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How to Properly Wash a Car

how to wash a car

Washing your car is not just needed to make your car look better as you drive down the road. Regular washing can help maintain the vehicle and keep its value, thus saving you money now and earning you more money later should you try to resell it.

That said, washing your car incorrectly can do more harm than good. We asked our experts how to properly wash a car. Here’s how to do it.

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how to properly wash a car

Start With a Clean Base

First, make sure to move your vehicle to a proper location before washing. Never wash a hot car. The vehicle should be cool to the touch and out of direct sunlight.

Start by getting rid of any debris on your car (underneath the wiper blades is a good place to start). Clean any bug, bird droppings and tree sap stains. To do so, use denatured alcohol or a bug and tar removal product.

You can then get the vehicle good and wet to wash off any accumulated dirt. Rinse off the entire car prior to handwashing. Since you have the hose out, rinse under the vehicle as well as inside the wheel openings to wash off any accumulated dirt.

PRO TIP: Get your bug and tar removal at NAPA Auto Parts, where AAA members receive 10% off.

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How to Properly Wash a Car

Do not use household cleaners such as hand or dish soap. These products can strip off the car’s protective wax. Instead, use a dedicated car wash soap. These products are milder and specifically designed for use on automotive paint.

When washing your car, use the two-bucket method. One bucket will have the clean, soapy water, the other is where you’ll drop the dirty water. Using only a single bucket requires you to repeatedly dip the sponge into dirty water, thus putting dirt right back on the car you’re trying to clean. Not only is it counterproductive, but the dirt could also damage the paint.

When you’re ready to begin washing, do so from top to bottom, focusing on one section at a time. Use lots of water and rinse off each section of the car as you move along. This will prevent the car from air drying. (More on that below).

PRO TIP: Wash the wheels with a special wheel-washing brush with soft bristles for the tires. This brush will enable you to get in all the nooks and crannies.

Drying the Car

Do not forget to hand dry your car. Allowing it to air dry will leave behind streaks and water marks. To properly dry the car, use a chamois or fluffy microfiber cloth.

This is a good time to use a quick detailer spray wax or paint sealant. It doesn’t replace hand waxing to help protect the paint but it is a quick and easy step.

Cleaning the Windows

Once the car is dry, it is time to clean the windows. To do so, use a high-quality window cleaner. Spray the cleaner on the windows and wipe down with paper towels. Remember to open the windows to get the top area that slides up into the door. Once the windows are clean go over them with a microfiber cloth to remove any extra cleaner spray.

PRO TIP: Use a few-weeks-old black and white newspaper to clean your windows rather than paper towels for the least amount of streaks.   


Inside the car, wipe down all surfaces, dust the vents and clean the interior windows and steering wheel with a microfiber cloth. Be sure to use a cleaner that is made for car interiors, as harsh alcohol and ammonia-based sprays could cause damage. Professionals often recommend using a 50/50 solution of distilled white vinegar and water.

Cleaning seats properly depends on the type of material they are. Read our article on how to clean leather, vinyl and more. Then, vacuum and clean the mats and carpet. Don’t forget the crumbs in your center console and cup holders!

For more tips on how to properly wash a car on the inside, check out this advice on how to sanitize your vehicle and read up on how to get rid of unwanted smells.

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Tell us you car wash tips and tricks in the comments below. 

This article has been updated and republished from a previous version. 


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26 Thoughts on “How to Properly Wash a Car

  1. I belong to a car wash in Ct. that charges $19.95 a month for unlimited washes.
    If you are not a member the cost is $12.00 each. I have my car washed 20 times a month.

  2. I wash and Wax my Car frequently in the Summer months. In the Winter I go to a Car Wash occasionally getting a Wax that the Car Wash offers to protect my Car’s paint from Damaging road salt and Sand.When I Wash my Car I have to often clean and wax under the doors when opened as they get dirty too.I use a Compound to rub out scratches and then put on Car Wax. I have been using Mother’s Carnueba.

