How to Hand Wash Your Car
Maintain a Swirl Free Finish with our Hand Car Wash Technique
One of the most common mistakes made when performing a hand car wash is only using one bucket. During very pass the wash mitt or sponge makes on the paint, it often becomes contaminated with abrasive particles. The next time the contaminated wash media is dipped into the wash bucket all of the contamination will be released into the once clean water. After each panel of the car, truck, or SUV is cleaned the wash bucket water will become more contaminated. Performing a hand wash with only a single bucket is a guaranteed way to install swirl marks.
The secret to performing a swirl free hand car wash is employing what is called the “Two Bucket Method.” Much as the name implies two buckets will be used during the car wash process to help minimize the risk of wash induced paint marring. One bucket will be filled with your favorite car soap or car shampoo and the other bucket will be filled with clean water. To further decrease the chance of washing the paint with contaminated wash media it’s very important that the buckets are equipped with a Grit Guard. Grit Guards are designed to be used in conjunction with five gallon buckets and they work by trapping contamination below the grated surface. Once the contamination falls below the grates it’s kept there through the use of four baffles. These baffles extend to the bottom of the bucket and help reduce water turbulence that can disturb the settled dirt and debris back into the upper portion of the bucket.
Fill the wash bucket approximately half way with water prior to adding any car soap or car shampoo to the bucket. Pre-filling the bucket helps prevent the bucket from filling up with subs and prevents creating a bubbly mess on your arm. Once you have added the appropriate amount of your favorite car wash product it’s time to fill the rest of the bucket with water. Now that the wash bucket is filled it’s a great time to add all of the wash media to the bucket to let them soften up. Using two different wash mitts or sponges is a must in order to minimize the chance of installing unsightly blemishes in the paint. A car’s lower surfaces such as the bumpers and rocker panels will always be significantly dirtier than the roof or hood. Using dedicated wash media to wash these high-contamination areas is a must when it comes to maintain a flawless finish.
After each panel is clean on the car it’s a good idea to remove any dirt and debris from the wash media by dipping it into the rinse bucket. The grated surface of the Grit Guard was designed to not only trap contamination but help release it from the wash media as well. Wringing out the wash media over the rinse bucket is a good idea before dipping it back into the wash bucket for two main reasons: It will ensure the water in the wash bucket remains contamination free and the maximum amount of wash solution is absorbed into the mitt or sponge.
A third bucket should always be used for cleaning the wheels, wheel wells and tires. These areas become highly contaminated with brake dust that can cause serious damage to the paintwork. If the wheels are well maintained and they’re protected they can simply be cleaned with car soap or car shampoo. If the wheels have a large quantity of brake dust the use of all-purpose cleaner or even an iron removing wheel cleaner may be in order. It’s important to remember that the use of more aggressive wheel cleaning products will decrease the lifespan or entirely remove any existing protection.
Equally important to proper washing is proper drying of the paint. Using a dedicated set of microfiber towels to dry the paint, door jambs, and wheels is very critical to prevent cross contamination of the towels. The last thing you want to do is wipe the paint with a towel that was used to clean brake dust off the wheels during the last car wash. Choosing the right microfiber drying towel for the job can but tough but there are two main categories to consider: Plush microfiber drying towels and waffle weave microfiber drying towels. While it may be tempting to buy ultra-plush high GSM microfiber towels the truth is they aren’t that great for drying purposes. A good microfiber drying towel will typically have a fabric weight between 350GSM – 500GSM. Spraying a few squirts of quick detailer to the microfiber towel prior to wiping the paint helps reduce friction and depending on the product being used it can add additional slickness to the paint. To eliminate the need to touchup any drip marks from the mirrors, door handles, or emblems after drying the paint the use of forced is required. The Metro Master Blaster is the pinnacle of car drying equipment. This wonderful piece of detailing equipment helps reduce the amount of time and the quantity of microfiber towels required to dry any car, truck, or SUV.
Seven Steps to Performing a Proper 2 Bucket Hand Car Wash
Now that all of the necessary car care products and detailing tools have been prepared it’s time to begin the hand car wash. It’s critical that the wash media is used in straight lines and never in circular motions. The goal is to remove all of the contamination from the paint with as few passes as possible with the wash media. Even though the “Two Bucket Method” is being used it’s still a good idea to start washing at the highest point on the car to help extend the timespan between paint corrections.
