How to Wash Your Car Utilizing Proper Methods

As an experienced detailer whose specialty is paint correction, about 80% of the paint corrections I’m performing on my clients cars consist of correcting swirl marks from the car being washed improperly. Yes, there is a right and a wrong way to wash your car. The number one wrong way to wash your car is by taking it to the automatic car washes, and here is why…

Why an automatic car wash is a detriment to your vehicles paint:

The reason so many people run their car through the brushes or soft cloth car wash is because it’s quick, easy, and convenient, but that comes at a price. The car wash brushes are what cause the swirl marks and scratches. How do they do this? Well I’m glad you asked! What’s happening is the brushes or soft cloth pick up the dirt from everyone else’s car, but it never gets washed off of the brushes. Instead it gets introduced to your cars paint and rubs it all around. It’s almost the same as scooping up some pebbles from the ground and dragging your hand across your paint with them. Sounds pretty bad right? Well… that’s because it is.

The best thing you can do to prevent this is to avoid automatic car washes all together and wash your car at home. But there is a right way and a wrong way to wash you car at home too, which is where the two-bucket method comes into play.

What is the two-bucket method and why is it important?

The two-bucket method is what we recommend you should be performing to wash your vehicle. It consists of using two buckets, (who would have thought?) one with soap and water (wash bucket), and the other with water only (rinse bucket). Every time you wash a panel dunk the wash mitt in the rinse bucket, and right after dunk it into the wash bucket to collect fresh soap. Then move to the next panel. Each bucket should contain a grit guard at the bottom to catch dirt particles that are being removed from the vehicle. This prevents the reintroduction of dirt back into the wash mitt and back onto your paint.

Here is the process:

  1. Wait until later in the afternoon or evening or park in a shaded area to prevent hard water spots.
  2. Wash your wheels and scrub your tires first.  Feel free to use wheel and tire cleaner to help remove contaminants. Also use a separate bucket and wash mitt/brushes that are only used for wheels and tires.
  3. Rinse the vehicle with water to remove loose contaminants.
  4. We recommend using a foam canon to apply soapy suds and letting it dwell. This is the pre-wash step.
  5. Rinse the vehicle.
  6. Now, using the two buckets mentioned above, start washing from the top down.
  7. Wash the roof, hood, and trunk first. After each panel rinse the mitt in the rinse bucket and proceed to the next panel with fresh soap.
  8. Do the lower parts of the car at the very end. We suggest using a separate mitt just for the lower 6 inches of the vehicle.
  9. Dry the vehicle with a blower to remove excess water followed by a towel dry.  Use microfiber towels from The Rag Company only – polyester blends will add swirl marks to your paint.
  10. Always dry out your door and trunk jambs.
  11. Rinse out your buckets and wash mitts after every use and wash them in the washing machine followed by dryer. Store them in a clean container so they are ready for the next wash.
  12. Try to wash your car bi-weekly or at least once a month.
  13. If you cannot perform this process yourself, seek help – contact us!

The reason I try to enforce this with my clients is to protect not only their car, but also the investment they just made with me to perform a paint correction and ceramic coating. If you keep up with this method you should have little to no swirls by the end of the sealant or coatings life cycle. You will end up spending less money the next time the vehicle needs to be re-polished and a fresh layer of coating is applied.



We are a proud sponsor of The Chicago Garage! If you're looking to join an active, awesome, and friendly car club full of gear head enthusiasts, look no further than TCG.

Join the forum discussions at