How to Wash Your Car's Exterior
When washing your car’s exterior, location matters. Opting to suds up and hose down your car in your driveway can cause detergents, oil, grease, heavy metals, and other toxins to flow into the nearest storm drain—and from there, into local lakes and streams, potentially harming fish and aquatic plant life. Your city may even prohibit home car washes to protect waterways or conserve water. Check with your local water department before you wash.
Instead of the driveway, consider a nearby self-serve car wash, which reuse water several times before diverting run-off to a sewer system for proper treatment. Some places, like Southern Nevada and San Mateo, California, even offer coupons to encourage residents to use a commercial car wash.
Automated car washes, alternatively, can be convenient but hard on your paint. Many use abrasive spinning brushes that can leave marks over time. “Anything that hits your car can cause scratches,” explains Kenyon. “Eventually, you might start to see spider-web marks across your car.”
For a proper hand-wash, here’s what to do:
Wash the wheels.
Spray a cloth with bug and tar remover to remove any grit. Once the grit is gone, wash with mild soap or a wheel cleaner, and rinse. (Note: Tire dressings promise a pretty shine but may make it harder for your tires to grip the road, and according to Consumer Reports, may not be that useful when it comes to protecting your tires. Do your research before choosing and applying a tire shine product.)
Wash the body.
Tackle your car’s body with a product designed for automotive paint. Use a fresh sponge and bucket—not the ones you used on your wheels—to avoid transferring grime, and wash from the top down., If you drop your sponge, rinse it thoroughly to remove any dirt that might scratch the paint.
While your car is wet, run your hand along the body. Does it feel rough? If so, pollutants such as dirt particles, brake dust, and industrial fallout have accumulated, which can degrade the surface. To remove the grit without leaving a scratch, buy a clay bar kit for $20 to $25. Cover the area you plan to tackle first with a lubricating spray (sometimes included in the kit) and rub the bar along the body, including glass and chrome parts, to remove stuck-on debris. Follow your kit’s instructions for best results. Rinse and use a chamois to dry.