DIY Car Wash? Be Careful!

By Nancy Dunham

Our favorite way to wash a car: drive it in and let the machines at it. But if you're the industrious kind who wants to DIY, remember that not all washes were created equal. If your driveway wash-up is like lots of car owners' you may be risking damaging to your ride.
Does this sound like your cleaning routine: Haul out the big jug of dishwashing detergent, squirt a healthy dose into a rusty metal bucket of water, then dip sponges in and began to scrub. These old-school steps can severely harm your car’s finish, if not its paint. But don't fret. You don't have to turn your filthy car over to the pros; the tips below will keep you on the car-cleaning straight-and-narrow. Follow our advice and your DIY weekly washes should keep your car’s exterior looking great while you save you a bit of cash.


Consider these ideas:

Put the car in a garage or shaded area. The hot sun will make proper car care and cleaning difficult, if not impossible. Even better, wash your car on the lawn. It's better for the environment, too, because runoff has a place to be absorbed (presuming you're not using eco-unfriendly cleaners!).

Thoroughly wet down the car to remove dirt and debris. Don’t use a harsh blast of water, but a light sprinkle or spray. Expect scratches if you skip this step and jump right in with a sponge and soap.

Don’t use detergent. Every car expert has their favorite automotive wash which is usually pH-controlled and has gloss enhancers. The great news is the washes are fairly inexpensive. Eagle One Car Wash, sold at retailers including Advance Auto and Wal-Mart, is about $7.50 for a 64-ounce bottle.

Invest in a plastic bucket. A metal bucket might chip the car’s paint if it is knocked over.This seems like a small thing, until you're looking at hundreds of dollars of bodywork.

Wash the car one section at a time (top to bottom) to prevent wash from drying on the car.

If it is a hot day, be sure to routinely wet the car so it does not dry with suds or cleaning chemicals on it.

Do completely dry the car. This is especially key if you plan to apply wax. A chamois will remove water quickly without residue or lint. Start from the bottom and gently blot the water.

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