How to Wash Your Car - Self Serve or at Home
Posted on June 7, 2022
Washing your car - a task that seems to be love or hate. Visions of happy people carefully circling over the curves of their sports cars with a soft microfibre on a nice day come to mind for some - while wet, soggy, dirty rags sloping into a heavy mop-bucket with dish soap come to mind for others (oh just me?).
While some attribute washing the car to pride of ownership - there are many reasons washing your car is actually good for your vehicle year round, especially in winter. Washing your car keeps contaminants like dirt, salt, bugs and debris from damaging the finish and paint on your vehicle - it’s a low cost way to keep up the appearance and maintain the value of your car. Exterior car washes should be considered a regular car maintenance task.
However, caution must be exercised when washing your vehicle. There is a right way and some definite don’ts, especially in the winter months, for a self clean car wash.
Imagine showing up on a first date with your freshly washed car, so proud of its shine, trying your best to impress, only to discover you cannot open your car doors and your date must climb in through the window so you can take them to dinner. Unfortunately this is a true story that happened to a friend of mine - there was no second date and we mocked the poor guy mercilessly.
So avoid such a calamity (and other potential dangers of washing your vehicle improperly like scratching the topcoat or paint) and follow our CarHub car maintenance tips on vehicle cleaning; whether you are doing it yourself at home or at a self-service car wash location (but if you are familiar with the how-to and just want a few car cleaning tips and hacks, see this article instead):
1. Location/Location/Location: if you are washing at home, you don’t want to be in direct sunlight or extreme heat while washing your car because the soap will dry before you have a chance to rinse - so typically earlier in the day or later in the evening is best during the summer. Avoid a tree with leaves that are falling, a dusty road and/or a windy or buggy day/spot.
If you are washing at a self car wash, the spaces are typically covered from the elements as they are usually large concrete pods. Just make sure your bay is relatively clean and shaded from direct sunlight. Self service car wash equipment prices typically range from $2-$5 and you’ll want to bring change as most are coin operated
Once you have secured the right spot on a good day, you’re ready to get started!
2. Clean the dirtiest spot(s) first: the wheels and wheel well areas of the vehicle are likely to be the dirtiest, so cleaning those up first is your best bet. Using a hose with a nozzle that provides good pressure, go around the wheel, wheel wells and undercarriage. Using a product that is intended for tires/wheels, wash thoroughly using a mitt or chamois intended for vehicle cleaning (make sure the one you use for the wheels is set aside and not used for any other cleaning on the car to avoid transferring any of the debris to painted surfaces.
3. Wet and Wash: spray down the entire vehicle with the hose, paying attention to all the cracks and crevices, to remove the surface dirt and coat the car with water to prime for the soaping. Fill two buckets with water and add a cleaning solution made for cars to one of them (following the directions on the solution to ensure the appropriate ratio of water to cleaning product). Use the soapy water to lather your mitt/chamois and the plain water to rinse the mitt after each section of vehicle you wash to avoid spreading dirt around and potentially scratching finish/paint. Move in sections around your vehicle. Each section, starting at the roof and moving downward. Use the mitt/chamois is a swiping motion, do not scrub or rub any dirt - just swipe, rinse and repeat until the dirt is gone
Winter tip: do not use hot water to wet/wash/rinse your vehicle in cold weather - hot water and cold glass are not friends
4. Rinsing and drying: although you have been rinsing as you washed, one more thorough rinse around the whole vehicle is needed to make sure all the soap is off. Using a dry chamois or microfiber cloth, drape the cloth over the vehicle and in gentle flicking motions swipe off until the vehicle is dry and streak free (ringing out the towel as you go or getting another clean, dry cloth).
Winter tip: a few parts of your vehicle require extra care when drying if the weather is below freezing. You’ll want to jump in your vehicle after washing and drying and run your windshield wipers while spraying wiper fluid - this should get the deicing formula around your blades and into the nooks and crannies of your blade assembly and spray nozzle to help avoid freezing. Similarly, you’ll want to roll down your windows a few inches (including sunroof) for a few minutes to avoid ice formation between the window and seal. Also, open each door and wipe the seal on the inner edge.
You may be thinking, why go to a car wash self serve instead of a touchless car wash - the fact is, a washed car is better than an unwashed one but a self car wash allows for more control; control over the products that are used, the areas that are focused on, the removal of all dirt/salt/debris and the cost.
A full service car wash that includes interior cleaning from a reputable detailing service is another great alternative to gas station car washes that will provide much of the control you get when washing yourself. Be prepared to spend more money than you would doing it yourself but reap the obvious benefits of an expert car cleaning team (like thoroughness, staying dry and saving time).
Interested in scheduling a detailing service at CarHub, looking for information on our available packages? Check out carhub.ca/service/detailing
Sharon Pinfold has been in the automotive industry since 2005. She has worked in the Service Department, Leasing Department and as a New/Used Car Sales Person for domestic, foreign and luxury brands. Most recently, she worked for an Agency that provided digital advertising and website solutions to the automotive sector.