- > Car Care Advice
- > Safe Washing And Drying
Safe Washing And Drying
Washing is the process of removing loose grime from the exterior surfaces of your car and should normally be done on a weekly or fortnightly basis. In the following guide, find out about the benefits a lambswool wash mitt offers over a traditional yellow sponge, how to use the two bucket method, when to use a microfibre wash mitt, how to wash and rinse exterior surfaces efficiently, how to dry exterior surfaces safely, and the benefits a microfibre drying towel offers over a traditional chamois leather ...
Washing is the process of removing loosely bonded surface contaminants, such as dust, dirt, bug remains and road salt, from the exterior surfaces of your car. Generally speaking, if your car is used as a daily driver, then washing it once a week should be sufficient to enable you to stay on top of the dirt and grime and keep it looking good most of the time. If you choose to wash your car more frequently than this, you should be aware that you run the risk of accumulating sub-surface paint defects more quickly than normal. This is because the vast majority of common sub-surface paint defects such as swirl marks and fine random scratches are inflicted during the wash process, as a result of dirt and grime being moved around over underlying surfaces. By using appropriate products and techniques this risk can be minimised, but never completely eliminated. Therefore, the frequency at which you wash your car will dictate the frequency at which the bodywork will acquire sub-surface paint defects. We recommend washing your car as little as required to keep it looking good most of the time, and certainly no more than once a week.
Once a car has acquired a significant film of dirt and grime there is a much greater risk of inflicting sub-surface paint defects during the wash process. This is due to the greater number of contaminants present that may inadvertently be moved around over underlying surfaces as they are removed, and the tendency to scrub the paint more to get it clean. At the simplest level the first thing you can do to minimise this risk is to rinse off as much dirt and grime as possible using a hose or a pressure washer before washing the bodywork by hand. Ten to fifteen minutes spent carefully rinsing off in this way is time well spent, but may not always yield much improvement, particularly if two to three weeks worth of dirt and grime is present and has gone through numerous wetting and drying cycles. In such cases, the use of a pre-wash foaming solution can help tremendously.
The idea behind applying thick clinging foam to your car before washing is simple and the benefits are obvious. If you apply a generous coating of suds to dirty surfaces and allow them to cling in situ for many minutes at a time, the cleaning agents have longer to work and therefore dissolve and suspend a lot more dirt and grime. By the time the foam is eventually rinsed off much of the dirt and grime is simply washed away, leaving relatively clean surfaces behind ready for a careful wash by hand. Clearly, the major benefit here is that the bulk of dirt removal is done before a wash mitt is placed on the car, which greatly reduces the risk of inflicting marring and fine scratches during the hand-washing process.
Applying a thick layer of clinging pre-wash foam using a PA Foam Lance
Once applied the foam should be allowed to dwell for up to five minutes
Rinsing off the foam at pressure leaves the car far cleaner than before
Normal car shampoos can be used to produce foam with a reasonable degree of success, providing that the correct dilution ratio is maintained. However, this can result in a lot of expensive shampoo being used up quite quickly, so numerous manufacturers also offer specialised pre-wash foaming solutions (often referred to as snow foams) with much higher dilution ratios. In our opinion, one of the best such products currently available is Auto Finesse Avalanche, as it produces thick clinging foam at an amazing dilution rate of just 100:1 (water:product). A further key benefit of using Auto Finesse Avalanche is that it will not strip or otherwise degrade existing sealant or wax protection, unlike some other snow foam products currently on the market.
Foam production relies on air being drawn into a foaming solution as it passes through an injector head into the main stream of water running through either a foam gun or a foam lance. The higher the pressure of the water, the thicker the resulting foam will be. Accordingly, foam guns that attach to hoses, like the PB Foam Gun, generate relatively thin, bubbly foam with limited clinging power, while foam lances that attach to pressure washers, like the PA Foam Lance, generate much thicker foam that clings very strongly, allowing more time for the cleaning agents present to dissolve and suspend dirt and grime. Consequently, foam lances tend to offer a lot more cleaning power than foam guns, and we recommend that a foam lance is chosen over a foam gun whenever possible.
