FAQ: Your Car Wash Questions Answered

If you're getting ready to wash or wax your car, you might be wondering what's the best way to do it. Car detailing should keep your car in pristine condition while protecting it from the elements, but there are some things you need to know before you dive in. There are a number of practices and tools out there that, if used improperly, could leave you with dull paintwork or, worse, harm your car. Don't worry, though, because we're going to clear some things up in this article. Read on for some frequently asked questions about car washing and detailing.

water beading on the surface of a car

A good wax is one of the best ways to keep your vehicle's exterior protected. | Source: Creative Commons

What's the best way to keep a car clean?

Regular cleaning is the best way to keep a car clean, but if you want to lengthen the time between washes, you need a good wax or ceramic coating. This won't necessarily stop dirt from clinging to your car but it will make it easier to clean and protect the paint underneath.

In terms of how often you should wax your car, aim for every three months. If done properly, you'll notice the tell-tale beading on the bodywork when it rains or you spray water on it. If this happens, it doesn't need another wax just yet. When you're ready, here's a step-by-step guide to waxing your car.

If you're driving through mud or on roads that have been salted for winter, it's worth rinsing your car off after every drive. Not only will this keep your car looking cleaner but you'll be removing harmful dirt and grit, too.

Can a pressure washer be used to safely wash a car?

Yes but there are a few things you need to know. A pressure washer in its most powerful setting could damage your car's paint. However, you can still use more pressure than a standard garden hose, which usually puts out water at no more than 80 PSI. A pressure washer can go up to many times that, though, so you need to be careful. For most cars, a pressure of up to 1800 PSI is suitable but you'll only need that kind of power for stubborn mud.

For a quick clean or for washing off soap, a pressure of 1200 PSI is fine but you also need to think about which nozzle attachment you use. The smaller the hole the water comes out of, the faster it'll go, giving you more chances to damage your car. Look for something no less than 15 degrees. Here's what you can use different nozzles for:

  • 15 degrees - The most powerful nozzle that can be used to get off stuck-on mud
  • 40 degrees - Good for rinsing
  • 65 degrees - This is what you'd use with snow foam to cover your car
rear view of a red car going through a car wash

The more powerful car washes can damage your vehicle's paint. | Source: Creative Commons

Are drive-through car washes bad for your car?

Yes and no. You can find gentle car washes that won't damage your car but they're also not particularly effective. The more powerful spinning brushes come with a bit more risk. The dirt they pick up from other vehicles could scratch your car, or the power at which they spin could do damage to paint or rusted areas that need a bit more of a gentle touch.

The occasional trip to a drive-through car wash should be fine for most cars but, for the most part, they're not great for your car. If you don't want to do the washing yourself, visit a reputable hand car wash. These aren't quite as quick but you'll just about have enough time for a cup of coffee while you wait.

Should I be washing the undercarriage of my vehicle?

an undercarriage washer, which has two wheels under a metal plate and a nozzle

Undercarriage washer

The undercarriage of a modern vehicle is going to be pretty hardy but you should wash underneath every so often. This is more important in the winter when you're driving on salty, slushy roads. That salt can be potentially corrosive and could damage your car. Rinsing this off after a drive can protect the underside of your car from rust.

There are tools you can get to make this job easier if you don't have a lift or axle stands — or just don't want to mess around with them after a long journey. An undercarriage washer might be a good investment if you live in a colder climate with roads that are regularly salted.


Pro Tip

For classic or precious cars, wash the lower half and the undercarriage after every drive — especially if there's salt on the road.

Do microfiber towels scratch cars?

A clean microfiber towel will not scratch your car but the deep nature of this kind of cloth means it'll draw dirt away from the paint. This sounds useful but it does carry a little risk to your paintwork if you're not careful. If you're picking up dirt from your car with a microfiber towel and rubbing that same dirty towel over another section, those dirt particles could scratch your car.

To avoid this, make sure you're only using a microfiber towel on a clean car. If there is dirt being picked up on the cloth, fold it and use a clean section. If it keeps getting dirty, be prepared to use multiple cloths or consider giving your car another clean (using the two- or three-bucket method!).

Also, not all microfiber towels are created equal. You need to find something soft and high quality with no hard edges or stitching that could harm your car.

a man in a short-sleeved shirt reaches across the top of the windshield with a blue cloth for cleaning

Investing in high-quality microfiber cloths will help prevent damage to vehicle paint.

How do car detailers clean windows?

Usually with a glass cleaner and microfiber cloth. What glass cleaner you use is down to personal preference and detailers rarely agree on which is best. If possible, use a waffle-weave microfiber towel on your windows as this will help you get off stubborn watermarks, dirt, and bird droppings.

What's the best low-water car wash method?

a bottle of Meguiar's Ultimate Wash and Wax Anywhere

Meguiar's solution to waterless wash

There are a number of great options for a waterless wash but bear in mind that these are best for hard-to-reach areas or small areas you've missed after putting the hose away. Wiping dirt off your car with a towel can scratch the paintwork so a waterless wash shouldn't be used on very dirty cars — just wait until you can access some water.

If you need a quick once over or a touch-up on a recently cleaned car, a waterless wash is a good option. Take a look at this article to learn more about Meguiar's Ultimate Wash and Wax Anywhere.

What car wax gives the best shine?

You have so many options when it comes to finding a wax that gives a deep, glossy shine. If you want show-level shine, start with this article because it's about so much more than wax.

The Mother's California products are a good place to start. If it's just wax you're looking for, the Brazilian Carnauba liquid wax smooths your paint for a finish that really pops. If you want next-level shine, there are also clay bar, and detailing products available.

A ceramic coating is an alternative to wax that does more than put a protective layer on top of the paint. These can also be used to get a high-gloss shine.

Need more information on car detailing and how to keep your car clean? You can find more articles on that subject here.

Any other questions or tips on car cleaning? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated May 19, 2021