Updated: Jan 12, 2018
Are you washing your car, or just damaging the paint? Most of the swirl marks that disfigure your vehicle are likely caused by poor washing technique. Thorough weekly washes and careful hand-drying can be the best care you can give your vehicle. Improper techniques will cause unsightly swirls and scratches in the paint requiring compounding or polishing at the very least. You can eliminate these problems and save yourself extra work by following a few simple tips when washing and drying your vehicle. Weekly washing is best because some contaminants quickly do serious long term damage to paint if they are allowed to remain. Two such organic compounds are bug remains and bird droppings. These bio-hazards contain complex proteins that bond to the surface and organic acids that penetrate and break down the surface, eating into your clear coat if not removed promptly. Weak spots in the clear coat make your vehicle susceptible to corrosion and discoloration.
Proper Wash Method
Wash the wheels and tires first. If you splash wheel cleaners or dirt onto your vehicle, you can simply wash it off as you wash your vehicle. Use a cleaner that is safe for all wheels. Acid based cleaners can etch bare aluminum in seconds so proceed with caution with these types of cleaners. For heavy brake dust agitate with a wheel brush or sponge to assist your cleaner. This technique can also help to minimize product use. Wash each wheel and tire one at a time and rinse thoroughly before moving on to the next one. For keeping your tires looking “new” and to get longer life out of your tire shine/dressing (the cleaner the rubber the better the dressing adheres to the tire) use a rubber cleaner and/or tire scrub brush to remove built up grime from the rubber. If your rims are brake dust free and are regularly cleaned you can clean the rims with just your car wash soap but never use the same wash mitt/pad on your rims that you use on the vehicle paint! If you do clean your rims with just soap & water make sure to empty your bucket(s), rinse thoroughly and use fresh water/soap before moving on to washing the vehicle paint. For cleaning wheel wells on pickups use a good firm bristle brush and scrub your wheel wells at the same time you scrub your tires. To really bring those wheel wells back to “new”a great product is Griot's Under Carriage Spray (apply after vehicle drying at same time you apply your tire dressing). Now that your rims & tires are clean it’s time for washing the vehicle. Start with clean water and a freshly rinsed container and a good quality wash mitt/pad. Chenille Microfiber type mitts are a great choice and for the really “fussy” DIY detailer Microfiber Madness has several really high end car wash mitts/pads/sponges. It’s important to use a car wash that is rich in lubricants. The purpose of the car wash is to remove contaminants and lubricate them so they do not scratch the paint as they slide off the vehicle. Dish detergents are not a good choice because they remove protective coatings. Any of our car shampoo brands are fantastic choices. They do not remove wax and provide ample lubrication of gritty particles. How do you prevent swirl marks? Use two buckets. Fill one bucket with soapy water and fill the other with clean water. Each time you’re ready to reload your mitt with soapy water, dip it in the clean water first, to rinse out the grit and contamination you’ve just removed from your vehicle. Then dip it in the soapy water and continue washing. An even better alternative is to use a grit guard. This plastic grid sits in the bottom of a 5-gallon wash bucket and stabilizes the water. Contamination and particles settle to the bottom of the bucket and the clean wash water remains at the top. Always rinse your vehicle thoroughly before you begin washing in order to remove loose debris. Then begin washing at the top of the vehicle. Wash down the vehicle as opposed to front to back. Remember that the lower panels are dirtiest. You want to clean the windows and the upper panels before cleaning the lower half of the vehicle so that you don’t transfer grit to the top half of the vehicle. Rinse and reload your mitt often to prevent cross-contamination. Rinse your vehicle frequently as you work, especially in hot weather. For stubborn spots, like bugs or tar, use a chemical insect remover and/or insect removal sponge. Always use a bug sponge wet! When rinsing, you don’t have to blast your car clean with the water hose. Free-flowing water (no nozzle) will allow the water to sheet off of your vehicle for a more thorough rinsing.
Proper vehicle drying your vehicle after washing is critical to prevent water spots. Water spots are caused by mineral deposits that etch the outline of a drop of water into your vehicle’s paint. All water has minerals, whether it’s from the hose or the sky. As the water evaporates, the minerals remain on the surface and they will eventually, invariably create water spots. You can dry your vehicle in a variety of ways, but you want to make sure you do it quickly to prevent water spots. The fastest way to remove excess water is with a water blade. These are a “paint-safe” squeegees that allow you to quickly remove 80% of the water off the surface of your vehicle. They are made of soft, medical-grade silicone so they will not scratch your paint or glass.
Using a water blade after rinsing not only allows you to dry the vehicle faster, it helps prevent your drying towel getting too water saturated during the drying process. There are number of good drying towels options. Quality microfiber drying towels both offer the safest (softest) way to dry and are very absorbent. Towel pricing varies based on towel weight (thickness) , size, and type of microfiber used. For rim drying do not use the same towel you use for the paint surface. The most effective way to dry rims & grills & to prevent unsightly water rundown from cracks and crevices such as side view mirrors, emblems etc., is to use air movement to purge water from these areas that are hard to get into with your towel. Both the Metro Vac "Sidekick"(electrically powered) and the Tornador Blow-Out tool (air compressor powered) do a great job at an affordable price.The finishing touch is apply your tire shine (always make sure the tire is dry to get the best bonding of the product to the rubber and prevent “slinging”. To help prevent brake dust build-up (and to make your rims really shine) apply a wheel/rim coating such as Sonax Wheel Rim Shield or Wheel Wax every 4-6 weeks.