Detailing 101: Regular Car Washing – How Often Should I Wash my Car?
by Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 9 Sept. 2015
“How often should I wash my car?” or “Should I keep a regular car washing schedule?”
There is no definitive answer to this question. Similar to poker, most answers in detailing begin with, “it depends.” Of course there are times when a car was just washed, before a trip, then two days later the entire front of the car is covered in bug guts from a 2,000 mile trip. This naturally needs an immediate wash to remove the acidic insect parts which could potentially etch the paint.
This article tackles questions regarding regular car washing intervals. As a general rule, if an unknown substance or contaminant comes into contact with a vehicles paint; then go ahead and error on the side of caution and wash the panel or vehicle.
Since there is no definitive answer to, “how often should I wash my car,” a set of guidelines is required. Furthermore, since this question differs for every owner since it is completely dependent on a few variables we will call ‘Dirty Car Factors.’
The Dirty Car Factors for determining when to wash a vehicle can be classified by five main variables:
1] Is the vehicle a daily driver or a secondary garage queen ?
2] Where does the vehicle live the majority of the time? Inside or Outside? At Night?
3] Geographic Location & Climate
4] Driving Habits
5] Owner Cleanliness Preferences
Dirty Car Factor #1: Daily Drivers vs Secondary Vehicle a.k.a. Garage Queens
Daily Drivers make up the majority of cars on the road. These are the vehicles most people take to work and use for most daily activities. Due to the frequency these cars are driven and exposed to the elements, they pick up contamination and dirt on surfaces very quickly.
Garage Queens, on the other hand, are secondary vehicles that, as the name suggests, are rarely used. They live inside a garage and see the light of day primarily on weekend cruising trips or for special events. Since these vehicles live within controlled environments; the rate at which they become dirty is much much slower that daily drivers. Typically these cars suffer mostly from topical dust and are not “dirty” on the whole. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to prescribe a regular car washing interval. Since topical dust will not harm the paint in the same way that chemical or environmental contaminants may, the decision of when to wash a garage queen is quite subjective, leaning heavily on Dirty Factor #5 below.
Dirty Car Factor #2: Where does the vehicle live? Inside or Outside?
Many daily driven vehicles live outside which builds layers of contamination, causing them to be dirty in a matter of days. This is because contamination from the elements such as; dust, pollen, insects, and trees is a constant bombardment. Secondly, daily drivers are constantly exposed to chemical contaminants from industrial fallout, vehicle contamination (ferrous iron, carbon [exhaust], rubber, etc.) as well.
Thirdly, vehicles that live outside are subject to daily dew points. Dew can rapidly accelerate the rate at which the surfaces of a vehicle becomes dirty and/or contaminated. The concept of dew and the layering of topical bonded contamination is best illustrated with the analogy of a kid wearing a white shirt. If the kid has a grass stain on their shirt, there is a good possibility that mom can remove it. But, if the child kept the shirt on, spilled ketchup from a hot dog on top of the grass stain, and then went and played again, embedding dirt into the ketchup; the stain might be near impossible to fully remove. Dew functions similarly as the ketchup in the analogy, as a means of locking in contaminants and layering them. On Day 1 Dew Catches everything in the air, helping everything on the surface from that day bond to the surface. Day 2 Dew does it yet again, ON TOP of Day 1. The more of the dame on Day 3, 4, 5 … so on and so forth. Therefore, for vehicles that mainly live outside, a regular car washing schedule of once every two weeks is recommended.
Dirty Car Factor #3: Geographic Location & Climate
This factor is glaringly obvious for most people in THEIR Geographic Location and Climate. Those blessed to live in Los Angeles, Ca (if you call major traffic, pollution, and over crowding blessed) are subject to an unbelievably mild climate. Los Angeles has little to no seasonal changes and under 10 inches of precipitation a year with an annual average temperature range of 55° – 85°F. This is a stark contrast to those living in upstate New York. New Yorkers have a full spectrum of seasons with annual precipitation of 28-62 inches a year and annual temperatures ranging from below freezing to 85° F.
Due to the factors of Location & Climate, other potentially harmful variables are introduced such as road salt to control ice on roads. Love bugs in spring and summer, massive amounts of pollen, flash storms etc etc are also common seasonal variables. Therefore, in certain locations and climates it is possiblefor a vehicle can go from clean to filthy in an instant. Additionally, some regions contain lots of loose dirt, dirt roads, pine trees, etc etc.
Dirty Car Factor #4: Driving Habits
The habits associated with how owners use their vehicles plays a vital role in how quickly vehicles collect topical contamination. Drivers who plow through puddles with no regard to speed, or frequently use windshield washers, park under trees, or eat in and out of their cars are prone to dirty vehicles. Therefore, to keep a vehicle cleaner longer, drivers must beware of environmental surroundings and driving variables which could potentially dirty up a recently cleaned vehicle.
Dirty Car Factor #5: Owner Cleanliness Preference
Owner’s Personal Cleanliness preferences causes some people to wash or wipe down their vehicle 3-5 times a week. This is the same variable that prompts other owners to wash their vehicle once every three months. This is the only variable an owner can completely control, As a result, its the one variable that seems to motivate most owners to wash their car above all else. Each vehicle owner has a level of ‘dirty’ that sets their spidey sense into tingling overdrive, causing them to drop everything and clean their vehicle ASAP.
The Regular Car Washing schedule Wrap-up
There you have it, the five main variables that determine when to wash a vehicle or how to set a regular car washing schedule.
In order to maximize the lifespan and integrity of paint on a daily driven vehicle; two steadfast rules must hold true. First, always keep a coat of wax on or a protective ceramic nano coating on the surface. And, secondly keep a regular car washing schedule. Preferably, at minimum, wash a vehicle once every two weeks. This helps keep the surface clear of bonded surface contaminants which can compromise the integrity and look of paint. The grass stained shirt analogy in Dirty Factor #2 explained this in depth.
With a regular car washing schedule, a vehicle is easier to maintain. Furthermore, the vehicle looks better over the long term, and above all the integrity of the paint is maintained. This is due to potential environmental and chemical contaminants not having time to dwell and potentially damage the paint’s surface.
~Keep on Buffin’
© Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 2015
For more informative articles regarding: auto detailing, paint polishing, microfiber towels, and many other things auto care related please browse OCDCarCare’s Auto Detailing Article Archive.
His passion & dedication to car care lead him to writing in-depth articles about detailing related subjects in order to share and interact with the car enthusiast & detailing communities. Eventually, this lead to detailing training courses designed to develop skills, confidence, and results which enable detailers to increase quality, efficiency, and profitability.
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