A good, thorough cleaning does wonders for the appearance of a car and many owners find that washing it themselves can save some money and give them a chance to soak up some sun. As simple as washing a car sounds, there are things to watch out for so you do not damage the paint or other surfaces. By keeping a few tools on hand and a couple of tips in mind, you can keep your car looking its best. Before beginning, it is important to note that a weekly wash is sufficient for most vehicles. If the car is prone to bird droppings or other elements that can damage the wax or paint, these should be washed off as soon as possible. If your drive frequently in dusty conditions, consider washing the vehicle twice weekly.

Gather Supplies

The first step when washing a car is to gather your supplies. This includes choosing a product with which to wash your car. Skip household cleaning products including dish soap or hand soap. Since these are not formulated for use on the type of paint or wax used on cars, damage can occur. Stick to a product formulated for use on cars. You also need a soft sponge or lamb's wool mitt. Other paint-safe options include microfibre or micro-chenille mitts or towels. These are durable enough to clean away dirt, yet the softness prevents scratches. If you plan on shining the tyres, have wax and tyre cleaner on hand along with two buckets and a water or garden hose.

Prep the Car

Before washing the car, move it into a shady spot. Washing the car in the sun can cause the soap to dry too quickly, making it difficult to remove. If you plan to wash the wheels, spray them first with the tyre cleaner so it has a few minutes to sit. Using a garden hose, rinse the car off completely before beginning. Be thorough to ensure you remove all loose dirt and dust.

Wash the Wheels

After the tyre cleaner has been left to soak for a few minutes, wash the wheels using a bucket of clean water. Use a separate sponge for this and rinse the sponge and each wheel thoroughly before moving on to the next. If there is tar or other build-up, use a soft bristled brush to remove it without scratching the surface. For stuck on tar, try a bug-and-tar- remover. This can be found at most auto retail stores.

Wash the Car

Now that you are ready to begin washing the car, fill one bucket with fresh water and car wash soap and one bucket with just water. Dip your sponge or mitt into the soap water and begin washing the car. Every time you are ready to rewet the sponge or mitt with soapy water, rinse it out in the bucket of water first to remove dirt and debris. When washing the car, do not move the sponge or mitt in a circular motion as this can leave swirl marks. Instead, wash the car by using side-to-side sweeping motions. You should also wash the vehicle from the top to bottom, as the lower part of the car is often the dirtiest. In warm or hot weather conditions, you may need to frequently rinse the vehicle to prevent the soap from drying. Spend extra time towards the undercarriage as it is more prone to tar or build-up from the road.

Rinse the Car

After you have washed the entire car, it is time for a rinse. Using a free-flowing water hose, rinse the car from the top to bottom. Be very thorough to ensure you get all of the soap off. Take care to rinse the windows, the wheels and the bumpers.

Dry the Car

After you rinse the car, you have two options. You can let the car air dry, or you can dry it with a microfibre towel or squeegee to prevent water spots. Water spots are caused by mineral deposits found in water. As the water evaporates, it leaves the car surface looking spotty. Drying the vehicle as soon as possible is the best option regardless of the approach you take. A paint-safe squeegee can be found at auto part stores and these are made with soft-silicone materials that do not scratch the paint surface. You use it by moving the blade slowly over the vehicle to remove excess water. A microfibre towel also works well. Avoid using terry cloth towels, as they shed lint and increase the chance of swirl marks being left on the vehicle. When drying, tend to the windows and mirrors first and then work from top to bottom.

Clean the Windows

If the wash and dry has left the windows looking streaky, use a glass cleaner and microfibre towels. Clean the inside and out for best results.

Cleaning a car does not have to be a difficult process. With a few basic items on hand and a little bit of time, you can have your ride clean and ready for the road. A good washing not only keeps a vehicle looking good, it can help extend the life of the paint.

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