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Washing and Drying F.A.Q:
Washing is the single most important aspect of exterior car maintenance. The difference between a well maintained and vibrant appearance and dull damaged paint is literally the difference between washing and drying properly or doing it the wrong way. This F.A.Q is intended to answer some of the most common questions regarding car washing; the information will remain general for the purpose of applying to the largest audience, however if you have any specific questions please feel free to contact us at any time.
Q: Why should I bother washing my car?
A: This question has an obvious answer and a not so obvious one. The straightforward answer is you wash your car to keep it looking good. A clean car almost always looks better than one caked in dirt or covered in road grime. The less obvious answer is to maintain the long term appearance of integrity of your cars finish. Paint that is neglected for long periods of time becomes more difficult to restore later on, and more prone to early failure. Think of your cars exterior finish like the skin on your face Ė if you didnít wash it or protect it from the elements it would deteriorate quickly. Before you begin washing a cross section of your cars paint might look something like this:
Q: Iíve been washing cars my whole life, itís easy Ė Iíll just go get my bucket, some dish soap and old t-shirts; nothing wrong with that, right?
A: Not if you like swirls. This is perhaps the most common misconception regarding car care. Many car care enthusiasts have a love/hate relationship with washing. Why? Because while it keeps the car clean itís also the most common way to damage paint. Washing incorrectly or with the wrong tools is a surefire way to damage paint.
Q: How do I know if Iím doing damage to my car?
A: First, if youíre using dish soap youíre not doing your car any favors. Dish soaps are much more harsh than automotive soaps, and while they may not cause any immediate harm to paint they will almost certainly dry out your rubber and plastic trim, and may dry the paint out if used for long periods of time. Second, and perhaps more importantly are the tools used to wash a car. Like your skin a cars paint is thin, soft, and very prone to irritation (in this case marring). If youíve ever seen a car with swirls marks (and Iím sure you have), then youíve seen the side effect of improper washing. If youíre starting to notice fine scratches and swirls in your paint the likely culprit is improper washing.
Q: So what should I be using to wash my car?
A: First, an automotive soap is essential. These are relatively inexpensive and last quite a long time, theyíre much more gentle than dish soap and are designed to help lift dirt off paint so you donít drag it across the paint as you wash it away.
Second, the right washing tools are of utmost importance. A proper wash mitt is the best return on investment youíll spend on your cars finish. 100% sheepskin wash mitts are soft and their nature fiber is conducive to lifting and holding dirt away from the paint so it doesnít touch it as you wash. Soft brushes on wheels and in tight crevices are equally important. Using a toothbrush to remove dirt from a body line is asking for trouble. Last Ė proper drying towels. Dragging an old polyester t-shirt across your paint is like dragging dirty cardboard across your face. Polyester is pound for pound one of the hardest substances on earth and it has no place near your cars paint. Quality microfiber or 100% cotton towels will not only hold more water, but theyíre much less likely to scratch paint.
Q: Sounds good Ė lets go wash it!
A: Hold on. Proper technique is as important as the right tools. There are some very simple to follow rules you can use to ensure you wonít harm your paint. First, itís important to wash your car in the shade. Why? Washing your car in the sun will dry the water and soap on the surface and can create water spots which are difficult to remove.
Second, use the two bucket method. Fill one bucket with the appropriate amount of soap and water; this will be your wash bucket. Fill another bucket with clean water. Why? As you wash the car your wash mitt will become very dirty. In between panels itís a great idea to rinse the mitt off in the bucket of clean water, or at the very least with your hose. This will remove trapped dirt. This trapped dirt is what causes scratches and swirls. This will also help the soapy water to remain soapy longer.
Next, make sure to wash wheels first. Washing the car first means youíll need to take time to dry so you donít get water spots, then youíll have to clean your wheels. Itís much easier to clean the wheels first then wash and dry the car afterwards. Another benefit is if youíre using wheel cleaner and any gets on the paint you will wash it right off.
Along the same lines as washing the wheels first is pre-treating any hard to clean areas. If you have caked on bugs on the front of the car, windshield, and rear view mirrors make sure to spray those areas with a bug remover before you begin washing. If youíve got tar on the fenders, spray those areas with a tar remover. This will allow them to soak before you begin washing.
Make sure to pre-rinse thoroughly. Get the entire car wet and spray any areas with a lot of dirt with some wash solution before you begin. When you start washing wash from the top to the bottom cleaning the least soiled areas first. This will help you keep your mitt clean as you move towards the soiled areas. Also, since the bottom of the car is almost always dirtier than the top (and because moving from bottom to top would just pull dirt up the cars surface) you want to start on the roof and move to the hood and rear decklid, then to the doors and fenders, then to the bumpers and rocker panels.
Rinse your car often. You want to keep it wet until you decide to dry it. If itís drying in the sun youíre running the risk of water spots.
Before you start drying detach your nozzle from the hose and let the water run freely. Hold the hose over the car and let the water sheet off the car. This trick will remove a large portion of the water before you even begin drying.
Q: Iím tired Ė time to go relax, right?
A: Not quite yet. Just one more thing to do; dry the car. Drying is important because if you let the sun dry the car youíll be left with water spots. You want to try to get as much water as possible, so grab your towels are start from the top. Itís often easier to use one towel over the entire car leaving it a bit damp, then come back with a dry towel to ďclean upĒ the damp areas. When youíre done make sure to open your gas cap, doors, hood, and trunk and get all the puddles of water that have collected in these areas Ė theyíre water spots waiting to happen.
Now that youíre done washing and drying your car will look better and youíll have accomplished the most important part of maintaining its exterior finish. Remember though, a proper detailing starts with a wash but thatís only the first step. A cross section of your paint after a wash might look something like this:
Q: I just washed it Ė whatís all that stuff on top of the paint?
A: Those are bonded contaminants. Youíll be able to see some of them with the naked eye, most are too small. How do we remove them? Thatís the next section Ė decontaminating your cars paint with clay.