It's amazing how many people get this wrong - and the results can be dreadful...
Wash your car in the shade, or in the early morning/late evening so the detergent doesn’t dry before you rinse off
Bruce Morrison from paint-care specialists Meguiar’s says you should never use common household detergents like dishwashing liquid, which tends to be way too harsh and can attack the polish’s protective coat. Bespoke car wash concentrates offer the right balance of grease-cutting chemicals and sudsy slipperiness to lift abrasive grime away from where it can scratch the paintwork.
You’ll need a minimum of a big sponge, a bucket, car wash concentrate, a chamois and water.
An alternative to the sponge is a wash mitt, which lets you employ more manual dexterity in hard-to-reach areas. A mag wheel brush and specific spray-on wheel cleaner can take much of the elbow grease away from cleaning your wheels.
Grit is the enemy here. Anything you wipe on the paint must be clean to avoid dreaded ‘swirl’ marks caused by grit being rubbed into the paint while washing. (When that happens, you’ll need an expert detailer or panel beater to buff the car.) Rinse your sponges and your chamois regularly throughout the washing process to free up embedded grit. Car-care Nazis often have a second sponge and chamois dedicated solely to cleaning intrinsically grittier components like wheels.
The case against leaving the car looking naturally dishevelled and ‘al fresco’: Nasty environmental vectors like industrial fallout, bird poo, splattered insects, tree sap and brake dust mean your car’s paintwork is under continuous chemical attack. Michael Ference from waterless car washing specialists, Eco Wash, says the longer this stuff remains on the paint, abetted by the slightly acidic aspect of rain and UV radiation, the more opportunity there is for corrosive compounds to form and chemically (permanently) etch the paint. “If you don’t want your car to age before its time,” he says, “regular washing (preferably as soon as possible after the car looks dirty) and periodic polishing are essential”.
Ference says the textbook car washing process kicks off by rinsing the car from the roof down to loosen dust and dirt. Mix the wash concentrate with water in the recommended proportion in a clean bucket. “Remember to use a high quality washing agent,” says Eco Wash’s Ferrence. “On it’s own, water is not a lubricant. You’ll just drive grit into the paint, scratching it.” Wash gently with a clean sponge or mitt, starting at the roof and working down the glass, bonnet, boot and sides. Doing it this way means you’re starting at the cleanest areas and finishing at the dirtiest (so you don’t risk rubbing grit into places that are relatively devoid of it), as well as going with gravity. Return the mitt/sponge to the bucket regularly and agitate to get rid of abrasive particles that could scratch the paint. Rinse the suds off before they dry. Do the wheels last – preferably with a separate sponge/brush. Wipe the car dry with a chamois, rinsing the chamois regularly in a bucket of clean water. Lastly, wipe out the door jambs and dry the wheels, preferably with an old chamois.
Totally waterless washing is one option, but Bruce Morrison from Meguiar’s says you can cut the water used to wash an average car to just 50-60 litres using a humble watering can in lieu of a hose. “To put this in perspective,” he says, “a family of four taking daily showers accounts for about 4000 litres a week, while using the dishwasher and washing machine adds 600 litres to that. Washing your car simply does not have to mean excessive water use.” Morrison says if you want to save even more, use a high-pressure cleaner. “We’ve tested some Karcher machines and the Lavor EKO high-pressure cleaner from Repco for the pre-clean and rinse. The water used was just 30 litres – 60 per cent less than using a hose and nozzle.” Basic models from reputable brands kick off at about $100. Ference endorses pressure-washing: “High-pressure water means less physical rubbing and, inevitably, fewer scratches.”