Breaking Down Consumer Report’s Car Wash Guide

Yellow Lamborghini Being Waxed

Consumer Reports, a credible source for many of life’s questions and concerns, recently published an article we found relevant. Their Do’s and Don’ts of Washing Your Car compelled us to do a little fact checking to continue to educate people on the web.

After having read the article and highlighted the points I agree with in yellow and the points I oppose in red, the consumer reports’ article is roughly 65% agreeable, but there’s a few things I would take issue with. So that you may follow along with the original article, I’ll keep this article in a similar format.

When Should I Wash the Car?

It’s pretty easy to agree with the fact that, like taking showers, a regular car wash regimen should be adhered to. I would recommend a car wash every 2-4 weeks. Anything longer than this and contaminants like road grime, sap, and bird droppings will begin to etch into the paint, causing micro-marring and other blemishes.

When that does happen, washing your car will only reveal all the micro-scratches left in the clear coat. But sanding and repainting the panel is way too extreme. The reason your paint is coated with clear coat is to absorb the impact of these blemishes. A simple polish will remove a layer of the clear coat and most (if not all) of the visible scratches. Then layer that up with a poly sealant and a wax and you’re back to a flawless looking finish.

The “Do” section is also a bit extreme in my opinion. Like I said earlier, a consistent 2-4 week car wash regimen is quite sufficient. I’ll elaborate a bit and say that it is sufficient if you’re keeping up with applying your sealants and waxes to your car. Poly sealants nowadays are durable enough to protect a finish from acid rain and other harsh environments.

What Kind of Products Should I Use?

Despite what you may have heard, automotive paint can be delicate and should be cared for properly. That being said, it’s not appropriate to use dish soap or other household cleaners to wash your car. These chemicals are designed to strip harsh contaminants from surfaces to clean counter tops and dishes; they’re far too harsh for the paint of a car.

Use only dedicated products on your vehicle. You should have separate and specific products for washing your car, cleaning your wheels, your tires, dash, seats, and carpet. All of these surfaces require different chemicals that perform differently for each surface.

As far as which tools to use: never use a sponge! Debris and contaminants get stuck in the sponge and when you apply pressure, you can scratch the surface. A lamb’s wool mitt isn’t a bad idea, it works well but it can be difficult to clean and tends to smell. I personally enjoy using a plush wash mitt made of synthetic cashmere. It’s durable and effectively absorbs contaminants without the risk that sponges have.

When washing a car, the best thing to do is start high and finish low. Most of the debris from driving is on the lower third of the car and if you start low, you’re using that dirty wash mitt all over the rest of the car.

Are There Any General Guidelines I Should Follow When Washing a Car?

It’s a good tip to not wash your car when the surface is hot. However, the reason stated is not the worst of it. Yes if the surface is hot you’ll have to work faster to keep from water drying and causing water spots. However, when metal is hot and you pour water on it, you’re causing the surface to flex; this will cause the clear coat to crack and could cause micro-scratches all over the car. It’s always best to wash your car in the shade (or even better indoors) in the morning or evening. This will cause less stress due to heat.

Referring back to the proper tools like a plush wash mitt, it doesn’t matter what motion you use to soap up your car. Whether in circles or linear movements, the proper tools in this matter should keep you safe. However, even the proper tools can be tarnished if dropped on the floor. If you do drop the wash mitt on the ground, swap it out or clean it thoroughly before using it on the car again.

The two bucket wash method is an industry best practice. Start with two five gallon wash buckets with grit guards, and fill them with water. One of the buckets will have the car wash soap and the other just water. Every time you wash your car with the soap and water, before putting it back in the soap bucket, rinse it in the water bucket. This will keep all the dirt contaminants contained in one bucket as opposed to your clean soap and water bucket.

How Should I Dry the Car When I’m Done?

Although it may seem effective, driving the car around will not properly dry the car. Water will stick around and dry out to cause water spotting. Leaving your otherwise clean car full of spots. And DO NOT use a chamois or terry towels. Chamois are very absorbent but they do tend to be very dangerous. When dragging a chamois across the surface of the car, if any contaminants are left on the surfaces, the chamois will certainly drag it along for the ride and cause scratches. Terry towels are also much too abrasive.

Microfiber towels, especially waffle weave microfiber towels. are the best to use. They absorb the water and the weave pattern pulls contaminants (if any) off the car and into the towel. Here is a complete guide to using towels for the best performance.

Final Thoughts…

The Consumer Reports’ article is well done and brings up many points. However, a healthy fact check is sometimes necessary and helpful.
With these tips you’re on a good path to properly washing your car. However, if you do want to know more, feel free to check out our other articles about automotive detailing.