A big part of car ownership is keeping your car clean. A car that is cleaned properly and regularly is less likely to collect dirt, brake dust, grime, and even rust buildup, which means it will last longer and look better.
In this article, Method 1 explains how to wash a car by hand, Method 2 describes how to wash a car with microfiber cloths, Method 3 gives tips on how to wash a car in the wintertime, and Method 4 explains how to wash a car with a pressure washer.
Method 1 of 4: How to wash a car by hand
- Brush (stiff)
- Buckets (two)
- Bug and tar remover
- Car soap
- Towels (several clean, soft, dry ones)
Step 1: Gather the necessary materials. At the very least, you will need water, soap, buckets, a rag or sponge to wash the car with, and towels.
Step 2: Fill the buckets. One bucket is for plain water, and the other is for soapy water. Fill up both buckets with the hose and add car soap to one of them according to the package directions.
Step 3: Prepare the car. If possible, park your car to be washed in the shade and away from direct sunlight to prevent any premature drying, since this can cause unsightly splotches.
Be sure that all of the windows are rolled up and the doors are completely shut. It is also helpful to stand your windshield wipers up so that you can more easily get to the windshield.
Step 4: Rinse the whole car. Give your car a good once over with the hose to start loosening up an accumulated dirt.
Step 5: Spot clean any sap, bugs, or stuck-on gunk. Here is where the bug and tar remover will come in handy.
You can try soaking the affected spots in warm soapy water and then scrubbing with sponge first, but truly stuck-on spots may require the remover.
Follow the packaging directions for the specific brand you’re using, and be sure NOT to use anything too abrasive, such as the stiff brush, so that you don’t damage the paint.
Step 6: Wash the body of the car. Making sure that the whole car stays wet throughout this step, you can now start washing the body of the car. Going from section to section, start at the top and work your way down.
Moving back and forth, use your soapy sponge. If your sponge gets dirty, use the plain water bucket to rinse it off and then use the soapy water bucket to get it soapy again. Thoroughly rinse off each section after you’ve washed it.
Step 7: Wash your wheels and tires. Because your wheels are usually the dirtiest area, it’s smart to save the wheels and tires for last so that you don’t get a bunch of abrasive dirt in your clean water bucket which might then scratch the paint on other surfaces.
A stiff brush may be appropriate here if your wheels and tire walls are particularly dirty, but if not, a regular sponge will work just fine.
Step 8: Spray the underside of the car. As a last washing step, spray the underside your car, making sure to get at it from a few different angles to make sure you’ve covered everything. This will help rinse off any loose dirt and any accumulated soap drippings.
Step 9: Dry the car. Using as many towels as needed, completely wipe off all of the surfaces you’ve washed. Do not leave any standing water behind as this may cause rust buildup.
Step 10: Clean the inside of your car. Clear out any trash or anything else unnecessary that has accumulated in your car.
Then, ideally using an upholstery or crevice attachment, vacuum all of the carpeted or upholstered areas of your car.
Finally, use glass cleaner to clean the interior side of all of the windows.
Method 2 of 4: How to wash a car with microfiber cloths
Super absorbent and durable, microfiber cloths are ideal for use on cars. What’s more, they are machine washable, though you should be sure to follow the washing instructions carefully in order to get the longest life out of these cloths.
Hand washing a car with microfiber cloths (or a microfiber wash mitt if you prefer) is much the same as hand washing it with a regular sponge in terms of other materials, prep, and the order of the steps.
The difference is in the washing and drying steps and in the need for a number of microfiber cloths (several for washing and several for drying).
Step 1: Pick a section to start on. Similar to the previous method, you’re going to go section by section and work from top to bottom.
Be sure to save any particularly dirty sections for last so as not to overly soil your cloth too early.
Step 2: Maintain a clean, soapy cloth. Get your microfiber cloth nice and soapy and start on the first section.
As needed, rinse off the cloth in the clean water to get any grit or dirt off of it. Then get the cloth soapy again and continue washing.
Have multiple microfiber cloths on hand for washing so that you can switch to a fresh one if the one you are using gets too dirty.
Step 3: Be sure to use an open hand technique. Spread your hand wide across the cloth in order to go over as much surface area as possible as you wipe back and forth.
