John’s thoughts on safe washing…

July 28th, 2010

The importance of thorough pre-wash rinsing should not be underestimated...

A very warm welcome from all of us to John Sorrie, who recently joined the PB team in a sales and marketing role. John is currently being intensively trained in all aspects of car care and detailing, and as part of this process we thought it would be nice for him to share his thoughts and contribute some diary entries to the blog. Without further ado we’ll hand over to John…

“As the newest addition to the Polished Bliss team, it’s fair to say I’m on the bottom edge of a rather steep learning curve and one which seems to have a particularly high summit. Over the coming weeks, as I ascend this mountain, I’ll update the blog with my progress, thoughts and discoveries. I should point out at this stage that I’m not a detailer, more an ‘enthusiastic amateur’, so I’m fully aware that I have a lot to learn. The first stage of my training has focused on the wash process; pre-wash rinsing, pre-wash foaming, hand washing, post-wash rinsing, wheel cleaning and drying.

Rich and I agreed that pre-wash rinsing is often not done properly. The basic principle of the pre-wash rinse is to remove the maximum amount of dirt and grime possible before starting the wash process proper. Like all parts of detailing, the wash process should be systematic, working top-down and ‘chasing’ as much dirt, and therefore dirty water, off the car as possible – it’s not just about wetting the paint and Rich and I both felt that anything less than ten minutes of rinsing, assuming the use of a power washer, was insufficient. You only have to look at the image at the top of this post to see why thorough pre-wash rinsing is so important! Pre-wash foaming, whilst it has its critics or ‘non-believers’, is a useful process and one which can remove yet more dirt before contact is made with the paint.

Hand washing itself is a minefield. The best place to start is probably with the tools – what you use to wash a car with. If you’re reading this you’re probably already aware that using a sponge isn’t a good idea but I’ll try and briefly explore why. A sponge, due to its nature, can’t lift much, if any, dirt actually away from a painted surface so the dirt is therefore trapped between the paint and the sponge, where it causes marring and swirling. A lambswool wash mitt, with its flexible, long pile can lift dirt away and trap it within its fibres, preventing the dirt from being moved around over the paint. Imagine putting some sand on the back of your hand and rubbing it with a wet sponge – it’d be abrasive and would chafe your skin. Now imagine trying it with a wet lambswool mitt – the dirt would be lifted away from your skin and the experience would be more pleasant.

Many companies have tried to develop sponge- or foam-based items for washing but none of them have the surface texture to lift dirt away from the surface effectively. Critics of the lambswool mitt claim the dirt lifted into the pile stays there and is moved across the paint at a later point but if the mitt is rinsed carefully, the dirt is removed from the pile. Being ultra-gentle when washing is also crucial – scrubbing at the paint, regardless of the type of mitt, will cause marring. Always remember that just a very light touch should be used!

The two bucket method is well explained in the ‘seek advice’ section of the site but the one aspect I was most guilty of overlooking was changing the rinse water regularly. If this water is dirty, the dirt will be dragged onto the mitt and therefore the paint. Changing it at least once, but often up to three or four times, during the wash process is definitely worthwhile. Rich and I looked at grit guards and how they claim to work but we both believe careful rinsing in clean water is a far safer option. Grit guards are situated in the bottom of the rinse bucket, where all the dirt should be held, so forcing a mitt into the depths of the bucket will encourage grit to be dragged onto the mitt, not off of it. The guards also encourage the user to assume that grit will be removed whereas careful rinsing and visual checking of the mitt are much safer options.

During a practical training session I tried out all the shampoos in the store, cleaning each panel of my own car with a different shampoo – the differences between them were marked. Each shampoo offers distinct characteristics and a large aspect of selection comes down to personal preference or using a product which matches other products used on the car, e.g. Blackfire’s Gloss Shampoo and Conditioner is best suited to a car treated with Blackfire All Finish Paint Protection I also tested all of the wheel cleaners in the store, which fall into distinct categories depending on their intended usage. Some are clearly far stronger than others and suitable only for occasional use whilst the more mild cleaners are safe for regular usage. Some are also suitable for specific types of wheel and some for more delicate finishes. Like with the shampoos, there is no ‘best’ product, rather different products suited to different tasks.

