Being able to wash your car by hand is priceless.
Although most of us lack the time (or will) to do so, a good old-fashioned car wash by hand offers both better cleaning quality and prolongs the “life” of your cars paint-job.
Not to mention the fact that you’ll save some money and perhaps have some fun.
This post will show you the whole car wash procedure and how to get the best results.
WHAT WILL YOU NEED FOR A PROPER CAR WASH?
Everything you’ll need is mostly found around the household. If not, you can find what you’ll need in every supermarket or car parts shop.
- Car shampoo: always use car shampoo and don’t make any improvisations.
Car shampoo contains chemicals which are not harmful for the paint-job and eliminate stains easily.
Most quality shampoos contain some car wax giving the paint job some extra shine and protection.
Over the years I’ve seen people use various replacements like dish washing detergent, hair shampoo or even laundry detergent!
One thing to say to these improvisations:NO!!
All of these contain aggressive chemicals which will more or less damage the protective lacquer coating.
- Sponge: you have sponges specially for this use but any kind of soft sponge around the house will do.
The more dense the sponge is, the better the foam, thus making a better car wash by hand.
If you’re using some old sponge that you’ve found around the house, make sure that it’s soft and free from any kind of grit and filth as these cause scratches.
I myself best like sponges from old furniture (like sofas) as they have high density and are great for a car wash by hand.
Avoid using rough sponges, like for dish-washing or else as they can also cause scratches.
- Bucket: any kind will do, just make sure that it’s deep enough so you can make a lot of foam.
- Garden hose and water supply: most of us use a garden hose with a sprinkler. Just make sure that it’s long enough to go around the car. Also, a sprinkler with an adjusting head would be good as you can change the type of water stream.
- Glass cleaner: household type, nothing special. Although there are specialized products for cars, I wouldn’t recommend on spending extra money on them. They mostly do the same job.
- Cloths for cleaning: famous”plas chamois” is the best multi-purpose cloth.The rest is done with some clean cotton cloth and paper towels.
- Pressure washer, washing brush or other: more or less needed accessory, you can get the job done without them. More about the pros and cons on this topic lower in the article.
HOW TO PREPARE EVERYTHING TO WASH A CAR BY HAND?
- Fill half of the bucket with warm (not hot) water,
- Add some car shampoo (find on the bottle instructions for the shampoo to water ratio),
- Fill the rest of the bucket. This will produce more foam.
- Mix by hand to produce even more foam.
- Soak the sponge and leave it a bit in the bucket.
- Prepare the hose and sprinkler (pressure washer or car brush, if you’re going to use them).
I know this is me talking like grandma but it’s worth the mention:
If it’s cold outside, wear some clothes and shoes that are water-resistant (so you don’t get soaked which can lead to a cold).
START FROM THE WHEELS (RIMS)
Before you start washing the car body, clean the wheels (rims) as much as possible.
This goes double if you have alloy rims or some nice hub caps.
If you have steel rims, also clean them first, you just don’t have to put that much effort in to washing them.
Hub caps and alloy rims, of course, get dirty from the road (dirt, dust, mud etc). But this is not the main problem.
Over time, a carbon like build-up appears on the rims.
The build-up is caused by using the brakes. You see, the brake pads are exposed and when causing friction (braking) tend to spread a dust like substance. This, over time causes a build up on the alloy rim.
Nasty substance it is, resembles a mixture of grease and tar. If not taken care of on time, very hard to take off.
So, take that sponge, soak it well with shampoo and give the rims a good and thorough scrubbing. Leave it for 5 minutes in order for the shampoo to react to the filth as it will come off better.
If this doesn’t help, buy a rim cleaner specifically made for this purpose. You can find them everywhere; at a car parts shop, gas stations or shopping malls.
Follow the instructions and you’ll be fine (basics are: spray on, leave it for some time to react and rinse out).
Don’t forget to wash out the wheel arches also, as much as possible. They are pretty hard to reach and you’ll have to work around the wheel but it’s worth it.
The wheel arch is also a big hot spot for rust.
SHOULD YOU WASH THE CAR UNDERCARRIAGE?
Most drivers ask themselves this inevitable question.
Since the car undercarriage is hard to reach, most drivers and car owners pay little attention to this.
The nature of this task means that you either have to have a canal at home (or car lift) to be able to properly reach the lower parts of the car.
Most of us don’t. But this isn’t a reason to neglect this part of a car wash.
Since the car undercarriage is protected, you don’t have to wash it every time you do a car wash by hand.
On about every three to four car washes comes one undercarriage wash.
This will significantly reduce the appearance of rust (corrosion) in the future.
Goes double during winter and rain season when salt, mud and moisture start to spell doom for the car body.
So, if you can, raise the car clearance. You can jack up the car and put it on metal stands.
