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How to wash your car

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    Even if working within the guidelines, it is advisable to be water conscious. Use a trigger nozzle on the end of the hose.

Believe it or not, many motoring fanatics love nothing better than washing their beloved vehicle.

It is not only a great feeling to bring a gleam to the chrome and the paintwork, but washing is also a handy way to check that everything on your car, ute, SUV, truck or bike is as it should be with no loose bolts, badges or bumpers.  It can also be a sensual feeling to run your wet sponge over the contours of the bodywork.

But before you grab your hose and get all excited, you should check your local council for water restrictions. Some stipulate the use of special hose nozzles or buckets and specific hours or days when washing is allowable.

Even if working within the guidelines, it is advisable to be water conscious.  Use a trigger nozzle on the end of the hose. It not only conserves water but also gives a nice, even spray. And if you wash your car on your lawn, it saves you having to water it.

High-pressure hoses are waterwise but be careful not to spray directly on rubber, or vinyl such as tonneau covers or motorcycle seats, as some powerful units can sometimes rip these materials.  Frequent washing will ensure the paintwork is kept in good condition and prevent oxidisation.

However, you can overdo it, especially on old vehicles and those with exposed engines and other mechanical parts.  Too much water and detergent can make plastics and rubber parts dry out, and dilute the lubricants on some important working parts such as suspension and various cables.

It is therefore important to use a revitalising oil-based solution or relevant lubricant on these parts after washing.  And don't forget to wash underneath your vehicle, especially SUVs or anything that has been on dirt roads or even wet roads.  Road debris, mud and sand accumulate under fenders, on suspension components and on the chassis.

If allowed to build up, they hold the moisture for extra hours and even days beyond a rainy spell and can lead to the development of rust.  Everyone has their preferred method of cleaning their precious vehicle and there is a host of tips available.

We have assembled some tips that you may not have heard of before.  They come from Autoglym Australia which makes car cleaning products, so obviously they encourage use of dedicated cleaning and polishing materials.

However, we're not so sure about the first tip of not using household cleaners. Certainly dishwashing liquid couldn't cause any problems to paintwork or leave smears. After all, we wash our crockery and cutlery with it. 

So, armed with some commercial cynicism, but always prepared to listen to expert advice, here are Autoglym's tips:

1. Ditch the household cleaners  they are designed for very different purposes and can smear, strip polish/wax and damage a car's exterior. Only use dedicated automotive products which are designed for the specific task at hand.
2. Cool shade is better. If you wash your vehicle in the open hot sun the cleaning products will dry quickly making them harder to remove and will likely cause streaking.
3. Rinse first and make it warm before you wash. Rinse the entire vehicle to remove grit, mud and dust. This makes cleaning easier and helps to prevent scratching. The water you use with your detergent should be warm to make washing easier.
4. Use a wheel cleaner. Wheel cleaners are designed to strip away brake dust far more efficiently than normal detergents alone. They will save you a lot of time and are not very expensive. Make sure the wheel is cool. Rinse quickly and don't let the product dry.
5. When washing the car, work one panel at a time and wash from bottom to top and then back down again. By working in this manner you will make sure you don't miss sections that you have to go back and re-clean. If you work from top to bottom the soapy water will drain down the panel making it harder for you to see where you have cleaned.
6. Clean your chamois regularly with detergent to remove any dirt and grime. If you are using a dirty chamois you will be left with unsightly streaks because you are essentially putting dirt back on your car. Most people don't think of doing this but it makes an enormous difference. After every third or fourth wash fill your bucket with warm water, add some detergent, give the chamois a good clean, rinse and allow to dry. This exercise should take you about two minutes but will make cleaning quicker and easier.
7. A well-polished and waxed vehicle is significantly easier to clean because the process of polishing and waxing leaves a clean smooth surface with a protective barrier that repels dirt, water and harmful contaminates. It also makes your car look great. A good wax will give you four to six months' protection before needing to reapply.

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 23 comments

  • Good idea, for car wash, but I will wash car by yourself so you will not get good result compare to professional car wash services provider. You should take service form professional car wash services provider.

