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Here’s How to Wash Your Car Properly, Without Damaging the Paint

Dirt is almost entirely unavoidable — but it puts your precious paint at risk.

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Hunter D. Kelley

To get the skinny on the best way to keep a car clean, 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.

Meguiar's All in One Essentials Car Care Kit
Meguiar's amazon.com
$89.99
Meguiar's Quik Detailer Mist & Wipe 32-Oz
Meguiar's amazon.com
$12.99
$9.44 (27% off)
Meguiar's Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner, 24-Oz
Meguiar's amazon.com
$15.98

A Word on Towel Management

"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."

Meguiar's Supreme Shine Microfiber Towels, Pack of 3
Meguiar's amazon.com
$9.31

How to Clean Your Car

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."

Top-down. "Always work from the top of the car down."

Let it soak. "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."

Fold your towel. "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, Wipe, Roll. "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."

Follow-up 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. "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."

Caring for a Classic 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."

Meguiar's Ultimate Waterless Wash & Wax, 26-Ounces
Meguiar's amazon.com
$11.34
$9.87 (13% off)
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