Beginner’s Guide To Detailing: Car Wash Preparation

Black Ferrari Car Wash

Preparing for a car wash is almost as important as the wash itself. Problem is, proper pre-wash knowledge is poorly laid out for beginners (until now). You’ve got hundreds of car care products to chose from, relentless internet rants over proper/improper technique, and on top of that you’ve got mother nature to deal with so you’re not washing during a rain storm. It may sound like a lot to be up against, but that’s a feeling I hope to dispel. Below you’ll find basic car wash knowledge including product information, rules, and proper setup procedure for car wash success.

Car Wash Products & Accessories

Your choice in car wash products makes all the difference in the world. Avoid dish soaps at all costs (no matter what you’ve read on the forums) and be sure to stick to a pH balanced car wash soap – this will prevent “over cleaning.” Over cleaning is when the products you use are too powerful for their intended job. For example, dish soaps are formulated with strong degreasers to strip grime from a given surface… when that surface is your car, the dish soap is taking your waxes and polishes right off with it. In any event, you’ll want to have the following products and tools on hand before starting your car wash:

Car wash soap
Wheel cleaner
Tire Conditioner
2 buckets (why?)
Flag-tipped brushes
Drying towels
Wash pads
Foam applicator
Wheel sealant

Next week we’ll walk you through using all of these products.

Car Wash Rules

Consider this a code of conduct for washing your car. There are certain things to look out for, but most of it’s pretty self explanatory. Keep these rules in mind at all times:

Nothing touches the ground except for water and suds. You don’t want your mitts or towels picking up a rock and eventually marring your finish.Always keep wheel accessories separate from the rest of your tools. Brake dust is dangerous, especially on paint – avoid contamination by keeping organized.Add soap to bucket before water. Foam is extremely important in the car wash process and doing this will give you more than if you added water first.Always use clean accessories. Using dirty mitts and/or towels is a great way to really fudge up your finish – don’t do it.Avoid washing in direct sunlight. If that means waiting a while for the sun to shift, that’s fine… it can make all the difference.

Steps For Setting Up Your Car Wash

Now that you know the basic products you need and some straightforward rules for car wash success, it’s time to setup for the wash.

  1. Situate your car. Remember: shaded and preferably in a driveway.
  2. Position the hose. Uncoil it and remove any kinks to make life easier.
  3. Prepare the wheel cleaning bucket. Grit Guard, soap, water, and all your wheel cleaning brushes. After you clean the wheels this bucket will thoroughly rinsed out before it is used again (for the rinse bucket). *Now is when you’d clean the wheels.
  4. Prepare the wash bucket. Grit Guard, soap, and about 3 gallons of water (don’t fill to the top). Squeeze your mitts or wash pads repeatedly to create more foam.
  5. Prepare the rinse bucket. Grit Guard and 3-4 gallons of water. Since the rinse bucket is the same as you used for the wheel bucket, make sure it’s been cleaned.
  6. Set additional products & towels nearby. Professionals tend to use a little cart, but a bucket or box will work great, too. Remember: no towels touch the ground.


In short, preparing for a car wash is about making sure you have everything you need to properly and effectively get the job done. As you now know, that means keeping the area clean and organized, and making sure all of your tools are clean and ready to use. You never want to jump into a car wash with just a rag, a bucket, and a sponge unless, of course, you want to rewash the car. Being thorough in preparation helps you remain thorough during the entire process and leads to professional-like results right from your driveway. As a detailer, there’s nothing better than that.

If you’re eager to jump ahead, I recommend reading our ‘how to’ car wash article. While this may be a bit advanced for beginners, we do mention the “must-know” information… if anything it will get you familiar with some of the things we’re going to talk about when we revisit Dr. Beasley’s “Beginner’s Guide to Detailing” next week. Meanwhile, let us know what you thought or if you think we missed anything – everyone prepares for their car wash differently, so we’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments!

Now that you know how to get ready…
Stay tuned for our next segment on washing your car!