Ask any detailer and they will tell you that washing your car is important. Why does it matter? It’s just dirt, right? How often should you wash your car?
Washing your car is a maintenance item, just like changing the engine oil. Although you can drive around with a dirty car much longer than dirty oil, you will start to notice a few consequences if you neglect this task for too long.
Is Washing Your Car Necessary?
Washing your car removes contaminants from mud and road grime. Cars are dirty. Many vehicles have slow leaks, leaving drops of oil, coolant, brake fluid, or transmission fluid on the road. When it rains, these fluids are mixed with dirt and end up on your paint.
Bird poop is acidic. Road salt rusts your car. Gasoline, brake fluid, and bug guts are corrosive to paint. Even soil itself can be acidic. All of these contaminants from the environment can tarnish your vehicle’s paint over time.
The longer you leave contaminants on your paint, the more damage they will do. Additionally, these contaminants can be abrasive. If you brush up against a clean car with your shirt or pant leg, you won’t do any harm if the car is clean. However, you can easily scratch the paint if you do this to a dirty vehicle.
How Often Should You Wash Your Car?
As a rule of thumb, just wash your car whenever it looks dirty. If you want to wash your car on a regular cadence, a monthly wash should suffice for most vehicle owners.
Car enthusiasts and people with black cars might want to wash their vehicles more frequently to keep them looking like they just rolled off the showroom floor. For those folks, a weekly wash is ideal.
Reasons to Wash More Often
1) Looks Great
If you keep up on your paint maintenance, you can keep a 20 year old car looking brand new. Proper washing technique prevents swirls, and a consistent wash and wax will keep your car looking as shiny as the day you bought it.
2) Protects the Paint
It’s pretty common for people to brush up against your car in parking lots. If your car is clean, this is no big deal. However, dirt is abrasive like sandpaper. If your car is dirty, even a light touch could dig contaminants into the paint, leaving you with scratches and swirl marks even after you wash the car.
3) Helps Prevent Rust
Out of all the possible contaminants which can land on your vehicle, salt is perhaps the most damaging of them all. You often get salt on your vehicle if you drive near the ocean or on icy roads in the winter which have been salted by salt trucks.
A simple car wash cannot take away rust after it has formed. The best way to prevent rust is to wash your car consistently, especially when your car has recently been in a salty environment. Try to wash the salt off as soon as possible, within a week at the very least.
Don’t forget to clean the vehicle’s undercarriage. Rust often starts underneath the car on the frame or rocker panels. Once it starts, rust can spread and compromise the structure of the vehicle.
How Often is TOO Often When Washing Your Car?
There is no such thing as washing your car too often! As long as you are washing your car correctly, you can wash as much as you’d like. You can’t scrub the paint off of your vehicle.
Don’t forget to wax regularly as well. Waxing is an important way to protect the paint from the ultraviolet light of the sun. This is especially important in the summer when the sun is more intense, and for cars that are parked outdoors.
Most waxes are slippery and make the car easier to wash as well. This protects from further contamination, even when you drive through a dirty environment.
An alternative to wax is a ceramic coating. Ceramic coatings and ceramic sprays are modern substitutes for traditional wax. They offer the same level of protection and often last a bit longer.
What Is Needed When Washing a Car at Home?
If you want to wash your car at home, here are some supplies you will want to have on hand to do the job right.
1) Microfiber Towels and Scratch-Free Wash Mitt
For instance, bath towels and wash cloths have tough fibers that will easily scratch your paint, even with light pressure.
2) Car Soap
There are many soaps designed for automotive paint. Pick one that smells nice and has some of the additives you like. Some soaps contain wax and will allow you to skip the waxing step of the washing process.
Although you only need to wax once every 6-12 months, waxing can be quite time consuming.
3) Two Buckets
Washing your car using the two bucket method is a great way to prevent swirl marks. It is especially important on dark colored vehicles.
To use the two bucket method:
- Dip your wash mitt into soapy water in the first bucket.
- Wash a section of the vehicle.
- Once soiled, dip the dirty mitt into the second bucket.
- Ring out the mitt to remove as much dirt as possible, and repeat the cycle throughout the wash process.
4) Grit Guard
A grit guard allows sediments to sink to the bottom of the bucket without being stirred back up each time you dip your wash mitt into the bucket. Ideally you would use one grit guard for each bucket. This will minimize your chance of reintroducing dirt to the vehicle, especially if the car is very dirty.
5) Pressure Washer and Foam Cannon (Optional)
A pressure washer and foam cannon can make the cleaning process much easier. Pressure washers on low settings are great for getting stubborn contaminants off of the vehicle. It’s generally good to keep the pressure under 1,100 PSI if you choose to do this. A lower-powered electric pressure washer is great for this.
Foam cannons apply soap uniformly to the entire vehicle and give that soap a chance to work before you apply the sponge. Soap is the lubricant that keeps you from scratching a dirty vehicle. Foam cannons help give you that layer of protection you need so you can wash with confidence.
Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash a Car?
You should not use dish soap to wash a car. Dish soap is a degreaser that will strip the wax off of your vehicle, leaving your paint unprotected.
How Long Does It Take to Wash a Car By Hand?
The time it takes to wash your car will vary depending on what you’re doing and how large your vehicle is. If you are doing any sort of additional paint correction or protection, this will add significant time to the job.
A routine wash will take 1-2 hours for most people. If you need to wash, clay bar, polish, and wax, expect this to take all day (at least 6-8 hours). This is a full exterior detail and does not need to be performed often. Consider doing this about once a year to keep your paint in optimal condition.
Tips to Protect Your Vehicle
Driving your vehicle is not the only time when it is susceptible to airborne contaminants. Simply parking your vehicle outside can still make it vulnerable to getting hit with bird poop, salt, dirt, dust, and pollen.
Does this mean you should put a cover over your vehicle whenever it is parked in your driveway? Well, you can do that if you want too, but it’s probably not realistic. If you have a garage, then park your vehicle inside of it. That is the easiest way to keep it protected.
Washing a car correctly can be a lot of fun and is a hobby for many car enthusiasts. Although it’s not rocket science, there are a few things you need to consider before you touch your paint with any product. If you have any questions about washing, detailing or paint correction, please post them below.
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