Step 4: Keep the car wet. Again, you’ll want to make sure the whole car remains damp as you go so that no soap has a chance to dry and leave splotches.
Step 5: Rinse each section as you finish it. Once a section is clean, rinse it thoroughly to prevent any soap from drying there.
Step 6: Dry the car with microfiber cloths. Once everything, including the wheels, tires, and underside, have been washed, you can begin the drying process.
Start with a fresh towel and wet it with plain water, then wring out as much water as possible. Using the open hand technique again, wipe every surface.
Step 7: Wring, rinse, and replace cloth as needed. Wring out your cloth when it gets too wet, rinse it off if it gets dirty, and if it gets too dirty, grab a fresh one and continue with this same method.
Step 8: Wipe everything off one last time. Once you’ve gone over every section, go back with a fresh, dry cloth and wipe everything completely dry a final time.
Method 3 of 4: How to wash a car in the wintertime
The harsh weather conditions that can sometimes arise in wintertime can make it difficult to keep your car clean and maintained, but there are some good practices you can follow for the best results.
Step 1: Lubricate certain moving parts. To help prevent water freezing in your gas cap, locks, or trunk, use something like WD-40 to lubricate these areas before washing your car.
Step 2: Go to a professional wash location. When temperatures are low, it helps to not have to get wet and soapy in your driveway.
A car wash such as this may also have the option of pressure washers, which can more effectively remove buildup.
Step 3: Start with the roof and move downward. Washing from top to bottom is recommended, ending with the tires and wheels.
Step 4: Pay special attention to the underside of your car. Because salt and other deicing materials are used frequently on roads throughout the winter, these things can accumulate underneath your car and start to corrode important parts.
Don’t be afraid to get down low and spray the underside of your car from a number of different angles to remove as much of this debris as possible.
Step 5: Make sure your car is completely dry afterward. Some car washes will have blowers, others may provide towels, or the attendants might towel dry your car for you.
Regardless, make sure areas that can collect water, such as the trunk region, any antennas, and inside of doors, are thoroughly dried.
Step 6: Consider waxing your car. Adding a waxing step to the car washing process can add another layer of protection to your car’s exterior from salt and other deicing chemicals.
Step 7: Wash twice a month or after any contact with deicing materials. Doing this regularly will help you prevent corrosive compounds from building up and causing damage.
Step 8: Avoid washing in the freezing cold. If the temperatures are freezing or below, hold off on the car wash until they rise again to prevent any excess water from freezing on your car.
Step 9: Use rubber floor mats. To help keep your interior clean during a wet, snowy, and salty time of year, try switching to rubber mats in the winter, as these are easier to clean and prevent water from seeping into the floorboards.
Method 4 of 4: How to wash a car with a pressure washer
A pressure washer is a useful tool, whether your car is especially dirty or you just want to wash it quickly. To protect your car’s paint, choose one with a 1200 to 1900 PSI setting and 1.4 to 1.6 GPM. It is also recommended that you use nozzles with tip degrees of 25 and 40 degrees.
Step 1: Position the car. Make sure to park your car somewhere out of the sun, but also near a hose and an electrical outlet as these are needed to use the pressure washer.
Be sure all windows and doors are completely shut before you begin.
Step 2: Prepare the pressure washer. Once your car is ready and you have everything you need (your new pressure washer, car soap, and towels), plug the pressure washer into the outlet, attach it to the hose, and put a 25-degree tip onto it.
Step 3: Rinse the car. Give your car a once-over, starting four or five feet away to test out the pressure. Spray the entire car, giving special attention to any dirt buildup you see.
Step 4: Apply the car soap. Pressure washers usually have a separate compartment for soap or detergent. Add your car soap and the appropriate amount of water to this compartment and switch the washer to the detergent setting.
Then apply the soap all over your car, spraying from top to bottom.
If your washer does not have a detergent compartment, apply the soap with a clean cloth.
Step 5: Rinse off soap. Attach a 40-degree tip to the washer, switch to the water setting, and spray all over your car, thoroughly rinsing off all of the soap.
Step 6: Dry your car with your choice of towel. Using as many towels as needed, completely dry your car.
From a simple, straightforward hand-washing, to a quick and effective pressure washing, you can choose from any number of ways to keep your car clean. By following the steps outlined here, you can do so with confidence and clean, shiny results.