A wash job is the simplest, most effective way to keep your car gleaming. Somewhat essential some would say. However something you've probably been doing since you were a kid earning some pocket money might not be as simple as a sponge *shudder* and a hose down!
There are seemingly limitless ways to clean your car with all the products on the market today - but just as many ways not to do it. There are a few rules of thumb that will mitigate the common causes of paintwork marring and damage - which manifest themselves in ugly swirls, ghastly scratches and dreadful webbing. Ultimately maintenance details are inevitable on a well-used car, but some easy to implement practices can help stave off the hard work.
Golden Rule 1 - No Sponges
The game has moved on and a sponge should be expelled from your kit without exception. These fluffy critters trap dirt and grit in their pores which in turn get dragged across your paint. All is not lost - there are an abundance of wash mitts on the market today. Extra soft mitts are made of microfiber strands which stand on end. They are absorbent and trap dirt long away from the paint's surface, allowing it to be safely rinsed away.
Golden Rule 2 – Use two buckets
The two bucket method is essential if you ask us. The unenlightened say it is overkill, but it's easy to see why it is industry standard. If you're plunging a rag, sponge, or hopefully - wash mitt into a bucket, filling it with soap to wipe down the car and dunking it back in to the single bucket - you're mixing clean wash water, with the dirt and sediment that you've just removed. Think of it as washing a dog in a bath - the pooch isn't going to get clean any time soon. Inevitably, your car's paint becomes scratched with the dirt that you are trying to remove but are inadvertently re-applying.
The simple solution is to introduce a second bucket filled with sudsy wash water. Keep the other bucket with simply water for rinsing. Use a 20L bucket for the best results as there is ample circulation room for dirt particles to be removed from your mitt. Then you immerse your mitt to the wash bucket, and wipe down your car, rinsing in the second bucket before again repeating.
Of course the risk isn't removed, but the extra volume of water reduces it - and the soapy water stays substantially cleaner.
Golden Rule 3 - Use a Grit Guard
A Grit Guard is reminiscent of a typical wash board that you would clean your clothes with way back when. Effectively a grid that sits at the bottom of the rinse bucket above. Some of them, like the cleancar wash pro have integrated washboards which allow you to drag your mitt against the angled, upright section to really shake out any sediment.
The guard allows the sediment to sink to the bottom of the bucket, and reduces the possibility of the grit circulating around the bucket and becoming caught up in your freshly rinsed mitt.
Golden Rule 4 – Shampoo
Shampoo used to wash your car is often overlooked. I'm sure we've all used fairy liquid at some point of time without realising the harm. The powerful detergents cut through grease which is great for tackling your Sunday roast, but will leave your paintwork dull and lifeless.
Detergent will also take any wax or sealant with it when rinsed away (pro tip - some people do prefer to use dish detergent for this exact reason - a cheap stripper). This means that as you run a mitt across your paintwork, it is left exposed and vulnerable to the smallest of granules.
For a maintenance wash, choose a high-quality medium which should be PH-neutral and formulated as to provide the best level of lubrication - essential to prevent marking.
Golden Rule 5 – Dry it off
Perhaps the most high risk step is one that again is often overlooked! Many will whip up the nearest towel or tshirt and get to supping up the fluid from their car's body. Please don't, it is scratch central! Common fabrics are simply too aggressive - read - coarse for dabbing off your pride and joy.
There are alternatives of course. Chamois Leather is the traditional choice, but we prefer a high quality microfiber drying towel. Aim for as high a weight (quality, thickness) as possible and you will find an absorbent tool that will gently whisk water away from your car. There are of course variations including waffle weave cloths which have a greater water capacity, and foam embedded clothes which have a layer of memory foam which allow you to dry an entire car with a relatively small cloth.
Play by Play
Always start by rinsing your car - you can also add a snow foam before this to add to the strip-down of contaminants.Thoroughly rinse your car, preferably with a mid-powered pressure wash. You want to go strong enough to lift away grit - but not so strong that it's dragged across paint when dislodged.
Setup your two buckets, and after soaking your mitt in the wash solution begin to wash your car starting from the roof and working your way down through the windows, bonnet, boot, sides and skirts - finishing with the tyres and wells with a separate brush or mitt. Agitating surface grime as you go but without applying too much pressure. Periodically rinse your mitt in the second bucket set up with your grit guard; and run the mitt down the washboard if you have one. Then charge it in the wash solution bucket and resume.
It's a good idea to rinse your bodywork after each section (eg bonnet, boot, quarters and so on); to stop the soapy water from drying - especially if it's warm.
Once you have completed your wash and the car is completely clean, you can add any additional treatments eg clay, strips etc.
After your final rinse, which can be a very light spray as you should have by now loosened all grime, you can move on to drying.
Drying can vary depending on the cloth used but typically you want to use a very light pressure and again start at the top of the car working down. A patting motion is preferred to avoid any dragging - with some super-absorbant cloths you will literally be able to 'place' the cloth on the surface of the paint. You can apply slight pressure and wipe if you plan a full correction, which will assist in ensuring the surface is streak free. You may need to wring out your towel mid-process to ensure it doesn't become saturated.