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Detailing 101 Series - How To Wash Your Car

 How  To Wash Your Car - Detailing 101

Detailing 101 Series - How To Wash Your Car

You've spent plenty of money on the purchase of your car or truck, now the question arises, “How do I take care of it?” Proper washing is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood areas of auto care, and sadly improper washing damages and dulls your vehicle's finish over time.

If you take a moment to look at a group of cars under direct sunlight, be it in a parking lot or at a car show, you will most likely notice that many of the cars have light scratches all over them. These microscopic scratches seem to radiate outward in a “cob-web” effect from a central light source like the reflection of the sun. Many of the swirl marks are the result of improper washing and drying techniques. They are caused when grit is abraded against the paint's surface.

There have been countless articles written on how to properly maintain a vehicle’s appearance and while most of the tips in this article certainly aren’t new, perhaps they may help you think about things in a different light.

Vehicle enthusiasts range from those who wash or use a quick detailer on their vehicles daily, to those who love caring for their vehicle but only get the chance to wash them weekly or bi-weekly. Both categories of enthusiasts cringe at the very thought of taking their car or truck to car washes, otherwise known as “automatic swirl factories.” In this article we hope to give you some ideas and tips that will help you maintain your vehicle’s appearance and teach you ways to avoid, or at least minimize creating swirl marks.

Car Wash Shampoo

BLACKFIRE Wet Diamond Conditioning Shampoo Car wash shampoos have come a long way since their introduction to the automotive detailing market. There was a time when we all just grabbed dish soap and went to work but those days are long gone. Dish soap is designed to eat away grease and food and while it works great for dishes we need to keep it in the kitchen! The same attributes that break down the grease on dishes will strip your car wax and dry out your plastic moldings and rubber seals.

Some of the factors that establish a great car wash shampoo like BLACKFIRE Wet Diamond Conditioning Shampoo are foaming ability, lubricity, pH balance, concentration, gentleness and gloss enhancing ability. High quality car wash shampoos will clean a car’s surface, enhance the gloss and leave the car wax, paint protectant or paint sealant intact. Generic car wash shampoos that you could purchase in bulk at a clearance or discount store lack many of the attributes of the higher quality car wash shampoos. You will also find that a cheaper bottle of car wash shampoo is not necessarily a good value. While high end car wash shampoos like the Wolfgang Auto Bathe or Ultima Paint Guard Wash tend to cost more per ounce, they are also more concentrated therefore more cost-effective.

All car wash shampoos carried by Autopia are tested and of the highest quality. If you are not sure which shampoo will work best for you, it is often advisable to use the same brand that use for your car wax or sealant. For example, if your paint is protected with BLACKFIRE Wet Diamond All Finish Paint Protection then use BLACKFIRE Wet Diamond Conditioning Shampoo and if your paint is protected with a fine coat of P21S Concours Carnuaba Wax than P21S Bodywork Conditioning Shampoo is a great choice. If you still cannot decide, give Autopia Car Care a call at 1-877-855-3125 and let our experts help you choose the perfect product!

Car Wash Mitts

If you ask a group of car enthusiasts which company makes a better car or truck, you will get a variety of different answers; everyone has his or her opinion! To say that everyone has a favorite is an understatement, yet there are some basic fundamentals that make an item one of the best for its intended purpose.

Wash mitts can be made of long or short nap microfiber, sponge material or sheepskin that can be either synthetic or genuine. Our most popular wash mitt is the Gold-Plush Micro-Chenile Wash Mitt This mitt's long microfiber fingers lather your delicate paint in suds while gently removing grime, road pitch, and dirt.This comfortable, durable wash mitt is suitable for washing even the most delicate paints.

The Koala Wash Mitt is a great choice as it is soft, easily rinses clean, and holds lots of water and car wash solution. Natural Sea Sponges are composed of some of the softest material known to man and hold a large volume of water and soap solution. The Lake Country Foam Car Wash Sponge is made from super soft foam that is gentle to your paint and rinses clean easily. You want to avoid using shop rags, old t-shirts, and beach towels as the nap, or thickness of these items is so small that you can easily exert too much force onto the paint and inadvertently push surface dirt around instilling washing swirls. Also, these wash rags do not release trapped dirt as easily. The thicker wash mitts designed specifically for use on vehicles offer room for dirt to be pulled away from your paint until your mitt is rinsed.

