The Best Way to Wash a Car Without Swirl Marks, Water Spots or Scratching It | How to maintain & avoid damaging a Black painted vehicle

Everyone wants to have a clean car that shines and sparkles in the sun. A clean car will make your car look nicer and newer.

Who does not want that?

You may not realize but washing your car the wrong way can actually damage it and make it look dirty or worse.

Washing your car can be a bit of a chore, so it seems like a good idea to leave it to a professional and use a car wash.


A car wash especially an automated one (but also manual car washes where the person washing it does not care about YOUR car) can be the worst thing for your car. Using a car wash can result in scratches and swirl marks in your car’s paint. After a few times of this, your car will start to look older and dirtier.

Ironic isn’t it, washing your car (the wrong way) ends up making your car look older and dirtier!

At an automated car wash, you have the dirty brushes and cloth that have been used to clean all the cars repeatedly hitting your car at speed scratching the dirt particles on them against your car. Furthermore, the chemical used in a car wash can be the cheap and nasty kind that use harsh corrosive cleaning chemicals to reduce costs and increase the car wash owner’s profit margin.  

washing your car (the wrong way) ends up making your car look older and dirtier

Even at the manual car washes, the car wash guys are usually employed on their ability to wash a car quickly rather than wash a car with care.

However, not all car washed are bad you just need to be very selective about where you take your car, or just do it yourself.

If you really need to use a car wash make sure that it does the following:

  • Wash cars in the shade
  • Dry cars out of direct sunlight
  • Use a clean washing cloth and chamois
  • Use the two bucket method of washing

If the car wash uses these methods it will help protect your car.


In the end, there are no shortcuts, if you want the job done properly you may want to do (wash) it yourself.

It is not all bad news though, keep reading to find out the easy way to wash your car that will protect it from damage.


An additional benefit of DIY car washing is that then you are washing it yourself you will see any damages or problems with your car easier. Including if another car driver opened their door and banged it into your paintwork leaving a scratch whilst you were parked at the local shopping center.


Did you know that you can remove scratches in your car’s paint clear coat if they pass the fingernail test? If you run your fingernail over the scratch and it does not catch then you can use a scratch repair kit to remove it.


How to wash a car properly

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  1. Park your car in the shade

Water, soap and other cleaner products dry quicker in the sun or on a hot surface. This can make it more likely that you will get water spots or swirl marks on your car.

  1. Prepare your washing equipment

You will need:

  • Clean water a pressure washer for cars is best then a hose
  • Buckets x2
  • Car wash detergent
  • Car wash mittens x2
  • Chamois x2
  • Clay bar, clay bar lubricant and mitten (optional)
  • Car wax
  • Car wax mitten

Mix up your detergent with the water in one bucket and leave another with only clean water.

  1. Pre-wash or rinse your car first

Pre-washing or rinsing your car with water first can remove a lot of the dirt and means that you will not be rubbing all that dirt into the paintwork when you scrub the car.

Pre-wash rinsing a car first with a pressure washer

Pre-washing is best done with a pressure washer that is suitable for cars. You can find a review of the best pressure washers for use on cars here.

  1. Wash the wheels first

A car’s wheels are constantly in the dirt, get the brake dust from the brake pads and are usually the dirtiest part of the car. Give them a good squirt with the pressure washer if you have one. Be careful not to get too close to the car with the nozzle especially if you have a powerful washer. You don’t want to wash the paint off your car. This will not be a problem unless you get really close. If you don’t have a pressure washer, then the garden hose is the next best thing.

After squirting the wheels, scrub the wheels with a soapy sponge or washing mitten. Scrub all around, even in the parts that you can’t see like up in the wheel hub and behind the wheel.

After scrubbing them with soap, rinse them off again with clean water.

Getting this dirt off first means that it will not spread to other parts of your car when you are washing them.  

Do not use the same washing mitten for your wheels as you use for the rest of your car. This will prevent you from transferring dirt and grime from your wheels to the rest of your car.

  1. Wash from the roof down using the two bucket method

Water runs downhill. By washing the uppermost parts of your car and moving down you will not dirty the parts of your car that you have already cleaned.

Use the two bucket method of cleaning your car and cleaning the mitten that you are using to clean your car.

washing car with sponge

Make sure that the part that you are about to scrub is already wet. You may need to re-wet it with your pressure washer or hose.

  1. Rinse off the soap

After scrubbing your car with soap, rinse the soap off with clean water a pressure washer is best but a garden hose is ok. Try to get all of the soap off as this will reduce the chance of getting water spots and swirls.

  1. Dry your car with a Chamois

Drying your car with a chamois is the best way to avoid water spots and swirls. Start from the roof and work down. This way you will not get drips over where you have already dried.

Using the chamois wipe slowly and without a lot of pressure. Periodically squeeze the water out of the chamois. You can need to re-wet areas that air dry and re-dry them with a chamois to prevent water spots.

  1. Clay bar your car (optional)

Clay baring is used to remove contaminants such as over-spray (from painting the car), rail dust (from when a new car is being transported by train) and break dust (from the cars break pads). Contaminants like these can be difficult to remove even with the most thorough washing. However, clay baring is an effective way to remove these contaminants and make your paint or glass feel silky smooth and look immaculate.

After washing and drying the car, working in sections, lubricate the surface with clay bar lubricant. Use the lubricant generously so that you do not scratch the surface of the car. After lubricating, start rubbing the lubricated section with the car clay bar.

The car panels, windshield, windows and mirrors can all be clay bared.

Once the contaminants are removed the clay bar will glide smoothly instead of sticking to the paint. Use a microfiber towel to wipe remaining clay bar lubricant the surface.

  1. Wax your car

Waxing your car will make water bead on the surface and help it stay cleaner for longer and also makes it look better and shinier. Each type of wax has its own directions, just follow them.

beading water on waxed car

Example of beading water on waxed car

Car washing Tips – FAQ

What is the two bucket method of washing a car?

The two bucket method of washing a car is where you have… that right… two buckets. One bucket has the car washing soapy water in it, the other has clean water without any soap.

After putting your washing mitten or washcloth in the soapy water bucket you then use it to scrub your car. Then with the dirt mitten, you rinse the dirt off in the clean water bucket. After rinsing the mitten clean you dip it back into the soapy water bucket, then scrub the car and repeat the process of cleaning your car and then cleaning your wash cloth.


Why use the two bucket method?

By using the two bucket method you are scrubbing your car with a cleaner washcloth. This means that you are rubbing less dirt against your paint and therefore causing less micro-scratches. This will make your car look cleaner and newer.


How to keep your car clean longer?

The best way to keep your car lean longer is to use car wax. Car wax creates a protective barrier for your paint that dirt does not stick to as well. Wax will also make water bead and run off your car instead of ‘sticking’ to the paint and drying on it with the dirt.


What is the best scratch remover for cars?

There are a range of quality scratch removers on the market including:

Best way to dry a car

Read about how to dry your car the right way

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