DIY Detailing: Safest Professional Car Wash Method & Video

Porsche GT3 - Foam Bath & Decontamination - Proper Car Wash Technique - Los Angeles Detailing

by Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – – Oct 2015

Proper Car Wash Technique is a frequent topic in detailing circles. Unfortunately, the technique hasn’t been fully broken down and explained previously — until now. The importance of maintaining a clean car is beneficial on many levels to the overall maintenance and condition of a vehicle’s surface.

Keeping vehicle surfaces free of topical bonded contaminants, greatly reduces the risk of scratching paint during routine maintenance washes greatly decreases. Many methods tout special products and/or tools to accomplish this task.

Proper car wash technique does require a small amount of quality product and tools; however 85% of a thorough wash is technique related. What separates a proper, gentle, and effective vehicle wash from the rest is a combination of knowledge, time, and procedure. Lose one of these variables and the quality suffers greatly.

This article provides the knowledge and procedure of proper car wash technique. Ample time investment is critical to ensure the quality and thoroughness of each vehicle washing.

Proper car wash technique only occurs with the commitment of knowledge, procedure, and time. While waterless and rinseless car wash techniques are a viable and effective means of cleaning vehicle surfaces, this article is aimed at teaching proper car wash technique for traditional washing.

All technique steps and vehicle washing sections will be demonstrated in a video at the end of this article.

Proper Car Wash Technique Explained

Proper Car Wash Technique begins with understanding the importance of what is happening during the washing process. Essentially, anytime any surface is touched scratching occurs on some level via friction. Take, for example, the statues of the Madonnas in Rome. Often, the statue’s feet appear discolored or worn from the touching and kissing of visiting patrons. The same holds true of old metal door knobs; the friction of thousands of touches has worn and discolored the surface over time. Therefore, when washing a vehicle friction needs minimization at ALL COSTS to ensure the integrity of paint for the long term!

Before A Full Car Wash, Tend to The Dirtiest Areas First

Before washing the paint, first address the dirtiest areas on a vehicle: the wheels, tires, and wheel wells. To clean these areas; a dedicated bucket is used, ensuring the most aggressive of contaminants aren’t later spread onto painted surfaces. Fill this bucket with 2 gallons of water and ample soap. Then pre-treat the wheel and tires with the cleaner or shampoo of your choice, proceeding to clean the tires, wheels, and wheel wells. A dedicated brush for tires, a wheel well brush with a long handle, a small boars hair brush for wheel details, and a soft sponge or mitt are recommended for the surfaces. Once these dirtiest area are thoroughly washed and rinsed, move on to the vehicle’s paint.

Items needed for Proper Car Wash Technique:

  • – (2) 3-gallon buckets
  • – (2) plush (600GSM or greater) Microfiber towels for drying
  • – Quality Dedicated Car Shampoo of your choice
  • – Primary MicroFiber wash mitt for painted surfaces – top 75-80% of vehicle
  • – Secondary wash mitt (MF Chenille) for painted surfaces – bottom 20-25% of vehicle (Most heavily soiled area)
  • – Foam Gun or Trigger Spray Bottle to dispense car shampoo onto panels
  • – (Optional) Air Compressed or a small blower to blow water from crevices
  • – Waterless wash solution

Best Practice: Always Wash Cool Vehicle Surfaces

Proper car wash technique requires cool vehicle panels. Therefore, washing a vehicle in a cool shaded area is crucial. Warm panels, or vehicles washed in direct sunlight, greatly increase the risk of premature water drying onto vehicle surfaces. This could cause water spots of dirt, shampoo, hard mineral deposits or any combination of the three. So, it’s best to wash vehicles in a cool and shaded area. If this is not possible, wait to wash vehicles in the early morning or late afternoon; when temperatures and sunlight are less intense.

Proper Traditional Car Wash Technique Steps

Step 1 – Rinsing Loose Topical Contamination

The first step of washing is to rinse the vehicle of as many topical loose contaminants or dirt particles as possible. As with all steps, start from the top down and rinse the roof, with the pillars, then the glass off. Next move around the vehicle, knocking off all loose topical dirt and contamination working your way from top to bottom. After the rinsing you will want to have one 3-gallon bucket. Fill one bucket about 3/4 full with about 2oz of car shampoo, this will serve as the bucket to rinse the mitt.