If you are washing a larger vehicle such as an RV or boat, or simply prefer using a brush instead of a wash mitt, then stay clear of brushes with nylon brushes that will quickly damage, dull, and scratch paint. Montana Brand Boar's Hair Brushes features hand selected, feathered boar's hair. Once soaked in your wash solution for several minutes these hairs become amazingly soft. The Montana Boar's Hair Brushes hold an incredible volume of soap solution and make cleaning larger areas easy.


Car Wash Buckets

When choosing a bucket you generally have two choices, 5 gallon or 3.5 gallon. Usually the 3.5 gallon is too small to get the job done with plenty of fresh car wash solution, but with water weighing 8.35 pounds per gallon it is difficult to lug the 5 gallon bucket around your car. The solution is the Autopia 5 Gallon Wash Bucket System with Dolly! This bucket will make it much easier to quickly wash your entire car. It even comes with a lid so you can store your car wash shampoo, mitt and brushes right inside the bucket to keep them handy for the next wash.

In order to guarantee a swirl-free finish, we highly recommend using the Two-Bucket Washing Method . As the name implies, you use two separate buckets to wash your car. One bucket holds the soapy car wash solution and the other holds clean, clear rinse water so you can rinse your mitt after each pass over your car. This keeps those dirt particles you just picked up on the surface from going back into the clean car wash solution and being picked up again by the wash mitt.

Grit Guard Inserts

Grit Guard inserts prevent dirt from being reintroduced to your vehicle’s paint. This brings us to the next topic: Grit Guard Inserts. If you aren’t using them, you should be! The Grit Guard Insert is a round plastic insert grate that sits on the bottom of your bucket. It is raised above the bottom of the bucket by four lateral fins, allowing dirt from your wash mitt drops to the bottom of the bucket, ensuring that your wash mitt doesn’t pick up the dirt you just washed off of the car. When you finish washing your car and lift the Grit Guard Insert up, you will see how well it works. The Grit Guard Insert should be used in both the wash and rinse buckets for optimum protection against instilling swirl marks. The Grit Guard Washboard attaches on top of the Grit Guard Insert and is used to agitate your wash mitt without disturbing the dirt that has settled at the bottom of your wash bucket, reducing the chance of your wash mitt picking up dirt and therefore creating swirls. You can save some money by purchasing the Insert with the Washboard together in the Grit Guard Washboard Combo.

Hose Nozzles

Fire Hose Nozzle Yes, even your hose nozzle is an important part of your car wash procedure. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to wash your car with an inadequate or leaky hose nozzle. The Fire Hose Nozzle and it's big brother The Industrial High Flow Fireman's Nozzle offer a wide range of spray patterns as well as the very important open flow – and no leaks! The open flow option is especially important when rinsing your car. The open flow option allows the water to sheet off instead of beading up which will cut down on drying time and the possibility of water spots. The fire hose nozzles are also designed to be rugged so that they can be set down quickly without breaking and neither model has a handle that can be bumped causing you an unexpected shower.

Foam Guns and Foam Cannons

Foam Cannon Dirt and grit as most abrasive when it is lying in a fine dust layer over your paint. Even when pre-rinsing your car with water, some of the grit can scratch. Both the BLACKFIRE Foam Gun and the Autopia Foam Cannon allow you to lather your car in a blanket of clingy suds that encapsulate the grime and reduce the risk of scratching. The BLACKFIRE Foam Gun attaches to your hose with a special trigger nozzle. The BLACKFIRE Foam Cannon attaches to a pressure washer. Mix in your favorite car soap or use a specially blended car soap such as McKee's 37 Xtreme Foam Formula Auto Shampoo and spray it on. Allow the soap to dwell for several minutes then rinse off.

If your paint only has a light coating of dust or road pitch you can often use the BLACKFIRE Foam Gun or BLACKFIRE Foam Cannon as a substitute for a standard washing. Simply layer your car in a blanket of foam and lightly wipe with your favorite wash mitt, rinsing the mitt frequently in a rinse bucket. After the vehicle has been wiped down, thoroughly hose it off.

Drying your Vehicle

Two of the most popular options for drying your vehicle are waffle weave microfiber towels or an air blower.

