Washing a car by hand is not something most people enjoy doing. It’s an arduous job you’d rather have someone do for you or just drive it through an automated car wash and be done with it - don’t do that by the way, and I'll tell you why later. A hand car wash can be an enjoyable experience if 1) caring for your car is important to you and 2) you want it cleaned the right way. Now, it’s debatable which way is the right or wrong way to detail your car’s exterior; I’m not here to debate. I’m here to tell you what has worked for me for several years and continues to work.
I’ve been washing my cars personally since my late teens. My obsession with car detailing began at a very young age, with me just wanting my vehicle to be clean. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but you feel a certain way when driving around, knowing every part of your vehicle is dialed in.
Over the years, I’ve tried many different car detailing products and several car cleaning processes. You’d think there are one or two ways to wash a car, but as newer formulas and solutions are introduced, we detailers and prosumers evolve.
The amount of knowledge I’ve gained has benefited the entire OG community and me, as we all are in constant pursuit of functional excellence. You may find my way of handwashing a car is just okay, and that’s fine. This “how-to” shows you how I, my team, and many of our followers do it. I’m confident you’ll like the OG way.
Don’t Do Automatic Car Washes
Just thinking about running my car through an automatic car wash makes me cringe. I can’t count how many times I’ve driven past one to see cars lined up to have their paint destroyed - it drives me nuts. I’m saying to myself, “Do these people even care?” “Do they realize the paint correction work it will take to get those swirl marks and scratches out?” I mean, seriously. C’mon.
Here are some reasons you want to stay away from an automatic car wash:
- Your vehicle will never be completely clean. It’s been forever since I’ve taken my car through an automatic car wash, but I can certainly remember the few times I did; my vehicle was never spotless. No matter how much you think these places will do a thorough job, your car will never be as clean as it should be unless you wash it yourself.
- Abrasive brushes scratch your car’s paint. Regardless of these modern car washes swapping out abrasive brushes for nonabrasive ones, you still have to deal with them smacking up against the surface of your car - the damage is more prominent on the side panels. These same brushes were used on previous cars where new dirt is being slopped onto your vehicle’s exterior.
- Harsh chemicals. There’s no telling what chemicals these car washes are using to remove dirt from your vehicle’s surface. The risk you run here is these chemicals can cause your paint to look dull and, if not cared for, has the potential to damage your car’s clear coat. You want to know what products are being used when your vehicle is being detailed. Especially when it comes to the car wash soap.
- The potential to scrape your wheels when pulling in. I don’t know what kind of car you drive, and honestly, it shouldn’t matter, but if you own a high-end vehicle with expensive wheels, the last thing you want is to damage them. The track you’re you’re driving onto is holding your wheels and can damage the inside of the rims. You also run the risk of excess strain on the steering suspension and can pull your vehicle out of proper alignment. You may not notice this change right away, but over time, you will.
- Hard water can leave mineral deposits. One thing we detailing enthusiasts hate is water spots. Most automatic car washes have hard water, which inevitably introduces water spotting. They are a pain to get out. Yes, you can experience water spots if you have hard water at home, but you can use a spotless water system (deionizer) solution to avoid them.
If you can spare a few hours bi-weekly, you can avoid the pains of taking your car through an automatic car wash. There are better methods.
Why You Should Wash Your Own Car
I don’t care what anybody tells you; the best way to dial in your car is to wash it by hand. More work? Yes. But, the best outcomes in life come from putting in hard work.
Your vehicle will get the appropriate treatment it deserves by having the proper tools like an electric pressure washer and other exterior car detailing accessories. I’ve spent years building out our online store with everything you need to detail your vehicle correctly, and I’ve also produced several videos on YouTube showing you how to detail. Be sure to check those out.
You should know that washing your car by hand doesn’t mean you can’t scratch or introduce swirl marks to the paint; it just means you can manage the process better, and if done correctly, you minimize the risk of damaging anything. In 2017, I invited Adam LZ (a big car guy and YouTuber) to my house and taught him how to wash a car, which brought back many memories from when I first started car detailing.
It was a back to basics experience for him and a refresher for me. The takeaway for both of us was if you take your time and follow simple car washing procedures, you can have a clean vehicle with no blemishes.
