How to Wash a Car Properly

October 19, 2020

I’m glad to have you here reading this because it means that on some level, we share the same affinity for cars, trucks, and anything cool that gets us to where we need to be.  There’s nothing like hitting the open road in something you love to drive, then getting to where you need to be, and looking back over your shoulder with a grin, listening to the beeps as you lock it up.  The sunlight reflecting off your paint is just hard to beat.  But, as great as that is, there’s one ugly truth: enjoying your car means that it’s going to get dirty!  That being said, it’s this cycle of enjoyment, filth, then pampering that connects us to our vehicles in a special way that only the few can understand.  


I’ve been washing cars my whole life, building a business, and doing it professionally for the last four and a half years.  Today I’m going to share the basics of washing a car properly, starting with a simple list of materials.  From there, we’ll dive into a systematic approach to cleaning your car efficiently and effectively, so that you can get back out on the road and turn some heads!  For some added context, this is the process that I use to wash my own car regularly, and it’s what I’ve implemented as my maintenance wash program for vehicles that I see on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.  Now obviously there are different levels to detailing, but for today we’re going to focus on the most basic wash.  Enough with the small talk, let’s jump right into it…


Material list:

  • (3) buckets (wash/ rinse/ wheels)
  • Wash mitt (for paint & glass)
  • Wheel brush 
  • Soap (Car Shampoo or Supreme Suds)
  • Wheel cleaner
  • Detail Spray or Spray Sealant
  • Tire shine + applicator
  • Microfiber towels
  • Drying towel


The Process

Start with the dirtiest part of the car first – the wheels.  Dirt, road grime, and metal particles build up here, making them look dull and filthy.  Just as a well-dressed man always shines his shoes before he puts on his suit, wheels should be cleaned before the rest of the car is washed.  We wouldn’t want any of that nasty stuff to end up on paint or glass that’s been cleaned, so by starting here, we don’t have to worry if anything gets sprayed by the hose and gets on other parts of the car.  


To begin, prepare your wheel bucket by filling it up with water, adding 1 ounce of your favorite Synergy Worx soap (Car Shampoo or Supreme Suds), and get it nice and foamy.  Whatever your wheel cleaning tools of choice are, get those inside the bucket too.  Before any physical cleaning, thoroughly rinse the wheels with water to remove any loose debris.  Follow up with Synergy Worx wheel cleaner, spraying liberally over the entire wheel, and allow it to dwell.  Within a few seconds, you’ll notice a color change that makes it look like the wheel is bleeding purple.  More than just a cool visual effect, what you’re actually seeing are the active ingredients breaking down any metal that’s present on the surface.  The chemical reaction that takes place breaks down those metallic contaminants and turns them purple so it’s easy to see the product at work.  It’s important not to let this dry on the surface, but give enough time for gravity and the chemical to do most of the work for you.  Once it looks like everything has fallen towards the ground, give the wheel a thorough rinse.  Finish by grabbing your tools from the bucket and giving the wheels a good agitation wash to remove any remaining debris.  The Synergy Worx wheel brush is designed to reach beyond the face into the barrel of the wheel, making it super easy to clean that hard-to-reach area.  For the spokes and main face of the wheel, having a dedicated mitt for wheels or specific microfiber towels are both great options.  All you need now is a final rinse, and then simply repeat that process for each wheel.  


With the wheels cleaned, now it’s time for us to address the rest of the car.  What’s left is paint and glass, which for the sake of simplicity can pretty much all be cleaned with the process I’m about to outline here.  Remember, we’re talking about just a basic wash for now; we’ll save higher level detailing discussions for another time.  Grab the other two buckets and fill them up with water.  Just like the wheel bucket, add 1 ounce of soap to one of these buckets and foam it up, leaving clean water in the other.  The purpose of this two bucket wash method is to reduce the risk of scratching the paint as much as humanly possible by allowing debris from the wash mitt to collect in the rinse bucket, and take clean suds out of the wash bucket with a clean mitt before coming in contact with the paint.  Once the buckets are prepared, you could do a pre-rinse and contact wash for the paint as we did for the wheels, but for the best experience possible, I highly recommend investing in a foam gun or foam cannon.  


