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Water Cooler: Tips for washing your car at home

Sept. 16, 2021 Updated Thu., Sept. 16, 2021 at 9:06 p.m.

Some recommend using lateral motion rather than circular when washing your car. The latter may cause more scratches on the paint.  (Pixabay)
Some recommend using lateral motion rather than circular when washing your car. The latter may cause more scratches on the paint. (Pixabay)

Is your car dirty from this summer’s adventures? Here are a few tips to get your vehicle sparkling clean.

Begin by gathering all the necessary supplies. It is best to use a hose with a spray nozzle or a pressure washer for a thorough cleaning, although you can use a waterless wash solution if needed.

You will also need two buckets, one for soapy water and one for rinse water. Five gallon buckets from a hardware store are great, especially because you can fit a grit guard in the bottom of the rinse bucket to keep dirt particles away from your cleaning tools between rinses.

Use a soft sponge or car wash mitt for cleaning the main body of the car, but you can also get extra accessories, brushes and microfiber cloths for cleaning the wheels and other specific areas. Keep one microfiber cloth or chamois towel aside for drying. Purchase a car washing liquid as other cleaning solutions and soaps may be too harsh on the paint. You can also purchase a wheel and tire cleaner for tackling tough road grime.

Once your supplies are gathered and the buckets are filled, you’re ready to go. Follow the instructions for the cleaning solutions you will use to make sure you get the best performance from them. It is generally recommended to wash your car on an overcast day or out of direct sunlight to prevent soap from drying on the paint, but if you do wash it in the sun, just make sure to work efficiently.

Start with the wheels as they are the dirtiest part of the car. It is best to use a separate sponge or tire brush to avoid spreading debris to the car’s body. Coat one tire at a time with a cleaning solution, let it sit for a few seconds to loosen the dirt, then scrub away. Rinse the tire and the brush or sponge, then move to the next wheel. Once the wheels are done, dump the rinse bucket (and soap bucket if you used it for the wheels) and start fresh before moving on to the body of the car.

Before washing, you can use a foam gun to treat the car with a foaming cleanser (also called snow foam) to soak and lift dirt and grime from the surface. Foam gun attachments usually require a pressure washer. This first step helps prevent rubbing any dirt into the paint during hand washing.

If you skip foaming, go directly to rinsing the car. Try to remove as much dirt as possible with water and a spray nozzle before washing. When hand washing, work from top to bottom and in one section of the car at a time. Start with the roof, then the hood and to the side panels. Wash the backside last as it tends to be the dirtiest section.

Rinse the mitt or sponge in the rinse bucket between each section. Some sources recommend using lateral motions as circular motions are suspected to cause more scratches.

After washing, rinse and dry the car immediately with a towel (microfiber or chamois is best). To make your work quicker, you can also dry the car using a leaf blower before finishing up with a towel. Don’t forget hidden areas where water can pool, like the door sills, cladding and spoilers.

For a streak free view, wash the interior and exterior of the windows with a dedicated glass cleaner. To protect your paint from the elements, apply a spray detailer or wax to the body of the car. Rinse residual dirt or grime off the cleaning supplies before packing up.

Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or

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