Washing your car in your driveway on a summer day is a classic ritual of car ownership. Sure, you can pay a machine to do a serviceable job without any effort, but the best results require a hands-on approach. Here’s how to make your vehicle sparkle and protect its finish with a proper hand car wash.
Tools and supplies:
- Garden hose and nozzle
- Car wash soap*
- Wheel and tire cleaner (optional)
- Bug and tar remover (optional)
- Sponge or washing mitt made of sheepskin or microfiber
- Brush or extra sponge for the tires
- Two buckets
- Microfiber drying towel, shammy and/or squeegee
- Wax, either spray or rub-on (optional)
- Polish (optional)
*Don’t use dishwashing soap or other household cleaning products as these abrasive or pH-unbalanced cleaners may harm your vehicle’s finish.
Park your vehicle in the shade if possible, and wait until the exterior is cool to the touch. This will prevent the vehicle from prematurely drying and creating water spots. Ensure all the doors and windows are fully closed.
Grab your garden hose, attach a spray nozzle and use it to wash away any loose dirt and debris from the roof down to the tires. Pre-treat any stubborn stains (e.g. bugs or bird droppings) by applying bug and tar remover soap directly to the stain.
After rinsing your entire vehicle, fill one bucket with water and add soap according to the product’s directions. Start by scrubbing the wheels with a sponge or scrub brush. Alternatively, wheel and tire cleaner can be used instead of soap. Refill the soapy water if it becomes dirty.
Use the soapy water and mitt or sponge to begin soaping one section of the vehicle. Wipe vertical surfaces, such as doors, with a stiff-armed up-and-down motion and horizontal surfaces, such as the hood, with a left-to-right motion to prevent swirls. Don’t scrub too hard or you may risk damaging the finish. When you’re done with one section, rinse off all the soap before moving on to the next. Periodically rinse out the mitt in the second bucket. Give the vehicle a final rinse-off once done with the soap.
You can let your vehicle air-dry if you’re not picky about the final effect, but that may produce a spotty result. To avoid water spots and streaks, use a squeegee (if you have one) to remove most of the water, then follow up with a microfiber towel. As with washing, use straight passes to prevent creating swirls.
Wait until your vehicle is fully dry before applying any wax or polish. Polish will add shine, and wax will protect the vehicle’s paint. If water doesn’t form beads on the vehicle’s finish, then it could use a fresh coat of wax. Note that waxes are only effective when used after washing with proper car soap.
If you regularly drive your vehicle, aim to wash it every two weeks or more often as needed and wax it every six months. This routine will keep your vehicle looking its best while protecting its finish and helping it last longer.