Drying a car fills me with fear – the idea of dragging a towel across a non-lubricated surface seems to me to be the perfect way to mar the paint. Rich explained how patting a car dry minimises the risk of damage but that many people prefer to wipe the paint, and he also showed me which microfibre drying towels work best for each method. The machine I was most interested in was the Black Baron dryer and I tried this out on the grilles and shuts of my car. By using a flow of very high speed warm air, the machine forces water out and reduces the need to touch the paint. It is (a) very loud but (b) extremely impressive. I’m tempted to spend my own money on one, which is a pretty resounding statement!

My next batch of training will concentrate on decontaminating paint and then we’ll work through all the other aspects of detailing and I’ll blog on each one – I look forward to your comments!”

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9 Responses to “John’s thoughts on safe washing…”

  1. zoomzoom mazda5 says:

    Welcome John to Polished Bliss. You join the best group of folks around. Great to see Richard has you working and trying out many car washing products. Hope to see more from you posting and welcome from Angelo @ ProperAutoCare across the big pond.

  2. auto polish says:

    Looking forward to learning more from you!

  3. Hi Angelo, thanks for the welcome. Hopefully the future articles will be useful too – I’ve got some excellent teachers here! Regards, John.

  4. veterinary technician says:

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  5. Steven says:

    Hi John, excellent article, look forward to following your progress and learning at the same time.

  6. Grant H says:

    Hello, a newbie here! Up until a few weeks ago I thought I was quite good at cleaning our two cars. I stumbled across the world of vehicle detailing quite by accident and I now realise that I was a mere novice. I have spent the past two weeks doing my homework and reading your very informative site. Well done by the way, I have learnt so much and this in turn has brought lots of questions to mind. I will post those separately to keep continuity on each question.

    Luckily, both my wife and I have just changed our cars so they do not suffer from all the mistakes I made on the old ones. We have a 2011 Mercedes B class in metallic red and a 2011 Mini Cooper S in metallic gray with Black roof. Having read your comments on waxes, I thought I would take the opportunity to use a natural carnauba wax on the Mini and a synthetic polymer sealant on the Mercedes, 1) because the B class is used most days and will take the hardest punishment from the weather, while the Mini will be used once or twice a week, if that, and 2) I would be interested to compare the difference in the two finishes. Is this a reasonable idea? Many thanks for any advice offered.

  7. Hi Grant, thanks for your question; hopefully we can help steer you on the path to Polished Bliss! I understand your theory with regard to product choice on the two cars; sealants will, generally speaking, offer more durable protection than waxes, and are thus better suited for use on daily drivers. However, we also need to consider the aesthetic impacts too. Metallic red is a little tricky to work with, because using a sealant tends to enhance the metallic effect but make the finish look somewhat sterile, while using a wax tends to enrich the colour but mute the metallic flake. A similar effect occurs on metallic grey too; using a sealant tends to enhance the metallic effect and produce a sharp looking finish, while using a wax tends to hide the metallic effect and produce a soft, wet gloss. Given these points, I would suggest considering a combined system (i.e. sealant and wax) to give you the best of both worlds…

    The best system would be the Blackfire Wet Ice Over Fire Kit, which combines the use of a razor sharp looking synthetic polymer sealant with a rich, glossy carnauba wax fortified with polymers. In all cases, a basecoat of the sealant will preserve the metallic effect and provide long term durability, while a final top coat of the wax will add terrific wetness and gloss without muting the metallic effect. Thus, both cars will look sharp and metallic, but also rich and glossy too: truly the best of both worlds. Of course, using this kit would also allow you to have some fun and experiment a bit too, as you could try using just the sealant on the Mercedes, and the combined system on the Mini. This would sit well with your original idea and give you the option of waxing the Mercedes in the future without muting the metallic effect. If you have any further questions feel free to fire away! Regards, John.

  8. Jim Penman says:

    You mention pre-wash rinsing and also the use of a pressure washer. I have read that a pressure washer is not a wise thing to use on a car since it forces dirt into the paint rather than washing it off. Do you recommend pressure washers?

  9. Hi Jim, unequivocally, yes. It’s a complete myth that pressure washing forces dirt into the paint; the vast majority of dirt particles are far too big to fit into the pore structure of automotive paint, and it’s kinder to blast them off instantly rather than rub them into the paint surface by hand (which inflicts sub-surface defects). Of course, the usual caveats apply. Only use a domestic strength unit, and only at the recommended safe distance (usually 12″ or more away from the surface being cleaned). Choosing a hot water unit makes a lot of sense if funds will stretch – the difference in cleaning power is massive. I would recommend taking the time to read through our guide to safe washing; it covers all of the relevant techniques we recommend. Best regards, Rich.

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