Let's start at the beginning; the sponge. Take that big yellow foam sponge that you've been using to wash your car for years and place it delicately, but purposefully, in the bin. This is where the traditional closed cell sponge, like the ones you can buy from the car cleaning aisle in every high street retailer, belongs. It does not belong in your car washing routine. Here's why; Prior to washing, your car is likely to have a layer of dirt, dust and grit on the surface, which is why you need to wash it after all. This dirt is made up of incredibly fine, but surprisingly sharp, particles. The traditional sponge is made up of a closed cell construction which, in an over-simplified manner, essentially just means that the sponge has a flat surface. When you place that sponge on top of the dirt you're trapping those sharp particles between the surface of the sponge and your paintwork. Then you wipe the sponge across the panel, dragging with it all those trapped particles of grit with nowhere to go. Often multiple times before rinsing the sponge out. This results in many, many very fine scratches being inflicted on the paint, called swirl marks or swirls (because often people with wipe the surface in many different directions, the results are thousands of tiny scratches that intersect and appear to be circular). This damage is more obvious in bright light, due to the way they catch the light, here's the example (as shown in the picture at top of page) of swirls inflicted on paint seen on the right whilst the area on the left has had the swirls removed;
Now the good news is that this damage can be repaired. The bad news is that there's only a finite amount of paint on any given surface, thus if damage is continuously inflicted and repaired you will eventually run out of paint, at which point you're looking at a costly re-spray. It is therefore best to make every effort to avoid damaging the paint in the first place; hence binning that sponge. Send the chamois with it whilst you're there too for very similar reasons. What do you do now that you've binned the sponge? For a safer wash technique, you will need four things; a wash mitt, a good shampoo and two buckets... we will get back to that later on but first you need to know what to do before the wash stage.
Before physically touching the car to remove dirt, there are great advantages to taking time to perform a pre-wash routine. This is the very simple principal of removing as much dirt as possible from the surface without any physical contact from the person performing the wash. By removing looser dirt and simultaneously loosening off more stubborn dirt making it easier to remove later on. This can be done in one of two ways, there are many arguments which is best with no conclusive evidence either way so, as with all things detailing, find what works best for you and go with it. Your options are;
1) Snow Foam pre-wash, this requires a pressure washer, a proper dedicated snow foam lace (note that this is very different to those little detergent bottles that often come with pressure washers) and a good snow foam solution such as CarChem Snow Foam. It relies on the snow foam solution being sprayed on the car at a suitable solution rate*, left to dwell on the surfaces whilst it loosens, lifts and removes dirt via run-off for the appropriate amount of time* before being thoroughly rinsed off using the pressure washer or a hosepipe.
2) Citrus Pre-wash, this is sprayed directly onto the surface, allowed to dwell on the surface for an appropriate amount of time* whilst it lifts and loosens dirt and then thoroughly rinsed off, ideally with a pressure washer but a typical garden hose can also work to a degree. Depending on the brand in question, some citrus pre-washes come ready to use at a common dilution whilst others come as a concentrate to be diluted as desired/required. *varies between brands and products.
Lets just get this out of the way, snow foaming looks infinitely cooler than any other aspect of detailing (except for having the cleanest, shiniest car on the street of course). You're literally covering the car in a blanket of foam and your neighbours will have no idea what you're doing or why. Get used to that by the way, the further you go down the detailing route the more you'll get those looks from neighbours and passersby! However snow foaming isn't a viable option for many people. If you don't have a pressure washer, for example, or a space to be able to foam, perhaps your neighbours don't want you clogging up the drains with your snow foam, there's no end of reasons why foaming isn't for everyone. Luckily the alternative of a citrus pre-wash addresses many of these issues and, whilst it doesn't look as cool, it can be just as effective as good snow foam when used properly. Properly is defined in this case as suitably diluted, suitable dwell time allowed and properly rinsed.
