What’s the Best Way to Dry a Car?

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Whether you just went on a quick trip through the car wash or painstakingly hand-detailed your vehicle, drying your car is often necessary to transition between and finish off the detailing steps. After rinsing, a dry car ought to be a spot-free, blemish-free car that’s ready for the road.

The problem is most vehicle owners don’t know the proper way (most detailers use) to get the job done without undoing the hard car washing, waxing, and polishing work they just completed. If you find yourself battling blotches, streaks, and spots when you try to dry your car, you aren’t the first driver to struggle. 

Thankfully, there are a few right ways to get the job done without pulling your hair out. There are also a couple of ways to not do it right. Read on to learn about the right tools and techniques you should use to get a car dry.

Correct Way #1: Microfiber Cloth

Anytime you need to wipe something down that is fragile or prone to scratching, a microfiber cloth can be a lifesaver. Better still, these cloths come in all shapes and sizes for cars, electronic devices, glasses, windows, and more. They are fairly absorbent, easy to use, and can be used for many steps of the car detailing process.

Using a microfiber drying towel or mitt is fairly straightforward: Just go over the wet surfaces with the towel. You don’t have to worry about any special techniques other than starting from the top and moving downward so you don’t get dry spots wet again. If you have a large towel, fold it over once or twice to get a better grip and control over it. 

Correct Way #2: Chamois

Like a microfiber towel, a chamois is a soft cloth that won’t scratch the surface of your vehicle. Most chamois is made of animal leather (goat or sheep) or a synthetic chamois blend like polyvinyl alcohol. The real animal leather tends to be better in terms of performance and durability, but you can save money with synthetic options.

Counter-intuitively, chamois works best when slightly damp instead of completely dry. This helps the cloth cling to the surface to absorb as much moisture as possible. You can throw the towel over the flat surfaces and pull it off to clear wet spots or just fold it up and wipe off spots like a regular rag or towel.

Correct Way #3: Forced Air Dry

We’re not talking simple air drying here. Instead, this trick requires some force behind the air. Using a pressurized or constant stream of air, you can “push” the water around the vehicle until it comes off on its own. This way, the water isn’t just sitting on the vehicle waiting to evaporate.

This is the same trick that many expensive car washes often use to quickly jet-dry your vehicle. Since streaking can be problematic, you need the right source of air and a quick pass over the vehicle. A can of pressurized air, a leaf blower, or an air compressor is usually enough to get the job done. Stay away from blow dryers, however, since the extra heat isn’t necessary. 

Wrong-Way #1: Rags and Towels

If you want a surefire way to scratch up your vehicle, reaching for the closest used rag or drying towel is the way to go. Common rags, even if they’re not a dirty, oily mess with lots of lint, are often too abrasive to be used on body panels or glass. Using one across a fragile surface will often end in streaks and scratches that undo all of your hard work.

Common towels aren’t as absorbent as other materials like chamois and microfiber cloths. Like squeegees, towels are great for pushing water around but make it difficult to actually get the water off through absorption. So, leave the rags for getting the oil off of your hands instead of the water off of your car. 

Wrong-Way #2: Sunlight

This tends to be the most common (but still wrong) approach to drying a car. After all, if it works for pets, clothes, and young children, why not a car? It’s also the most convenient way of drying since all you have to do is park the vehicle in a sunny spot and let it sit for an hour or two; no tools or effort needed.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason you shouldn’t wash or detail your car in direct sunlight. This approach often leaves spots and streaks while the water sits and slowly evaporates off the surface of the vehicle. You will get the water completely off, but the finished result won’t be that spot-free look that lacks swirl marks most drivers want after a thorough detailing.

The Car Drying Process

Regardless of the tool you use, there are a few common steps you can take for getting the best results. This simple drying process will allow you to get the water off the vehicle while minimizing or eliminating streaks and water spots that can stay behind.

Top to Bottom

Always work your way down the vehicle, starting from the roof then towards the wheels. Since water will naturally drip down due to gravity, you don’t want to reverse the direction. Otherwise, you will dry the bottom and then get water streaks on the dry surface while working on the top.

It helps to completely dry the roof before moving onto the front, back, and sides of the vehicle. It usually doesn’t matter what side you start on as long as you work your way down here as well. Start at the top edge of the panel and move your way towards the lower edge, being careful not to get any water on already-dry spots. 

Section Out the Body

It helps to be strategic with your drying process, meaning you shouldn’t try to dry everything at once. Work in small sections around the vehicle. You can start with the roof, move to the left driver door, transition to the left passenger door, and so on. Separating the body out like this will make it easier to focus on one area at a time.

Use Clean Cloths

If you are going through the full car detailing process, you will likely have to dry your car once or twice before everything is complete. Each time you dry the car’s surface, use a clean cloth. This way, you avoid getting new dirt and grime onto the surface as you wipe the water away.