Are you washing your car, or just damaging the paint?

Most of the swirl marks that disfigure your vehicle are likely caused by poor washing technique. Thorough weekly washes and careful hand-drying can be the best care you can give your vehicle. Improper techniques will cause unsightly swirls and scratches in the paint requiring compounding or polishing at the very least. You can eliminate these problems and save yourself extra work by following a few simple tips when washing and drying your vehicle.

Are you washing weekly or weakly?

Weekly washing is best because some contaminants quickly do serious long term damage to paint if they are allowed to remain. Two such organic compounds are bug remains and bird droppings. These bio-hazards contain complex proteins that bond to the surface and organic acids that penetrate and break down the surface, eating into your clear coat if not removed promptly. Weak spots in the clear coat make your vehicle susceptible to corrosion and discoloration.

Another problem contaminant is brake dust. It contains metal shavings from the rotors and adhesives used in the production of brake pads. Try to picture the dirty plume of brake dust and roadway chemicals that travels along with a moving vehicle. This fog of chemicals shower the lower portion of your vehicle with a clinging, nearly invisible mist. Brake dust itself, is highly corrosive and very sticky. Washing your vehicle weekly will remove these contaminants before they have the opportunity to do unsightly permanent damage.

Wash Tools

First Never wash in direct sunlight. Pick a shady spot. Second it’s very important to choose tools that are gentle on the paint, yet still effective at removing contamination. As a rule of thumb, sponges like Triplewax Jumbo Sponge or mitts like Kent Q2429 2-in-1 Microfibre Noodle Wash Mitt that are plush or have a deep nap are better than flat weave towels or dense sponges. For example, a Natural Sponge like a Premium Quality Natural Sea Sponge  has numerous deep compartments where dirt and debris can accumulate. The natural fibers themselves will not scratch the paint and they will essentially pull contamination into the sponge’s openings, away from the paint. Always use the softer side of the sponge for washing. Rinse new sea sponges thoroughly before use to remove any shell fragments or sand.

Another option is a sheepskin wash mitt like the Meguiars Luxurious Lambs Wool Wash Mitt Sheepskin is extremely soft and plush. The fibers are gentle on the paint while the nap is deep enough to accommodate loose dirt and sand so they do not rub against the vehicle. Because wool is natural, it does not last as long as a microfibre mitt however, for luxurious softness, you can’t beat the texture of wool.

Micro-chenille was mitts like the Microfibre Chenille Wash Mitt are another paint-safe option. Microfiber’s combination of polyester and polyamide make it capable of scrubbing the paint without scratching or swirling. It traps dirt and grit within the fibers rather than leaving them on the surface of your vehicle. Be sure to rinse the mitt frequently to release these particles.

Proper Washing

1. Wash the wheels and tires first. If you splash wheel cleaners or dirt onto your vehicle, you can simply wash it off as you wash your vehicle. Use a cleaner that is safe for all wheels, like Wolfgang Tyre and Wheel Cleaner it is water-based and has no corrosive chemicals, which is safer for coated wheels and rubber. Agitate with a wheel brush to clean wheels without scratching. Wash each wheel and tire one at a time and rinse thoroughly before moving on to the next one. NOW EMPTY AND RINSE ALL CLEANING MATERIALS including your Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Pad by Pinnacle Natural Brilliance and your wash bucket.

2. Now you’re ready to wash. Let’s start with clean water and a freshly rinsed container and our micro-chenille mitt. It’s important to use a car wash that is rich in lubricants. The purpose of the car wash is to remove contaminants and lubricate them so they do not scratch the paint as they slide off the vehicle. Dishwashing detergents are not ideal because they remove protective coatings.
P21S Bodywork Conditioning ShampooMcKee’s 37 MK37-820 Power Wash and Pinnacle Bodywork Shampoo are all fantastic choices. They do not remove wax and provide ample lubrication of gritty particles.

3. How do you prevent swirl marks? Use two buckets. Fill one bucket with soapy water and fill the other with clean water. Each time you’re ready to reload your sponge with soapy water, dip it in the clean water first, to rinse out the grit and contamination you’ve just removed from your vehicle. Then dip it in the soapy water and continue washing.

An even better option is the Scratch Shield Adjustable Bucket Grit Guard. This plastic grid sits in the bottom of a 5-gallon wash bucket and stabilizes the water. Contamination and particles settle to the bottom of the bucket and the clean wash water remains at the top.

