How to Properly Wash The Outside of Your Car

Spending the time to wash your car by hand and having it come out looking disappointing can be frustrating and we’ve all had it happen to us. There are some pretty easy steps that even the pros use to make sure it comes out looking amazing every single time, which you’ll find as you continue to read on. We all care about our cars and it really does make a huge difference when it’s spotless and gleaming under the sun.

While many of these techniques are not ground breaking, it’ll help you make sure your car looks like it did when it was brand new. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is  to never use automatic car washes of any kind, especially the ones with the big brushes that slap your car. The sound is terrible when the swirly thing slaps your car and it leaves lasting swirls on the car that are extremely hard to remove, and sometimes impossible to remove.  

Techniques & Tips

One thing I had never considered before I started paying attention to proper washing techniques was washing your car in the shade. The reason why is because the soap can actually dry from the direct sunlight and result heat against your car, which makes it way harder to rinse off.

Try to wash your car on a day with little to no breeze. Even a slight breeze can blow dust particles around that get stuck in even the best car soaps. If this happens, when you’re drying the car off it can cause bits of dirt and debris to act like sandpaper and leave micro-scratches on the paint.

Keep the wash area small! Don’t spend a bunch of time spreading soap across the entire side of the car because the soap will probably have dried and lost its effectiveness by the time you get back to rinsing it off.

When you’re washing, don’t do circles or swirls with your wash mitt or sponge. Try to use overlapping lines that go parallel to each other to make sure that one direction gets the bulk of the dirt off and then the second swipe gets the remaining, loosed dirt off completely.


High quality car wash shampoos vary massively from things like dish soap, so definitely don’t use anything except actual car soaps. Using something like dish soap can break down plastics, crack rubber seals, and peal off clear coats, just like how it gets grease and grime off of plates and cookware.

What really makes a good car soap is things like gentleness, concentration, foaming ability, and pH balance. The car soaps you’ll find at places like a national auto parts store or big box store will lack most all of those qualities and do a sub-par job at actually cleaning your car and making it look amazing.

There are varying opinions of products that have soap and wax in the same bottle, kind of like how there are 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioners for us humans but if you talk to a real hair stylist, they’ll discourage you from using those products. Similarly, our opinion is that you should take the time to get two different products to make sure your car is properly cleaned with proper car wash soap, and then take the time to wax it with a product that is specifically designed for that.

We spent a considerable amount of time detailing and reviewing the best car wash soap, so be sure to check that out to see the top brands and get a link to purchase the item if you want.

Wash Mitt vs Sponges vs Brushes

In our opinion, wash mitts are the best way to ensure you adequately cover all the surface on the car and don’t accidently miss spots like you might with a big brush or a sponge. In addition to that, wash mitts are often considerably softer and won’t leave scratches  that a rougher sponge or bristles of a big brush might.

If your vehicle is really large like an RV or a boat and you don’t necessarily care about a pristine result, a brush is probably the best way to go. Hell, I even use a brush on my truck sometimes because it isn’t my “show” car. If you want to keep the car’s paint as close to perfect as you can, though, don’t compromise for anything other than a clean wash mitt. I’d rather you wait until you’re ready to do the job right, rather than take the easy way and not have it come out as perfect.

Make sure to soak your wash mitt in your clean soapy bucket for about 5 minutes before you get started to make sure the mitt is soft, absorbent, and there aren’t any dry spots on the mitt that could leave scuffs and scratches.

While brands and quality different, we built a list and came up with the best car wash mitt that we’d recommend and even use ourselves.

Double Bucket

For a long time, I was guilty of not using this method even though I knew it made sense and actually makes a big difference. Have two buckets with you so that one is dedicated to clean, soapy water and the other is for dirty water, rinsing the wash mitt or brush in only that bucket. A five gallon bucket is usually the perfect size and they’re usually pretty inexpensive.

At the bottom of the dirty water bucket, you should get a grit guard insert. This is a little plastic device that will allow you to scrape your wash mitt against it at the bottom of the bucket so the dirt and grime fall to the bottom of the bucket. Then, when you stick your mitt in the clean bucket, you’ve minimized the chance of any dirt or grime falling into the clean bucket.

If you want to be really perfectionist, it makes sense to go ahead and put one in the clean bucket too. I know I personally use one in both buckets since they’re cheap and makes sure I don’t accidently forget and mix the dirty wash mitt in clean water. These little guys are cheap and definitely give me a bit of piece of mind when I’m trying to be a perfectionist.


It’s amazingly frustrating when you’ve spent time to properly wash your car and you come back an hour later to find water spots on all kinds surface you didn’t even consider. Those little spots leave me feeling thwarted and like I wasted my time so I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen anymore.

Really it’s a simple fix: you can use a combination of microfiber towels and an air blower. Not like a yard sized leaf blower, but one designed with the size and weight as well as the air pressure to actually blow the water off your car, kind of like the ones at a car wash.

Although they aren’t cheap, this is really critical step to making sure your car comes out looking amazing. It’s definitely is an investment, but it also means you won’t have to have a clean, giant stack of microfiber towels. You can just have a few extra towels laying around to dry the hard to reach spots.

On our Must Haves page, you can find the best microfiber towels, dryers, and more.