The right, eco-friendly way to wash your car
The Dirty Job
For really dirty jobs, the best and most effective way to wash a vehicle still involves elbow grease. That's how pro detailers do it to this day. It's the only way some dirt and residue can be removed. Clay, for instance, can leave a hazy, brownish film that will resist a high-pressure brushless car wash.
While hand-washing might get your vehicle the cleanest, it can be far from environmentally friendly. The main culprits are the excessive use of water and the release of harmful substances such as soap residue, oil, acid and metal particles into the sewer system while washing and rinsing. Some cities and states have banned home car washing for these reasons. Others do so indirectly by forbidding all use of tap water outdoors to preserve dwindling supplies during hot spells.
If you plan to wash at home, your first move is to get automotive soap and cleaners that are biodegradable and nontoxic. Even then, you should avoid washing over pavement, which would let the wash water drain into a sewer, storm drain or ditch that would then let it seep into the water system. Make sure to wash over grass or gravel that will absorb the water into the ground to reduce or eliminate the environmental impact.
Hand-Wash the Right Way
The golden rule for hand-washing, Lee says, is to be "as gentle as possible" to avoid scratching or etching the finish. Make sure your car is cool and parked in the shade. You should also wash in the shade to keep the surface from drying out instantly and leaving soap streaks and scratches.
Fill two buckets with tap water. The first gets the soap, with the right dilution ratio, and the second is for rinsing dirt and particles off thoroughly as you go over the car, section by section, moving from top to bottom. Leave the rocker panels and wheels, always the dirtiest bits, for last. Otherwise, the grit from these areas will get stuck in the cleaning rags and scratch the finish off your car as you rub it clean.
Your first step it to give your car the best possible rinse to remove as much of the dirt, dust and grime as possible. Pressure washers do a good job. Lee's team uses and recommends them. "They get dirt out of the nooks and crannies and save a lot of water, too, since pressure does most of the job," he says.
You should use two soft mittens or natural sponges for washing. The first only touches the painted surfaces and the second only the wheels, tires and other dirtiest bits. Rinse them in the second bucket as much as needed to get rid of the slightest grain of sand or dirt. Work in sections that you rinse with the hose as you go. Turn the water off between rinses to avoid waste.
Lee gives the nod to the traditional chamois, be it natural or synthetic, to dry the car afterward. Let the chamois soak thoroughly before use and rinse it frequently. Another pro tip is to use the moist chamois to wipe hazy deposits from the instrument panel and the inside of the windshield once the exterior is done.
A good spring cleaning should also include the floors, where a lot of grit, grime, salt and water has accumulated, often leaving a nasty crust where it dries. An excellent tool for this operation is a wet/dry vacuum cleaner. First, vacuum up as much of the dry stuff as you can. If deposits remain, scrub them with a brush, hot water and some vinegar, but do so sparingly. Then vacuum again quickly. Do not use too much water; it will dissolve the salt, and the resulting mixture will seep under the carpet and never dry. The result might be a rusted floor pan. The door jambs and sills should also be cleaned, this time with lukewarm water and soap.
Once your car shines after that spring cleaning, you will want to wax it for protection against the elements, including the scorching summer sun. Lee says that the two-stage approach of applying a pre-cleaner compound first and then a protective wax is worth the extra effort.
You can also use "dressing" products on your tires. "Use the clear, petroleum-based type that seems to 'nourish' the rubber," Lee says. It is best to apply it with a cloth instead of spraying it on to avoid getting the stuff on your alloy wheels, where it becomes "a dust magnet." And you should wipe off the excess after a few minutes. Indeed, if the oily liquid mixes with brake dust and spins off onto rocker panels and fenders, it can permanently damage the paint.
These additional steps will help preserve the long-term appearance and value of your prized possession. And a clean car always runs nicer, doesn't it?
A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.
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I am a professional car detailer, and I often think about it. As soon as you hit the road with a clean car it starts to get dirty, and sometimes depending on where you live it starts to get dusty even before you hit the road.
It is a never ending madness to keep your car as if just came of a floor show. So as long as this madness exist and people are willing to pay big bucks for this service I'll stay in business.
Hey Rondoozi...lighten up! With everything else going on in the world you have time to read an article about how to wash a car? I bet you were even at work while you were reading it which means you were getting paid to read this "dribble". Wake up Ron!
As for the article itself, there is certainly some good advice in it. Not to say there's much we probably didn't know before, but good advice none the less.