Traditionally people tend to use a single bucket to wash their car. The two bucket method however will go a long way to assist in reducing those swirls and scratches. As the name suggests, this practice is to use two buckets, both with very different purposes; one is filled with water and your shampoo of choice (this will be your wash bucket), the other filled with just water (this will be your rinse bucket). You will use your wash bucket in the traditional way; soak your wash mitt in the shampoo solution and begin washing the car. Start from the top of the car and work your way down, try to wash the cleaner areas first and work round to the dirtier areas (this is typically top to bottom, front to back), this will reduce the risk of inflicting swirls on cleaner areas by picking up the grit from the dirtier areas first. After washing a small area of the car you will then use the rinse bucket to rinse the dirt and grit out of your wash mitt before going back to the wash bucket and repeating until the car is clean. Don't mix them up. Mark them with stickers or using different coloured buckets to identify them but always use your wash bucket as the wash bucket and your rinse bucket as your rinse bucket. Don't use the same water for the wheels that you use on the panels of the car! The principal behind this is simply that you are washing the dirt off the car then washing that same dirt out of the wash mitt before moving onto the next area of the car. By doing this you will massively reduce the amount of dirt and grit coming in contact with the surfaces of the car and whilst it's impossible to eliminate swirls entirely by adopting these techniques you will severely reduce the amount of damage caused. By using a separate bucket of water to rinse your wash mitt, you are also reducing the amount of dirt and grit in your wash bucket and thus reducing transfer back onto the car. This will be most noticeable when you come to empty your buckets at the end of the wash; the rinse bucket water should be the one with dirty water in whilst your wash bucket water should still be clean.
Now you've binned that horrible sponge, you'll need a replacement wash media. These can come in various shapes, sizes and material but the most popular tried and tested methods are listed here; Lambswool mitts as the name suggests, these are wearable mitts made of deep pile lambswool which enables the dirt and grit to be drawn safely away from the surface whilst the pile remains loose enough that the dirt and grit is easily rinsed out. The cons; it's a natural product and therefore requires a little care between uses, i.e. it needs to be rinsed out after every use, allowed to dry naturally and not exposed to sources of heat. It must also be stored in a dry place otherwise it could prematurely begin to fail and rot. Microfiber wash media, these can come in both short pile and long pile. Short pile often aren't suitable for paintwork but can be useful for other areas (metalwork & wheels for example) whilst long pile are much more suitable and a viable alternative to lambswool. These can also come in several formats as well; either the same wearable mitt format as the lambswool mitt or a more traditional pad or sponge format (think of a sponge wrapped in a deep pile microfiber outer) which is not wearable. The deep pile versions are designed to work in the same way lambswool mitts in the pile is deep enough to remove dirt and loose enough to rinse well. Being synthetic, microfiber wash mitts do not require the same lever of post-use care that lambswool wash mitts do and subsequently tend to last considerably longer as a result. This can, however, mean that initial outlay is a little more expensive though.
This is probably the most saturated aspect of detailing; you are not going to have any difficulties in finding alternative shampoos on the market, you are absolutely spoilt for choices. The choices that you ultimately make will come down to personal preference so what Is set out here are common misconceptions and what you should be looking for. Realistically you only need your shampoo to do two things; clean well/safely and be properly lubricated. Anything else might be nice to have but isn't really essential. Lubricity will determine how the shampoo feels to use and will affect how safely it will remove dirt and minimising those dreaded swirls. A more lubricated will glide over the paintwork effortlessly and will feel much nicer to use and you won't feel like you're fighting the mitt to wipe the panel. It will also determine how well the shampoo encapsulates the dirt and helps it to slide off the paint. Many people consider a foamy shampoo that produces a lot of suds to be a good indicator of quality, however nice it may be have a lot of suds in your bucket they don't actually do anything so don't make the mistake of prioritising what looks good over what actually works. Go for a well lubricated shampoo like CarChem or GTechniq over ones that produce a lot of suds. Cleaning ability is other defining aspect of a good shampoo. It should be able to cut through dirt easily without being so harsh that it damages the surfaces beneath the paint. Harsh detergents, such as those found in household products like Fairy Liquid, are great for cutting through grease and grime but they're not designed for use on paint (let alone waxes, sealants or coatings) and therefore should absolutely not be used in place of dedicated shampoo designed for using on a car. Washing up liquids in particular also include surfactants, these will dramatically affect how/if your choice of wax, sealant or coating behaves and will often dramatically reduce its effectiveness and longevity.
