How To Wash Your Car Without Scratching The Paint

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man washing a car using a detail brush

There’s no doubt washing a car can easily scratch the paint and leave swirl marks behind. However, there’s a way to avoid it, and it’s by using proven techniques and methods when washing the car. I decided to show you how to wash your car without scratching the paint in today’s article.

I made so many mistakes in the past, and I always washed my car and scratched the paint unconsciously. Ever since I learned how to wash a car without scratching the paint, I always pay attention to details and minimize the chances of scratching it.

Twenty years ago, it was hard to avoid swirl marks when washing a car (sponges, drying leather, etc.). But today, with so many great products available out there, it’s a complete shame to scratch the car paint every time you wash it.

Follow the tips below, and prevent making scratches when washing your car.

Find a Nice Shaded Area

First thing first, you should never wash your car in direct sunlight. By washing your car in the sun, water and soap will dry out quickly, which will leave water spots on your car. Removing water spots from the car can be tricky, so it’s better to prevent it.

Find a shaded and cool place. That way, you won’t have to rush, and you’ll get better cleaning results.

Also, if the car surface is very hot, make sure to cool it before washing.

Pre-Rinse The Car With a Pressure Washer

pre washing a car, wash a car without making scratches

Many people forget this step, and it’s the most crucial one. You should always pre-rinse your car if you want to avoid scratching the paint when washing it.

Pre-rinsing the car with a pressure washer will remove all the sand, dirt, and grit from the car.

If you don’t do the pre-wash, dirt, and sand will grind to the paint, causing swirl marks later on. Take your time and make sure to remove as much dirt as you can with a pre-wash.

Foam The Car and Rinse It Again

applying washing foam to the car

After the pre-wash, I like to foam the car. The foam loosens all the left dirt and grime from the car, and it’ll be easier to wash it later. A foaming gun is a great product that’ll help you apply the foam to the car. However, not everyone has it.

If you don’t have a foaming gun for the pressure washing machine, I suggest you buy this Adam’s IK Pro 2 Foaming Pump Sprayer (check the price on Amazon now). With it, you’ll be able to apply the foam to the car.

It will take some more time, but it’ll do the job – which is the most important thing.

Use High-Quality Microfiber Towels (Wash Mitts)

Never use a sponge to wash your car. Even though it’s the worst thing you can do to car paint, many people still use it, and I don’t know why.

Sponges were good 20 years ago when there wasn’t a better solution. But today, it’s a shame to use it.

The only type of product you should use is a microfiber wash mitt. Check out my recommended microfiber cloths for every car detailer.

Wash mitts aren’t expensive, especially if we take to the count that they won’t scratch the paint so easily as a car wash sponge.

Use a 2 or 3 Bucket Method and High-Quality Soap/Shampoo

One of the most important things to prevent scratching when hand washing your car is to use at least two buckets and a high-quality car wash soap or shampoo.

A high-quality car wash soap, besides loosening the dirt, is also a great lubricant. It’ll help the dirt and grime slip off the car when you clean it with a wash mitt.

I highly recommend the 3-bucket method: 1 for wheels, 1 with clean water to clean the mitt, and 1 for the car wash soap.

However, if you don’t have three buckets, two buckets will also be enough, but make sure to change the water and the soap once you’re finished with the wheels.

Also, don’t forget to use grits inside your buckets. They’ll prevent the dirt from sticking to your wash mitt when you soak it.

Wash The Wheels First

washing car wheels, wash a car without scratching the paint,

After pre-washing the car and foaming it, I always like to wash the wheels first. Wheels are usually the dirtiest part of the car, especially because of the brake dust stuck in there.

If you don’t wash the wheels first, there’s a big chance that some of that brake dust ends up on your paint – again, scratching it.

For cleaning the wheels, you’re going to need some brushes and a high-quality wheel cleaner. So, make sure to prepare them before attempting to wash your car.

Related: Best Detailing Brushes: 2 Types Of Brushes Every Detailer Should Have

After washing the wheels, just quickly rinse them again to prevent wash soap from drying on them.

Go From Top To The Bottom

When you’re finished washing the wheels, you can attempt to wash the rest of the car.

Always make sure to go from the top to the bottom.

Imagine what happens if you do the opposite: you wash the bumpers and clean the hood. All the dirt and the grime from the hood will again fall to the bumpers. We want to avoid this.

So, start with the roof and then continue down to the bottom of the car.

Clean One Panel At a Time

To avoid scratching the paint, you should always wash only one panel at a time. For instance, wash the roof, clean the wash mitt, soak it, and then wash another panel.

I made this mistake in the past, and I know how bad it is for your car. You should clean and soak your wash mitt again as often as possible.

Of course, there’s no need to clean it and soak it every 5 seconds, but doing this after every section/panel will be enough.

Wash a Car In Straight Passes

When washing a car with the mitt, never make circular motions. That’s one of the worst things you can do.

Washing the car in circular motions will scratch the surface and leave swirl marks behind. I like to use only straight motions: horizontally and vertically.

Related: 29 Most Common Car Detailing Mistakes: Don’t Do Any Of These

Also, avoid making too many passes over the same area. It’s not your job to scrub the surface to remove some dirt that doesn’t want to fall off.

High-quality wash soap will loosen the dirt, so it’ll easily come off of your car. That’s why I told you that it’s important to use a reputable car wash soap, not the one for $3 from home depot.

Don’t Scrub The Surface To Remove Tar and Bugs

Sometimes, there will still be some tar and bugs stuck on the car paint, even after applying the foam. If that happens to you, don’t scrub it with a microfiber wash mitt, you’ll scratch the surface.

Instead, use some tar and bug remover, spray it on the car, and then wash it with a microfiber towel.

Tar and bug are sometimes very hard to remove, especially if you didn’t wash your car for a long time. So, invest some extra money in some tar and bug remover, and make the washing process much easier.

Blow Off The Water And Dry The Car With a Drying Towel

using a blower to dry a car, drying a car, washing a car without scratching the paint

After you’re done with washing the car, and you rinsed it to clean all the soap, it’s time to dry it.

I see many people making mistakes when drying their cars, and mostly it’s because of using bad products such as deerskin leather.

Using a leaf blower or similar device with a blowing option, blow as much water as you can from the car. After that, it’s gonna be easier to dry the rest with a drying towel.

You should buy a high-quality drying towel that’s very plush and soft and use it together with a detail spray, which will act as a lubricant to prevent scratching and make the water slip from the car easier.

Apply Some Paint Protectant

After drying the car, it’s essential to apply some paint protectant, such as car wax, sealant, or ceramic coating.

Applying paint protection has many benefits:

  • It’ll make your car shiny, and the paint will look better.
  • It’ll prevent dirt, bugs, and tar from sticking to the paint (it’ll be easier to wash the car next time)
  • It’ll protect the car from external effects such as the sun’s UV rays and heat.

Besides popular car waxes, you can also use sealants and ceramic coatings. However, the ceramic coating is harder to apply and requires a lot of knowledge (but it offers the best protection).

So, if you want the best protection for the car paint, go to some reputed car detailer and let him apply it to your car.


Scratching the car paint is a widespread problem, and it’s easy to make mistakes. However, by following the tips in this article, I believe that you’re going to completely avoid scratching your paint the next time you wash your car.

Even though you’re going to need some additional equipment (if you don’t have it now), trust me, it’s worth it. Your car will maintain the “new” look longer, and in the end, it will cost more once you decide to sell it.

If you don’t have time or equipment to do car washing properly without scratching the paint, I suggest you take it to a reputable car detailer in your area. He will surely take care of it, and you’ll get a nice clean car, without scratches and swirl marks.

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