Cleaning Guides

How to Wash Your Car Like a Pro

All vehicle owners benefit from knowing how to wash a car properly. Regular cleaning keeps cars looking good and removing harmful deposits like road salt, bugs or acidic bird poop prevents them from damaging the paintwork. Well preserved paintwork protects the metal beneath from rust and damaged paintwork reduces the resale value of a vehicle.

This article is for you if:

  • You’re a first-time car owner and don’t know how to wash a car by hand or how to wash a car with a pressure washer
  • You own a new car you want to keep immaculate or an older one you want to keep looking as good as possible
  • You want to know how to wash your car, as the pros do it, without sacrificing half a day to get the job done

Tools and materials required

Having everything to hand before you start allows you to work efficiently and get a better result in less time. Don’t skimp by using poor-quality materials or tools. Old sponges or brushes don’t clean effectively and if they’re gritty they’ll damage the paintwork.

If you don’t want to buy everything but you need your car properly cleaned, you can book a mobile car wash service.

You will need:

  • Something to apply the water – garden hose, pressure washer or a CLEAN bucket
  • A NEW (or immaculately clean) sponge – it’s best if it’s one with a handle
  • A wheel cleaning brush
  • Cloths for drying – microfibre or chamois leather
  • Specialised car shampoo – or wash wax
  • Glass cleaner – for the windows

Important note – Washing up liquid isn’t a substitute for specialist car shampoos, it contains a chemical designed to break down grease on dishes which will also break down the protective coating on the paintwork. Car shampoos are designed to lift dirt without breaking down the wax that protects the paint.

How to wash a car – step by step instructions

  1. Remove any jewellery, belt buckles or similar

    You’re going to be getting up close and personal with your car’s paintwork and you don’t want to scratch it. So don’t wear anything hard or sharp. This includes rings. You’ll be bending and stretching, so you’ll work better in loose-fitting comfortable clothes.

  2. Pre-clean the car

    Do this with fresh water from the bucket or use your hose or pressure washer. Lifting loose dirt and grit and getting the paintwork wet prepare it for the shampooing phase.

  3. Wash the wheels first

    The wheels are the dirtiest part of your car. If you clean the wheels last you’ll spray dirt back onto the paintwork and have to clean it again. Use a brush to lift debris, mud, and brake dust from the wheels and from around and within the trims. Clean your brush regularly. If you’re using a bucket you will need to change the water more than once, the best practice is to use two separate buckets.

  4. Apply the car shampoo

    Check the instructions first. Some shampoos need to be diluted, others don’t. Some are applied with a sponge while others are sprayed directly from the bottle. ‘Contactless shampoos’ are designed to sit on the surface for a few minutes dissolving dirt and can then (in theory) be rinsed off without any need for scrubbing.

  5.  Scrub the car thoroughly with the sponge (if required)

    Start at the top and circle around the car several times, washing lower areas each time so dirty water only runs over areas not yet cleaned. To avoid scratches use a sponge, not a brush, rinse it frequently and rely on the power of the shampoo rather than pressure to lift dirt. Expect to work longer on bird droppings, sticky deposits, and on the lower parts of the car, where the wheels spray dirt and mud onto the paintwork.

  6. Rinse the car starting from the roof

    Rinsing instructions are similar to how-to-wash car instructions. Start at the top and work down while circling the car. This way, you won’t end up splashing soapy water over rinsed areas. If any dirty spots remain, re-clean them and rinse again.

  7. Clean the windows

    Cleaning the car generally leaves water streaks on the windows so do them (and your mirrors) after you’ve finished the main body. Use a specialist car glass cleaner or vinegar-based domestic glass cleaner. You’ll need a microfibre cloth and maybe a bit of elbow grease to rid your windscreen of squashed bugs.

  8. Wipe the whole vehicle

    The secret to a water-steak-free final result lies in the drying process. Ask a pro how to dry a car after washing, and they’ll tell you that the best way to dry cars is with a cloth, microfibre will do so as long as you make sure it’s perfectly grit-free but slightly moist natural chamois leather is better.

  9. Detailing (optional)

    If you want a showroom finish, this is the best time to remove minor imperfections in your car’s paintwork by waxing, polishing or buffing. Check out our article explaining the main detailing processes to understand the differences between them and decide what you need to do.

You may also like:
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Polishing vs Waxing vs Buffing – What’s the difference?

Tips from the pros

Professionals always have a few trade secrets, the things that help them get better results or save time on a job without sacrificing quality. Here are a few tips from the pros on how to wash a car.

Don’t wash your car under the sun

If you wash your car in direct sunlight, there’s a risk that soap will dry on the paintwork before you have a chance to rinse or water before you’ve had a chance to wipe. Either will leave streaks and spots. On hot days wash cars in the morning or evening.

Wash your engine bay first

If you are heading for fully cleaning your vehicle and planning to not miss a single spot inside or out, this will include washing your alloy wheels and cleaning the engine bay as well. If you ask a pro when is the most appropriate time to do that, you will get a definite answer – before any other exterior washing takes place, and there is a simple explanation for that. When you clean your engine bay or wheels, there will be splatter on the other parts of your car.

Wash your car at least once every two weeks

People often ask how often to wash cars. Once every two weeks is the minimum frequency required to prevent harmful elements like road salt or bird droppings on your car paint from building up and causing paint damage and oxidization that degrade your car’s appearance and value.

If you don’t have time to wash your car that often, why not book a mobile car wash service or a comprehensive mobile car valet service?

Detailing is the key to an immaculate exterior

Washing your car removes the dirt and deposits that damage paintwork. Car detailing like car polishing or waxing a car brings an extra shine to car exteriors. One recent development in paint care recommended after polishing is the application of a ceramic coating. Ceramic coating creates a waterproof finish, preserves the paint from scratching, and protects against the harmful effects of UV light and bird droppings.

Find out more about car detailing and ceramic coating at home here:

Do you want a professional to take care of your vehicle?

Get the pros to take care of your cleaning, detailing or interior valeting in a location that suits you, at a time that’s convenient to you. All tools and materials are provided. The car wash specialists even bring the water! Unless you opted for a waterless option, of course.

Need a professional?

These services are easy to book, provided by fully insured professionals, save you time and make sure your car always looks immaculate:

Add a valid postcode e.g. SE1 2TH
  • We’re certified:


  • Understanding how to wash a car is useful for both new and experienced car owners
  • Washing a car preserves the paintwork and maintains the vehicle’s value
  • Washing removes harmful deposits, for extra shine and to protect the clean paintwork detailing is necessary


Do you see washing your car as a chore or a pleasure? When was the last time you polished it? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Img Source: Shutterstock / Zivica Kerkez

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