Best Way to Wash Your Car (2024)

a Lancer being washed

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When warm weather rolls around, car buffs rejoice. You get to enjoy sunny, carefree weekends cruising in your car. But if there’s one thing nice weather brings, it’s a reminder to give your car a well-needed wash outside. You probably just gave it a quick squirt with the hose during the winter, so how exactly do you wash your car again?

Read on to find out the best techniques to give your car a great wash.

Watch Your Timing

Before you even start washing, it’s best to know when to wash your car. Washing your car on a weekly basis is a smart move, but only if your car is mostly clean.

If your car is covered in bird droppings, dead bugs, or dirt, you should probably get out and wash it ASAP. These contain proteins and acids that attach themselves to your car’s surface, eating through wax and eventually destroying your car’s paint.

A man washing a car

You should also wash your car frequently to avoid brake dust buildup. When your car moves, brake dust and roadway chemicals create a fog that can coat the lower parts of your car with a nearly invisible mist. This can be highly corrosive and sticky.

It’s best to wash your car when the sun isn’t high in the sky. The sun heats your car’s body, which speeds the drying of soap and water. This makes washing more difficult and soap deposits are more likely to form.

Find the Right Products

So you’re outside at an ideal time of day, and your car’s aching for a bath. What products should you use?

Don’t even think about reaching for household cleaners. These aren’t designed for car paint and they can strip away the wax. Instead, use a car-washing product that is specifically designed for cars only.

You’ll also need two soft, non-abrasive sponges or cloths – one for the body, and one for the wheels and tires. Using the same cloth for the whole car can spread debris, dust and chemicals that can harm your car’s finish. Finally, keep two buckets on hand – one with soapy water, and another with clean water.

father and son washing their car

Proper Washing

Follow these general guidelines to ensure a successful wash:

  1. Wash your wheels and tires first, as they’re usually the dirtiest part. Wash them one at a time and rinse before washing the next one.
  2. Take a hose to the car to rinse off any loose debris.
  3. Start sponging your car. Dip your sponge in clean water before the soapy water to rinse out the dirt. Instead of moving the sponge in circles, which will create swirl marks, move the sponge lengthwise along your car.
  4. Rinse your car top-to-bottom with a light hose setting.

If you simply don’t have the time to wash your car, or you want a washing job that won’t run the risk of damaging your paint, consider going to an automatic car wash. These washes use less water, reduce groundwater pollution, and help preserve your car’s paint.

Washing your car is pretty straightforward. If you’ve got some sticky stuff on your car, like tree sap or bumper sticker residue, break out some nail polish remover, mineral oil or WD-40 along with some more elbow grease. Keep in mind that these sticky substances can damage the wax protecting your clear coat, so if you need to clean this sort of stuff off your car, apply a new coat of wax after you wash.

car tire being power washed


Drying your vehicle quickly after washing prevents water spots, which are caused by mineral deposits left behind in drops of water. Try to stay away from terry towels and instead use a chamois or microfiber towel. These are both absorbent and safe for car paint.

Take your microfiber towels and buff the water off the surface of your vehicle before it has a chance to dry. Microfiber cloths won’t leave scratch marks on your paint and will wick away the water to make your job a little bit easier. Blot the water up with the towel – dragging the towel over the paint is less effective. Dry windows and mirrors first, then work your way around the body and wheels.


Once the car is dry, your next step is to wax your car. Make sure you’re in the shade when you’re waxing your car – most car waxes will cloud up if you try to wax in the sun. If you don’t have shade available, opt for a wax that is safe to use in the sun.

Put an even coat of wax on over your car’s clear coat. You might want to do this by hand, but you can break out the power tools if you want an especially even shine, which brings us to our last step.


Electric polishers are a great way to get the perfect shine on your car without breaking your back or giving yourself tennis elbow. Start slow and make sure you use a clean polishing cloth every time. Just one grain of sand on an old, used cleaning cloth can wreak serious havoc on your clear coat at 5,000 RPMs.

Leaving dirt on your car doesn’t just look bad — over time it can damage your clear coat and the paint beneath. Take the time to pamper your car a couple of times a month, and it will look good and serve you well for years to come.

Keep Your Keep Looking Sleek

If you follow these steps, your car will be looking like it just rolled out of the showroom! If you enjoy the experience, check out our guide on setting up a professional car wash of your own.

Originally published 4/20/2015 — Updated 8/30/2023

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