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How To Wash Your Car Without Scratching It

best car washing technique to avoid swirl marks

Taking your car for a wash may seem a good way of keeping it looking great but it may actually be causing damage. Leaving someone else to wash your car could leave your paintwork in trouble because incorrect car washing techniques can cause scratches and swirl marks.

Washing your own car safely takes very little effort and is made even easier when you use the correct tools. The two main products we recommend you purchase is a high quality car wash soap and a car pressure washer to remove tough dirt that clings to your car.

Table of Contents

Why Are Automated Car Washes Bad?

Automated car washes are popular because as the owner, you just need to sit in the car. However, automated car washes can cause more damage than good. Imagine how many cars go through the same automated car wash before your car goes through. Your car will be using the same brushes/cloths that pick up the same dirt and are then wiped all over your car.

Automated car washes are also quite cheap, which is due to the owners wanting to make more profit. This means they cut corners when it comes to the products used, which includes the car wash soap. Some cleaners can be be too acidic and strip any wax from the paintwork.

If you cannot wash your car yourself, ensure that you look for a hand car wash business. Although this isn’t as good as doing it yourself, it’s still better than automated car washes. Good signs that a hand car wash is worth going to include:

  • Washing area is covered by shade
  • They use the “Two Bucket Method”
  • Use clean wash mitts and car drying towels

best method to wash your own car

How To Safely Wash Your Car

1. Wash The Wheels First

Your wheels and tires will be the dirtiest part of your car. Therefore, by cleaning these first, it reduces the potential for dirt to splash onto the clean panels of your car.

We highly recommend that you use a quality wheel cleaner that’s suitable for your specific type of wheel because some may be too powerful for certain wheel types.

2. Prepare The Washing Equipment

Before you begin cleaning the rest of the car, you should clean the buckets used to wash the wheels and use a completely different wash mitt.

For washing the car’s panel, you should abide by the two bucket method to reduce the risk of causing damage. This requires you to fill both of the buckets with the recommended solution as per the manufacturers guidelines of your preferred car wash.

3. Pre-wash Your Car

You should never put your soapy wash mitt onto dry paintwork without at least spraying the car with water. This has the effect of rubbing any dirt into your paintwork and causing scratches.

One of the best ways to prepare the surface before applying any soap is to use a snow foam cannon. These devices connect to a pressure washer and spray a specific soap for foam cannons in order to dissolve and remove tough dirt without touching the paint.

4. Begin By Washing The Roof

Always wash your roof first because the dirt drips down the car, which isn’t what you want to happen if you have cleaned other panels lower down on the car.

5. Wash The Other Panels

Continue to wash all other car panels and ensure the car is kept wet before using your soapy wash mitt. When washing the car, always start washing the panel from the top to the bottom. The bottom of the car’s panels are often the dirtiest, which means if you wash it from the bottom up, you will end up moving that dirt back up the panel to wash the top half.

It’s also always advised that you wash the mitt thoroughly between washing panels (two bucket method). This prevent transferring dirt from one panel to the other via the wash mitt.

6. Drying The Car

Drying the car is by far the most common way people scratch their car’s paintwork. You can dry the car using many methods such as an auto blower but most people will opt for a dedicated car drying towel as its cheaper and doesn’t require a power supply.

You will want to begin by drying the windows and mirrors first and then moving onto the roof. This is due to the fact that the water will most likely drip onto the other panels.

It’s important that you dry your car using the least amount of pressure possible and ensuring that all the water is absorbed. You will also want to dry your wheels with a completely different cloth to avoid contamination.

clean wheels and tyres

Scratches Upon The Paintwork After Washing – What To Do?

Although you may think that washing your car avoid scratches, it’s pretty much the opposite. However, using the correct methods helps to avoid the risk of scratches appearing.

If you notice scratches or swirl marks, you have two options to rectify the paint defect. The first option is the completely remove the defect using a car paint scratch remover or by using rubbing compounds to remove a very fine layer of the clear coat.

How To Keep Your Car Clean Without Washing It

Your car will always look its best when it’s clean and there are certain methods to keep it this way. The best way is to use a quality car wax that acts as a protective barrier against defects caused by washing your car.

You will be able to tell whether a car has been waxed by waiting for the rain to arrive or pouring water onto the paintwork. A properly waxed car will repel any water and also has the effect of producing great water beading upon the paint. Other detailing products such as a ceramic coating or paint sealant also have the same effect.

What is the Two Bucket Car Wash Method?

The two bucket method is the process of washing your car with one bucket filled with a soapy solution and the other with clean water.

After rinsing your car to loosen the initial dirt, use the wash mitt with the soapy car wash to wash the car. Once complete, place the wash mitt into the clean water before placing back into the soap solution. This removes any dirt picked up from washing the car remaining in the wash mitt.

Repeating this process throughout the car wash process helps to reduce the risk of swirl marks and scratches on your paintwork. You can even go one step further by getting yourself grit guard for your car wash bucket that traps the dirt at the bottom of the bucket where your wash mitt can’t go.


Although automated car washes may seem tempting, in the long the run, you will certainly regret it. The amount of scratches and swirl marks after just a few uses of an automated car wash is terrible and will take hours to rectify.

The above steps to safely wash your car are very straightforward and pretty much anyone can do it. As long as you keep your equipment clean and follow the Two Bucket method, you will minimize the risk of causing damage.

procarreviews author

Written By Dan

About the Author

Dan is an automotive journalist and owner of over 10 cars ranging from supercars, tuned cars, classics and your good old beater cars. He always likes to get his hands dirty with nut and bolt restorations or detailing sessions using the best products on the market.

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