Are You Ruining your Paint?
Proper Car Wash Techniques (When and How to use them)
Washing your car isn’t like it used to be back in the day, when you were a kid, on a summer afternoon, using bath towels, a kitchen sponge, and some dish soap in a dirty bucket (or if you were dedicated some car wash soap and a leather chamois). Now there are hundreds of different products and seemingly endless processes and techniques to help you get the job done, quickly, efficiently and with minimum damage to your paint.
…. Let me repeat that…. With minimum damage to your paint (we’ll get back to this in a minute).
When you boil it down there are 3 basic types of hand car wash (and a fourth type of wash, you should never do if you are concerned with the long-term appearance of your vehicle, the automatic machine washes… just don’t do it… they are scratch and swirl machines)
- Waterless (Spray and Wipe)
- Rinseless (No Hose Washing)
- Hose and Bucket (Traditional, Two-bucket, Foam Canon)
Each has its benefits and drawbacks and each is a viable option depending on the situation. When deciding the type of wash you are going to need to consider two basic factors.
- The condition of your paint
- How dirty your car is
The condition of your paint is important because it will determine how much extra care you should take to minimize damage. If you have an old beater or daily driver that has been to the automatic wash for the last year, with swirls and scratch galore, it doesn’t make sense to use multiple buckets and a foam canon. If you just got your new Tesla with flawless paint, or your show car was just corrected to perfection, you are going to need a bunch of high quality tools, technique and knowledge to maintain that perfect shine over time.
Let’s start with an understanding of paint damage, and how we can prevent it with correct washing technique (after all, that is what this article is about). Paint damage is any imperfection in the smoothness, and reflection of your paint - from large scratches to bird drop etchings, to the finest of micro-marring - which interferes with the consistent refraction and reflection of light.
Paint damage comes from everywhere. It occurs over time as you drive through the elements and accelerates if you park outside. It also (in most cases) comes from you as you maintain the cleanliness and appearance of your driving machine. That’s right…. You are most likely damaging your paint, and contributing to its deteriorating condition over time, as you wash it.
Any time you rub your paint you have the potential to introduce scratching and imperfections.
In order to fix paint damage, a professional needs to do a “paint correction”, by mechanically polishing your paint and taking down the level of your clear coat (the top layer of paint, which is clear, hence the name), making the pant surface more smooth, so that it reflects light more evenly and consistently.
The bottom line is, if your paint is in good condition and you want to maintain it, you better use the right tools and techniques, or you will need to dish out some extra cash, in the future, to have a professional fix your dull and swirly paint job.
If you paint is nice and you want to keep it that way, the first step is to determine how dirty it is. If it has been washed recently, or is kept in a garage (driven on weekend cruz’s), and is mostly clean, a waterless wash, or quick detail spray (technique #1, mentioned above) with a high quality microfiber towel will get the job done, with the correct technique….. more on this later.
If it just rained and you had to drive through muddy puddles; your ride is covered and grit and grime, you are going to need to use buckets, mitts, sponges, multiple towels, wheel brushes… if you are a real freak… a foam canon and leaf blower.
Now that we have gone over all of that, we can get to the tools and techniques used in the three wash methods I mentioned above. 1. Waterless, 2. Rinseless, 3. Hose and Bucket