When I was a kid growing up, I washed my family’s cars almost every single weekend in the summer.
Over the years, I got quite good at it and boiled the whole process down to ten easy steps.
These days, I often run my cars through a local car wash, but every once in a while, I break out the sponge, buckets, and old towels to do the job myself. I’m old school, but if you prefer, you can buy specialized car-wash gear quite easily online or at auto stores, to do a more professional job.
Here’s how my system works:
You can always take your car to the car wash, but there are times when you you want to do it yourself in your very own driveway. I’ve been washing cars since before I could legally drive, and while my technique is sort of old-school, it gets the job done.
1. Wet it down. Prepare the surface by knocking off dirt, crud, bird poop, etc. and creating a liquid environment for the soap that comes next. Should you wash in sun or shade? I don’t care myself, but shade has its advocates, who insist that the paint surface should be cool to the touch.
2. Soap it up. I simply use dish soap and warm water, but as we’ll see in a second, there are more involved ways to apply the detergent. This is key: start soaping from the roof, work down, and work fast.
3. Employ the “two bucket system.” I only recently embraced this. The idea is that you have one bucket of soapy water for scrubbing, and one bucket of clean water for rinsing the sponge. This system keeps the soapy water cleaner.
4. Use a nice, big sponge. Because you’re working fast, you want to soap up the car as fast as possible, and that means a large sponge to cover the sheet metal surface area. Of course, you can also get a special washing cloth, usually made of synthetic material.
5. A word on specialty car wash products. I can take them or leave them, but companies such as Meguiar’s have invested some know-how, so investigate and experiment if you like. If you want to start self-detailing your ride, these kits are worth a look.
6. Rinse it down. Get the soap off fast!
7. Dry it off. I keep half a dozen ratty old towels around for this purpose. Get you car dried off quickly, but don’t overdo it, as you can scratch the surface. If you want to get serious, you can use a microfiber towel, designed specifically for car drying.
8. Vacuum! Some folks start with this step, but I prefer to do the interior toward the end.
9. Don’t forget the floor mats. Clean carpet and filthy floor mats aren’t a good combo. I like to scrub mine, rise ’em, and let them dry in the sun.
10. Wax, wheels, windows. I’ve always used a paste wax, such as Turtle Wax, but liquid wax is also an option. Paste is harder to apply, but the results are better. For wheels, I just use regular Armor All, but again, there are specialty tire cleaning products (and Armor All makes those, too). Wheels are a tricky category. If they’re really dirty, hit them with soapy water at the beginning and use a small scrub brush at the end. Windows? Windex or diluted vinegar and yes, old newspaper works well as a cloth!
Yessir, in just ten steps, your car can be as flashy as mine! OK, I don’t own a Lamborghini. But with a nice wash every few weeks or once a month, your ride can look like a supercar.