How to Wash Your Car Without Scratching Your Car Finish

In this article you will learn:



  • What causes scratches and swirls while washing your car

  • Which cleaning products and accessories are the safest for clear coat finishes

  • Tips and tricks for washing your vehicle without scratching your car finish

Washing your car regularly is a great way to keep your ride looking shiny and new, especially if you take the time to do it yourself. But, like with any DIY detailing, just one mistake using the wrong products, tools or cleaning techniques is all it takes to scratch your beautiful paint job.

Luckily, with a few simple adjustments to your car wash routine, you can prevent scratches in your vehicle's paint surface and get an even deeper clean! Here are some helpful tips to avoid scratches and swirls during your next wash.

Use the right products

One of the worst things you can do for your car is to use household cleaners to scrub dirt and stains from the finish, so ditch the dish soap and laundry detergent. These products aren't designed to safely remove dirt and stains from your car, and, in most cases, their harsh chemical formulas will do a lot more harm than good to any wax you may have on your car.

You should also steer clear of wash cloths, bath towels and shower sponges. These cleaning accessories may be great for exfoliating your skin, but they're too rough to use on your car. Plus, the bulky fibers of most cotton cloths don't safely encapsulate dirt and soils. Instead, they drag these contaminants across the finish, leaving tiny scratches and swirls that dull the transparency of the clear coat.

Using a high-quality car wash soap and wash mitt will help you avoid much of the damage caused by dirt and other contaminants. At Turtle Wax, every car wash soap, sponge and microfiber towel we sell is safe for automotive use. We recommend a high-foaming, lubricating car wash detergent like our M.A.X. Power Wash to prevent tough soils from grinding into the clear coat.

You'll also need a microfiber cloth or wash mitt, a bucket, and a grit guard to filter dirt and debris from your cleaning solution. These supplies are all included in our Easy Wash & Wax Kit, a great money-saving bundle with everything you need to create an extra smooth, flawless finish!

Don't skimp on the soap

Car wash soap creates a slippery, protective barrier around the surface of your car to reduce the friction between your wash mitt and the finish, so use it generously. When it comes to preventing scratches and swirls, more is more. At a minimum, use the concentration of car wash soap specified on the back of the bottle.

Fill your bucket with a strong stream of water to create as much foam as possible. Foam helps to cushion and protect the surface of your car so that dirt and other contaminants don't scratch the paintwork.

Pro Tip: Most car wash soaps are measured in ounces per gallon to account for different bucket sizes, so pay attention to how many ounces per gallon the product label tells you to add to your cleaning solution. Then multiply that amount by the number of gallons your car wash bucket holds to get the correct concentration of car wash soap.

Wash the wheels first

Your wheels pick up tons of heavier soils and road grime that could transfer to the rest of your vehicle and scratch or damage the paint surface. To avoid cross-contamination, you should wash your wheels with a separate cleaning tool before moving on to the rest of your car.

We recommend a dedicated wheel cleaning brush like the Wheel Woolie, along with our All Wheel & Tire Cleaner, to remove brake dust from your wheels and tires. Be sure to hit every surface of your wheels, including the rims, spokes, wheels facing and even the brake rotors and calipers!

Dip the mitt often

As you make your way around your car, dip the wash mitt into your cleaning solution at least once before moving on to the next panel. This rinses the mitt of any abrasive soils you may have lifted from the surface of your car and saturates it with more foam to act as a lubricating agent. Depending on how dirty your car is, you may need to dip the mitt more often to prevent soil buildup, which could otherwise scratch the clear coat.

If you're washing an especially dirty car, you may even need to dump your cleaning solution halfway through the car wash process and refill your bucket, especially if you notice the water start to turn a brownish color. Be sure to use the correct concentration of car wash soap to refill your bucket!

Blow it dry

The more times you make contact with the surface of your car, the more chances you have to scratch or damage your paint during a car wash. While you can't have a completely contactless and effective wash, you can still reduce your contact with the finish by using a blower to dry your vehicle. You can even use a leaf blower for this step.

Make sure the concrete or pavement around your car is clean and wet before using a blower. This will help you avoid kicking up dust and other contaminants from the pavement onto your freshly washed car.

Apply spray wax

Of course, one of the best ways to protect your vehicle against scratches and swirls is to apply a fresh layer of wax to a clean paint surface. While this won't help you avoid scratches during this particular car wash, it will reduce the risk of scratches during your next wash and make it easier for the rinse water to slide off your car, promoting water beading for faster dry time. Plus, car wax has a long list of other benefits, including UV protection, chemical resistance and a wet-like shine.

Any car wax will make your washing easier, but if you're looking to add the most protection to your car in the least amount of time, we recommend our Hybrid Solutions PRO Flex Wax. This ultra-premium spray wax is infused with pure graphene for maximum heat dissipation, durability and an eye-popping gloss.

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