How to Wash Your Car Like a Pro: 17 Tips and Tricks To Make It Look Amazing!

How to Wash Your Car Like a Pro: 17 Tips and Tricks To Make It Look Amazing!

How do you usually clean your car? Most people just assume that there isn’t much to cleaning their car. However, if you don’t know how to clean your car properly, you could be doing more harm than good to it.

The biggest cost of running a car is depreciation; if I can win something back in the fight against the falling value of my vehicle, then I’m all for it. Of course, there is the bonus that the car looks good and, by association, I look good too! Enough said —let’s get to learning how to clean your car the right way!

Over the years, I’ve developed an impressive 5-step method to clean my car and today I’m going to share it with you!

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Table of Contents

Doing anything other than washing your car properly can have negative effects. It can actually be damaging. We must pay a brief visit to the land of cliché. It’s just as my grandpa used to tell me all the time: ‘if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly’.

The thing is that clichés have acquired their status because they really do contain an essential truth. That one has never been truer than when it is applied to washing your car.

Step One: Pre-steps/ Pre-Knowledge

Wash Your Car Like a Pro-Girl washing car
  • Do not underestimate the destructive power of finer dirt. Would you take even the very finest grade of wet-and-dry paper and rub it on your car? Also please do not ignore brake dust, or tree sap, or bird dirt and think they are innocent bystanders. We will deal with them in more detail later.

  • Avoid going to the car wash. I’m sure some of them do a good job, but I think that this is a time when a little love goes a long way. While I don’t necessarily love my car, I’m pretty sure I care a great deal more about it than the average car wash jockey.

  • Buy only high-quality car cleaning supplies. Did you know you can spend from $100 to (seriously!) $100,000 on a mattress? To get a mattress which will be comfortable and last for a good while, you need to spend between $800 and $1500. Not the cheapest, but going beyond what is probably an average price gives little benefit. You should apply the same idea to most purchases.

Step Two: Pre-Wash

This is my secret sauce, I think this is the step which gives the most benefit, but which almost everyone fails to take. I think of this step as a pre-wash. We want to remove the dirt as efficiently, but as gently as we can. You are looking for waves of water to carry as much dirt away as possible.

We want volume of water, not force. If there is heavy mud caking your car, that will eventually need a powerful hose. However, you should still do this first step to loosen the general dirt and heavy dirt too.

Wash Your Car Like a Pro-step two- prewash-wet car with shampoo bubbles

This is where product choices become a factor. The weather and location where you wash your car will affect the end result in more than one way. Avoid direct sunlight, try to work when it is cooler. At least wash your car in the shade.

I use a hose with a big, wide, full-flow setting and a power setting. If you aren’t near a faucet, the best solution is probably a double dolly with wheels. In truth, one bucket will do. But two buckets for clean and dirty water is better. Adding a built in grit-guard will keep you from using water which holds the dirt you just took off the car.

I don’t remember the origins of the mitt I have at the moment, but think this is where you might spend a little more than suggested by GLP (Remember? The General Law of Purchasing).

If I was buying one today, MOTHERS Wash Mit 156300 is among some very interesting choices. A natural sponge is the next best, as it will more easily release the dirt it has picked up. A good synthetic sponge is ok, but avoid a cloth as they just do not release the dirt they have collected so easily.

Top Tip

This really comes under the category of equipment too, but I think it is so important, and so often overlooked, that I am making it a separate point. You should look after your equipment, keep it clean, and the number one piece of equipment is YOU. All I am saying is WEAR GLOVES! You would not drink any of these chemicals which you are putting on your car, so I do not think that you should put them on your skin. Please do that one small thing.

Just in case I have not emphasized it enough, this pre-wash is the best way to wash a car without scratching that valuable paint job. The key to all of this is not to try too hard. Do not press on and exert pressure.

Wash Your Car Like a Pro-top tip-sponge.hand cleaning car with sponge

Start at the roof, and try to move waves of water down the car. This does not have to be a long process, you can then go back and use some specialist shampoo. Apply GLP, not the cheapest, but not crazy expensive. The process is light sponging, a straight-line action, and work from the roof down.

I’ve seen silly questions on the web like “Can I use shampoo to wash my car?” or “Can I use laundry detergent to wash my car? It was implied above, but let us make it explicit that you should NEVER use dishwashing detergent, hair shampoo or anything other than a specialized car product, otherwise you will break down any wax coat which is on the car.

Step Three: Power Wash

This is where most people start. Even now, I do not recommend using too much power. If you have access to a jet-wash it might be necessary for the wheels and maybe the sills. However, the hose on its most powerful setting with the faucet turned fully on, helped by brushing, should be good.

