What is the Best Way to Wash a Car?

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Although many cities and towns offer hand-held or drive-through car washes, a more thorough and less expensive job can be done at home, or any place one has access to a water hose.

Vehicle tires.
Vehicle tires.

The best way to wash a car is to follow a few simple steps. First, gather all the necessary tools and supplies, including a bucket, two or three sponges, liquid soap (specific soap for car washing is best), several dry towels, and a hose attachment that provides a strong, heavy spray.

A clean car.
A clean car.

If possible, park your car in a shady location so the sun won't dry it before you do. Before you start washing, you'll want to rinse the car from top to bottom. Use the strong spray of water from the hose to loosen any excess dirt or debris, and don't forget the tires, wheels, and undercarriage.

A freshly washed minivan.
A freshly washed minivan.

Next, fill your bucket with soapy water. Using a clean sponge, you should wash a car from the top down. Start at the top, and scrub gently with the sponge--enough to loosen dirt, but not so much so as to scratch the paint. Always start from the top and work your way down, and only do a little at a time so the soap won't dry on the car. Wash the top with the sponge, rinse the sponge, and then rinse the top of the car with the hose. Next, start on the windows. Work your way around the car, scrubbing the windows until they are sparkling clean. Again, rinse the part you just washed. Work your way down the car, washing the doors and sides, then rinsing, doing the hood, lights, bumper and grill, and then rinsing. A clean sponge is always best to wash a car with, so if your sponge gets grimy, switch to a fresh one.

Lastly, when you wash a car, don't forget to wash the wheels and undercarriage. If your car is high off the ground, you may be able to slide under and scrub some of the dirt loose. If not, simply spray the undercarriage thoroughly with a strong spray from the hose. Scrub the wheels, hubcaps and sides of the tires and then rinse thoroughly.

After you wash a car from top to bottom, give it one more good rinsing with the hose, beginning again at the top. Pay attention to all the contours, making sure there are no traces of dirt or soap left on the car. Once it is rinsed, turn off the hose and use your dry, clean towels to dry the car--again, from top to bottom. Use several towels so you can switch to a new one when the towel you are using becomes too wet. Dispose of the soapy water properly and enjoy your sparkling clean car!

A sponge and soapy water can be used to clean a car exterior from top down.
A sponge and soapy water can be used to clean a car exterior from top down.
Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Paulla is a freelance writer and website editor who currently lives in Maine. Paulla has a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University and over 15 years of experience as a freelancer. She relishes the flexibility and consistency of working on wiseGEEK articles, as well as the opportunity to constantly learn something new.

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Discussion Comments


Should you use cold or hot water to wash your car?


one of the best soaps to use is Voodoo's Juju shampoo, works brilliantly - gets all the hard to get crud off and lubricates the dirt particles so that they move without scratching the clear coat or paint, and best of all is that its a concentrate meaning that for around 14.99 CAD.

You get a small bottle that has so far lasted over 15 washes and I use over the recommended amount on a cavalier and Caravan. The best part is that it's green (biodegradable). -Axis


really fantastic information and procedure available for new car owners.


just going to start up hand car washing and valets from uk. I've been going round to other sites and they are still going wrong.

I'm searching round the net and reading all about it. I think it's amazing, hearing about hand car wash and valets. i did 13 years of it and got laid off just over year ago.

now I'm going to start up soon. i've been reading most of the profiles about how to go about this an now i hope this will help me get it stronger as well.


Sorry. You're not allowed to wash your car at home in my city.

What type of retail car wash is best for my car?


I hear ya, the leaf blower was one of those tools that sprang to mind one day. Does a great job at getting water out of areas that otherwise doesn't run out until the car starts moving, screwing up your clean finish.


"Dispose of the soapy water properly"? so don't just poor it in the grass? hmmm


After I get done washing my car, I use my leaf blower to get rid of all the water.

It works great. It gets all of the water out of the crevices, door handles, locks, etc. and leaves the car sparkly clean with out a chance of scratching the finish.

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