    1. Hi Tilo, thanks for your question. Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: My experience is that nothing enriches paint like carnauba polish, but it requires a fair amount of paint correction and is a bit of work to put on. The other issue is how long it lasts, my experience with carnauba is it requires reapplication every 60 days or so. Silicone and other synthetic polishes last longer, but they don’t have the deep shine that I have found with carnauba. On my own vehicles I have used Zymol carnauba but, I generally switch back to synthetic products like Mequiar’s Ultimate liquid wax. It produces a nice result, lasts quite a while and much less work. Some people have switched to ceramic based wax, they have a very long life, but preparation (paint correction) is very important. You can easily seal in imperfections and it requires a special touch to get it just right. Any more question feel free to ask.

  3. A few years ago Toyota had a recall for my 2009 Camry as the dash had started to melt.Since my car was not showing this, I did not take my car to the dealer for fixing. However, now the dash is melting and it reflects onto the windshield making it difficult to see thru the windshield. Is there any thing I can put on the dash to solve this problem or perhaps get the windshield tinted?

    1. Hi Olivia, thanks for the question! Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: Yes Toyota had a warranty extension on the dashboard due to cracking or getting sticky. The original 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty was extended to 10 years unlimited miles. Since your car is now past the 10 year period you only have two choices: replace the dash pad, which will probably cost close to $3000 with labor, or cover the sticky dash with a dash cover. The dash covers are cut to fit and are glued in place over the melting sticky dash. The typical custom fit dashboard cover cost is about $200 and someone with a reasonable amount or skill and patience should be able to get your car looking good again in less than two hours.

    1. Hi Joyce, thanks for your question. Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: Getting egg off a car can be a bit of a problem. Start with plenty of water and car wash soap (don’t use dish detergent) and wash as much off as possible. If there is still some on the car, soak a towel in soapy water and let it sit on the egg to soften it. Once it softens, wash again with a soft mitt. If there is still dried on egg, you may need to go to a car detail shop for professional cleaning. Once you get it clean, a coat of wax will restore the paint. If you have more questions just ask.

  4. To make white raised letter tires. Put Soft Scrub “With Bleach” on the White with a sponge. Let a sit for about 15 minutes. Take a hand brush and brush letters then hose off. White is back!

    1. Hi, here is an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul. You can reach him at if you have any other questions.

      With removing tape adhesive, I have had good luck with denatured alcohol or a Goo-Gone. This should soften the dried adhesive so you can carefully clean it off. Never use a hard scrapper, if necessary use a plastic scrapper. Once the adhesive is off the paint, clean and then wax the car. The alcohol or Goo-Gone will remove any wax.

  5. This is very interesting, and I’m sure useful, for those who have access to an outdoor hose and sufficient car space to use it. What about those of us who don’t? I take my car to a “self-wash” and use the power water/soap/rinse features. Is this OK? What about full-service car washes? What is best in this arena?

    1. Hi Margaret, here is an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul. You can reach him at if you have any other questions.

      A. Using a hand-held car wash is fine, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is that the water is under high pressure and you need to be a bit careful about how and where you pressure wash the car. It is even possible to lift the paint if you apply high pressure water to a paint chip. The second issue and this applies to drive through washes is that the water is recycled and at certain times of the year, the water could be contaminated with salt or other corrosive materials.
      B. Full service or tunnel wash bays can be abrasive to the paint, the brushes are similar to indoor/outdoor carpet or nylon brushes — both can scratch and dull the paint.
      C. If it is a car wash tunnel, hand held or garden hose all are better than allowing the car to be covered with salt and sand. So whenever possible try to wash sand, salt and other corrosive road clearing products off the car.

  6. No reference to rinsing under the car or wheel wells, both areas a good idea especially during the winter.

    1. Hi Kenneth, we mentioned rinsing the undercarriage but good point on the wheel wells. Thanks for reading!

  7. I use a product called Absorber. Neoprene sheet that picks up water and leaves surface dry by second time around. Put it away wet for next use. Had 13 years. When sorayingbtires, spray and move car a bout three feet to get the bottom qtr of tire to complete the application.

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