How to Wash a Car: Your Guide to Keeping Your Vehicle Spot-Free

By: // Updated: September 17, 2020

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Dust storms, light rain, and bugs can create dirt that inspires riders to give you anything but a five-star rating. Learning how to wash a car at home is essential for maintaining a vehicle that exceeds your passengers’ expectations.

Keeping your car squeaky clean is next to impossible when you’re constantly on the road, especially if you’re in an area that exposes you to elements like dirt, salt, and mud. However, as a rideshare driver, you’re responsible for keeping your car — including its appearance — in great condition.

Keep reading to learn about the DIY-car-washing process and the benefits of hand-washing over an automatic car wash.

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How Often Should I Wash My Car?

The standard recommendation is to wash your vehicle every two weeks. This is enough to stop potentially corrosive materials like salt and bird droppings from damaging your car’s surface. At the same time, this two-week interval isn’t so intense that it would damage any protective coatings you have.

While drivers may be able to get away with cleaning leather car seats once every two months, you vehicle exterior is constantly exposed to all kinds of debris — unless you have a garage, this can even happen when your car is parked. Making a habit of washing your car will help you best maintain your vehicle in the long run.

Automatic Car Wash vs. Manual Wash

Car in a carwash

Both automatic car washing and hand-washing carry benefits for you and your car.

One of the most obvious benefits of hand-washing is the you can save money. By purchasing your own cleaning products, you’ll be able to complete many washes for the same price as a one-time automatic car wash. This will also help you avoid water spots.

Of course, automatic car washes will save you plenty of time. A DIY process can require up to an hour of labor, while an automatic car wash allows you to fully clean the car in a five-minute pit stop. This convenience can be especially enticing during months with bad weather.

Automatic car washes are also known to be more gentle, whereas washing at home is more likely to damage your car’s paint. This means that stubborn grime can often stay on your vehicle, as car wash upgrades like spray-on waxing aren’t strong enough to provide adequate protection.

On the other hand, hand-washing is extremely effective and allows you to pay closer attention to every corner of your vehicle. You can also focus on specific areas of your car with tougher spots. By learning the right process and techniques, you can achieve a spot-free finish while you save money and avoid potential harm to your car.

How to Wash a Car

Before you begin the car-washing process, make sure your car is parked away from direct sunlight. Working indoors or fully in the shade is always preferable. This will help you avoid softening your car’s paint surface, which would make it prone to damage and help you prevent water spots.

In addition, gather the following materials:

  • A hose
  • Two large buckets
  • Car wash soap (must be vehicle-specific, as dish soap and other household cleaners can damage your car paint)
  • A wheel brush
  • Two microfiber car wash mitts
  • Microfiber towels (10-15)

Step-by-Step Process

How to wash a car: Person wiping soapy car with a sponge

Once you’ve gathered the required materials and fully closed all your windows and doors, follow these steps to wash your car:

  1. Fill one bucket with a solution of water and soap as recommended in the instructions on your car wash soap bottle. We recommend a fast stream of water to top-off the solution, as it ensures the bucket contains a good amount of suds. Then, fill the second bucket with plain water.
  2. Use your hose to rinse your entire car with a gentle stream of water. Rinsing will help you remove abrasive loose dirt before you start scrubbing down your car.
  3. Dip your wheel brush in your soapy water. Then, use your wheel brush to clean the hard-to-reach parts of your first tire, including the interior. Clean the wheel brush in your plain water bucket as needed.
  4. Dip your car-wash mitt in the soapy water, and use it to finish cleaning the surface of the tire.
  5. Hose down the tire until it is clean.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until all tires are completely cleaned.
  7. Pour out both buckets that you used to clean your tires. Your tires are typically the dirtiest parts of your vehicle, so you don’t want to reuse the same debris-filled liquid and risk putting abrasive materials on your car.
  8. Refill your two car wash buckets as recommended in step 1. You’ll use the two-bucket system for the remainder of your vehicle.
  9. Dip your second car-wash mitt in the soapy water, and use it to gently scrub one section of your vehicle. Clean in straight, overlapping lines to ensure you pick up all the dirt and grime without leaving streaks. Start with higher sections to avoid rewashing areas that dirty water drips on.
  10. Once you’ve finished cleaning a section of your vehicle, use your hose to rinse off the suds so they don’t dry onto your car’s surface. When hosing down the vehicle, do so in straight lines in the same direction as when you used the car wash mitt.
  11. Repeat steps 9-10 until your entire vehicle has been cleaned down. Make sure to rinse your car-wash mitt in the clean water bucket every time it accrues a noticeable amount of debris. It’s extremely important to keep your mitt clean, as any dirt particles can scratch your paint’s finish. So, dump and refill your clean water bucket as needed. Keep your vehicle wet throughout the washing process as well, hosing it down again if necessary to prevent water spots.
  12. Complete a final rinse of your vehicle, hosing down the bottom as well.
  13. Using your microfiber cloths, wipe down your car exterior completely. Again, do so in straight lines rather than circular motions. This is the most important step to ensure your vehicle doesn’t rust or dry with noticeable swirl marks. Each time a microfiber cloth gets soaked or dirty, switch it for a new drying towel.

Protecting Your Car’s Exterior

Closeup of a black car

In addition to a simple wash, experts recommend waxing your car every three months. Wax is your vehicle’s ultimate barrier to discoloration, oxidization, and other forms of damage that can occur when your car’s exterior is fully exposed.

Some drivers will also choose to perform a clay bar treatment biannually or yearly to remove brake dust and other contaminants from their car’s finish. This allows your paint to feel and look smoother, and it helps you remove potentially harmful pollutants. However, we’ll focus on how to wax your car in this section, because this is an absolute necessity every driver can easily perform at home.

To properly wax your car, purchase a small tub of car wax — paste wax like this usually lasts longer and is more protective than spray wax — and at least five microfiber, wax applicator pads. Then, simply apply according to the directions on your car wax label. Always make sure your vehicle is completely dry before you apply wax.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to wash a car: Closeup of soapy red car

Car-washing should be an important part of every driver’s car care routine. Check out our answers to three frequently asked questions about proper car-cleaning:

1. Can I use a brush or sponge to wash a car instead of a mitt?

You can definitely use a sponge to wash your car, but we recommend a car-wash mitt simply because your investment will last far longer. This is because you can machine wash your mitts every time they deep-clean dirt and grime. On the other hand, sponges will retain a bit of grime each time they’re used and will often become too dirty to use.

Brushes, on the other hand, are not recommended at all. While they’re fine to use on your tires, even the softest bristles can leave tiny scratches on your car’s surface. These scratches will become apparent over time. Car-wash mitts provide a far gentler yet effective clean (especially the common models with long strands).

2. How do I get rid of stubborn stains on my car that won’t come out during the car-washing process?

For stains that can’t be easily removed by car-wash soap, many drivers choose to use bug and tar remover before or during the car washing process. This stronger solution can wipe away stubborn stains on a specific problem area.

3. Should I use my car wash soap solution to clean car windows, too?

Yes, car wash soap is perfectly fine on your car windows. Our car-washing process can be used throughout your car’s exterior. However, when only your windows (exteriors and interiors) need to be cleaned, follow our guide to cleaning car windows for the most effective, streak-free shine.

Clean Your Car With Ease

A clean vehicle won’t just make you feel luxurious. It will also represent your high quality of service as a rideshare driver and keep your ratings high. Washing your car the right way will protect your car exterior from all sorts of damages while leaving an impressive finish.

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