Step 2 – Car Wash Technique – Section by Section

Always wash a car from the top, working on the least contaminated sections (cleanest areas) of the vehicle down. Lastly, wash the bottom portions of the vehicle where the majority of contamination (dirtiest areas) kicks up onto the vehicle from the road. Wash the entire car in North to South motions, mimicking the aerodynamics of the vehicle. Washing in one direction consistently will minimize the appearance of spider web swirl marks induced by maintenance washing.

**IMPORTANT: Rinsing Wash Mitt Between each Section. Place the wash mitt to the bucket with mixture of water and clean shampoo. Gently submerge it at the top of the bucket, then immediately remove it from the bucket, wringing out all dirty water from the mitt onto the ground. Repeat a minimum of (3) three times or until the mitt appears clean, free of the majority of dirt. This is a vital step in the wash process. Rinsing ensures dirt and contaminants stay off of the mitt, out of the shampoo, and off to the vehicle’s surfaces.

Typical Vehicle Wash Sections Defined (sections vary by vehicle size)

  1. Roof, including pillars and glass
  2. Hood
  3. Passenger Side Front Fender & Door – vertical section
  4. Passenger Side Rear Quarter Panel – vertical section
  5. Entire Back End (split in half on larger vehicles) – vertical section
  6. Driver Side Rear Quarter Panel – vertical section
  7. Driver Side Front Fender & Door – vertical section

First, wash the entire vehicle with the primary Microfiber Mitt, leaving 20-25% of the lowest portions of the vertical sections. Then, with the secondary chenille mitt, wash the dirtiest lower sections of the vehicle. Make sure to check the soil levels during each section washing. If the section is abnormally dirty make sure to rinse the mitt more frequently.

Step 3 – Rinsing the vehicle

After washing the vehicle using a mitt and shampoo; all remaining contaminants and shampoo residue need rinsing before drying. The best way to rinse the vehicle is utilizing the “flood method.” Using a hose with no end attachment, turn the pressure on to medium low. Starting at the top of the vehicle; attempt to keep the water in as large a pool of water as possible as it flows over each panel. Since water molecules form tight bonds, they make every effort to stick to one another. Flooding helps rinse a vehicle because water molecules stay together, leaving less water behind on the surface to dry. This saves water, drying time, and effort; also helping to reduce possible water spots.

Step 4 – Drying the Vehicle

If at all possible, use compressed air or a electric leaf blower to remove the majority of water off of the vehicle’s surface. This ensures ease of drying and less touching (and wash marring)from maintenance washes. Also, air removes water from stubborn cracks and crevices, ensuring water won’t leak out onto the paint when driving. If air is not an option, then take two plush microfiber cloths (600GSM+) and begin drying the vehicle from the top down. To add lubricity, lower friction, and to add a small sacrificial barrier of protection to the paint’s surface; spray a waterless wash solution with protection or silica based sealant.

Step 5- Cleaning Door & Trunk Jambs 

If the jambs (specifically the bottom portion of the drivers & passenger door) of a vehicle are heavily soiled then use the secondary wash mitt for the initial cleaning. Saturate the jambs liberally with waterless wash to encapsulate all dirt and carefully wipe the jambs. For regular cleaning; after the vehicle is washed and dried, complete the car wash with a cleaning of all vehicle jambs. Using a fresh microfiber towel and waterless wash solution, liberally spray the jamb area of doors, trunk, and even the engine bay if so compelled. When cleaning the door jambs, remember to also spray and wipe the sides and bottoms of the doors. Often, these areas are left untouched and become filthy over time. Also, remember the painted under portion of the hood has a tendency to collect water which can lead to hard water spotting.

A Final Note About Safest and Proper Car Washing Techniques

While many methods tout titles such as “best car wash method,” OCDCarCare Los Angeles realizes there are many options which remove topical dirt and contamination from a vehicles surface. However, the method described here, and shown in video below, is what we believe to be the safest, yet most effective traditional car wash method for washing a vehicle with the greatest amount of care for the paint. Admittedly, this method takes a bit more time at first to wash a car, but once you wash a vehicle a couple times it becomes very fast. So, whether you’re washing a Bugatti Veyron, a priceless vintage 50’s Ferrari, or the 80’s Corvette of your dreams, this gentle car wash method will ensure the paint on your vehicle looks its best for years to come.

Watch OCDCarCare Los Angeles’s video below; Demonstrating Gentle & Effective Proper Car Wash Technique:

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For more auto detailing articles & car care related topics check: OCDCarCare Los Angeles’s – Auto Detailing Article Archive

Christopher Brown