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Car Wash Techniques and Products

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When I was in high school I'd get out the Spic 'n' Span and a big sponge that had probably been used for putting on wallpaper paste, cleaning grout, and various other "gritty" tasks and wash the car. Thinking about that now makes my head spin! Here are the steps I've found work best to get a super shiny car.

1. Mix your car shampoo with water according to the label instructions.

2. Rinse the vehicle with clear water to remove loose grit and dirt. Be sure to use lots of water and get the car wet. Most garden hose attachments restrict the water flow and make this difficult. I have a hose-end attachment that looks like a firehose end, which doesn't restrict the water flow at all at low pressures. I got it at Lowes for about $8. Griot's Garage sells one for $75, which is ridiculous. 

3. Avoid washing a car in direct sunlight. The suds can dry on the car, which is bad.

4. Using a clean lambs wool mitt or microfiber wash mitt, wash car either from from the bottom up or top down, rinsing out mitt often. As soon as the mitt shows any dirt, rinse it! I like the mitts with no thumb, which makes it easier to rotate the mitt on your hand and keep the clean side toward the car.

5. Whether you wash from the top down or bottom up depends on how dirty your car is and on how many wash mitts you're using. If your car is pretty clean (like mine usually is), I like to wash from the bottom up so suds don't run down the side and obscure which parts have already been washed. If your car is really dirt, you want to wash the top first so that the road grime from the door sills doesn't end up getting trapped in the wash mitt and scratching the paint. People who are really fanatic (more than I am), use two wash mitts -- one for the lower body work and one for the upper.

6. Do not allow car to air dry before drying. Even if plain water dries on the car it will cause water etching, which detracts from a shiny finish.  

7. Perform final rinse using free-flowing water (use no nozzle at all or a firehose nozzle) to allow water to sheet off the car.

8. Dry immediately to prevent water spots. I used to use plain cotton towels for this, but as I got more fanatic about waxing the car, the car tended to bead water to such a degree that the towels got soaked and didn't really work. Now I slough most of the water off the car with a California water blade (which I got at Schuck's), and then I towel dry with cotton towels.

Supply Notes

Towels. You'd think a towel is a towel, but towels are not all the same. One approach is to use 100% cotton towels for washing the car (but not for waxing it). You have to be careful with this. Some towels that claim to be 100% cotton still use polyster in the taped hems around the towel. Zaino has some good towel advice. If you go this direction, you'd better plan to use the California Water Blade first or plan to use several towels.

Another approach is to use microfiber towels for drying the car, but you have to be careful what else you've used the microfiber towel for. If you've used a microfiber towel previously to remove wax, I've found that when I dry the windows, the towels shed small amounts of wax onto the windows, and then the windshield wipers streak. If you dedicate microfiber towels solely for drying, and never use them for waxing, that can work out OK. The additionaln benefit is that the microfiber towels soak up enough water that you can skip the waterblade step. I bought a couple 6 foot microfiber towels at Schuck's, and they work very well. I haven't yet seen any microfiber towels this size any other place.

Shampoo. After trying lots and lots of different shampoos, I've settled on Zaino's Z-7 show car wash. The wash produces outstanding suds that don't break down very quickly in the wash bucket. The suds also seem to have high lubricity, and I don't worry much about scratching the paint while I'm washing.

A good alternative is the Chemical Guys Extreme Body Wash & Synthetic Wax/Gloss Enhancer. I don't know about the "synthetic wax" part of it, but the shampoo itself works about as well as Zaino's, and it's $15.95 per gallon instead of $8.95 per 16 oz bottle.

Email me at stevemcc@construx.com.