Home > Car Cleaning And Maintenance >  

How to Wash a Car: The Complete Guide

A Step-by-Step Guide on How To Wash Your Car Like a Pro

How to Wash a Car

When it comes to the right way to wash a car, there are a million things NOT to do. Which is why we’ve compiled this easy to follow step-by-step guide on how to properly wash a car. Washing your car is cost-effective and can be as high-quality as a professional car wash with the right suds! With the proper technique and the use of excellent products, you (and your car) will be beyond happy with the results.

How to Wash a Car Like a Pro

We’ve rounded up the best car-washing products and outlined the best methods to use them. Not only will a thorough home wash keep your car looking great, but the time you put into properly washing your car will also help protect and preserve your car’s exterior. Plus when you’re finished, your car will be the shiniest, most beautiful car in the neighborhood!

Step 1: Gather Car Washing Products

Car Washing Supplies

Let’s get started by rounding up the products that will make your car shine! More than anything, it’s important to use the correct products when you wash a car. Using the wrong products could potentially scratch or damage your paint or degrade the finish.

First, you will need two buckets. If you read that and thought, “Well, I only have one bucket, so I’ll just use that,” we promise you,  it is worthwhile to use two buckets — perhaps the most important step in how to wash a car! The first bucket will be for soapy water. The second bucket will be used as a dirty rinse bucket and will also have the next item you need: a dirt-trap. This 4.5 Gallon Detailing Bucket and a Dirt Trap Bucket Insert from Chemical Guys are great options.

Next, you need to make sure that you have a hose. If you don’t have access to running water while washing your car for any reason, you can use a Spray Detailer from Shine Armor with a Microfiber Towel for a waterless wash. With that being said, using water whenever possible is our recommendation.

Then, gather the products needed to wash your car’s wheels. You will need a Wheel Brush and Wheel and Tire Cleaner.

Finally, gather the products used to clean the entirety of your vehicle. This includes a Foam Gun (that connects to any garden hose), a Wash Mitt, Car Wash Soap, and Glass Cleaner. If you want to go the extra mile, you can finish off your car wash with Car Wax and Detailing Spray.

In short, all of the items you need can be found here: 

  1. Two Buckets
  2. Dirt Trap Bucket Insert
  3. Hose or Waterless Spray Detailer (if you do not have a hose)
  4. Wheel Brush
  5. Wheel & Tire Cleaner
  6. Microfiber Towels
  7. Foam Gun
  8. Car Wash Soap
  9. Car Wash Mitt
  10. Glass Cleaner
  11. Car Wax
  12. Detailing Spray

Want everything on this list and more? Use our Ultimate Car Wash Kit Review and Buying Guide to get the best car washing products in the automotive industry. A car wash kit is not only a great value purchase, but it also reduces the stress of making sure you have all the necessary products when buying each item individually.

Step 2: Fill First Bucket With Water And Soap, Fill Second Bucket With Just Water

how to wash a car

The two-bucket method helps prevent damage to your car by reducing the likelihood of dirt or debris from your wash mitt scratching the paint. First, use the hose to fill the first bucket with soap and water. Make sure to use the correct ratio of soap to water, as directed on the bottle. Then, use the hose to fill the second bucket with only water. The second bucket will be used solely as your rinsing bucket. Don’t forget to add the dirt trap to your rinsing bucket.

Step 3: Hose Off The Car Before Beginning The Washing Process

Before you begin washing, hose off the entirety of the car, from top to bottom. Generally, you will want to work top to bottom as the water, soap, and dirt will naturally run from top to bottom. Also, the bottom sections of the car tend to be the dirtiest, and you don’t want to accidentally transfer any of this dirt or grime to the upper portions of the car. Use a pressure washer or a foam gun for the pre-rinse if you have one. If not, a hose will do just fine.

It is important to know that the use of a pressure washer could cause damage to the paint if used incorrectly. So, if you use a pressure washer, use it properly. Refer to our How-To Guide to Pressure Washing Your Car for more details. The process of rinsing before washing removes dirt and debris that could otherwise cause scratches to the exterior.

Step 4: Wash The Wheels

before and after tire

Use a wheel brush and wheel cleaner for this step. Focus on cleaning the front face of the wheel and inside the wheel’s barrel to remove brake dust and other dirt. After cleaning each wheel, rinse the wheel with the hose. Then, make sure to use the rinse bucket to clean off the brush and continue using the soap and water bucket before continuing to the next wheel.

For added cleanliness, dump each bucket and refill one with soap and water and the other with just water before beginning to wash the car itself.

We also ranked the 10 Best Tire Cleaning Products of 2020, so check it out to get your wheels looking their best!

Step 5: Wash The Entire Car Using a Wash Mitt

Car Wash Mit

Now that the car is wet and the majority of the dirt and debris is removed, the bulk of the car washing can begin. Using a microfiber car wash mitt and sudsy water from your soap and water bucket, wash the car from top to bottom. Wash the car using a side-to-side motion. Do NOT wash in a circular motion. Using a circular motion can result in swirl marks if your mitt picked any abrasive dirt or debris.