These tools work with a garden hose or pressure washer, respectively, to create a thick layer of suds that can easily be sprayed over the entire vehicle.  You’ve probably seen shots of this all over social media, but it’s not just eye candy, there’s actually an important functional benefit to this.  By covering the entire vehicle in a thick layer of suds, any loose debris on the surface is gently lifted from the pores of the paint before being carried away as it has time to dwell.  Now just like with the wheels, you don’t want to let this dwell so long that it dries on the paint, but let gravity do the work and give it enough time for the foam to fall off the vehicle and take most of the debris with it.  Although this might be one of the most satisfying parts of washing a car, it isn’t always necessary.  You don’t want to waste any time or product, which is why I recommend pre-soaking with foam only if a vehicle hasn’t been cleaned in a while and has a pretty significant build-up of dirt and grime.  If you wash your car regularly, like weekly or monthly, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll need to do this.  From a functional standpoint, you wouldn’t really be removing anything before the contact wash that a simple rinse down wouldn’t, but that’s just the business side of me talking.  To anyone doing this at home looking to pamper their personal ride, or to those who find cleaning their car therapeutic, it’s just not the same without the foam party.  So go drop some suds, get a photo for the gram, and tag @SynergyWorxUSA!


Rinse the entire vehicle, being deliberate about getting the foam off completely, taking any loose debris with it.  Then, grab your buckets and go about your contact wash by starting at the top of the vehicle and working your way down to the lower parts.  Wash one panel at a time, in straight back and forth motions, flipping your wash mitt before moving on to the second panel.  This reduces the chances of one side of the mitt picking up all the debris and rubbing it into the paint.  Straight-line motions are crucial because if you accidentally induce any marring to the paint, straight lines are much easier to polish out compared to curved lines.  After two panels are done (i.e. roof, then windshield), dunk your wash mitt in the rinse bucket to free any contaminants from the fibers.  The grit guards in the bottom will capture these particles, and keep them at the bottom of the bucket.  Return the mitt to the wash bucket, pick up some more suds, and proceed to wash the next two panels.  Repeat until the entire vehicle has been cleaned, then rinse to remove all suds.  


After the final rinse, it’s time to dry the car and protect it.  The Synergy Worx super drying towel is one of my favorite detailing items – period – because it’s safe, effective, and holds a ton of water!  Personally, I’ve washed and dried two Chevy Tahoes using this towel without wringing it out!  The thicker, dual-pile construction also glides across the paint with ease, eliminating any standing water in its path.  Once dried, you could say, “that’s it,” and you wouldn’t be wrong.  The car would be clean, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for your ride to truly be dialed in, not just clean.  That’s where last-step products come into play.  Synergy Worx spray sealant or detail spray are great after a wash because they add a layer of protection while providing the glossy finish that we all love to drool over.  Kick things up a notch by going with the ceramic-infused detail spray for even more durability (3-6 months if paired with ceramic soap)!  I’ve worked with all three options, and it’s important to note that less is more with these.  Spray a light mist on the panel & your towel, and work in small sections.  Using too much product or working too large of a section, especially outdoors in the heat, can cause streaking on the surface.  Flip over your towel, buff to a high shine, and don’t forget to hit the glass, black trim, and wheels too!


By this point, I’d say we’re about 95% done.  It’s almost time to sit back and enjoy your mirror finish and admire your hard work, but before that, there’s just one last thing.  No detail is complete without dressing the tires, and Synergy Worx makes one of the best tire dressings out there.  Long gone are the days of high-gloss dressings such as Armor All and that greasy, shiny finish.  Tires made of rubber and all that we’re after is a rich, deep look.  What makes the Synergy Work tire dressing so effective is the water-based nature.  It goes on smooth and easy, doesn’t sling on the paint when you start driving, plus with SiO2 technology infused into it, you can count on it to last longer than most.  To apply, start by putting some on an applicator.  For cars, I recommend one line completely across the pad, then apply a light coating to the sidewall of the tire.  If necessary, follow up with a second coat if the tires are severely dry and soaking up a lot of product.  For bigger tires, you’ll likely have to apply more, but start with a little and work your way up, spreading it in evenly as you go.


If you’re new to this, that might sound like a lot, but keep in mind that anything worthwhile is going to take considerable time and effort.  Before you ask, “how long should this take,” remember that the first few times you do this it will likely take longer than someone who’s been doing this for a while.  The more you do it, the quicker and more efficient you’ll get with this (I promise), so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while the first few times.  You will get faster with repetition.  Naturally, more time is required the larger the vehicle, but as for how long this should take – it should take as long as you need in order to get results that you’re happy with.  By this point in my life, I’m able to do an average size car in less than an hour, which includes setting up and cleaning up too.


One thing I’ve learned is that detailing cars isn’t about the car nearly as much as it is about the driver.  The look of the car is just a result.  What we’re all really after is a feeling, and there’s nothing that compares to feeling like a million bucks, which is something we all feel when our ride looks just the way we want it to.   I hope this has helped, and I look forward to seeing you out on the road with your million dollar smiles, behind the wheel of your cherished ride. 


Until next time – J. 



Written by Jesse Grimm

Owner, Island Aesthetics Mobile Detailing