cleaning your car
Ryan Darby

Ryan Darby

Ryan takes the lead on all things 'wordy'. With a sports media background, a true passion for cars, and a LOT of driving experience under his belt, he'll make sure you have all the information you need, when you need it.

How to wash your car

The tough winter weather can take its toll on the exterior of our cars and as we head into spring, it is important to maintain our vehicles as best we can.

Throughout the winter months, an unwanted amount of dirt and grit can build up on the surface of your paintwork and a good spring clean will go a long way to getting your car looking its best.

We have compiled a comprehensive, step-by-step guide that will tell you how to clean the exterior of your car and have it looking factory fresh in no time.

Spring cleaning icons

What do I need to clean the exterior of my car?

Before you start, there are a few things that you’ll need to arm yourself with to achieve the best results when spring cleaning your car.

  • A pressure washer or hose
  • Warm water and a bucket (two if possible)
  • Car wash or wax product
  • Wheel cleaning product
  • A wash mitt or car brush
  • Microfibre cloths
  • Separate dry cloth
  • A wheel brush

Step 1: Prepare the car

Before you can get started, it is important to find the right place to wash your car. Avoid washing your car under direct sunlight. If you’re washing on a particularly hot or sunny day, the high temperatures will affect the washing and drying speeds and this could lead to streaks if the car dries too quickly.

Top tip: If you’re using a pressure washer, avoid washing your car on a gritty or gravelly surface. The pressure washer could kick up stones or dirt and damage the car.

Step 2: Start with the wheels

These are going to be some of the dirtiest areas of your car and by leaving them until the end, you risk undoing all your hard work.

A specific wheel cleaner product would be a shrewd investment – your typical car washing products may not be strong enough to attack the dirt and grit that has been building up in your wheels.

Rinse off your wheel and wheel arches and you’re nearly ready to go. Spray on your cleaner of choice and let it sit on the alloy wheels before you scrub – this will allow the product time to do its work and start pulling away the dirt.

If possible, use a second bucket of water or empty your water before tackling the bodywork. This is going to get dirty.

A good scrubbing brush will allow you to work around the wheel and reach all those nooks and cranny’s before you rinse them off.

Top tip: A pair of gloves may not be the worst idea at this stage – there will be a lot of dirt and debris!

Step 3: Rinse the bodywork

Before you even think about applying any products or scrubbing any area of your car, it is crucial to give the bodywork a good rinse.

This will limit the risk of scratching your paintwork and help to loosen up any of the tougher, thicker winter grime that has built up over time. Start with your roof and work down – you’ll be surprised at just how much dirt comes off with a good blast of water.

Top tip: Don’t wash your car under direct sunlight – the car will dry quicker and this could result in a streaky finish.

Close up cleaning the car with pressure washer

Step 4: Scrub

Grab your weapon of choice – either a wash mitt or a soft brush and you're ready to wash the exterior. Fill a bucket of lukewarm water with your chosen car wash product and if you can get a separate bucket of water to rinse, even better.

Avoid using sponges where possible as they can trap grit in them, increasing your risk of scratches. Like sponges, brushes also pose the risk of retaining grit as you wash, but they can be extremely useful when washing larger cars.

Starting on the roof and working your way down the car, wash one panel at a time to get an even clean. Try not to apply too much pressure as you can still risk damaging the paintwork.

Top tip: Despite what Mr Miyagi says in Karate Kid, it is important that you don't wash the car in circular motions. This could result in swirl marks, so aim to wash in a straight line as you work across the car.

Step 5: Rinse and dry

Once you’ve covered every panel, rinse off any leftover soapsuds and inspect the areas that you’ve cleaned.

Some car colours are better at masking dirt than others, so ensure you've cleared all the dirt before moving on.

A common mistake during the car washing process is to let the car dry naturally. The residue that gets left behind can leave streaks on your car’s paint, undoing all the hard work you’ve just put in. Use a fresh absorbent cloth to dry off the car after you’ve rinsed it, gently working around each panel.

Top tip: Open your doors and boot to dry in-between areas where water may seep into.

Man cleaning car the the street

Step 6: Don’t forget the windows

With the exterior looking great, turn your attention to the car windows.

Using your car-specific glass cleaner, spray and wipe down your windows with a microfibre cloth. Work from left to right or top to bottom to avoid any uneven marks.

Your windows will look better and they’ll be safer too thanks to the greater visibility!

Top tip: Avoid using household window cleaner to avoid any potential damage.

Step 7: Polish to finish

The devil is in the detail and by putting in the time to finish the wash off with polish, you will get a beautiful car in return. This adds another layer of protection to the paintwork, maintaining that freshly washed look for longer.

Apply small amounts of polish to a microfiber cloth and work through each panel. Wipe down with a second microfibre cloth as you go.

Customers who have a car lease with us here at Carparison can take advantage of our maintenance package, which includes a complimentary wash and vacuum.

Five top tips to keep your car clean after a wash

  1. Use a car cover
  2. Apply paint protection
  3. Park in a garage or undercover if possible
  4. Use wax and polish for extra protection
  5. Use a gel to give your tyres added shine and protection

To get more tips delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our Carparison newsletter, where in return you will get exclusive access to some of the best rates on our car lease deals, industry news and much more.