After each section of the car (you can use the panels as guides), make sure to put the mitt in the rinse bucket with the dirt-trap. Submerge the mitt in the water, and use your hand to move it around on the dirt trap to get all of the dirt off of the mitt. Then, take the mitt out of the rinse bucket and squeeze all the water out before submerging in the soapy water. Rinse each car panel using the hose as you go to keep the car wet throughout the process.

Continue repeating the side-to-side motion on each panel and rinsing the mitt between panels from the top of your car to the bottom of your car until it is completely clean. Make sure to clean all your car windows with the sudsy water and mitt as well. This will prep the windows to later be cleaned with glass cleaner.

We’ve compiled a list of the Best Car Wash Soaps that also answers important questions about soap and even contains a “recipe” for homemade car wash soap! Find the best car wash mitt for your needs from our Best Car Wash Brush List.

Step 6: Rinse The Car Using The Hose, Pressure Washer, Or Foam Gun

how to wash a car

Now, it is time for the final rinse! Using your hose, pressure washer, or foam gun, make sure that all the soap is rinsed off of the car, working again from the top to the bottom.

Step 7: Dry The Car Using Clean Microfiber Towels

For this process, use a clean microfiber towel to dry your car. Again, do NOT dry using a circular motion. You can set your microfiber towel flat on the car’s surface and slowly drag it toward you, letting the towel absorb the water as it goes. Shake and turn your towel frequently and grab a new one if it gets too wet. Alternatively, if you have one, you could also use a leaf blower to effectively remove all the water from your car.

Step 8: Clean Glass Exterior With Glass Cleaner

Now that your car is washed, rinsed, and dried, it’s time to use glass cleaner to give your windows both clarity and cleanliness. No one likes streaky windows! Depending on the specific product directions, either spray the cleaner directly on the window or apply it to a microfiber towel. Either way, use a fully clean microfiber towel.

Just like the main washing process, do not use a circular motion. Instead, wipe using an up-and-down or back-and-forth motion. To find the right glass cleaner for your car needs, we’ve created a list of the 10 Best Car Glass Cleaners.

How to Wash a Car Extra Credit: Once Dry, Wax The Car

If after the entire washing process, you want to give your car a quick detail, use a clean microfiber towel and a spray detailer or car wax to give your car added protection and beautiful shine. Depending on the product you use, the directions for application will be different. With that in mind, when choosing detail spray or wax, use whatever best suits your car. We recommend the detail spray from Torque Detail or the liquid car wax from Meguiar’s.

When using wax, spread the wax as thin and evenly as possible. You can use your hands! Make sure to apply the wax in the shade. Once the wax is dried (3-5 minutes), remove with a clean microfiber towel.

When using detail spray, spray on the car and then wipe off with a clean microfiber towel.

Now, take a minute to step back and look at your car because, WOW, it’s a glorious sight to see!

How To Wash a Car in 8 Easy Steps

  • 1: Gather Car Washing Products
  • 2: Fill First Bucket With Water And Soap, Fill Second Bucket With Just Water
  • 3: Hose Off The Car Before Beginning The Washing Process
  • 4: Wash The Wheels
  • 5: Wash The Entire Car Using a Wash Mitt
  • 6: Rinse The Car Using The Hose, Pressure Washer, Or Foam Gun
  • 7: Dry The Car Using Clean Microfiber Towels
  • 8: Clean Glass Exterior With Glass Cleaner
  • Extra Credit: Once Dry, Wax The Car

You now know how to wash a car like a pro! Sure it takes a little elbow grease, patience, and time, but the reward is so worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What soap should I use to wash a car?

Always use soap specifically designed for washing a car. Car wash soaps are specifically formulated to help remove dirt and grime while protecting your car’s paint. While you can make your own concoction out of liquid detergent in a pinch, it is best to purchase high-quality car soap. Refer to our Best Car Wash Soaps guide to find the best soap for you.

Can I just wash my car with water?

While an initial rinsing of your car with only water does help get rid of loose dirt and debris, it does not really clean your car. Rinsing with water is a necessary step, but it only preps the car to be fully cleaned. If you only rinse your car with water and nothing else, it will still be dirty. You will need to use soap to fully remove all dirt and debris.

Can I wash my car without water?

Yes, you can. Though it won’t result in the best possible clean for your car, if you have limited access to water or perhaps there is a drought in your area, you can do a waterless car wash. We recommend the Shine Armour Waterless Car Wash & Wax. Just spray it on to a clean microfiber cloth and gently wipe from side-to-side. Use multiple microfiber cloths to maintain cleanliness. Repeat until the entire car is clean.

How often should I wash my car?

The answer to this question varies greatly from person to person. With that said, the more frequently you wash your car, the better it is for your car’s general upkeep. It is generally advised to wash your car every two weeks. If you keep your car in the garage, however, you may not need to wash it as often.

Joybeth Sullivan
About Joybeth Sullivan

Joybeth Sullivan is an accomplished content creator. She does it all as a writer, photographer, and videographer. Her work has been published in local and international outlets. She graduated from the University of Georgia in May of 2020 with a dual-degree in English & Film. Today, she is based out of Denver, CO. When she isn't writing, you can find her on long drives in the mountains with her husky, Newman, riding shotgun.