blue car being washed incorrectly

The whole time I was growing up, I used to wash my car using nothing more than an old rag, dish-washing soap, a bucket, and a hose with running water. It’s a bare-bones, old school tradition handed down to me by my parents. It got the job done in a pinch, so it was good enough for me. That is, until I spoke with a mobile auto-detailing specialist. According to these folks, I’ve been making some of the most common, obvious mistakes that can damage a car. And I’m willing to bet that most people are doing the same things that I used to do.

When you look at a car and see those spiderweb-looking scratches on it, it’s basically because the owner didn’t use the right soap or rag when washing and drying their car. No car wants to be marred with spiderweb markings, so follow our guide to washing your car the safe and expert way.

Rookie Mistakes When Washing Your Car


Using Dish-washing Soap

Many of us have been guilty of this common mistake — using dish-washing soap to wash our cars. You may ask why this is so bad. It’s cheap and we all have some on hand. However, dish-washing soap has so many chemicals that are harsh on a car’s paint.

It would be wise to invest in some car wash soap. In fact, you can get an 18 oz. bottle of TriNova cleaner for a low cost.

Also, use separate cleaners for different parts of the vehicle. Many detailers use a special cleaner for wheels and tires — different from what they use on the paint — as they attract harder-to-clean brake dust and road grime. They also apply a cream-based product for plastic trim and the interior.

This helps protect the various parts of the vehicle and give it a better shine for longer.

Using the Wrong Cloths

Get rid of the grimy cotton rag you’ve retired from the kitchen and switch to a microfiber cloth for washing your car. This is certainly something I never thought would cause problems. However, not only can cotton towels scratch your car’s surface, but it doesn’t absorb dirt. Microfiber is designed to lift and hold on to dirt and dust. Microfiber is also gentler on your car’s paint job than a cotton towel or a kitchen sponge. To make your job more efficient, use a microfiber wash mitt. You’ll cover more surface area with less effort and you can get one for between five and ten dollars.

The same goes for drying your car. Ditch the cotton towel when it comes to drying your car. All you end up doing is pushing excess water around instead of absorbing it. And although soft and absorbent, avoid the popular leather chamois — it can scratch your car’s surface. The chamois also doesn’t pick up dirt, so any residual can be dragged across your car’s finish while drying it. Again, microfiber is the best option.

Microfiber cloths should also be used when cleaning windows. Don’t use paper towels or newspaper. Paper towels leave lint. Newspapers create streaks and gets ink all over your hands.

Using the Same Cloth for Different Products

Now that you know you’ll need more than just dishwashing soap and paper towels to get the job done right, don’t make the mistake of using the same cloth for different products. By doing so, you’ll be applying residual product from one car part to another — kind of like cross contamination. You definitely don’t want to be applying wax on your windows — unless you like smears.

And, change your cloth when it gets too dirty; otherwise, you’re just pushing dirt around instead of picking it up.

Not Applying a Finishing Product

Have you ever wondered why you can’t get your car quite as spotless and sparkling clean as when you pay the professionals to do it? That’s because you don’t use a finishing product after washing and drying your car like the professionals do.

Finishing products have a bit of wax in them. They get rid of any smudges, fingerprints, smears, minor topical defects, and it gives your car a nice shine too. While not using a finishing product isn’t a mistake that can damage your car, why go through all the effort of washing it if you’re going to skip a step that makes a big difference in the result? One of the biggest mistakes people make is not giving the full effort, so their cars never look quite as nice as when the professionals complete the job. Don’t let the professionals one-up you! It’s not that difficult to do it right.

Working in Direct Sunlight

Washing your car in direct sunlight will cause it to dry faster, and unless you wipe it down ASAP, you’ll get those annoying water spots that you’ll never be able to get rid of unless you wash your car all over again. Work when the sun isn’t as bright. It’s easier at night. And hustle to get your car dried as quickly as possible to avoid spotting.

Over-Applying Products

Now that you have all of the right products for detailing your vehicle, don’t use too much of them. Streaking comes from excess of liquid. To avoid this common mistake, it is recommended that you apply the product to your application cloth, instead of directly onto the car, before you start. Use one side of the cloth to spray the product on, and then the other side to wipe down your car. This will also help avoid over-applying a product.

Not Cleaning Your Car Before Applying Armor All

Don’t make the rookie mistake of applying a protectant to a dirty surface. People will often use Armor All without cleaning the car with a multi-purpose cleaner first. Armor All doesn’t remove dirt, buildup, or fingerprints — it’s a protector, not a cleaner.

And, never apply Armor All to seats. It will make your seats slippery and get on your clothes.

Rolling Down Windows Before They’re Dry

One of my most frustrating moments comes soon after I’ve washed and dried my car to perfection — rolling down my windows only to roll them back up and see huge water streaks left behind. Depending on the weather, it can take 2-3 hours before you can safely roll your windows down and back up.

Over-Washing Your Car

If you’re like me, you care a lot about preserving your car’s paint job. I even use car door protectors any chance I get to protect my car from dents and scratches. That being said, there is one thing that you should keep in mind. It is possible to over-wash your car. Even when you use products designed to be gentle on your car, you’re still applying chemicals to your car that will dull its paint job over time. If your car is pretty much clean from dirt and grime, and just has light surface dust, then wipe down your car with water only before drying it. It keeps up the paint, and it’s just better because you aren’t using all these chemicals on your car.

In the end, I’m just saying that, while washing your car is somewhat of an art, it’s not so difficult you can’t do it yourself.

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