    Pride Detailing of Berwick and Pakenham - AUS Posted on 21 January 2014 4:12pm
  • Dishwashing detergents are caustic, and contain high levels of salt to help cut through grease. These properties can cause the stripping of your clearcoat and also cause rust. I would not use these products on my car.

    BlueXr6 of Windsor, NSW Posted on 28 July 2013 7:25pm
  • Here’s a great washing tip. Get the kid’s to earn their pocket money by washing your car.

    Bob Posted on 26 July 2013 2:00pm
  • I Disagree with number 5. A really bad tip IMO. If you wash from bottom to top, you have a higher chance of carrying dirt from the bottom part of the car where its likely to be dirtier, to the top and then potentially scratch your paint work. I always wash the top half of the car and then do the bottom. If you do it right, then you don’t have to worry about what you missed and you car paint will last longer.

    Richard of adelaide Posted on 06 July 2013 1:58pm
  • You shouldn’t use dish washing liquid as this is designed to cut through grease and oil on your dishes so really dries out all the rubber and plastic seals on your car, I thought everyone knew that? :/

    Cheggers of Brisbane Posted on 05 July 2013 4:40am
  • Choose the color of your car lite or white to begin and it takes 4 time the length of time to LOOK dirty and the wash with a car wash containing wax—-NEVER FAILS

    FREDDO of Seaclif Posted on 24 June 2013 3:52pm
  • Don’t use household detergent to wash your car, it is too abrasive and can remove wax.

    joeyjimmyjojo Posted on 08 April 2013 7:37pm
  • I think I shall start with dish washing liquid and then go to buy wax and tyre detergent.

    fresh off the boat paki of Bargara, QLD Posted on 23 February 2013 5:04pm
  • I use a website to find the best car washes around australia , check it out smile

    Roni of Melbourne Posted on 30 November 2012 1:43am
  • “dont wash from top to bottom as soap may hide dirty spots”
    which is kind of why you methodically get every part of every section by going top to bottom, saving yourself time if you’d gone up and then down.  we have lives outside of washing the car you know (beer, footy and cricket come to mind).

    also from some forum searching, polish and wax are two different things! wax adds a protective layer on top of the paint, but polish is there to recondition the paint itself (after which you have to then wax the car).

    Also, I highly doubt most cars need to be washed every two weeks.  Again, we have lives outside of washing the car (beer, footy and cricket come to mind)

    practical aussie guy of Sydney Posted on 14 November 2012 6:16am
  • i have washed my car for years with palovlive dishwashing detergent!

    car looks great and its far easier to get bugs off!!!

    dan of camden Posted on 29 October 2012 4:54pm
  • The comments definately add more to this story! One of the biggest mistakes we see people do is scrub their car, if you feel that you have to scrub any kind of marks then find another way to remove it or you will only damage the paint. Let the product do the hard work! We use Fast Wax one as an all round waterless cleaner. It is not too expensive if you wish to use it at home or if you do not have time and you are in Brisbane, visit us at

    If you do it yourself, make sure you buy some good microfibers ($3.50 for 6 in K-mart and they are actually very good! Do not be afraid to use 2 or 3 during a clean), and make sure you do not scrub!

    Timeless Car Cleaning of Brisbane, Australia Posted on 27 October 2012 1:23pm
  • Hi, my car is Honda CRV 4x4 sport 2010 which detergent washable is good.

    joby of vic Posted on 08 September 2010 10:02pm
  • My problem is my husband never drys off the car after washing it. I say this helps to cause rusting, also always leaves it looking spotty. Am I correct?

