How to Wash a Car Properly Using Best Techniques and Products

Most people believe that washing a car is a very straightforward process. However, using the wrong tools or techniques can result in swirl marks or other damages the your car’s exterior.

For this reason it is important to know how to wash your car properly before you complete this "simple" task.

So, no matter if you are planning to wash your car for the very first time or you just want to make sure you are following the correct process, this guide is for you.

Read on to learn the best car washing practices as well as a step-by-step process to ensure you are cleaning your vehicle efficiently and safely.

The information below is a collection of personal experience and tips learnt from industry leading professional car detailers.

Sparkling clean black car

You Will Need

Here's a list of all the items and products you need to properly wash your car.

  • 2 buckets
  • Car wash solution
  • Pressure washer or regular hose
  • Large sponge or car washing mitt
  • Chamois
  • Car tyre cleaning solution
  • Small sponge
  • Tyre brush
  • Tyre shine
  • Glass cleaning solution
  • Microfibre cloth

Step 1: Get Prepared

Be sure to allocate enough time needed to wash your car. One to two hours should be quite sufficient in most cases, but this can vary greatly depending on experience and amount of cleaning required.

Obviously, the dirtier your car is or the longer it has been since your last car wash, the more time you will need.

Another thing to consider is the weather. If washing your car outside you will want to avoid a rainy day as you need dry conditions.

Likewise you want to avoid too much direct sun or heat. This will cause soap and water to dry too quickly resulting in water marks.

If possible, wash your car early in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not at its peak and preferably in a shaded area.

If you do intend on washing your vehicle indoors, such as in a garage, make sure the lighting is suitable and you have enough room to prevent water sprays and stray suds from damaging any surrounding items.

Next, before any cleaning takes place it is important to prepare your cleaning supplies, car washing equipment, workspace and vehicle.

Finally, if you intend on cleaning your car’s interior too, you should remove all items from the inside to allow easy access. This includes seat pockets, cup holders, middle console and glovebox compartments.

Red bucket filled with car wash mixed with water, a sponge and hose next to it.

Step 2: Rinse The Car

Before spraying any water on your vehicle it is important to make sure that all windows are fully wound up and sealed. This will prevent water from damaging the interior.

Then, using your pressure washer or hose, rinse the entire car from the roof to the wheels in a downward spraying motion. This will help remove loose dirt and dust.

Be very careful if you are using a pressure washer and make sure to only use it on a light setting. Some pressure washers can exert enough force to remove paint!

Step 3: Clean The Wheels

For cleaning your wheels, it’s much easier to use a tyre cleaning solution which is specifically designed for this task. A wheel & tyre cleaner removes brake dust, dirt, and grease quicker than a standard car wash solution.

Follow the instructions on your brand of tyre cleaner. This is a standard process:

  1. Spray one wheel and let it sit for a couple of minutes for the cleaner to start its chemical cleaning process.
  2. Then you can either hose off the cleaning solution or lightly scrub using a tyre brush and or small sponge. 
  3. Clean each tyre one at a time taking your time to remove the dirt, mud, and other visible residues.

From now on, it is important that you only use this tyre brush and small sponge for cleaning your wheels. They can get very dirty and you don't want to contaminate other more delicate parts of your vehicle.

Man washing one of his car wheels with a sponge and gloves.

Step 4: Wash Your Car

Now it comes to the actual washing of your vehicle. Here we need to be mindful of ideal products and best techniques.

Car Washing Solutions

There are many products you can use to wash the main exterior of your car. These products are mainly known as car wash or car shampoo. You can also find wash & wax products that provide a 2-in1 cleaning and protecting action.

While you could choose any product for this task, you should never use dishwashing liquid or any other type of soap.

Using products that are not specifically designed for washing vehicles can cause permanent damage to your car’s finish. Instead, choose a car wash that is PH neutral.

Best Way to Wash a Car

It is always best to clean from top to bottom. The dirtiest part of your car’s body is usually the lower half of the side panels, so you want to keep them till last.

Another tip that many people don't know about is only wiping in one direction, either from up to down, left to right or right to left. This prevent swirl marks.

Here is the best process:

  1. Fill one bucket with clean fresh water.
  2. Mix your car wash or shampoo in your second bucket with water, as per the instructions.
  3. Soak your large sponge or car washing mitt in this mixture.
  4. Wash your car from top to bottom using straight line wipes to avoid causing swirl marks or scratches from loose dirt.
  5. Rinse your sponge or cleaning mitt in a separate bucket filled with water to avoid contaminating your soap bucket with loose dirt.
  6. Re-soak your sponge in the car soap solution and repeat from steps 4-6.
  7. Complete this washing process in sections with a rinse off after cleaning each section, such as the roof, top part of doors, boot, bonnet, lower part of doors, etc. This prevents the suds from leaving water marks as it dries before you have finished washing the whole vehicle.

As mentioned earlier, it is important to use different sponges for cleaning your tyres and your car exterior.

In fact, the sponge that you use to wash your car should only be used for this purpose. This will ensure it never contains grease and other contaminants that can scratch or damage the paintwork.

Step 5: Final Rinse

Even if you were washing your vehicle in sections with a rinse after each stage, you should still perform a final rinse to remove any remaining soap residue.

Pressure washer being used to rinse off a car after being washed.

Step 6: Dry With a Chamois

Wipe your car using an automotive chamois from the top to bottom to remove excess water.

Once again, make sure you wipe in straight lines to avoid scratching your car with loose dirt. Also, tightly squeeze your chamois cloth to remove the absorbed water as you are drying.

Step 7: Polish then Wax (Optional)

It is at this point that you may choose to polish and or wax your car. While these steps are not essential, they are worth mentioning.

Car Polishing

Car polishing can be risky as the polish itself is abrasive. It works by removing the top layers of protection that cover your vehicles paintwork which if used excessively or with too much force can noticibly damage the paintwork.

Thus if done incorrectly, polishing can actually have the opposite effect of what the polisher is trying to achieve. It is for this reason that polishing is usually skipped by non-professionals and in most cases this is a smart decision.

But if you do choose to use a car polish, just make sure the vehicle has been washed thoroughly and is completely dry.

Car Waxing

Waxing on the other hand, involves adding a clear protective coating to your vehicle which is why it is always done after washing or polishing, if polishing was performed.

The benefit of waxing is that there is an extra barrier of protective film between your car's paintwork and the elements. This can prevent damage to the paintwork whilst also providing a shiny appearance.

As many cars do not require polishing, choosing a high quality car wash & wax is a great way to complete two steps in one.

Step 8: Glass Cleaning

Now is the perfect time to clean your car windows and windscreen with an automotive glass cleaner and microfibre cloth. 

This will ensure your newly washed car has crystal clear glass for optimal vision when driving.

Person wearing gloves, spraying glass cleaner on car window and wiping off with microfibre cloth.

Step 9: Add Tyre Shine

As a final step, you can use tyre shine to make your tyres really pop. This specially formulated product is easily sprayed onto your tyres to provide a vibrant black finish.

After the first time you use this product you will wonder why you waited so long to try it. From then on you will never leave it out of your car washing routine.

Practice Regular Cleaning

Keeping your car washed regularly not only helps your car to look its best, but it helps protect its paintwork too. This can result in a higher resale value down the track. 

By utilising quality cleaning products and following this guide, you will be able to keep your car sparkling clean and can even save money on professional detailing costs by washing your car at home.

Just make sure to also clean your car's interior as part of your car washing process..

Then if you want to take your car cleaning to the next level, you can also clean your car's engine bay using a suitable automotive degreaser. Of course, you only need to clean this area as needed, and not nearly as often as the exterior.