Microfiber waffle weave drying towels like the Cobra Guzzler Waffle Weave Drying Towel are very soft, safe and effective. The waffle weave fibers act like little pockets and absorb tons of water and when used properly are extremely gentle on your vehicle’s delicate surfaces. It generally takes only two towels to dry vehicle to ensure a spot and streak free finish. The first towel picks up the majority of water and the second towel picks up any residual moisture ensuring a streak free finish. Another benefit to the Cobra Guzzler Waffle Weave Drying Towel is that they can be washed with other microfiber detailing towels ensuring that they are clean and fresh each time you need them, with no chance of dirt from the last use scratching the surface.

The McKee's 37 Turbo Car Dryer is a lightweight, handheld car dryer that is powerful enough to blow water off your vehicle, leaving it with a streak and scratch free finish after every wash! Use the McKee's 37 Turbo Car Dyer to dry your entire vehicle, or to simply blast water from cracks and crevices, behind emblems, in between body panels, and anywhere else water can hide. McKee's 37 Turbo Car Dryer features a powerful 6.5 peak horsepower motor that blows filtered air onto your vehicle, making it easier than ever to dry your car while avoiding water spots – even in direct sun!

Leather Chamis or PVA Synthetic Chamois are another option for drying your vehicle, however these towels are not as soft or gentle as the above products and are going to be much more likely to leave some swirling in your paint.

Now that you are familiar with the proper tools for the job, we will cover the proper technique necessary for washing a vehicle without instilling wash-induced swirls in the paint.

Steps for Washing Your Vehicle

  • Always wash your car in the shade! This will keep your car wash shampoo solution from drying on the car before it is rinsed off. It is best to wash your car on a relatively calm day as even a slight breeze can put particles of dirt into the air. These dust particles are attracted to the wash/rinse water on your vehicle and act like sandpaper when rubbed between the drying towel and vehicle surface. The breeze can also cause some spots to dryer before soap has been rinsed off - leading to streaks and water spots.


  • Use two buckets with a Grit Guard Insert in each bucket. One is for your shampoo solution and the other is clean rinse water for your wash mitt.


  • Only use high quality car shampoos and wash mitts.

  • Fill a 5-gallon bucket 2/3 full with cool water. Add the proper amount of shampoo to the water as recommended on the label instructions. Using a strong jet of water, fill the bucket to fully activate suds. Fill the second bucket with clean, water for rinsing your wash mitt.


  • Thoroughly rinse the vehicle’s surface to remove the loose dirt and grime before you begin the car wash procedure. If the paint is excessively dirty or you wish to use more caution, use a foam cannon to pre-soak the vehicle prior to rinsing.


  • When washing your vehicle remember to always go from top to bottom, never the opposite. Generally the dirtiest parts of your vehicle are those parts closest to the ground. Wheel wells, rocker panels and bumpers tend to have the largest accumulation of grime and you don’t want to bring that junk back onto the paint surface and risk scratching it.


  • Load up your wash mitt with your car wash solution and wring it out over the wash surface. This acts like a pre-soak and helps loosen surface gunk. It also adds more sudsy water to the surface and more lubricity helps safely wash the grime away without scratching.


  • Keep your wash areas small and rinse your wash mitt frequently in the second bucket.


  • Wash in straight, overlapping lines as opposed to circles and remember to be gentle with the wash mitt on the first pass. This first pass will pick up the majority of the dirt, and loosens the remaining dirt for pick up on the second pass.


  • Rinse your vehicle by opening up your Fire Hose Nozzle to the open flow setting or, if you don’t have an open flow option on your nozzle, remove your nozzle completely and let the water run or sheet over the surface. This helps in two ways. First, generally when water has “sheeted” off of a surface it tends to leave fewer residual droplets behind. This means less drying time. Second, since there is less water to pick up, there is less chance of your leaving water behind to spot the vehicle.


  • When you dry your car, use only high quality microfiber waffle weave drying towels and wring out often. Gently dry the surface without asserting much pressure onto the paint. You don’t need to rub the surface – you’re just picking up the bulk of the water! Once you have picked up the bulk of the water, and the first towel is saturated, use the second towel to lightly pick up any remaining streaks or droplets.


  • Lastly, if your wax or sealant is still in good shape, go over the vehicle with a quick detail spray like Sonax Brilliant Shine Detailer or BLACKFIRE Midnight Sun Instant Detail Spray and a plush Cobra Deluxe Jr. Microfiber Buffing Towel to restore a radiance and slickness to the paint. This last step will give your vehicle that just-detailed look by enhancing gloss and will also remove any missed drips, water spots or streaks that showed up when you weren't looking.
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