Top Tip

Yes! I am suggesting you invest in a brush. It is still best to be gentle, but it may be necessary to help the water move some stubborn dirt. I confess I only bought the 3M Scotch Brite LE because it was on special offer but, having used it for a while, I would now pay the full price.

Same sequence as before, work from the top down, but stick with the bodywork. Do not contaminate your water more than you need to with dirt from the wheels. Whatever type of wheels your car has, they will be tougher than paintwork, and you should leave them till last.

Insect carcasses, bird droppings, tree sap … any number of things can prove harmful to your paintwork. I am one of the many who subscribe to not liking all-purpose cleaners. That is probably the best step to take here. There are a whole range of choices to meet each specific challenge.

However, to be a little contradictory, a well-loved professional solution which will probably be sufficient for purpose is localized application of a clay bar. The best kit will come with different grades of clay and a lubricant included. You should also invest a little time in making sure that you use the product correctly, and you can’t usually go wrong with Wikihow. Easily forgotten, but to finish off the ‘wet’ work, I think now is the time to open the doors, the trunk and hood too, and wipe round the jambs.

Step Four – Drying

This is the last essential step. You can stop after this step, but you cannot skip the need to dry your car. Water is never completely pure and, if it is left, and allowed to dry, it will make ring marks where it has pooled and beeded.

Time to talk tools again. Time to apply the GLP too. There are two things you can do. Take the water off with a cloth, or push it off with a blower. I have tried the latter once and did not like the way it worked or how long it took either.

For me, only a high-quality microfiber waffle weave drying towel works. In fact, two of them do the trick. I have had mine too many years, do not know if they are even on the market now.

Top Tip

I would think a visit to one of the big retailers, and not buying the cheapest, or straying above an average price, should do the trick. Something like  THE RAG COMPANY 42040 Microfiber Waffle-Weave Drying & Detailing Towels might be the best towel to dry car, a two-pack certainly looks like good value.

  • You can use a terry-towel on the wheels, but it will be too harsh on the paintwork.

  • You can use a blade to wipe the excess off the glass, but not on the paintwork. 

Step Five: The Final Details

Wash Your Car Like a Pro-step five-final details-person cleaning car with sponge

All the following are optional. Although most of the alleged “best car detailing product reviews” on the Web will assure you that detailing is one of those things that simply must be done sometimes, but I do not think they have to be done every time. Having said that, if you’re one of those people that enjoy detailing, just keep in mind that you should use the right product for each job.

  • You’ve put some work into getting rid of all the dirt on your car, drying it off, it does make a lot of sense to wax it.

  • Still work top to bottom, still apply the General Law of Purchasing to the products you use, and the results will look fabulous.

  • Put the wax on sparingly, using too much will just involve wasted work in trying to remove it.

  • Be careful and try not to get wax on any black trim.

Top Tip

Those fancy toothbrushes which have been around for a couple of years are great. Not just for your teeth, as they are totally consistent with the ‘firm, but soft’ philosophy we have to car cleaning. They can be great for cleaning detailed trim. The other thing to say, is just to repeat that if you do have any chrome, any black plastic trim, and when it comes to alloy wheels, it is definitely best to use specialist materials.

Wash Your Car Like a Pro-toothbrushes close up

The best way to clean the inside of your car is to first buy the best car interior cleaning products. Second, at least for me, is to ask my partner. The fact that she is my wife and the mother of my son, is totally irrelevant. First and foremost she is my partner AND she just happens to be much better at cleaning the inside of the car.

Top Tip

I have found it is best to give attention to the glass till last. However, you should not use general glass cleaner. Your car windscreen has special coatings which may be damaged by the chemicals which are perfectly ok on household glass.

We usually do it together, and the system is still working from top to bottom, using the right products for each job, doing the plastic, then the glass then there is lots of vacuuming. One smart thing which I have noticed is that my partner takes the vacuum cleaner round to each side of the car. To put it another way, she does not stretch across, dragging the dirty suction pipe across the car. That might be a theme – a little extra effort goes a long way.

Wash Your Car Like a Pro-top tip-cleaning windows

I am going to contradict myself, but I am going to justify doing so. When it comes to cleaning the engine bay, I go to a shop. Have you ever seen an engine which has been professionally cleaned? It is worth it. The justification is that this is a specialist job, with specialist knowledge and specialist tools giving much better and safer results.


I have enjoyed sharing my ‘Method of Operation’ for cleaning a car. You will have gathered that over the years, I have put some thought into the process. I am still working on it. Still experimenting, trying different things, but I know this method works well and will not be changing significantly. It might sound like a lot of work, but I think if you try it two or three times, you will find that it soon becomes an easy routine. Best of all, it works.

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