By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare.com
What is a Waterless Car Wash?
Waterless Car Washing is a method of using a spray solution and a few towels to clean vehicles. The solution safely attaches to and encapsulates loose contamination while adding lubricating agents to the surface to ensure safe cleaning. Polymer technology introduction & advancements have made the waterless a viable, safe, and effective cleansing solution — proven over the last 8+ years. However, not all techniques for using this amazing vehicle wash solution are created equal.
As a detailer and detailing educator/trainer who has travels the country, I have witnessed a wide variety of different procedures for waterless washing vehicles. Unfortunately, a large majority of techniques used for waterless washing expose automotive surfaces to unnecessary damage.
The Waterless Car Wash Technique described here centers around one guiding principle– Surface SAFETY. The ability to safely, effectively, and quickly clean vehicles is a great asset to auto detailers and car care enthusiasts. However, those positive attributes are almost pointless if the washing method inflicts unnecessary surface harm. For that reason, this procedure NEVER reintroduces potentially harmful contaminants to automotive surfaces after removal. This GREATLY reduces the scratching capabilities of topical vehicle contamination, making the car washing process safer, more efficient, and quicker to complete.
Before describing the waterless car wash method in detail, discussion of the benefits, thoroughness, equipment needed, and wash eligibility are necessary.
Benefits of a Waterless Car Wash
- Eco Friendly – Uses very little water. 16-20oz per vehicle vs. tens of gallons of water for traditional car washes.
- Uber Cost Effective – Waterless Wash Concentrate can bring car wash costs to less than a dollar for solution per wash.
- Time Efficient – After developing proficiency, many vehicles may be fully cleaned in 10-12 minutes.
- Ultra Safe – Emulsifying, Lubricating, and Cleaning agents contained within WW polymers make the process safe for vehicle surfaces.
- Super Portable – A Waterless Wash Kit can easily fit in a trunk or small bag. Ideal for road trips or spot cleaning.
- Apartment & Tiny Space Friendly – With minimal equipment required to store, anyone is able to wash their vehicle.
Does a Waterless Car Wash Clean as Well as Traditional Soap and Water?
Vehicle washing is similar to clothes washing. The better the quality and frequency of maintenance over time, the better the surface remains over its lifespan. If neglected, a vehicles surface’s topical contamination is much, MUCH more difficult to remove. Think of a white dress shirt. If worn 5 times before washing, then the probability of removing the dark dirt ring from the inner collar is greatly decreased.
If a vehicle is garaged nightly and kept on a regular wash interval, say once a week, then waterless car washing is a perfect solution. Also, for weekend or ‘fun vehicles,’ stored indoors and rarely used, waterless washing is the simplest wash method. However, the more time that passes between maintenance washes allows more layers of topical contamination to buildup and adhere to the surface.
If a vehicle is rarely washed, layers of topical contamination begin to stick to paint and will cling to one another. This creates a much thicker barrier for any wash method to fully remove. This difficulty is further magnified if vehicles sit outdoors and uncovered overnight. In these situations a traditional car wash may be the best choice because the use of a Mitt with added pressure produces friction. Friction agitates the surface releasing more stubborn contamination.
Of course environment, climate, and frequency of vehicle use will dictate the optimal period between vehicle washes. Generally, a regular wash regimen will prevent the build up of topical contamination on vehicle surfaces. By controlling topical contamination, maintenance washing remains quick and easy.
Equipment For The Safest Waterless Car Wash Method
- Waterless Wash Concentrate (preferably something without gloss enhancing agents in it)
- (1) 3 or 5 gallon (11 or 19 Liter) bucket with a lid.
- 3-5 Gallons (11-19 Liters) of Distilled Water
- (4-6) Long Pile Microfiber Towels
- (1) Pump Garden Sprayer or Chemical Sprayer
Long Pile Microfiber Towels work best for Waterless Washing because they have the most surface area. Additionally, the long pile is less aggressive and will distribute topical contamination over a greater area than short pile.
Using Distilled Water ensures mineral deposits cannot adhere to surfaces if waterless wash solution is somehow left behind.
A Non Gloss Enhancing Waterless Solution is preferred since it will not change the hydrophobic properties of vehicles with ceramic nano coatings, specialized sealants, or waxes.
How to Determine If a Vehicle is Eligible for a Waterless Car Wash
Not all vehicles are eligible for waterless car washing. Of course if you live in climates with real weather (Admittedly Los Angeles is Easy Mode!) then waterless washing during fall and winter will probably not be an option. Road salts, Magnesium Chloride, and other bonders contained with de-icing agents will create a gummy nightmare on vehicles that only a traditional wash can battle.
Vehicles that have been neglected for sustained periods of time are not usually the best candidates for waterless washing. This is because many layers of contamination have bonded together on the surface, usually proving quite difficult to remove.
The Swipe Test Indicates if a Vehicle is Eligible for a Waterless Wash
Take your index finger and then gently wipe a 2 inch (5cm) trail. If the trail swipes clean, then the waterless wash is all systems go. If worried about the light swipe scratching paint; then swipe in an inconspicuous area– behind the passenger rear wheel.
If the trail leaves behind stubborn contamination then the car might require a heavy dosage of solution and pre-soaking for a waterless wash.
If the swipe does little to nothing to remove topical contamination, then a traditional wash is likely the best option to remove surface contamination.
Preparation Steps Before a Waterless Car Wash
Prior to cleaning, mix the waterless car wash solution. Each brand of waterless concentrate has a distinct recommended dilution ration. Some have extreme concentration, allowing for dilution ratios of 256:1 (parts of water to parts of concentrate) or HIGHER! Mix the concentrate to the prescribed ratio with distilled water in a bucket with a lid. Gamma Seal lids are nice because they are screw on/off.
After mixing the solution, place 4 long pile microfiber towels into the solution bucket. NOTHING but Waterless Wash solution and CLEAN Microfiber towels go into this bucket — EVER. Placing anything that could contaminate the bucket or towels would jeopardize this entire method.
Like any wash method, before starting the vehicle surfaces should be cool and out of the sun.
Waterless Car Wash Procedure
- Spray the waterless wash solution evenly on the current working area. To prevent the solution from prematurely drying, split the vehicle into 3-4 sections, depending on size. Spray to saturate the surface, with as little run off as possible.
- Remove a towel from the prepared solution bucket and wring out as much water as possible. Fold it in half, then in half again to give the towel 8 distinct areas.
- Place the towel at the top of working section. With no pressure, drag the towel in an aerodynamic manner across the panel so the leading edge is collecting all topical contamination.
- Slightly fold the towel up, to expose a new leading edge. Drag the towel parallel to the first pass, overlapping by 10-15%.
- Continue this pattern until the towel face is covered in distinctly separated dirt lines. When the side of the towel is full of dirty lines, flip it over. When the second side is dirty as well, refold the towel to a new clean section.
- After cleaning the entire working section, use a dry towel to remove all excess solution from the area. Take care not to contact the drying towel with any dirty or uncleaned areas.
- After finishing, place the used towels in a bin of their own to be washed independently of anything else. After washing place back into the dedicated WW bucket. (For proper Microfiber Towel Washing see our article here)
Below is a simple and straightforward video explaining the benefits and procedure of the safest waterless car wash method.
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