If the front bumper, hood, or side view mirrors have a significant quantity of bugs using a bug sponge is the best way to safely remove them. Bug sponges utilize open-cell construction that lift and trap even the most stubborn baked on bugs with ease. The large pores on the bug sponge do all the work for you and don’t require heavy pressure or scrubbing to be used. Trying to remove bugs with regular wash media can result in paint marring due to the additional force being applied during cleaning.
While a pressure washer certainly isn’t a mandatory piece of detailing equipment there is no denying their ability to help reduce wash induced marring. To perform the ultimate hand wash we recommend using a foam cannon to perform a high-pressure presoak. Presoaking the paint for a few minutes helps break down dirt and debris prior to physically touching the paint with the wash media. Creating thick foam that has a long dwell time requires a fairly powerful pressure washer and the minimum rating to consider is 2GPM 2,000PSI. The GPM rating will remain consistent no matter what tip is being used on the pressure washer but the PSI will vary greatly. The foam cannon or a 40 degree wash tip will not come close to producing the max PSI that the pressure washer is rated for.
Step 1 - Fill wash bucket halfway with water prior to adding car soap or shampoo. Once the car wash product has been added continue to fill the remainder of the bucket with water. Once the bucket is full submerge the wash media and let them soak for a few minutes. While the mitts or sponges are soaking it’s the perfect time to fill the rinse bucket with water. If the wheels are protected with a sealant or coating proceed to fill up the wheel bucket the same way as the wash bucket. If the wheels need to be deep cleaned simply fill the wheel bucket with water since the cleaners will be applied using a spray bottle.
Step 2 - Start by cleaning the wheels, wheel wells, and tires prior to rinsing off the paint. This helps prevent any water spotting that may occur if the rest of the car dries while working on the wheels. It’s hard not to get the fenders wet when rising off the wheels but aiming the water down helps reduce an overspray from the hose. To properly clean the wheels the use of three brushes is required. A deep reach brush is required to clean the wheel barrels, a large boar’s hair wheel brush for the wheel faces, and a small boar’s hair for the lug nuts. Using flagged medium stiffness brush for the tires and wheel wells is preferred cleaning method. Using too stiff of a nylon brush can actually scratch the sidewall of some of the softer rubber compounds used on high-performance tires.
Step 3 - Rinse the paint down with a foam cannon or foam gun and let the car wash product dwell. After a few minutes have passed it’s time to thoroughly rinse off the paint with the hose nozzle or 40 degree wash tip.
Step 4 - Begin to wash the paint starting with the roof and then working from front to back. During this step the lower portion of the bumpers and rocker panels will not be cleaned. The wash media used for this step should only be used on the low-contamination areas of the paint.
Step 5 - Wash the lower portions of the front bumpers and rocker panels with the second mitt or sponge. Washing these more soiled areas last helps reduce the possibility of contaminating the wash bucket and scratching a more visible panel on the car. It’s a good idea to use a different size or color wash media for the high-contamination areas of the paint so it’s easily identifiable.
Step 6 - Once the paint is free of contamination it’s time to rinse the paint off. Depending on if the paint is protected of not you will see water beading or sheeting at this point. If the paint is slow to dry and there is no water beading present the chances are strong that there is no car wax, paint sealant, or paint coating present. Drying unprotected paint can prove quite challenging as it tends to have more drag and causes the towel to feel grabby.
Step 7 - Use a high-quality microfiber towel begin to dry the paint while emplying light pressure and working in straight lines. Drying the car using circular motions poses just as high of a risk as washing the paint with circular motions when it comes to installing swirl marks. Gently misting the microfiber towels with a quick detailer helps improve performance and helps remove any water spots that may have formed on the paint. Using a dedicated set of microfiber towels to dry the paint, door jambs, and wheels is just as important as using dedicated wash media.
If you have access to a forced air dryer such as the Metro Master Blaster it can help make the drying process significantly safer. The Metro Master Blaster features a blistering air speed of 58,500FPM and a substantial air volume of 229CFM. This large volume of high-speed filtered air allows for any size car, truck, or SUV to be dried using only a handful of towels. By reducing the number of towels used to dry the paint the number of wipes required during the drying process is greatly reduced along with the potential for micro-marring. The Metro Master Blaster is a significant investment for any detailing enthusiast but its ability to help reduce paint marring is invaluable especially for anyone who owns a car with black paint.