To get the skinny on the best way to was your car, I turned to Mike Stoops, the Senior Global Product & Training Specialist at Meguiar’s, who pretty much has a lock on car care. Stoops spoke at length about the best way to clean a car, towel management and his specific product recommendations. Good luck, and may your car remain as dirt-free as possible.
First Off, Towel Management is Critical
"If you think you’re going to go in and use one towel to wipe down the whole car, you’re sadly mistaken. Good quality microfiber towels are designed to grab and hold onto stuff. A lot of people think ‘I want to use a microfiber towel on my paint because it’s really soft.’ That’s true, but the real benefit to a microfiber towel is that they grab and hold on to stuff and pull it up into the towel so that it’s no longer interacting with paint.
Don’t be afraid to use three, four, five [or] six towels depending on how big the car is and how dirty it is."
The Best Way to Clean Your Car Paint
Move to the Shade: "Work in the shade on a cool surface. If you mist a product onto [hot paint] it will evaporate almost immediately and will do you no favors. Pull into the shade. Any product will work better there."
Work from the top down: "Always work from the top of the car down."
Let the products soak in: "You’re going to want to wet the area reasonably well. With a standard quick detail spray, it’s just a quick mist onto the panel and you wipe with a towel. Let the product sit a couple seconds before you wipe."
Use proper wiping technique: "Fold the towel into quarters and wipe in a straight line. On the leading edge of the towel, there will be a line of dirt. Roll the edge back a little so the dirt stripe is pulled out of the way. If you do [it right] three or four times, you end up with tiger stripes on the towel. Take a second towel that’s also folded in quarters. Wipe back over the area with that fresh, clean towel just to pull off the last bit of product."
Swap towels when needed: "Continue unfolding and refolding that towel and following behind with the clean towel. Once it gets to the point that you feel that towel is no longer safe to use because there’s so much dirt embedded in it, set it aside. What had been your second towel — upgrade it to your first towel and get a clean towel for your secondary wipe."
Never. Ever. Scrub.
"One thing you never want to do is scrub hard. Scrubbing hard on your paint is just never a good idea. Let the ingredients in the car wash soap or spray wash do their job and break down and emulsify that dirt so you can safely remove it from the surface."
How to Clean a Vintage Car
"We do a lot of hot rod shows, vintage car shows. A lot of these owners don’t want to take out a bucket and hose — I get that. Old cars like to trap water in places. Or they don’t like to use soap for some crazy reason.
I’ve seen guys with really expensive, custom-built cars that are doing nothing more than taking — and this terrifies me — a cup of water and an old terrycloth washcloth. They just dip the cloth in water and just wipe the panel down. To them, they’re removing the dust, they’re not using any soap and they’re not flooding the car.
But what they don’t realize is that water is a terrible lubricant. And that old cotton towel has quite a bit of aggressiveness of the cotton loops. You’re going to scratch the paint. You’re doing something fairly horrible to the car. The one positive thing they’re doing is cleaning frequently. The problem is, their frequent process is not the safest process."
How Pollen Can Damage Your Paint
Aside from, you know, the whole “we need flowers and bees to make honey and to keep the environment happy” thing, pollen totally sucks. It makes me sneeze, for one, but it also coats everything — most notably, cars — in a gross, chalky, yellow film. Pollen can turn a white car banana-colored and a black car a puke-like chartreuse. But flower “dust” (to put it politely) is almost entirely unavoidable, and it can be much more than just an eyesore — it puts your precious paint at risk.
"Because it is naturally occurring material and it’s got more of an ability to decompose that just regular dirt, [it can] stick to the paint more tenaciously. Even in very tiny fragments, it will stick and bond to the paint. After that happens, it doesn’t come off when you wash the car. This is one of the components that will make your paint feel like 80-grit sandpaper after you’ve washed it. Then you need to step up to using a clay bar or something similar to remove that material.
It can also be hard and a little scratchy. It’s on a very small scale, obviously. But if you don’t have the proper lubrication and you’re not using a microfiber towel to really pick it up and pull it into the towel, you start to put really fine little micro scratches into the paint."
Can You Prevent Pollen Damage?
"Preventing is actually really simple: leave the car in the garage. [Pollen is] natural airborne fallout — there’s no way to prevent it from accumulating on a car. We get similar questions about brake dust. There’s no product you can apply to your wheels that won’t let it land on the surface. You’re stuck with the same situation when it comes to pollen.
If you’re going to use the car for what it was intended — getting out and driving the thing — it’s going to get dirty. The biggest thing you can do ahead of time is to keep a good coat of wax or synthetic sealant on the paint at all times. This will help to prevent things from sticking quite as dramatically to the paint surface and should make cleanup easier each time you do it. If you don’t let your car get really dirty, you can wipe it down [easily]."