Common Car Washing Practices That Will Ruin Your Car

Washing your car can be a chore, but some people also find it enjoyable. There are a lot of professional detailing companies out there that will give you guidance on what to do and what not to do, but there are also a lot of common practices that many car owners do regardless. Washing your car can actually be considered a form of maintenance, as its maintenance the exterior appearance of your car and can have a big effect on your vehicle’s paint quality after years of ownership. From simple things to the seemingly more obvious, these are some washing practices that are far too common, and they will definitely ruin your car’s paint with time. 

Using just any soap

Automotive soap isn’t the same as dish soap and other household detergents. Dish soap is design to strip away as many oils and waxes as possible, and while that may be good for cleaning a Lasagna dish, it isn’t necessarily a good thing for your car. The waxes that sit over your car’s clear coat protect it from harmful UV rays, causing the clear coat to fail more quickly than necessary. Would you wash your face with dish soap? Probably (or at least hopefully) not, and you shouldn’t wash your car with it, either. 

A scare actor presses his face up against a car window in a haunted car wash
A haunted car wash character pushes up against the soap-covered driver-side window during the “Tunnel of Terror” haunted car wash | Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register, Getty Images

Touching your car with a broom brush

If you take a trip down any store aisle that houses automotive cleaning supplies, chances are you’ve seen a large extension brush that looks like an expensive broom. In reality, these brushes are far too harsh and stiff to do your paint any justice, and while it while absolutely removes the dirt and grime covering your vehicle, it is just as likely to cause scrapes and scratches along with the paint. These brushes can also cause swirling and damage in your vehicle’s paint, which can tarnish its luster over time and make your car’s paint look old and worn. 

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY: Atmosphere at the Infamous, Fuel-Efficient, Three-Wheeled Dale Makes Appearance At HBO’s “The Lady And The Dale” Car Wash Activation at Magnolia Car Wash and Detail Center | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Not waxing your car

It doesn’t have to happen every single time you wash your car, but waxing your car on a regular basis is also important to protect your car’s paint and is one step many people skip in the car washing process. While you may not be concerned with waxing a car that has a ceramic coating, or even a vinyl wrap, any car with standard automotive paint deserves a coat of wax. The waxy layer not only makes your car look shiny and new it also protects the clear coat from harmful UV rays, which can lead to yellowing and pealing with time, especially on the roof and hood. 

Using the same tool on your wheel and paint

Many professional detailers like The International Detailing Association recommend the three-bucket method, and when you break it down, it makes a lot of sense. One of the biggest takeaways from this method is that you don’t want to spread dirt and contaminants from dirtier places of your car to cleaner places, and risk scratches and swirls. Unless you thoroughly clean your wash mitts between car washes, you want to make sure you are using a separate wash mitt for your tires and wheels than you use for the rest of your car.

Your car’s tires and wheels can quickly become one of the dirtiest parts of your, picking up dirt, dust, and other materials from the road, and the last thing you want is to scratch those particles into your car’s paint. 

Airstream Trailer at car wash being cleaned in Moab, Utah
Airstream Trailer at car wash being cleaned in Moab, Utah | Joe Sohm, Universal Images Group, Getty Images

Should You Pressure Wash Your Car?

Washing your car can be rewarding, especially if you do it correctly and your car looks as beautiful as it did on the dealership lot. But, if you aren’t careful, you can actually be damaging your car’s paint and dulling that shine over time.