In cases where for whatever reason a pressure washer cannot be used, a foam gun is still well worth having as it will remove far more dirt and grime than water alone and can also be used during the subsequent hand-washing process in place of a suds bucket (the idea here is to reapply a thick layer of foam to each panel immediately ahead of wiping it down with a wash mitt, as this ensures maximum lubrication as the mitt glides over the underlying surface). In all cases using warm water will produce thicker and more effective foam with greater cleaning power, to the extent that when using a warm water pressure washer touchless washing becomes a distinct possibility at all times of the year.
Auto Finesse Avalanche
PA Foam Lance
PB Foam Lance Kit
The most important thing to remember about the wash process is that more often than not you are working on dirty surfaces. Your choice of products and methods is therefore very important, as you want to be able to gently lift away dirt and grime without damaging underlying surfaces or stripping away existing sealant or wax protection. For this reason, we recommend the use of a high quality lambswool wash mitt in place of a traditional sponge, and the use of a mild shampoo in conjunction with the two bucket wash method.
If you examine traditional sponges and think about the washing process, it should become obvious to you that they are poorly suited to the task. This is because they provide no means of lifting particles of dirt safely away from the surfaces being washed. Instead, dirt particles are trapped against the face of the sponge and moved around over underlying surfaces, creating fine scratches that are commonly referred to as swirl marks. The potential for inflicting such damage is greater during the winter months, when coarser particles of grit and road salt tend to accumulate on the exterior surfaces of your car in between washes.
In contrast to sponges, lambswool wash mitts feature a deep pile that enables particles of dirt to be drawn safely away from the surfaces being washed. Moreover, because the pile is fairly loose, particles of dirt can easily be rinsed out. These benefits can be reinforced by using the two bucket method, in which the first bucket is filled with suds and the second with rinse water. The idea behind this method is to load the mitt with suds, wash one panel of the car and then rinse the mitt thoroughly in the second bucket to release any trapped particles of dirt, before reloading the mitt with suds and moving on to the next panel. It is a simple idea, but highly effective all the same.
The only downside of using lambswool wash mitts is that they are fairly delicate and susceptible to damage by harsh use and snagging. For this reason, we recommend switching to a microfibre wash mitt when washing wheels and the insides of wheel arches, as these areas tend to suffer from significant accumulations of gritty particles and also tend to have more potential snags. However, because microfibre mitts have a shorter pile than lambswool mitts, extra care should be taken to rinse them regularly and thoroughly in order to minimise the risk of marking delicate alloy rims. This risk can be further minimised by pre-washing wheels and the insides of wheel arches with a soft tipped wheel cleaning brush.
Moving on, your choice of shampoo is important as it needs to be tough enough to dissolve dirt and grime, but at the same time not so aggressive as to strip or otherwise degrade existing layers of sealant or wax protection. Many shampoos on sale in high street stores are actually quite strong, and thus best avoided. If you wash and protect your car regularly a mild shampoo will suffice, as any dirt and grime will be loosely bonded and fairly easy to remove. Many good quality shampoos also contain natural or synthetic oils that encapsulate particles of dirt, which further reduces the risk of inflicting swirl marks and typically leaves an amazingly slick finish that sheets water very easily and makes drying off less of a chore.
Some modern paint finishes seem to be highly susceptible to marring no matter how carefully they are treated, and drying them off after washing poses two key problems. Firstly, there is always the danger when working outside that fresh airborne contaminants may settle on the car after rinsing off. Wiping the car dry with a microfibre drying towel can then result in these contaminants causing marring as they are trapped by the towel and then drawn across underlying surfaces. Secondly, as paint is dried off, all lubrication is effectively removed, meaning that the friction between the towel and the paint increases. This in itself can be enough to cause marring in some modern paint finishes.