Washing my own car is a no-brainer. I control how good my vehicles look and the paint condition, granted I don’t experience any uncontrollable external circumstances.
I love washing my cars for more than just the obvious reason; it’s also very therapeutic for me.
OG Car Washing Steps
Notice I said “OG Car Washing Steps.” I generally preface my videos when washing my cars or installing something with “how I” and not “how to.” It keeps me out of trouble with online trolls, or at least it has minimized the number of them who get upset with me for saying this is how you do a thing.
As you do this car washing process over and over, it’ll become second nature to you. The key thing to remember is that it will take you time.
My steps to doing a hand car wash:
- Start with your wheels and tires. I like to start here because it will take you the longest to do. It’s also smart because if you began cleaning your car first and then did the wheels second while doing your wheels, the water on your paint would dry, resulting in water spots. So, be mindful of that. I’m going to grab our short gun sprayer and a foam cannon filled with the best wheel cleaner, P&S Brake Buster, and foam the wheel and tire. I’ll then agitate the inner barrel with a wheel cleaning brush and the face of the wheel with a wheel mitt. After that, I’ll hit the lug nuts and valve stem with a brush for wheel cleaning, clean the tires with my tire brush, hit the wheel wells, and rinse. It sounds like a lot, but if you watch any of my car detailing videos, you’ll see how simple it is.
- Rinse and wash the vehicle. We will begin with rinsing the vehicle thoroughly to dislodge any dirt off the paint’s surface using our short gun sprayer and wand. I’d take my time on this step. Many people fly through this part and shouldn’t. Once the car is fully rinsed, we will grab our foam cannon filled with the best car wash soap, Koch Chemie GSF (Gentle Snow Foam), and foam the car down. The dilution ratio I like to use is 150 mL of product (soap), and the rest I’ll fill with water. This combination will give you a shaving cream-like foam, which is what we want for pulling dirt off.
- Make contact. I like to use the two-bucket method. I have our complete bucket solution that comes with a Wash, Rinse, and Wheels 6-gallon bucket. The two-bucket method is just one bucket for your car soap and one bucket for your water to rinse off (and remove dirt from) your car wash mitt. What I’m doing here is just gliding the mitt across the paint. I’m not pressing into the paint because I don’t want to risk scratching it. I’m also working from the top down. You never want to start at the bottom of your car when washing because that’s where most of the dirt lives. Once we’ve completed the contacting step, we’re ready to rinse.
- Rinse off the vehicle. I’m again grabbing my sprayer/wand combo and rinsing the car off of any leftover soap. The beauty in the Koch Chemie GSF is there won’t be any leftover residue (or soap sticking to the surface), especially if you have a ceramic coating installed on your paint.
- Dry the vehicle. Once we’ve rinsed, we’re ready to dry the car. I like to use my EGO Blower 650 (leafblower) to dry the surface, wheels, and tires. I have our fancy new stubby nozzle installed on mine that makes this process a lot easier rather than using the long nozzle that comes with it.
- Protect the surface and add gloss with our drying aid. Once we’ve dried the surface, we want to add a layer of protection and get some gloss on the paint. In this step, we’re going to use two microfiber towels. 1) High Pile Drying Aid Towel and 2) Low Pile Drying Aid Towel. The high pile towel will get off the bulk of the drying aid and any remaining water from the previous step, and the low pile towel will be our follow-up towel. Again, having a coated car in conjunction with our drying aid will give your car’s paint a noticeable difference.
- Dress the tires. The last step in this car washing process is dressing the tires or, as many people say, “tire shine.” I hate that phrase. Friends don’t let friends have shiny tires. I’m taking my tire dressing in a spray bottle, spraying it on the curveball brush, and then working it into the tire. You want to be sure you’re spreading this product evenly. I’ll do all the wheels and then come back around with a wheel and tire towel to wipe off the top layer of dressing. I want an OE/Matte look, not a shine, on my wheels.
And, that’s it. Washing your own car is a tedious task I feel only people who genuinely value their vehicles will take the time to do. I’m not your average person. I’m an obsessed person. You don’t have to have an obsession with washing your car, just an appreciation for your car.