Skip to main content

As rewarding as it can be to wash your car yourself, doing so incorrectly can lead to more harm than good. And though it can be difficult to be perfect each time, there are some things you can do to improve your results. Follow these tips to avoid scratches while washing your car, and let that finish shine all year long.

An at-home car wash
An at-home car wash | Jane Barlow/Getty Images

Use the right microfiber towels to avoid scratches while washing and drying

Perhaps the easiest way to scratch your car’s finish during a wash is by using the wrong towels. Not all towels are created equal, and even some microfiber towels can leave scratches while washing your car.

Finding the right microfiber towels means looking for three things:

  • Fabric blend
  • Edgeless construction
  • Fiber density

The ideal fabric blend for microfiber car wash towels is 70% polyester and 30% polyamide. This provides enough grabbing power to pull dust away from the paint while remaining soft enough to avoid scratches while washing your car.

Edgeless construction simply means that there is no stitching on the outside edge of the towel. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but the stitching on store-bought microfiber towels can often be the reason those towels scratch your car’s paint. If you check the tag and your towels have the right fabric blend, you can cut the edges from your current towels rather than invest in new ones.

Finally, fiber density is a hotly-debated topic among professional detailers, but a range between 350 and 500 grams per square inch is best. You’re not likely to find those details on storebought towels, but online brands like The Rag Company give you several options to choose from.

Never use a sponge to clean your car

This method of wiping your car with a microfiber towel can help avoid scratches while washing your car.
A final wipe with a microfiber towel | Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It’s easy to see the classic image of a soap-soaked sponge cleaning a car on a warm spring day and assume that’s the way to wash your car.

Please don’t.

Sponges don’t have the ability to trap and lock away dirt like microfiber towels. As such, they simply push the particles around. Rather than avoiding scratches during your car wash, you’ll be adding more with each movement of the sponge.

Even if your car seems fairly clean, minor dust and pollen particles can cause marring when applying a sponge to your car. Stick to the microfiber towels and you’ll have much better results.

Use multiple towels throughout the wash

Now that you’ve ditched the sponge and you’ve got the right microfiber towels, it’s time to throw six or more into the wash bucket. Even the best microfiber towels will lose their ability to trap dirt. Folding a towel offers more surfaces to work with, but eventually, that towel should be rotated out.

For most vehicles, six towels will do the trick. That said, it could take eight or more depending on the level of dirt and size of the vehicle. Either way, swapping to a clean towel at each new section will help avoid scratches while you wash your car.

Get to know your car with a hand wash!

Using these tips, you can avoid scratching your car the next time you wash it yourself. The best part is you’ll get to see your entire car up close. This isn’t just cathartic, but it can help you identify issues like paint chips and rust spots before they become problematic. It’s just one more reason to get out there and get to know your car.

Related Is Bucket Washing at a Self-Service Car Wash Illegal?

Is Bucket Washing at a Self-Service Car Wash Illegal?