If not, get on your knees and reach as much as you can. Better anything then nothing.
To tell you the truth, in this case, I would strongly recommend specialized car washes that can effectively clean the undercarriage.
This would be best especially during winter when a car wash at home is not very possible.
FIRST WASH THE CAR BODY WITH CLEAN WATER.
Presuming that you’ve washed the wheels (rims) and maybe perhaps the car undercarriage, it’s time to move on to the car body.
Before you start shampooing with the sponge, clean the whole car body only with water.
Adjust the sprinkler to a jet stream and wash of any dirt, mud, grit etc. that may be present.
Also soaking the whole car means that the shampoo foam will spread better and a car wash by hand will be much easier.
Going with a shampoo rich sponge on a dry and dirty car body can have a sand-paper effect and cause scratches.
In this phase the pressure washer is best.
TOP TO BOTTOM:MAIN RULE FOR A GOOD CAR WASH BY HAND.
The top to bottom rule tells you the direction in which you should start and finish the car wash.
Applies mainly to shampooing, sponge washing and rinsing.
Not following this rule means you’ll probably get smears and the car wash effect will not be 100%.
So this is the way you should go:
- Windshield and hood (bonnet)
- Boot and back side
- Side panels, doors and windows (left or right side, your choice).
Shampooing this way will give maximum effect and a sense of order so you won’t miss a spot.
When rinsing, you’ll avoid left over shampoo dripping from the roof (to lets say the windows) that you’ve already rinsed.
This rule will save you both time and effort while giving maximum effect.
HOW TO PROPERLY SHAMPOO THE CAR?
So, you’ve used a jet stream of water (or pressure washer) to clean the dirt, mud, dust etc. soaking the whole car body at the same time.
Now it’s time to apply the car shampoo.
Start immediately while the car is wet and soaked.
Make sure that there is a lot of foam.
Go thoroughly thorough every part of the car body (top to bottom rule).
Don’t forget to open the doors , clean the doorsteps and to go around the door (watch not to spill inside the passenger cabin).
Be thorough but don’t loose too much time (don’t get OCD syndrome on this part).
Point here: if you shampoo too long, the foam starts drying up (especially in hot weather).
This lessens the effect of the shampooing part.
Also, use the sponge and clean the windshield wiper blades. You’ll be surprised at how dirty they get.
At the same time, you can check if you have to replace the windshield wiper blades.
HOW TO PROPERLY RINSE THE CAR?
Now that the car is shampooed and well-scrubbed , time to rinse out.
Again, obey the top to bottom rule.
- Windshield and hood (bonnet)
- Boot and back side
- Side panels, doors and windows (left or right side, your choice).
Take your time on this part as wandering from one part of the car to another will have less effect.
For instance: if you wash the sides and leave some shampoo on the roof, the car shampoo will drip back to the sides and you have to repeat the whole procedure.
Do the rinsing as thoroughly as possible.
Go through every panel, crescent and make sure that the shampoo is rinsed out maximally.
HOW TO DRY THE CAR?
Lots of people, after rinsing, just leave the car to dry naturally.
This is partially OK if it’s not very sunny outside.
But if it is, you’ll get visible water stains and smears (car windows and mirrors especially).
No 100% percent effect of a car wash by hand can be achieved without drying.
For this job, the “plas chamois” cloth is best.
So, immediately after rinsing, start drying.
Top to bottom rule again.
Best done longitudinally first, until you get the majority of the water off (like using a cloth spatula).
After that use circular hand motion to finish the job.
Be sure to open the doors and boot and clean them together with the doorsteps.
Pay extra attention to the windows, some more scrubbing here will mean less scrubbing later with the window cleaner.
After drying, leave all the doors and boot open so the left over water can evaporate sooner.
HOW TO CLEAN CAR WINDOWS, MIRRORS AND AVOID SMEARS?
Next step, the windows and mirrors.
The “plas chamois” cloth cleans the windows only superficially.
It leaves small water stains however persistent on scrubbing you may be.
For 100% effect you’ll need some household window cleaner, clean cotton cloths and some paper towels.
Do one window at a time, outside first, inside second.
Apply the window cleaner (not too much, just a few squirts).
In this phase you can combine the cloth and paper towels. First cloth, then the paper towel.
To tell you the truth, I use paper towels right away and change them more frequently.
This (at least for me) has shown better effects.
See what works better for you. Main point is to avoid those dreaded smears.
Smears are both dangerous (resembles driving with dirty glasses) and are very annoying (at least in my case).
Do the wiping from left to right and then top to bottom.
This minimizes the possibility of smears. Be sure to change the cloth or paper towel as soon as it gets dirty.
My advice to you would be to clean all of the side windows, rear window and mirrors in one stage as they usually need less attention.
