Washing and Drying

Smart washing and drying techniques for the do-it-yourselfer.

Washing the car is Detailing 101. No detailing task has a bigger impact on the appearance of your vehicle. Our advice? Wash regularly and often, but – most importantly – wash correctly.


Most of the swirls on your car – those spider web looking scratches – are caused by improper washing and drying techniques. The culprit is dirt. Dirt that is not completely removed from the vehicle gets rubbed into the paint as you’re washing. Ask yourself these questions about your car washing technique:

  • Do you work from the front of the car to the back?

If so, you could be causing swirls.  If you wash the front hood, bumper, and fenders first and then move to the roof and down the sides of the car, you’re transferring fender dirt to the windows, roof and doors. You’re transferring dirt from the dirty fender to the much-cleaner roof and doors. The bottom quarter of your vehicle should always be washed last because that’s the dirtiest area.

  • Do you quickly dip your wash mitt in the soap and keep working?

A quick dip isn’t enough to remove dirt from the mitt. You’re transferring the dirt back to the vehicle, which is causing swirls! Instead, dip the mitt in a bucket of clean water and use your other hand to agitate the mitt to release trapped dirt. Then dip your mitt into the soap bucket and continue washing. You’ll be amazed at how dirty the “clean” water bucket gets. That dirt could have been rubbed into the paint if you hadn’t taken a moment to rinse your mitt.

  • What are you using to wash your vehicle?

Two of the best choices are natural sheepskin wash mitts or natural sea sponges because they have room for loose dirt to accumulate. Both materials are naturally soft and gentle on automotive paint and glass. Synthetic sponges and mitts can be made of coarse materials or they lack adequate room for dirt to accumulate. It’s important that your wash tool provide a place for dirt to go, whether that place is a deep nap of sheepskin or a network of pores on a sponge. Otherwise, the dirt will remain on the paint where it causes – you guessed it – swirls.

  • Is your vehicle waxed?

A coat of wax helps protect against swirls because it deters dirt from sticking to it. If the dirt is easier to remove, it will require less scrubbing, thus minimizing the risk of inducing swirls. Always pick a car shampoo that preserves the car wax in order to maintain this protective wax barrier.


Step By Step Washing & Drying

AutoDetail.org - Car Washing techniquesPark in a cool, shady spot. Washing your car in the sun will cause the soap to dry on the vehicle. Choose a car shampoo with lots of lubricants that will not strip wax. Both of these features will be on the label.

  • Always wash your vehicle with car soap. Dish soap is highly alkaline and removes car wax and sealants. Dish soap is made to leave absolutely nothing on dishes, and it does the same thing to cars. Also, dish soap offers no protection against swirls. Select a true car shampoo.



Wash the wheels and tires first. Use a brush or sponge designated specifically for the wheels and tires. If you splash dirty water on the body panels, it’s ok because you’re about to wash the vehicle anyway.



Use the two bucket method. Fill one bucket with your soap and water. Follow the dilution directions on the shampoo label. Fill a second bucket with clean water.


Spray off your vehicle thoroughly to remove any loose debris. Start washing at the roof. Wash the entire roof before moving on to the windows.


Reload your mitt after each section. To do this, rinse the mitt in the clean water to release the dirt you’ve just removed from the paint. Then reload the mitt with soapy water. For maximum swirl protection, put a Grit Guard Insert in the bottom of the bucket. The grid surface agitates the mitt to release dirt. The dirt then settles beneath the grid and stays there. After rinsing, reload the mitt with soapy water.


Next, wash the windows all the way around the vehicle. Rinse as needed.

It’s helpful to think of your vehicle as being divided into quarters. Clean each quarter before moving on to the next quarter. This technique will reduce the amount of dirt transferred from panel to panel. Therefore your vehicle will incur far fewer swirls.



When rinsing, try this trick: remove the nozzle from the hose and hold the hose over the top of the vehicle. The free-flowing water will sheet off the vehicle, leaving only a few drops.



Next, dry your vehicle to prevent water spots. You have a couple of drying options.

Option A. Use a waffle weave microfiber towel. The waffle weave texture increases the towel’s surface area and its capacity for moisture. Look for 80/20 split weave microfiber. The ratio refers to the amount of polyester and polyamide fibers in the towel, respectively. Split weave refers to how the fibers are woven together. Split weave microfiber is very absorbent and is soft to the touch. Flat weave microfiber is what is used to make water-resistant clothing – it’s not absorbent or particularly soft. Wipe down the vehicle with your waffle weave microfiber towel until it’s completely dry.

Option B. The other drying option is the Metro Vac N Blo. This portable vacuum and blower blows water off your vehicle and includes several attachments to blow water out of crevices and body seams. This option requires no contact with the paint, so swirls are impossible. The Vac N Blo pulls double duty as a vacuum as well.



Drying Tips:

Shine your vehicle as you dry! As you are towel drying your vehicle, mist the paint with a quick detailer. The quick detailer will provide lubrication to guard the paint against swirls and it will add instant shine to your freshly washed vehicle.

Dry the windows and mirrors first. Water spots will be most obvious on windows and mirrors.

Dry the wheels. Wheels will spot just like the paint. Use a microfiber towel or your Vac N Blo to dry the wheels. Because there could be residual brake dust on the wheel, use a designated wheel towel for drying. Keep this towel separate from your other drying towels.



Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water.

If you have problem water, you probably already know it. Hard water is easy to spot: soap doesn’t lather, sinks and tubs have stains under the faucets, and your car is covered in spots. Hard water is caused by minerals, usually calcium and magnesium, that are concentrated in your water supply. The danger of hard water is that it deposits minerals on your vehicle and those minerals can etch the paint, metal, and glass over time.


Sediment also lurks in the water. Sediment consists of dirt and rust that have found their way into the water line. Household faucets have screens to catch sediment, but your outdoor spigot may not. Sediment can scratch the paint and contribute to swirls.


AutoDetail.org - Inline water filter

An Inline Hose Filter can eliminate both hard water and sediment. A basic system is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. It typically consists of two canisters – one contains a sediment filter and the other contains a water softener cartridge. Each canister is about the size of a 2 liter bottle and has fittings to screw into water hoses (you need 3 hoses for a two-filter setup).


The 5 micron sediment filter will catch the tiniest dirt and rust particles before they reach your vehicle.


The water softener cartridge eliminates calcium and magnesium in the water through the process of ion exchange. The mineral ions are replaced with sodium. This is just like water softener systems found in homes, but on a smaller scale. The amount of sodium in the softened water is negligible and will not harm your vehicle’s finish.


Once you’ve installed an Inline Filter System, your car shampoo will lather better and water spots will be history.



Special Delivery

Foam guns are a different way of delivering the soapy water to the vehicle. A foam gun sprays the vehicle surface with foam. It's touch-free, quick, and a lot of fun. Foam guns vary by the mechanism that forces the foam through the gun. Below are three examples:


The Foam Cannon HP works with a pressure washer.


The Foamaster uses a standard water hose.


The Tornador Air Foamer works with an air compressor.


A foam gun is beneficial because it uniformly coats the vehicle in soap and can start loosening grime immediately. Depending on the condition of the vehicle, agitation with a mitt may not be needed. It's always a good thing to minimize the amount of paint contact needed to clean the vehicle.