(Updated on May 27, 2022)
Some say “black is a hobby, not a color.”
Black automotive paint is probably the most difficult color to keep clean, but it can be one of the most rewarding if you know how to take care of it. Few colors can rival the deep mirror shine you get from a well cared for black paint job.
Should I Buy A Black Car?
Before purchasing a black car (especially a new one), there are some things you should keep in mind.
Trying to keep black paint perfect is like wearing a white shirt to an Italian restaurant; you’re bound to pick up a spot of red spaghetti sauce while you’re in there. Black paint requires more maintenance than a lighter color, especially when compared to silver or white.
If you don’t have the time or space to wash your car by hand, black may not be a good fit for you.
Are Black Cars Hard to Wash?
Black is so tricky to wash because black cars show every single imperfection in the clear coat. These imperfections can manifest even if you are very careful with your washing technique.
Are Automatic Car Washes Safe for Black Cars?
Although there are many implementations of car washes, they really boil down to three main types: touchless automatic car washes, self service, and everything else.
If you own a black car, don’t even consider a car wash that uses brushes, towels, or bristles to contact your car. You are pretty much guaranteed to introduce swirls by running your vehicle through one of these.
You are better off washing your car by hand and learning proper car wash technique than you are running your vehicle through any car wash service. A quality hand wash minimizes the chance of swirling your paint.
Additionally, you can do some research on your own car and products so you know the exact pH and chemicals that are best for you.
If you must use a car wash service, the following are a couple of options that will be least damaging to your black paint.
Touchless Car Washes
Touchless car washes use high pressure soap and water to clean your vehicle. These are often safe in a pinch if you don’t have time to wash your vehicle. These services often use large blowers to dry the car.
If your touchless car wash offers a hand drying service, it is no longer touchless. It is best to skip this step and let the car air dry if you have to choose. Water spots are usually easier to remove than scratches.
Self Service Car Washes
Self service car washes offer a relatively safe option for people who don’t have their own workspace to wash their vehicles. You can usually take your time and wash your vehicle at your own pace, paying close attention to detail to clean up a dirty car while avoiding scratches and swirls.
The most important thing you can do at a self service car wash is to avoid the foaming brush. This brush is often used to clean dirty wheels and exhaust components. It could be littered with contaminants that will scratch your black paint.
Instead of using the brush, consider bringing your own buckets, sponges, and microfiber towels to the self service wash bay.
What Is the Best Soap to Wash a Black Car?
Washing a Black Car (Step-by-Step)
Proper washing technique and some protective measures will go a long way in protecting your shiny new black paint.
1) Rinse the Vehicle
Before you do anything, the vehicle needs to be wet. Water and soap provide lubrication so contaminants like dried mud and bird droppings are less likely to scratch your car. If part of your vehicle dries out during the washing process, rinse it down again to keep it wet. This will also help you avoid water spots.
2) Grab Two Buckets
If you’re going to wash a black car, you really need two buckets. The two bucket method allows you to draw clean, soapy water from your first bucket, wash the car, then rinse off the sponge in the dirty bucket.
Fill both of your buckets with water and one with soap. The bucket with the soap will be the clean bucket. Soak your sponge in the soapy clean bucket, then agitate the soap so your sponge is very slippery.
The two bucket method keeps contaminants off of your sponge and off of your paint.
3) Wash from Top to Bottom
The lower parts of your vehicle are the most contaminated. If you wash these first, you greatly increase the odds of scratching your vehicle; there will be more dirt in your buckets and on the sponge.
Grab your soapy sponge and start washing the roof. Don’t put a lot of pressure on the sponge. Anything that doesn’t come off during the regular wash will need a clay bar. Splattered bugs and tar are great examples of contaminants that often require a clay bar.
Work your way from top to bottom. Once you finish the roof and glass, move to the top portion of the doors and the hood. Work your way down until you reach the bottom of the vehicle.
When you wash, try to follow the lines of the vehicle. On the hood, you will pull the sponge from the windshield to the bumper. On the sides, pull the sponge from the fender to the rear quarter panel.
Do not use a swirling motion with the sponge. If you do end up putting light scratches in the paint, they are far more noticeable when you’ve washed with a circular pattern.
