Car Care 101: Planning Your Wash and Wax Like an Expert Detailer

Planning Your Car Care

When you clean your car, the goal is to make it look its best and to keep it shining for years to come. The last thing that you want to do when washing your car is scratch the paint. Unfortunately, many people clean their cars without knowing proper washing techniques.

Most scratches and swirl marks come from the initial debris on the paint surface that is not removed prior to rubbing the paint surface. This, along with the use of lower quality automatic car washes, is why you see so many cars with swirl marks in their paint. That’s why properly planning your car washing routine is essential to achieving an impressive shine while avoiding damage to your clear coat. So let’s talk about how to plan out your car washing routine.

The Two-Bucket Method

One method of cleaning your car without causing damage is called the two-bucket method. As the name implies, it involves using two buckets. Many people use a single bucket to wash their car, and this is where they make their first mistake. By using one bucket, all of the dirt and debris from the dirty wash mitt will get into the water that is being used on the car. This can be minimized with the use of a grit guard, however, this doesn’t completely solve the issue. This is why the two-bucket method car wash is recommended.

With the two-bucket method, you use one bucket for washing and a second bucket for rinsing out your microfiber car wash mitt. You simply rinse the mitt before dipping it back into the soap bucket. This helps to remove the dirt and debris that gets stuck to the wash mitt without adding it to your clean soapy water. 

Grit Guard

The two-bucket method car wash is recommended and certainly helps you to avoid most of the problem, however, it is still recommended that you use a grit guard in each bucket. This will help to keep debris in the bottom of the bucket, below the guard.   

Soap / Shampoo

Now that you know about the two-bucket method and grit guards it’s time to get some soap in your bucket. Make sure to use a soap or shampoo that is made for cleaning cars. That means no dish washing soap or whatever else you have lying around the kitchen or laundry room. Why? Because these soaps are too harsh for your car’s paint and will remove your wax. Car wash soaps are specifically formulated for your car’s paint and will leave most of your wax on your paint.

Snow Foam

Before the wash mitt is even rinsed there is a chance to damage your paint. Just like you would never want to rub sandpaper on the surface of your car’s paint, you don’t want to rub in the dirt that is sitting on your hood. This is why it is recommended that in addition to the two bucket method, you use a snow foam soap to remove any debris from the paint without physically rubbing it in. This is especially true when your car has any visible dirt or debris on the surface. Snow foam can be applied using a hose attachment or a pressure washer attachment. After applying the snow foam and allowing it to run off of your car, you can rinse the remaining foam off with water. Once the remaining snow foam has been rinsed off you will be ready to start with the two-bucket method wash. Snow foam is optional when the car doesn’t have significant build up on it, but you should still gently rinse your car with water before starting with the two-bucket method, even if you skip the snow foam.

Pressure Washers

If you are using a pressure washer and decide to skip the snow foam, make sure to use a hose without pressure for the initial rinse or use a low pressure misting spray. This will help you to avoid shooting debris particles from the paint surface into the paint. Pressure washers can be a great addition to your car care equipment collection, but always make sure that you use it with caution and proper techniques. This means using the proper level of pressure – approximately 1400-2200 psi and spraying at around a 45-degree angle to avoid damaging your paint.

Second Wash Mitt

Another tip would be to have a second wash mitt. You should use one mitt for washing the top half of the car and a second mitt for washing toward the bottom half. Because more debris generally gathers on the bottom half of your car, this will help to avoid accidentally spreading any debris to a cleaner area. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to rinse using the two-bucket method, it just adds an extra protective measure to your car care plan. And little details like these are what separates the average car enthusiast from the car care pros.


To clean your wheels, apply wheel cleaner or degreaser and use a wheel brush or microfiber towels to clean it off. Follow up by rinsing your wheels well. This is also a good time to apply your tire shine. Remember to only use your wheel brush or towels on your wheels as they will pick up a lot of grease and dust from your wheels.

Tire Shine

Most car enthusiasts can appreciate a nice wet deep black that a good tire shine provides. So it’s a great part of your car cleaning kit. Like many car care products, there are many varieties available, including sprays, foams, and gels. Whichever type you use, we recommend applying the product to an applicator pad rather than directly onto the tire. This will help to avoid overspray and will get just the right amount onto the tire so you don’t get tire shine on your paint or driveway.

Drying / Glass

Drying is another very important step to get right when you are washing your car. Using the wrong type of towels or tools to dry your car can damage your paint very quickly. Always dry using something safe like a microfiber towel, silicone blade squeegee, or any other paint safe towels or tools. We recommend using a water blade and following up with microfiber towels and quick detailing spray. Keep your towels for each part of the car separated so that you don’t use a dirty towel on a clean area of your car. For example, keep some towels for glass, some for wheels, some for the lower half of your car, and some for the upper half. To avoid streaking on glass, use a microfiber waffle weave towel. If you are using a glass cleaner make sure that it is ammonia free.

Automatic Washes

Automatic car washes are very convenient and can be a fast and affordable way to clean your car. The problem with automatic car washes though, is that many of them use equipment that is harmful to your paint. If you can’t wash your own car or have a detailer hand wash it, then you can find a good car wash that uses the proper equipment, however, you have to know what to look for. Avoid washes that have abrasive brushes and make sure that the equipment is clean. Look for a wash that has a rinse at the beginning to remove debris. 

Wax and Clay

Your car should always be kept clean to protect the paint, but another important and often overlooked step in cleaning and protection is waxing. Your car should always have a layer of wax to protect it and provide the best shine. It acts as both a protective barrier from the elements and helps your paint to look its best. Waxing a car the right way does take some effort, but it is well worth the benefits.

Before you wax your car you want to make sure to follow the steps above and give it a good wash. You want the paint to feel smooth like glass. If the paint isn’t smooth then you should use a clay bar to remove the contaminants. Clay bars should only be used once the car is clean enough, so make sure that you cleaned your car well before use. To make the bar easy to slide across your paint, use a quick detailer spray or clay lubricant. Gently rub the clay bar back and forth across the paint. You will feel the resistance from contaminants on the paint causing friction. As you remove these contaminants you will feel the surface becoming completely smooth. This is when your paint is free of grime and ready for waxing.

There are many types of waxes out there, both natural and synthetic and now there are even sealants that are supposed to last even longer than waxes. So what is the right choice for your car? If you are going for shine simply look to the experts and you will see that good old fashioned carnauba wax is the most popular amongst detailers and car show winners. It simply provides the best shine enhancement to the paint, providing a wet look that sealants just can’t match. That being said, sealants do enhance the look of paint as well and because the last longer they may be a good choice for the more casual car care enthusiast. Where waxes may last for weeks and good sealant can last for months.

Avoid “cleaner waxes” as they are abrasive and will remove your clear coat. If you are trying to remove scratches, use a rubbing and polishing compound before waxing. This will provide better results than trying to use a cleaner wax alone. If you want the best shine and something that will last a while, go with a more solid wax like a paste wax. If you are going for ease of application, choose a liquid or spray wax. Just keep in mind that these do tend to last for much less time than the more solid waxes and they will generally not achieve the same results in terms of shine.

To apply wax use a wax applicator pad or a buffer wheel. Rub the wax in using a small circular motion making sure to overlap. Allow the wax to dry to a haze and remove using a clean microfiber polishing towel such as our plush microfiber detailing towel or a buffing wheel.

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