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Wash your car like a pro... safe wash tips.

What is the best way to wash my car?

With the right products and processes there should be no need to "scrub" the dirt off; the products do the hard work for you. Listed below are the processes I use, which work for me in my day to day work as a car detailer. I am not sponsored by any company to promote their products, these are just my views and what I use. There are a wide range of car care products available from lots of great manufacturers, some work better than others and some suit different peoples tastes. It's more just a guide to which kind of products are involved in the process. With any products you buy, I would highly recommend you read and follow the manufacturers instructions - used incorrectly, some products can cause damage to your car or your health. 

What is a safe wash?

The aim of a safe wash is to clean your car thoroughly, while minimising the risk of inflicting fine scratches (often called swirls) to your cars paint. Over time these swirls can build up to a point where the paint loses its shine and clarity, leaving it looking flat and dull.

Almost all the swirls you see on car paint are inflicted during the wash process. Though you can't completely eliminate the possibility of adding swirls while washing your car, you can greatly reduce the risk. This means your cars paint will stay looking it's best for longer and help to avoid the need for an expensive paint correction. 

What causes the scratches and swirls on my cars paint?

Though car paint may seem hard, it is surprisingly easy to mark - just wiping the dust off your car with a dry cloth can cause some serious swirls. Automatic car washes and the brushes which are at the self service car wash stations are far too harsh on the paint. If you are rubbing a brush over your paint, not only are the bristles likely to scratch it, they will also be rubbing the dirt (and small grit particles within it) all over your paint. The effect is like sandpapering your car. 

The photo below is from a 2 year old car with only 12,000 miles on the clock. The "before" shot shows many scratches and swirls it had, due to poor washing techniques along with buffer trails from where it had been poorly machine polished before. 

The "after" side shows the same panel after I corrected the paint. The scratches have been removed and the gloss and clarity restored. 

How do I clean my alloy wheels?

This is always my first step when washing a car. If you don't use a dedicated wheel cleaner to clean your alloys regularly then the buildup of brake dust can become very hard to remove and can damage the paint on your alloy wheels. Prevention is always better than the cure!

There are various types of wheel cleaner available, which breakdown into 3 main categories: acid, acid-free (alkaline based) and PH neutral. All have their place and used correctly, all are very good. Some you can see working; they react with the brake dust, turning red as it breaks it down. I tend to use an acid-free cleaner with a tyre brush to clean up the tyre faces. 

•Spray on your wheel cleaner of choice, coating the wheel thoroughly. 

•Leave to work for a couple of minutes (refer to manufacturers instructions - if some wheel cleaners dry on, they can cause serious damage)

•Pressure rinse off. 

•If necessary repeat the process, using brushes to agitate the brake dust before rinsing thoroughly. 

You can see below the brake dust reacting to the wheel cleaner, turning red as it breaks down before being rinsed off. 

What is the two bucket method?

The two bucket method of washing is an effective way of reducing the chance of scratching your cars paint while washing it. 

It breaks down like this: pre-wash, wash, rinse and drying. 

The best and most fun stage of this for me is to remove as much of the dirt as possible before you touch it using a pre-wash snow foam. 

•The first thing I do is spray the car with a citrus pre-wash. This breaks down a high level of the dirt and road film which is stuck to the cars paint, then pressure rinse this off. 

•Spray a layer of foam all over the car (ideally through a snow foam lance, though you can do it by hand sprayer too). This clings to the paint, liquefying the dirt and lifting it away from the paint. 

•Use a soft bristle brush to gently agitate intricate corners and crevices, such and window trims, around grills, plastic trim, badges etc

•Once you've left it to dwell for a few minutes, pressure rinse it off. I do this from bottom to top (it makes it easier to see where you've rinsed and where still needs doing) By this stage you should have removed about 90%+ of the dirt and, importantly the grit within it. 

Snow foam helping to break down and liquefy dirt.

Now you're ready to wash the car by hand. 

I use the 2 bucket method; one with plain water, the other with a water and car shampoo mix. Use grit guards in the bottom of both buckets. These trap and keep any particles you lift from the paint, again helping to reduce the risk of scratching the paint. Avoid the traditional car sponges. They are too dense - if you rub them over the paint and some dirt particles get caught between it and the paint you'll be rubbing that grit into the paint and causing swirls for sure. 

I use a lambswool wash mitt. The soft, deep pile means that any grit gets absorbed in the pile, not pressed against the paint. 

•Dip your mitt into the bucket of shampoo mix. 

•Starting at the top of the car and working in small sections (half a panel at a time) gently wash the car, rinsing the wash mitt in the plain water bucket thoroughly before starting on a new section. 

•Once you've washed the whole car, rinse again to wash off the remainder of the shampoo. 

Is a chamois good for drying my car?

The simple answer is no. After taking the time to carefully wash your car with minimal risk to your paint, rubbing a dense chamois over the paint poses the same risk of causing scratches and swirls as using a dense sponge to wash it. 

I use a blow dryer to dry the car without the need for touching the paint, this is the safest way of drying the car as it requires no direct contact, eliminating a possible cause of inflicting swirls. If you don't have a dryer, I'd recommend a deep pile, super-soft 1000g/sm microfibre drying towels. The benefit to the paint is the same as using the lambswool wash mitt. 

•Work top to bottom, one panel at a time

•Spray quick detailer over the section you are drying (this helps the towel glide over the paint, while leaving the paint glossy afterwards)

•Dry one section at a time, using a second towel if necessary to buff the paint and remove streaks 

Now you have a clean car, washed as carefully and safely as possible. All that's left is to clean the glass and dress the tyres. 

Happy washing!

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