10 Proven Washing Tips Your Detailer Wants You To Know

Proven Detailing Tips: How to Elevate Your At-Home Car Washing

Picture this: It's a sunny weekend, and you've decided it's time to give your car some much-needed TLC. You want to make your ride shine like it's fresh off the showroom floor. But here's the twist – you're no professional detailer. Fear not; we've got your back! In this article, we'll dive into ten proven detailing tips to help you transform your at-home car washing game.  Throughout the article, I've included links to some of my favorite products to use.

Start with the Dirtiest Part: Your Wheels

Your wheels are like the unsung heroes of your vehicle. They bear the brunt of the road's fury, accumulating layers of grime, brake dust, tar, and other unsightly gunk.  To top it off, they absorb a lot of heat and "bake on" this grime. So, naturally, we start with the dirtiest part. But we're not just cleaning; we're strategizing.

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Start with the wheels

While taking care of your wheels, it's crucial to remember the importance of using products and tools that are safe for your car's paint. Sometimes, people underestimate how easily they can damage their vehicle's finish when working on the wheels. Brake dust and grime from your wheels can contain abrasive particles, and using improper tools can leave your paint permanently scratched or require extensive repair.

Tip 1: Separate Your Brushes: 

When cleaning your wheels, it's crucial to use separate brushes and towels to ensure you're not dragging dirt from the wheels onto your car's paint. Invest in a set of dedicated wheel brushes in various shapes and sizes.  Microfiber towels and mitts can be great options also.  A small expense can make a big difference here.

Tip 2: Check Product Compatibility: 

Not all wheel cleaners are safe for every type of wheel. Make sure the product you use is compatible with your wheel's finish. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations on the proper use of each product.  Products are developed and tested on many types and styles of wheels and finishes.  Although they may be "safe" for your finish, you should always test a new product on a small inconspicuous spot.  The following are some types of wheel finishes you'll find;

1. Clearcoat Over Paint:

2. Aluminum Wheels:

3. Polished Aluminum Wheels:

4. Powder-Coated Wheels:

5. Matte Finish Wheels:

Use the right tools for each part of the job

Now that you're well-equipped for wheel detailing let's expand our arsenal with some universal advice. Having the right tools is essential.  It not only makes your job more effective and quicker, it ensures that you will not cause damage in the process.

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Use a variety of high quality tools

Tip 3: Go Beyond the Basics: 

In addition to your regular cleaning supplies, consider adding a detailing brush, especially a small one. This mighty tool can navigate those hard-to-reach places like behind door handles, inside emblems, and other nooks and crannies you might have missed before.  A pressure washer with a foam cannon is definitely an incredible tool but it is not necessary.  A garden hose and a pump sprayer can do an excellent job as well. It's all about the details!

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Use tools designed for car paint

Tip 4: Safe for Paint: 

It's vital to ensure everything you use is paint-safe. Abrasive tools or chemicals can lead to unsightly scratches and staining which is the last thing you want.  You want to make sure any towels or mitts that come into contact with paint are made for paint.  These will be soft enough to keep from scratching your finish.  Don't be tempted to use products meant for cleaning your home.  Sponges, scotch-brites, magic erasers, steel wool, hand towels, bath towels, and wash cloths will cause damage to your finish.  They are not designed to be gentle enough on a high gloss finish.

Learn and Use the Safest Practices

Tip 5: Three Bucket Method 

One popular method for washing your vehicle is the two-bucket wash system. However, we recommend taking it a step further by using the three-bucket wash method. It's an excellent way to ensure your car gets the most gentle and effective cleaning possible.

Here's a quick breakdown of the three-bucket wash method:

1. The Rinse Bucket (Bucket 1): Fill this bucket with plain water. After washing each section of your vehicle, rinse your wash mitt or sponge in this bucket to remove dirt and contaminants.  Make sure to swirl it around a bit and clean it out well.  You're essentially washing your tool out after every panel. This prevents debris from ending up in the soap bucket and reduces the risk of scratches.  Using a grit guard can also be beneficial.  These allow dirt to settle to the bottom of the bucket and prevent them from being stirred back up and into the wash mitt.

