of products when I come across something that delivers next level performance.


Be well and enjoy your ride!


A collection of items referenced above. 

Pre-treatment chemicals:

McKee’s 37 N-914 Rinse less Wash:

Koch Chemie Gentle Snow Foam:

Koch Chemie Green Star (APC):


Pre-Wash Chemicals:

Koch Chemie Gentle Snow Foam:

Wash chemicals:

Adams Mega Foam: 

Adams car wash shampoo:

P&S Brake Buster (Tires/Wheels):  

Gyeon Iron Wheel Cleaner:  

Adam’s Wheel & Tire Cleaner:

CARPRO reset (ceramic coated):



P&S Iron Buster:


Chemical guys clay bar and lube:


Drying tools:

Adams Car dryer cannon:

CARPRO HydrO2 Lite:

Gyeon Wet Coat:

Gauntlet drying microfiber:

P&S Bead Maker:  


Interior and exterior dressing (tires, interior and exterior plastics, dilution varies)

CARPRO Perl (Ext. dressing dilute 1:3):

CARPRO Perl (tires dilute 1:1):

Adam's Pro Tire Hex Grip Applicator:

Microfiber applicator:



CARPRO Clarify:

Stoners Invisible glass:

Invisible Glass Tool Combo Kit:

Waffle weave towel:


Other Tools:

Eye protection:  

Black nitrile gloves   

IK Multi Pro 2 pump sprayer:

Pump sprayer:

Foam cannon:

Active Pressure washer:  

MTM Hydro 28 Special Foam Cannon:


Grit guard:

Wheel Woolies boar hair brush:  

Tire brush:  

Wheel Brush:

WoollyWormit brush:

Foam gun (for garden hose):

IK Foaming pump sprayer:

Microfiber wash mits:

Microfiber Washing Gloves:

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