How to wash a car properly, a step by step guide

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There's nothing better than a truly clean ride, which you can easily get with this how-to guide.

We all would love a sparkling, clean car all the time; however, unfortunately, your vehicle can be one of the hardest things to keep clean. You need to wash your car regularly, which is why learning how to properly wash a car at home can make it easier to prevent minor wear and tear, maintaining your car’s value.

Many people are worried about the damage an automated car wash can cause. This can also be a very expensive option for regular washing. The alternative is handling the task yourself!

Read on for our tips on how to keep your car looking better for longer thanks to the right cleaning technique, tools, do’s and don’ts and of course, elbow grease.

The necessary car washing tools 

The right cleaning tools are key to ensuring your car always looks its best. They can also make the job much easier. Have everything you need prepared pre-wash by gathering the following:

  • A hose and spray nozzle
  • A soft sponge 
  • Car washing liquid
  • A wheel brush
  • Microfibre cloths
  • Microfiber towel 
  • Two buckets – one for the dirty sponge rinse, and one for your detergent

The last item on the list is very important. Many people make the mistake of only using one bucket, squeezing the dirt they have just cleaned off their car into it, then reusing it to wash the car. This is counterintuitive. Avoid wasting time by having both a clean and a dirty bucket.

If you are really doing a proper interior and exterior clean, you’ll also require a vacuum cleaner for the interior, rubber gloves, and window cleaner.

It is very important that you avoid using hand soap, dishwashing liquid, or anything that is not car wash detergent. The proper stuff is specifically designed to protect your car’s paint, and wax while providing a good clean.

washing a car with high pressure

Where to wash a car at home

Choosing the correct spot for your car wash at home is important, but so is choosing the correct day. A warm, sunny day seems best, right? Wrong! This common mistake means your car will dry too quickly, and while you may be thinking “sweet, less work,” you’ll actually end up with spots on your paint and windows. If possible, choose an overcast day and wash your car somewhere flat and shady, with room to fully open your doors.

How to properly wash a car at home

It’s always good to start by washing your wheels as they are the dirtiest areas and you don’t want this grime near your car paint. We’d love to tell you there is some kind of secret to make this process easier, but soapy water and good old fashioned scrubbing is the key. You can make things a little easier for yourself by investing in a dedicated whee cleaning product. That aside, it’s all about the scrub. Ensure you cover the wheel nuts and outside tires.

Once the wheels are taken care of, hose off the entire vehicle to get rid of any loose dirt then begin your wash by sections. Work systematically from top to bottom in this order: 

  1. Roof
  2. Window supports and windows
  3. Top of the bonnet and upper panels
  4. Middle of the doors and the boot
  5. Front bumper
  6. Lower panels
  7. Lower part of the doors
  8. Back bumper

When this is done, give your vehicle a final rinse with a gentle spray to leave fewer spots. 

Drying your car is just as important as washing it, and the task will be more effective with a large microfiber towel or silicone ‘paint-safe’ squeegee. When this is done, you can go the extra mile by giving your car a wax which will help give it that showroom shine.

Cleaning the car windows 

Clean mirrors, windows, and windscreens are another important element to make sure your car looks its best, but they also make it safer for you to drive. A smudge-free view out of your windscreen and rear-view mirror is very important, which is why the correct method for cleaning your windows and glass is required.

The process is dependent on whether or not you have standard or tinted glass. Untinted glass can be taken care of with just a glass cleaner and paper towel combination. Spray the glass cleaner onto the paper towel, not the glass surface, to avoid the spray dripping onto other surfaces.

Tinted glass is better handled with soapy water and a soft microfibre cloth to protect the quality of the tint film.

Cleaning the car interior

A lovely, clean exterior is less enjoyable if your car is dirty on the inside. Cleaning the interior is an important part of the process, and you should begin by removing any rubbish and loose, personal items, so you don’t lose them to the vacuum. 

From here, it’s all about vacuuming every nook and cranny, then use an electrostatic cloth to clean the hard surfaces. Make sure you vacuum under the seats and wipe the air vents and other hard-to-reach areas. Those who are passionate about really giving their car a proper clean can also use a small brush with a bit of soapy water to clean the pedals which get extremely dirty over time.

Keeping the car clean

You’ve put in the hours and effort, so you’ll likely want to keep your car as clean as possible for as long as possible. Unless you plan on keeping it in a hermetically sealed showroom, your car will get dirty again, but a few pre-emptive actions can keep it clean for as long as possible. 

Always consider where you park your car and avoid parking under trees or any spots where the local birds may like to hang out. If you can, avoid newly sealed gravel roads when driving as they can create quite a mess. 

For the interior, avoid messy food and drinks, and give your shoes a clean before getting in the car. It is advised that you wash your car once a fortnight. The dirtier your car gets, the harder it is to clean, so regular cleaning not only maintains its conditions but makes the cleans themselves a lot less effort.

how to wash a car

Photo by Ethan Sexton on Unsplash


FAQs on Washing a Car

How often should you wash your car?

As a rule of thumb, your car needs washing every two weeks or so. But if you live in a coastal area (e.g. near the ocean), you should get a car wash more often. Salt can cause metal corrosion and rust.

What soap can be used to wash a car?

It is very important that you always use proper car detergent and avoid using hand soap, dishwashing liquid, or anything else. Correct car cleaning detergent is specifically designed to protect your car’s paint, and wax while also providing a good clean.

You may also be able to find a detergent and wax combination. This is like a two-in-one process for your car cleaning. The combo will clean while also applying for wax protection. This will save you from performing the extra job of waxing once your car is dry. It should be noted, however, that this will not be as effective as applying a standalone wax product, but is much better than nothing at all.

What do you need to wash your car at home?

There are a few reasons why you may want to wash your car at home. The first is convenience. You may not live anywhere near a car wash, or dislike the idea of cleaning your car at one, only to have to drive it home straight away, dirtying the car up the second you finish the wash.

The second reason is the cost. Car washes can be pricey. You will get many more washes out of a bottle of car cleaner for the cost. While washing your car at home will take more time and effort, but when compared to sitting in a drive-through car wash or having someone do it for you, the price is still significantly less.

The final reason is care and quality. A machine car wash simply will not give as in-depth a clean as you can. As the old saying goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Car enthusiasts may not wish to risk their pride and joy’s paint job to the bristles and machine arms of a car wash.

Need help with washing your car?

You have the info; now you just have to put in the work. It may take some time and effort, but that first drive in your freshly clean vehicle will be well worth it! You’ll also keep your car in great condition for longer, helping with its resale value.

If the time and effort are, however, dealbreakers, you’ll find plenty of taskers who will handle your car clean for you. This gives you the advantage of an at-home quality clean by hand without having to dedicate the hours and energy to the task yourself.

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