Personal Finance

9 Big Mistakes You’re Likely Making When Washing the Car

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Woman washing car tires
hedgehog94 /

Washing your car regularly keeps it looking its best and gives a longer life to the finish on your favorite ride. And you’ve probably spent a good bit of the summer riding and enjoying the dropping gas prices.

Unfortunately, many of us make foolish decisions when cleaning our vehicles. Following are some common mistakes you likely make when washing the car.

1. Cleaning with a kitchen sponge

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Using a standard cleaning sponge to wash your car can create untold damage, says professional auto detailer Larry Kosilla.

He says such sponges can be “devastating to your paint” because dirt and contaminants get pushed along the surface as you wipe. By contrast, car mitts made for washing a car grab these contaminants and trap them in the mitt’s fibers until they are released when you dip the mitt into a bucket of water.

For example, the Chemical Guys brand boasts that its MIC498 Black Microfiber Wash Mitt contains fibers that act “like a piece of Velcro” to hook and loop material, “trapping and holding abrasive dirt and filth deep within the pile of the premium wash mitt.”

2. Turning to dish soap

Dawn brand
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Dish soap may do a fantastic job on plates and cutlery, but it is not meant to clean your car’s exterior.

This type of soap contains chemicals that can “oxidize the paint job, strip the clear coat, and make the paint dull looking,” according to NuWash, a mobile car care service based in Austin, Texas.

Instead, use a car shampoo specially made for washing vehicles. Doing so will help guard your car’s paint, rubber and metal surfaces from moisture and debris.

3. Spraying ammonia-based cleaners onto glass

Woman in a mask cleaning glass with a disinfectant
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One of the best parts of cleaning your car is looking through glass that is sparkly clean. But it is best to avoid using ammonia-based glass cleaners when wiping windows.

If the ammonia drips inside the car, it can damage upholstery and the dashboard, according to the On All Cylinders automotive blog.

So, look for ammonia-free glass cleaners. Mothers, Windex and Glass Plus all sell them.

4. Wiping excess dirt with a dry towel

Bath towels
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It’s easy to miss a spot or two when cleaning that shows up after your work is done. When this happens, don’t grab a dry towel and try to quickly rub out the dirt spot.

Doing so simply grinds the dirt in, scratching the paint, warns On All Cylinders.

5. Reusing a towel

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Similarly, never use a dirty towel to clean your car. According to the Car Care Hacks website:

“When you drop your towel on the ground, it picks up all types of debris, including little rocks which will put a nice scratch in your car’s paint. So, once you drop the towel on the ground, that towel is done.”

6. Washing the wheels and tires last

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It is natural to start washing your car at the top and work your way down. But washing the wheels and tires last is a mistake, because much of the gunk and grime you spray off will end up on the surface of the car that you just cleaned.

The folks at Reliable Detailing in Virginia Beach, Virginia, urge you to clean your wheels and tires first, then turn to the rest of the car, working from the top down.

7. Using too much wax

Man washing his car
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Car wax helps protect your car’s exterior. However, applying too many coats of wax is wasteful, and simply leads to over-buffing and the removal of earlier coats, according to the experts at Simoniz, which makes car cleaning products.

Stick to one to two coats of wax. That should be plenty to do the job right.

8. Squeezing cleaning product directly on the car

Man waxing car
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Taking a bottle of car shampoo or car wax and squeezing it directly onto the car’s surface is unwise. Doing so can make it look messy or cause damage to the paint color, according to the experts at Motor Biscuit.

Instead, always follow the product directions. That typically means using a foam applicator, Motor Biscuit notes.

9. Letting the sun shine down as you wash

Car wash in driveway
hedgehog94 /

The sun’s powerful rays quickly evaporate the soap and water you apply to your car. That can make it difficult for those suds to do their job of removing dirt and grime, say the folks at AvalonKing, which sells ceramic coating for vehicles.

They recommend washing your car in the shade and planning your washes for early in the morning or close to sunset.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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