Car cleaning guide

How to wash a car

Find out the best way to wash a car

Best way to clean a car

Keeping your car clean is important for a variety of reasons. The obvious one is that you want to take pride in your vehicle.

But it also has a number of benefits as well, including keeping your vision clear while driving by removing marks from your windscreen and mirrors.

To help you clean up your car, this guide will run through how to wash a car at home and some of the top questions around best practice when wiping it down.

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In this article:

Car being washed with soap and sponge

How to wash a car in 7 steps

Washing a car is simple, but to do a great job of it there are a few things to bear in mind. This guide will run through how to get your car shiny and fresh in just a handful of steps.

What you need to wash a car
  • A hose or pressure washer.
  • Specialised car wash soap or wash wax.
  • A sponge.
  • Cloths.
  • Car polish.
1. Spray the car down

Use a hose or a pressure washer to clean most of the dirt and grit off the outside.

2. Work from the top with soap

Apply your soap or wash wax at the top, moving downwards so dirt doesn’t run into parts you’ve already cleaned.

3. Rinse as you go

Avoid soap marks by washing down the parts you’ve soaped before moving onto other areas.

4. Wipe the area down

Leaving a car to dry naturally can result in a streaky finish or watermarks so make sure to dry sections properly using a microfibre cloth or towel.

5. Clean between the doors

When everything else is dry, open the doors and boot and use a damp cloth to clean between the cracks.

6. Clean the wheels

Use a separate damp cloth, brush or sponge to wash the wheels down too.

7. Wax and polish

Once the car is clean, waxing the outside or using car polish will help it look even better. It has the added bonus of protecting the car for longer, meaning fewer washes in the future.

You could also use this opportunity to perform some basic car checks to save on maintenance time later.

What soap can I use for a car wash?

There are soaps made specifically for washing a car at home – you can find these to buy online or at most home improvement retailers or automotive shops. Some petrol stations may also stock these.

Usually, these car washing soaps will feature a mix of shampoo and wax, though it's also possible to buy just car wash shampoo on its own.

We recommend only using soaps designed specifically for cars, however if you insist on alternatives, you can clean your car with the following:

  • Washing up liquid
  • Vinegar (only for glass)
  • Baby shampoo

Note that the cleaning materials above may strip the wax from your car’s paintwork or leave other visual marks, as they’re not ideal for the job.

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Can I just wash my car with water?

Hosing your car down will likely get off a lot of the dirt, but may not remove some of the tougher blemishes or bacteria that can build up over time.

Dried mud, dirt and grease will need something more than just plain water, but if your car is just dusty then a quick rinse could be all it needs.

Can you do a car wash by hand?

Any kind of washing is likely to be good for your car’s cleanliness, but hand-washing, provided you follow the steps outlined in this guide and are thorough with your cleaning, is almost always going to be better than using a machine.

By wiping the car down by hand instead of the air or blow drying provided by automatic car washes, you reduce the water markings. And by using a cloth, you’ll get in all the cracks and crevices that a machine can miss.

Can I use a pressure washer to wash my car?

If washing a car with a pressure washer, make sure your car can take it. On some cars, the higher pressure could damage the following:

  • Paintwork – some nozzles or attachments can increase the chance of a pressure washer affecting the paintwork, as can holding the washer too close to the car.
  • Plastics – plastic parts such as bumpers and door mouldings can be damaged if pressure washed at close range.
  • Interior of the car – pressure washers can sometime force water past door seals or into expensive electronic units. When it comes to washing around the engine or under the bonnet area, it's best to avoid using a pressure washer.

How often should you wash your car?

To avoid paint or metal damage from materials such as road salt that build up on a car, it’s recommended that you wash it at least once every couple of weeks.

It may seem like a lot, but it helps protect your car. By using wax and polish at the end, you can keep the car looking great for longer.

What's the best time of day to wash my car?

You might think that a hot sunny afternoon is the best time to get your car clean, but this may not be the case.

Too much direct sunlight or heat can dry the soap before you’ve had a chance to wipe it down. This can lead to water spotting and a streaky finish. During hot spells, it’s best to wash your car early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid this.

If you’re planning to wash your car on a rainy day, it’s generally best to wait until after the wet weather so that you can clean off any drip marks or water spots left behind by the rain.

Get more helpful advice on essential car maintenance.

Can you use washing up liquid to clean a car?

Yes, you can use washing up liquid to clean your car, though it may not be as effective as actual car shampoo. Regular washing up liquid shouldn't be strong enough to remove or dull any paintwork from your vehicle either.

Can I use shampoo to wash my car?

If you have no option but to use hair shampoo to clean your car, then opt for baby shampoo as the gentler solution will benefit the layer of paint and wax on your vehicle.

Ideally, you can use a pre-wash like snow foam to get the best results for the wax work on your car.

Can you wash a car in the rain?

Ideally, you should wait for a dry day to wash your car, as rain can wash away some of your car cleaning product before it has the chance to settle properly and remove any dirt and grime. However, if you can't wait and need to wash your car, then go ahead! It should still look better than if you hadn’t cleaned it at all.

Should I wax my car after every wash?

If you wash your car very often, then it probably doesn’t make sense to wax it after every wash. Instead, add a wax to the end of your wash every couple of months to keep your car in tip-top condition (and to save a bit of money in the process).

Do car washes remove wax?

To some extent, yes, though soaps and shampoos designed specifically for cars are a better choice for preserving the wax on your car. Cleaning a car at home with non-specialised products like washing up liquid, vinegar, and baking soda could lead to the wax being stripped away from your car.

Are there ways to wash my car without water?

It’s important to note that the run-off from washing your car could enter surface drains or bodies of water and cause pollution – so if washing your own car at home it may be a good idea to look into waterless washing solutions.

One way to wash your car without water is to use a waterless car wash spray – spray the areas of your car that you want to clean and then use a bit of elbow grease with a cleaning cloth to remove the any dust, or grime particles.

Published: 22 May 2018 | Updated: 11 April 2024 | Author: The AA

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