Save the rear of the vehicle for last. The rear and the side skirts are typically the dirtiest painted surfaces.
4) Wash your Wheels and Exhaust
It’s also a good idea to save your wheels, tires, and exhaust for last. Not only do wheels build up dirt, they also build up brake dust which can be difficult to remove.
Exhaust tips may be caked in carbon deposits, which is especially true on direct injected vehicles. It doesn’t hurt to use a second sponge for the wheels and exhaust. Wash the wheels, then the exhaust.
5) Rinse Off the Soap
After you’ve agitated the dirt with the sponge, most contaminants should come right off. Remember not to force anything. If something is stuck to the paint, attempting to scrub it out will almost certainly scratch the paint.
If you’re in an indoor environment with climate control, the soap and water may stay wet for a very long time. If not, you may have to rinse each panel as you go. Don’t let the soap and water dry, as this may lead to water spots.
7) Dry the Vehicle
Now that your car is clean, you’ll want to dry the vehicle. If you choose to use a towel, make sure you use a high quality microfiber.
Do not press into the paint to dry the vehicle. Lay the towel on the surface, and using only the weight of the towel, pull the towel across the surface of the vehicle.
Like your washing step, you will want to pull the towel from front to back. Don’t use a swirling motion as this will make any swirl marks much more noticeable.
The drying towel should come off the paint looking clean. If it didn’t, you either missed a spot or need to use a bit more soap next time.
8) Clay Bar Remaining Contaminants
After a proper wash, you may notice some stubborn leftover grime. Consider this a good thing; it means you weren’t too heavy handed with the sponge or drying towel.
You can remove these contaminants using a clay bar. Thoroughly soak a panel in detailing spray, then rub the clay with light pressure across the paint. If the clay becomes soiled, fold it over so a clean side is exposed.
Once you’re finished, dry the area with a clean microfiber towel. Repeat for each contaminated panel.
9) Polish if Necessary
Polish is an optional step and should only be used if you notice imperfections that need to be corrected. Deep scratches should be left to the professional, but light scratches can be removed with an off-the-shelf polish and a bit of attention to detail. Closely follow the instructions on the product label.
Now that your paint is nice and clean, you’ll want to apply a layer of quality wax to protect against the sun’s damaging UV rays. Wax is the most common protective layer and is easy to apply.
Apply some wax to a microfiber applicator. Rub the wax onto each panel, then wipe off excess with a clean, dry microfiber towel.
How to Make Hand Washing a Car Easier
For the uninitiated, these hand washing steps can seem a bit daunting. Fortunately, there are several optional steps that will make washing your black car much easier.
If you follow these steps, it may be possible to give your vehicle a good, quick wash without ever laying a hand on your vehicle. Dirt and grime will melt right off the car if you use these additional tools.
Use a Foam Cannon
A foam cannon is used before the washing step. Presoaking the vehicle with a soapy foam allows the foam to break down some of the dirt. This makes it easier to remove when you go to put a soapy sponge on the vehicle.
Use a Pressure Washer
A pressure washer is an excellent way to remove stubborn contaminants (bugs, bird droppings, etc.) without touching the vehicle’s paint.
It can be used instead of a plain garden hose, but be sure not to set the pressure too high. It’s wise to not exceed 2,000 PSI for automotive applications, otherwise you may risk damaging your paint.
Use a Leaf Blower
You might get some funny looks from your neighbors, but using a leaf blower completely eliminates the need to touch your vehicle during the drying step. Less contact means less risk of swirls and scratches.
Flare-tipped or flatted nozzles are ideal for drying a car and work better than large round nozzles.
Get a Ceramic Coating
Ceramic coating is a new development in the automotive industry, and one of the best ways you can protect your vehicle. A ceramic coating is a hard, protective outer layer that replaces the traditional waxing step. It is hydrophobic, resistant to scratches, and has a strong chemical resistance.
A ceramic coated vehicle is much easier to wash, especially when paired with a pressure washer.
Ceramic coatings usually warrant paint correction before they can be applied, even on a brand new vehicle. They can be a bit difficult to apply and are best left to a professional.
Tips from a Professional Detailer
Still have some questions about proper car washing technique? Here’s an in-depth video from a professional on all the steps you need to take to properly wash your vehicle.