In the other stage clean the windshield.
It usually takes more time and effort.
Although you’ve washed the windshield thoroughly from the outside, most times hard-core stains remain (like from insects).
This is why you should finish the job with a window cleaner (and to avoid smears).
One more hardship: the inner side of the windshield.
It’s pretty hard to clean as it is curved and the corners are somewhat hard to reach.
A bit daunting task but all that I can say is be persistent and don’t stop until the glass is squeaky clean.
Any leftover smear means a problem and danger.
SHOULD YOU WASH A CAR WITH A PRESSURE WASHER?
Using a pressure washer for a car wash by hand is widespread.
The sheer strength of the water stream guarantees that all the dirt, dust, mud etc.will immediately fall of.
Great for rinsing also, no shampoo will certainly be left on the car.
Then there is the speed factor: cleaning with a pressure washer means that the job will be done faster.
All of this is fine but….there is a downside to all this.
Extensive use of a pressure washer can, over time cause small micro damages to the protective lacquer coating. The strong, high pressure jet stream makes it a pretty aggressive tool.
Short term usage is OK and shouldn’t cause any significant damage (especially if you can set a mild stream).
My advice: if you want to preserve your cars paint-job for years to come, try as much as possible to avoid pressure washers and car washes (automatic or else).
Goes double for automatic car washes with big brushes which can also cause scratches over time.
In case of old timers or when car owners want to maximally preserve their car, these are a big NO!
The water pressure from your home installation combined with a good multi-function sprinkler will be more than enough for a job well done.
Grandma alert again: you’ll also probably use less water for the job. In today’s ecologically aware world, that should count for something.
SHOULD YOU USE A WASH CAR BRUSH?
In one period of time, the wash car brush was very popular.
You know, the one that you can push in to the standard garden hose adapter.
Water goes through it so you can wash and scrub at the same time.
Cheap to buy also.
Had one, used it and all that I can say is: don’t use it.
Not that it doesn’t do the job. I mean it scrubs of the dirt. The problem is that it doesn’t do it very well.
Smears stay almost always, pretty cumbersome to handle and you’ll probably get wet during washing.
But the worst problem with this tool is that, over time, it damages the protective lacquer coating.
It starts leaving small micro scratches that can over time get visible (especially in the sun light).
So, using in case of “emergency” maybe.
Using it on a regular basis…I wouldn’t advise it.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME FOR A CAR WASH?
Since most of us mortals wash the car outside (rare are those who have huge garages with drain systems), it would only be fair to mention this part.
Main advice: avoid strong sunlight.
Sunlight dries the car fast, leashing you the time to make a proper shampooing, rinsing and drying.
Inevitably, this means smears all over the car not to mention poor cleaning results.
If you have to do a car wash by hand in this weather, find some thick shade.
High temperatures are also an enemy of a good car wash by hand.
Best be done early in the morning or in the afternoon.
Dim weather with medium outside temperature’s (20-25 degrees Celsius) is best by far in my experience.
Since the temperature on most days is low and freezing, the number of car washes by hand is reduced (most times impossible).
Don’t do winter car washes unless you have the upper mentioned garage (possibly heated).
When washing time comes,, best go to a self served car wash with a pressure gun and do the washing yourself.
It will both save you time and wash the salt and mud off (which are aggressive and cause rust (corrosion) over time).
Just be aware of freezing and ice.
Make sure to dry the car up as much as possible (especially the rubber door seals) and have some glycerin oil prepared for the seals and locks.
Otherwise, in a few hours, you can end up not being able to get inside the car.
Frozen locks will stop you from being able to turn the key lock.
If you open it with a key fob, leftover water on the doors seals can cause a “welded-door” effect.
Who’s been through this kind of ordeal will know what I’m talking about.
WHAT PRODUCTS SHOULD YOU USE AFTER THE CAR WASH IS FINISHED?
Today’s market is swamped with all kinds of car cosmetics (for interior and exterior usage).
I won’t lie to you, I am also a sucker for those finishing touches after a good car wash.
Using some of these car cosmetic products does give another dimension.
Nevertheless: don’t go overboard. Many of these products are “snake-oil” promising to make new from old in just a few minutes.
A lot of them are money thrown out the window and that’s a fact.
Most popular products for the car exterior (mostly cheap to buy and give your car extra good looks) are:
- plastic care products,
- alloy wheel-rim cleaners
- products for shining up sides of the tires.
You can’t make a mistake with these.
Products for exterior plastic parts will prolong their life and give them a nice shine.
No need to talk about how much super clean alloy rims mean for a good-looking car. It just isn’t the same without it.
Shining up sides of the tires also means a lot in the overall finish.
Anyway, that’s what I use to get that final ,100 percent, good-looking effect.