    Betty Matheson of Nova Scotia, Canada Posted on 04 September 2010 3:02am
  • OK , Here’s how it goes ....
    Use 2 Buckets, one with clean water in it only, one with CAR detergent and warm water, after all a bottle of it is cheap and lasts for many washes. Use a Microrfibre sponge or mit as they hold dirt away from the paintwork. A normal sponge would work OK but you should have one sponge for paintwork and one for wheels. Now as stated before, work from top down because your vehicle is always dirtiest on the lower half. Use the bucket of clean water to rinse the sponge/mitt from all the grime & dirt and the soapy water should then stay relatively clean for doing the washing part. This method will minimise the amount of grit dragged over the surface causing swirl marks and microscopic scratching. Rinse the soapy water of the car regularly - don’t allow it to dry on there. Do the front & rear bumper & wheels last. Once all rinsed, then dry off with either a microfibre cloth or terry cloth. A moist chamois can also be used if you wish. Avoid household detergents - they do contain salt and will strip the protective waxes on your car over time. I do this on all my cars and people are always amazed at how I keep the cars looking so good. It’s simple and it’s cheap.

    Jose Redman of Brisbane Posted on 18 May 2010 10:04pm
  • Chris and Chris you are so correct about salt based wash products being unsuited to motor vehicles, I am very concerned about the Author/Carsguide common sense here. I am even more concerned at AutoGlym #5 washing from the bottom of a car to the top ‘first’, that is STUPID. Wash from the top down ‘first’ allowing the washoff to run over the most soiled finishes of the car, namely the bodywork behind the wheels and critically the front of the car. Obviously leave the aforementioned areas till last, Bug Off or similar is handy to assist removal of bugs (doh) tar and oil staining from paintwork.

    Bob A. thankyou for a so simple but critical comment to take the vehicle for a short drive after wash/chamois. This assists to dislodge any excess water, dry the brakes etc. I know it is ‘common sense’ but drivers/riders need to take care with the initial use of the brakes after washing.

    I am becoming very concerned at the lack of common sense in a great deal of motoring articles lately!!

    deejay51 of Gold Coast Posted on 18 May 2010 3:11pm
  • As well as car detergent I have always used a little kerosene in the water as well. It has proved good over the years to remove grime.

    MR WILLIAM NICHOLLS of WYEE NSW Posted on 18 May 2010 12:38am
  • Anyone with any motoring knowledge knows that you do not use household dishwashing liquid due to its ingredients - to question it shows a lack of education of the author…

    mike hunt Posted on 17 May 2010 7:14pm
  • Comment on Point 1.
    Household detergents tend to alter the surface tension of water which when used on cars lets the water penetrate between two metal surfaces (the way doors are made). This means these sections stay wetter longer and actually promote rust because of the much longer dry out, so it is better to use car detergents as they are designed not do this.
    Secondly, it’s a very good idea to take the vehicle for a short drive after it is washed to dislodge any accumulated water inside the panels that you can’t see so the car can dry out properly.

    Lastly, try not to wash the vehicle late in the afternoon as the inside panels will stay wet all night. Water gets into these areas between the door panel and the glass.

    A retired TAFE Teacher

    Bob A. of Sydney, Australia Posted on 13 May 2010 9:59am
  • About using dishwashing liquid. I have been using dishwashing up detergent all my life over ten cars. Never a problem, ever. I can not be alone, surely.

    peter of sydney Posted on 11 May 2010 7:07pm
  • Great Article..I’m one of these fanatics! I was always told to wash from the top to the bottom as the bottom of the car is usually dirtier.  Following this bottom to top approach would see ‘dragging’ dirt onto the higher surfaces and potentially scratching it.. Also, you can’t beat a good Chamois!

    Frank of McKinnon Posted on 11 May 2010 12:19pm
  • Further to Chris of Brisbane’s comments, household detergent contains salt, and as we all know salt rusts cars.

    Chris of Canberra Posted on 06 May 2010 6:32pm
  • “However, we’re not so sure about the first tip of not using household cleaners. Certainly dishwashing liquid couldn’t cause any problems to paintwork or leave smears. After all, we wash our crockery and cutlery with it.” You have got to be joking. There is a reason we have Car Wash and that is for, let’s wait for it, Washing Cars. I suppose you will also say not to use a sponge but a scourer on the car. Well, it’s great for crockery and cutlery. Try that for a year and see what your car looks like then. “always prepared to listen to expert advice”, yes but what will you do with that expert advice ?

    chris of Brisbane Posted on 06 May 2010 5:40pm
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