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Use the 3 bucket method

2. The Soap Bucket (Bucket 2): This bucket holds your car wash shampoo mixed with water.  We will cover later in this article what the best type of soap is, but it is generally recommended to use a pH neutral car washing soap. After rinsing your mitt or sponge in the first bucket, you reload it with soapy water from this bucket. It ensures that you're always using clean soapy water, preventing dirt from being reintroduced to your vehicle's surface.  A grit guard in the bottom of this bucket can also be very helpful.

3. The Wheels and Dirty Parts Bucket (Bucket 3): As you may have guessed, the first 2 buckets cover the traditional "2 Bucket Wash Method".  We like to add a third.  It is best to buy buckets in different colors or mark them to designate their purpose.  This dedicated bucket is reserved for cleaning your wheels, tires, liners, and other particularly dirty areas like your engine compartment. Using a separate bucket for these tasks ensures that you won't accidentally transfer brake dust or grime to the rest of your car during the wash.  In our shop, we use black buckets for this so they never get mixed up with the others.  No matter how well we clean the buckets when we are done, we will not ever use our wheel bucket for soap or rinse for the paint.

By following the three-bucket wash method, you're taking extra precautions to reduce the likelihood of causing damage to your vehicle's finish. It's a small effort that can go a long way in maintaining the quality and appearance of your car's paint.

High quality ph neutral soap

Use soap designed for cars.  pH neutral is safest.

Tip 6: pH-Neutral is Your Friend: When it comes to soap, neutrality is key.  The safest soap to use on your car's finish is pH-neutral. While acidic or alkaline cleaners might promise a more robust and quicker cleaning experience with minimized effort, they can damage waxes, sealants, and coatings if not used correctly. Harsh products can strip your paint's protection, leaving it exposed to the elements and susceptible to staining from chemicals, water spots, etching from bird droppings, and scratches and swirls from contaminants.

Tip 7: Say No to Dish Soap: Avoid using dish soap. It may sound convenient, but it's a no-go. Dish soap can strip your car's wax and leave behind residue. Trust us; your car won't thank you for it.  In fact, as a general rule, if it's made for cleaning a home, it's not meant for cleaning a vehicle.  Cars and trucks have very different surfaces and finishes than a home.

Master the Right Techniques and Products

And now, the grand finale – the techniques and products that bring it all together.

Tip 8: Top-Down Washing: When it's time to clean, start from the top and work your way down. It's not just about tradition; it's about keeping your car's paint in prime condition.  Washing from the top down means you're usually starting at the cleanest part and working your way towards the dirtiest.  This protects the paint in between by reducing the likihood of picking up contaminants and transferring them to cleaner parts of the vehicle which can lead to scratches and marring.  Plus, as you rinse, you will never wash dirty water over a clean area.

Tip 9: One Direction, Please: One Direction is not just a boy band of the 2010's.  To reduce the risk of transferring contaminants and scratches, wash in the direction of the wind's airflow across your car. This way, any minor damage, if it occurs, will align with the direction that debris would normally pass over your car in a regular use environment.

Tip 10: Straight is Great: If you aim for straight-line washing and you do transfer dirt, you'll end up with less noticeable scratches. Multi-directional swirls can be an eyesore; straight-line scratches are much subtler.  Don't believe us?  Look at a clean black car in the parking lot.  When the sun hits it, do you see many straight line scratches?  Chances are, the scratches you see look like spider webs all over the car.  These are swirls from not washing and drying in one direction.  If you do see any, you'll notice that the straight lines are much less noticeable.

How to not scratch your paint, best way to wash a car

Use straight lines when washing

There you have it – 10 proven detailing tips to elevate your at-home car washing game. Remember, it's not just about making your car shine; it's about the satisfaction of doing it yourself and ensuring that your ride stays in top-notch condition. Whether you're a cleaning novice or a well-versed enthusiast, these tips will make a world of difference in your next car-washing adventure. So gear up, grab your tools, and get ready to impress your car and your neighbors with your newfound cleaning prowess. Happy cleaning!

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