The principal rule whenever doing any detailing is this; never work in direct sunlight wherever possible. If you have no option but to do so, ensure that you take precautionary steps to avoid any products baking on i.e. rinse thoroughly and regularly when washing, try to ensure that the surface remains wet at all times if at all possible. If it's a very hot day, wash early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures have dropped, ideally when sun has dropped and is providing some shade to work in. That said, it's better to work in sunlight and create a little more work for yourself than at 5am and upsetting your neighbours by making a lot of noise!
Now that you've selected your products, you've got a dirty car that's not looking its best, it's not quite raining yet today and you've got a few spare hours; you're ready to clean your car. Let's run through a simple routine and some processes that will help you get the best from the wash. First off, wherever possible start with a pre-wash. Whether this is snow foam or citrus pre-wash, take the time to remove as much dirt as possible from the car before physically touching it. If you can't pre-wash, you should at the very least consider a pre-rinse. With rinsing, either rinsing the pre-wash or as nothing more than a rinse, you want to be thorough and methodical. Work from top to bottom. Where possible use a pressure washer, but also be aware that too much pressure can cause damage. When using a pressure washer, work at 45 degree angle to surface to encourage the dirt being moved away from the surface rather than driven into it. Where possible use warm water (note, warm, not hot!) same theory as washing your dishes here, warm water shifts more dirt than cold, however it's uncommon to have access to warm water to wash cars so if it's not an option then cold water is fine.
Once the pre-wash is completed, fill your two buckets with water (one with shampoo as well) again warm water is both better and, especially in winter, much more pleasant to use. Soak your wash mitt until it's soft and pliable; ensure it is loaded up with soapy water from your wash bucket. Starting at the top of the car wash a section of the panel at a time. A section will depend on size of the panel and how dirty it is when you start; the dirtier the panel, the more sections it should be washed in. Thoroughly rinse your wash mitt in the rinse bucket after every section. Typically I will start with the roof, as the cleanest panel, followed by the side windows, rear window, front windscreen, boot lid, bonnet, top half of the doors (front first), front wings down to the same height as the doors I've just done, then rear quarter panels, bottom of the doors, the -rest of the front wings, the rest of the rear quarter panels, the front bumper, the rear bumper and then side skirts & underneath edges or the bumpers. Wheels and arches are always washed separately and there will be sections covering these at a later date. Either rinse as you're going along to avoid shampoo drying out on the paint or rinse after washing the whole car, ensuring to rinse thoroughly.
Now you'll want to dry the car, particularly if you're in a hard water area. There are several methods available here, but seeing as you've binned that chamois with the sponge that's not an option anymore. Luckily many of the alternatives are considerably better and safer. I say many because there are several options that aren't safer or better. With that in mind;
Replace that chamois with another chamois. What's the point, I mean really?
Replace that chamois with a squeegee/blade Imagine you've missed just one tiny particle of that grit. Just one. You're now dragging that over the paintwork, trapped between paint and blade.
Take the car for a quick spin to dry it. Think about it, how did the car get dirty in the first place? Do you really want to expose your paintwork to that again before adding some protection in the form of a wax, sealant or coating first? Wouldn't that defeat the point somewhat?
Think that any old towel will do the job.
Invest in a proper drying microfiber towel designed for automotive use, preferably with a reasonably deep pile which will lift any missed particles of dirt left over from the wash. Pat dry using the towel, never drag it over the surface of the car. There's no need to and doing so increases the risk of causing swirls. Use a quick detailer to lubricate the towel.
As an alternative to using a towel, consider using a DI Vessel to filter the minerals out of the hard water for your final rinse. Whilst an expensive outlay, this will mean that once you have rinsed the car you can simply walk away and allow the car to dry naturally, because the water is filtered there is no residue left when dried, i.e. no waterspots!
Or use a leaf-blower (or equivalent) to remove the water before it dries on the surface.
The information above is provided by Matt Vokes (ilogikal1) and is provided for reference only. Both Matt and wax and shine cannot be held responsible for any damaged caused to vehicles as a result of following this guide but we hope it gives readers a greater understanding about how damage is caused during washing and methods to prevent it. Thankyou for reading.