4. Always rinse your vehicle thoroughly before you begin washing in order to remove loose debris. Then begin washing at the top of the vehicle. Wash down the vehicle as opposed to front to back. Remember that the lower panels are dirtiest. You want to clean the windows and the upper panels before cleaning the lower half of the vehicle so that you don’t transfer grit to the top half of the vehicle. Rinse and reload your sponge often to prevent cross-contamination. Rinse your vehicle frequently as you work, especially in hot weather.

For stubborn spots, like bugs or tar, use the Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Pad by Pinnacle Natural Brilliance to gently remove sticky contaminants without scratching. To soften the sponge, soak it in warm water for 3 minutes. Always use it with soapy water to lubricate the sponge. If you choose to use a spot cleaner like the Stoner Tarminator Bug Tar Sap Grease Remover, spray it on before washing and reapply wax to the treated area after you’ve dried the vehicle.

5. When rinsing, you don’t have to blast your car clean with the water hose. Free-flowing water (no nozzle) will allow the water to sheet off of your vehicle for a more thorough rinsing.


Never skip drying! Drying your vehicle after washing is necessary to prevent water spots. Water spots are caused by mineral deposits that etch the outline of a drop of water into your vehicle’s paint. All water has minerals, whether it’s from the hose or the sky. As the water evaporates, the minerals remain on the surface and they will eventually, invariably create water spots.

You can dry your vehicle in a variety of ways, but you want to make sure you do it quickly. The fastest way to remove excess water is with the Original California Dry The Blade. This is a “paint-safe” squeegee that pull 80% of the water off the surface of your vehicle. They are made of soft, medical-grade silicone so they will not scratch your paint or glass. Use the blade on the windows first, since water spots are most noticeable there. Or for a TOTALLY TURBO-CHARGED fast drying experience go with Metroplitan Vac N’ Blo Auto Vac by Metro Vacuum or a flawless finish. This is the ultimate detailing tool, for clean up and dry down. This portable unit comes complete with a four piece micro-cleaning tool kit, shoulder strap and blower nozzle.

If you use a California Jelly Blade you may still need to use a towel to wipe away drips from around windows and mirrors. The Kent Q6100 Extra Large Microfibre Drying Towel is a large 24″ x 30″ microfibre towel that is manufactured with a waffle-weave texture. This weave increases the surface area so the towel can absorb more water. It can absorb 8 times its own weight in moisture, and it’s completely nonabrasive. Microfibre towels come in a number of sizes and they can be altered for a specific purpose.

Terry cloth towels are not recommended because the fibers can become matted and hard after repeated uses. They shed lint. They increase the chance of swirls. Compared to microfiber, they are not as absorbent and they don’t last as long. Never use bath towels that have been discarded from the house. They are probably not soft or paint safe. Microfibre towels / chamois are engineered to be LINT-FREE!

You may also use a genuine or synthetic chamois. The Prince of Wales Chamois – 6.5 Sq Feet by S.M. Arnold is 100% leather and it’s extremely soft. Its luxurious texture makes it a pleasure to use, but it will not last as long as a synthetic chamois. Do not continue using it after it becomes hard.

Drying Tips

1. Dry the windows and mirrors first. A series of careful firm strokes with your water blade will remove any remaining water.

2. Use the large Kent Q6100 Extra Large Microfibre Drying Towel to remove the majority of water from your vehicle. This towel measures 24”x 30” and it absorbs eight  times its own weight in moisture. Go back over the vehicle with a smaller towel, like the Kent Q6750 38 x 42cm Microfibre Buffing Towel to catch any water the large towel may have missed. This quick two-step process will leave your vehicle bone-dry and ready for wax.

3. Once the outside is dry, wipe down all your door jambs. Open the trunk and hood to wipe the jambs. The Kent Q6789 Microfiber Detailing Cloths (Pack of 3) can get your vehicle dry and spotless with the best in LINT-FREE drying technology.

4. Dry your wheels using a towel or chamois that is designated just for this purpose. Don’t use this towel on your paint to avoid cross-contamination. You may also use this towel to wipe off surfaces under the hood. Wash this towel before you use it again.

The Finishing Touch

Use a spray wax or spray sealant like MOTHERS 08216 Showtime Instant Detailer Quick Detailing, California Gold or Wolfgang Deep Gloss Spritz Sealant to rejuvenate the shine of your existing wax. Skip this step if you are going to apply another coat of wax. The ultimate in finishing detail kits is the Pinnacle Signature Series II Carnauba Car Wax Complete Kit; two premium brands come together to make the ultimate detailing kit.