How to Wash your Car Properly: a Step by Step Guide

Most people think they know how to wash a car properly, and everyone knows that to keep a car looking fresh it needs cleaning regularly. Yet, many don’t realize what goes into getting the best results.

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In reality, it’s quite easy to keep your paintwork safe and get great results: plan ahead, use the right products, and follow a simple process.

We’re going to help you learn the best way to wash your car, and give you a great method to follow every time you clean it.


When to wash your car

One of the most important decisions in ensuring your car comes out gleaming is when to start washing. We’d forgive you for thinking that a nice sunny day would be the best time to get the bucket & hose out. In reality it’s quite the opposite.

Sunlight and heat can cause your paintwork to dry out during the clean, leading to water spot stains. Not only is this bad for the car’s finish, but it makes the job much harder.

The perfect time to clean your car is an overcast day. If that’s not an option for you, then find a shady spot and keep the bodywork wet with a regular spray of water.

Where to wash your car

Location is also a factor in getting your pride and joy sparkling. Parking your car on a flat surface will ensure water doesn’t pool in the crevices, making the drying process much less of a hassle.

To make your life easier, leave enough space on all sides to open the doors, hood and trunk, as the door jambs and sills will need cleaning and wiping down.

A man washing his car

How long will it take?

This depends on how rigorous you want to be, and the size of your car. Generally you should set aside at least an hour for optimal results.

What to wash your car with

It’s important to use tools that are kind to your paintwork, but still do a good job of removing dirt and grime. The last thing you want is to create unsightly blemishes, or cause even worse damage. You will need:

  • A hose connected to a water supply
  • Car wash soap
  • 2x microfiber or sheepskin wash mitts – one for the body, and one for the wheels
  • You could substitute one of the mitts with a wheel brush if preferred
  • 2x buckets
  • 1 large microfiber waffle-weave drying towel
  • 2 small microfiber waffle-weave drying towels
  • Bug & tar remover, and a soft non-abrasive cloth for application (optional)
  • A dedicated wheel cleaner (optional)
  • Spray wax (optional)
  • Tire gel and foam applicator (optional)

Quick tips

When washing your own car, start from the roof and work your way down, focusing on one area at a time. Wipe in straight lines, not in a circular motion, to avoid undesirable swirl marks. Scrubbing in a circular motion is one of the easiest ways to damage paintwork.

Do not use dish wash soap, or any other household soap, to wash your car. Use a dedicated car wash soap, as these contain more lubricants and are kinder to your paintwork. You will damage your car very quickly if you use any other kind of soap.

Use two buckets to ensure you’re removing dirt, not spreading it around your car. Use the second bucket to rinse your mitts before reapplying the suds.

Pressure washers are a great way to remove loose dirt, but a good old-fashioned hose will also do an excellent job. Pressure washers can do more harm than good if used in the wrong way. If held too close, you can damage the bodywork and force water past door and window seals, leading to a water-damaged interior.

If you drop a mitt, sponge or drying cloth, don’t reuse it! Once it’s been on the floor, loose dirt, gravel, and other abrasive matter will become embedded. If the mitt is then reapplied to the paintwork, all sorts of damage could ensue.

Step 1: Washing

Prepare buckets

Add the car wash soap to the first bucket and add warm water. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure you add the correct ratio of solution to water. The soap suds should start forming.

Fill the second bucket with water. This will be your rinse bucket, to ensure any dirt collected on your wash mitt is not reapplied to your car.

Rinse the car

Use your hose or pressure washer to spray the bodywork and wheels to remove any loose dirt. Be sure to pay special attention to the windshield wipers, as dirt often accumulates here. Raise the blades if possible.

Turn the hose off and open up the hood and trunk to remove any leaves and grime that may have built up in the recesses. Be careful not to spray any water whilst the hood is open, as you could damage your car’s engine or electronics.

Clean the wheels

Take your first microfiber mitt and dunk it into the soapy bucket. Work your way around each wheel removing dirt and brake dust that has built up. Be sure to regularly rinse the mitt in the second bucket before reapplying the soap suds.

You can use a wheel brush and designated wheel cleaner here if preferred.

Once cleaned, rinse off the wheels again with the hose.

A person cleaning the wheel of a car

Clean the paintwork and windows

Use your second microfiber mitt to wash the paintwork with the soapy water. Ensure you regularly rinse the mitt in the second bucket of water.

Start with the roof and work your way down to the window supports. Then, clean the windows and windshield.

Work your way down the car, cleaning the hood, trunk and upper panels, then move onto the middle part of the doors.

Lastly, focus on the lower part of the doors and bumpers. This is where the most dirt will have accumulated.

Don’t apply too much pressure to avoid damaging your car. Pay close attention to crevices and cracks where excess dirt may have accumulated. Take your time, and use bug & tar remover for stubborn spots. Use a soft cloth to apply the remover, rather than your mitt.

Rinse again

Once you’ve made your way around the whole car, it’s time to roll out the hose out again. If you have a variable nozzle attached, remove it now, and use free-flowing water to rinse your car from top to bottom.

Now is a great time to check the condition of your wax coat. If the water is beading into droplets, then it’s in good condition and you can apply a layer of spray wax once the car is dry. If not, you may need to reapply your wax coat.

Water beading on a car's paintwork
Water beading on a car’s paintwork

Step 2: Drying

Drying the bodywork & windows

Drying your car is an important part of the process. Use your large microfiber waffle-weave towel to dry the bodywork, again starting from the top and working your way down.

Be quick here to prevent any water spots building up. You may want to use a second smaller towel to catch every last drop.

Dry out the roof, windows and mirrors first. Wring out your towels regularly to thoroughly dry the car.

Drying the wheels and doors

Once you’ve dried the bodywork, open up the doors, hood and trunk to dry any excess water that has pooled in the recesses.

Now the bodywork and windows are dry, you can move onto the wheels. Use a different towel or chamois here, and don’t reuse this one on your paintwork to avoid damaging it.

Step 3: Finishing up


To add the finishing touches, apply some tire gel to give your tires that showroom black shine. Use a foam applicator to apply it to the outer wall of each tire. Not only does this look great, but it also protects the tires from sun damage.

Spray wax

Once the car is dry, you can apply a layer of spray wax to maintain the protective layer over the paintwork. But, only do this if your wax coat is in good shape, as tested earlier. This will do a great job in protecting your car until the next time it’s cleaned.


You can get your car gleaming by preparing in advance, having the right products to hand, and following a basic step-by-step process. Don’t make the mistake of resorting to the age-old bucket and sponge method. Your car deserves better than that and your paintwork will thank you for it!

To keep your car shining you should aim to wash it at least once every fortnight (or every week if you can manage it). It doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time consuming, and who doesn’t like that fresh showroom look! And remember, the drying is as important as the cleaning.

The satisfaction you’ll get from having a brilliantly clean car sat on your driveway will be more than worth your time and effort.

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