6 tips for getting a better car wash

With just a little, consistent effort, you can keep your car’s finish well-protected and looking great. Regular washings, cleaning the wheels, taking care of obvious gunk, dead bugs and tree sap quickly, and applying wax every two to three months will keep your car looking fantastic under a variety of circumstances.

How to Wash Your Car Tutorial Video

How to wash your car the right way.

6 ways to get a better wash

yellow sponge washing blue car with car wash suds

1. Wash on a regular schedule

Some detailers recommend every week, but every other week is probably fine as long as you immediately address obvious issues like dead bugs, bird droppings, or major dirt buildup.

2. Set up in a good area

Set up to wash the car in a shady area, direct sunlight can cause spotting. We recommend using a dedicated car-wash soap and a microfiber wash sponge. A car wash soap is detergent free. Detergents will cause your wax to have a spider-web finish and create a haze. Wash sponge are great because they hold a lot of soapy water, grab lots of dirt and grime, and won’t leave micro-scratches on your paint. It’s also a good idea to use two buckets. One for clean soapy water, and one with rinsing water to remove dirt from the sponge. If this is not an option, just spray the sponge off between rinsing. It’s never good to wash the whole car and then rinse. The sun and heat can cause soap to dry, making you re-wash.

3. Work from the wheels up

It might sound counter-intuitive, but you want to start low. Start with the wheels and lower body to clean the dirtiest parts of the car first. Lots of people like to start rubbing down the hood, but the wheels are always the dirtiest part of your car, and you want to get that dirt off before moving on to the paint. Washing the wheels first will also save you time from drying paint twice. Always wait until the wheels have cooled before cleaning them.

4. Take the time to dry the vehicle

You don’t want soap and dirt residue to hold on the paint after you’ve put in all this hard work. And you’ll need a clean, dry surface if you’re also waxing. It’s a good idea to use a terrycloth or microfiber towel, clean and lint free, for the best drying.

5. Wax in sections, in the shade

You don’t want the wax to dry before you’ve had a chance to buff, so pick a dedicated section, apply the wax, and buff before moving on. Spray waxes offer an easy way to wax your vehicle in sections. Simply spray while the vehicle is wet, and then use a microfiber cloth to rub the wax onto the surface. If you notice spider-webbing and haze you’ll need to use a cleaner wax. You could also use a nonabrasive cleaning compound to remove the old wax before using a polish. Removing old wax and applying new wax should be done at least once a year.

Person cleaning a window with a sponge.

6. Finish with the glass

It’s a good practice to clean your interior with appropriate materials as well, shampoo for cloth seats and dedicated leather cleaner for leather seats, but save your glass and windows for last to make sure you catch and residual cleaner from the other applications.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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