The solution to both problems outlined above is to cut out any wiping of the paint. It is possible to pat dry a car using a microfibre drying towel in only a little more time than that required to wipe it dry. By not wiping, any fresh contaminants are not moved around over the paint, and towel friction is reduced to a minimum. A further option that cuts towel contact out completely is to use an air blower to dry the car off. Dedicated vehicle dryers and domestic leaf blowers work really well in this respect, and this is a method we have adopted into our own wash routines, as we believe it significantly helps to reduce the risk of inflicting defects during the drying process.
PB Clear Wash Bucket
PB Advanced Wash Kit
MetroVac Air Force Blaster
When it actually comes to the washing process, the first thing you should do is rinse off as much loose dirt and grime as possible using a hose or a pressure washer. If you opt for the latter use an RCD safety device, observe a safe working distance and don't be too aggressive with the power setting; high pressure jets can knock sticky balancing weights off alloy rims and, in extreme cases, can also strip paint from sharp edges (around wheel arches for example). It is worthwhile taking the time to thoroughly rinse the wheels and the insides of the wheel arches at this stage, as it makes later work with the microfibre wash mitt easier and less mucky.
After rinsing (and foaming if desired), the next thing you should do is wash all of the exterior surfaces bar the wheels and the insides of the wheel arches using a good quality lambswool wash mitt in conjunction with a mild shampoo and the two bucket wash method. Start with the roof, and then work down, washing the windows, the bonnet, the boot, the upper halves of the sides, the lower halves of the sides and finally the front and rear bumpers and the sills. Rinse the mitt thoroughly after every panel, and don't be stingy with the suds; make up a fresh bucket if necessary. The same goes for the rinse bucket; the rinse water can get dirty very quickly, so keep an eye on it and replace it whenever necessary.
Initial rinsing at pressure removes loose dirt and grime
A lambswool wash mitt should be used to carefully wash the bodywork
Proof that the two bucket method works (and time to change the rinse water!)
When using the wash mitt, try to follow the lines of the car and use only back and forth or side to side motions; circular motions will only make swirl marks more pronounced if you are unlucky enough to inflict any. It is better to wash your car in the shade if you can, so as to prevent the suds from drying out before rinsing off. If this is not possible, you should begin rinsing off sooner, panel by panel on really hot days. When rinsing off, we recommend using a hose with all of the end attachments removed; this encourages the rinse water to sheet off the panels and makes drying off easier.
With the bodywork and the windows now washed, the next thing you should do is swap to the microfibre wash mitt and tackle the wheels. If they are particularly dirty you can scrub them first with a soft tipped wheel cleaning brush. Be particularly generous with the suds and take the time to get into all of the nooks and crannies and remove all of the brake dust. After washing all of the wheels, finish the process by washing the insides of the wheel arches, rinsing your wash mitt regularly. Finally, rinse everything off with the hose, including the bodywork again if it dried off during the intervening period.
Wheels and tyres should be carefully washed with a microfibre wash mitt
Rinsing off with an open ended hose leaves less water to dry off
Pat drying with a microfibre drying towel reduces the risk of marring
The penultimate step in the wash process is to dry all of the exterior surfaces. This is important, because leaving your car to dry off naturally can lead to the formation of unsightly water spots, which can actually damage painted surfaces if not removed. Although you are now working on clean surfaces, you still want to minimise the risk of inflicting swirl marks when drying off. For this reason, we recommend pat drying with a microfibre drying towel instead of a traditional chamois leather. In contrast to traditional chamois leathers, microfibre drying towels are capable of absorbing many times their own weight in water, meaning that you can dry most cars without wringing out once, and are considerably easier to clean and maintain than traditional chamois leathers.
The final step in the washing process is to pack away all of the tools you have used, making sure everything is clean and ready for next use. Firstly, rinse out your buckets and wheel cleaning brushes thoroughly and then leave them to dry out naturally. Secondly, rinse out your wash mitts and drying towel and then wash them all in a washing machine at a low temperature using a non-biological liquid detergent (avoid soap powders and detergents containing bleach or fabric softeners) before allowing them to dry out naturally.