Your car might look all nice and shiny after a commercial hand wash, but you’re also 10 to 20 bucks poorer—and if you care about keeping your car clean and protecting its paint for the long run, you’ll be back for more within a week or two. That’s real money on an annual basis.
For a fraction of the annual cost, you’ll be able to purchase the right tools to do it yourself. Learn how to clean your vehicle yourself and you’ll never have to hem and haw over the $16.95 “Ultra Clean Special” again. We’ll walk you through the steps.
1. Make sure you have access to a hose with a spray nozzle.
This process is going to be pretty tricky without a hose. If you have one, proceed to step two. If you live in an apartment building, think about reaching out to friends or family members who live in houses and might have hoses. Occupying their driveway or backyard while you wash is a much better idea than dumping suds and water all over the parking lot you share with your fellow tenants. Don’t forget to offer a favor in return for their kindness.
2. Add this stuff to your shopping cart (if you don’t have it already):
Liquid car wash solution
Microfiber wash mitt
Waffle-weave microfiber drying towel
And a good carnauba wax and a pack of microfiber washcloths if you want to wax your vehicle after washing.
3. Mix the car wash solution in the wash bucket.
Hardcore car-wash warriors sometimes recommend two buckets—one for the suds and one for rinsing off the mitt as it accumulates grime. That’s probably overkill in most cases, but it makes sense if you recently drove through a field of mud or just haven’t washed your car in a very long time. And by the way, don’t use dish soap! All the car-wash experts warn against it because it will remove your wax.
3. Park your car in a shady spot and start rinsing.
Finding shade is important because you don’t want the car to dry out and leave water spots mid-wash—and if you’re waxing later, you don’t want the sun to put streaks in the wax. Once you’ve found your spot, start rinsing with that spray nozzle. The objective here is to get rid of surface grime and debris. Make sure you douse the wheels, too, and if you have alloy wheels, don’t be shy about sticking the nozzle in there nice and close. Brake dust on the wheels will rapidly soil your wash mitt, so it’s best to dispense with as much of it as possible during the initial rinse.
The abovementioned warriors might also tell you to clean your wheels separately with a dedicated wheel cleaner. We find that the hose and mitt usually do the trick, but if you're dealing with a lot of dirt, buy a foaming wheel and tire cleaner and follow the directions—spray on each wheel and tire, leave for 30 seconds, then rinse off—before rinsing and washing the rest of the vehicle.
4. Dip the wash mitt into the bucket of suds and get to scrubbing.
You should start at the top of the car for best results, as there’s likely more mitt-soiling grime at the bottom. Work your way down and around until you’re satisfied. Keep an eye on the water you just sprayed on the car, by the way—if it looks like it’s drying out, give the car another rinse to avoid those dreaded water spots.
5. Rinse the car thoroughly.
Make sure you get all the suds off; otherwise, you’ll find yourself repeating much of this process to get rid of the soap streaks.
6. Hand-dry the car using your waffle-weave drying towel.
We can’t explain why these waffle-weave things work so well, but they do. The towel is incredibly absorbent, allowing numerous drying strokes before you need to squeeze it out.
7. Add wax if you want.
For many DIY washers, step 6 is the end of the line—the car’s looking a whole lot better than when you started, and you’re ready to move on to other things. But if you really want to give your paint a lasting shine and an added layer of protection, there’s no substitute for an old-fashioned hand wax.
Waxing only takes about as long as you spent scrubbing and drying the car, and it couldn’t be simpler. Just pull out one of your microfiber wash cloths or the wax’s supplied applicator, dip it in the wax, and start massaging your paint with circular strokes. Once you’re done and the wax has dried to a haze, take a clean microfiber cloth and rub it over the paint to remove the wax. When the haze is gone, you’ve got yourself a washed and waxed car.