How To Wash a Car at Home

Don’t put your trust in automatic car washes.

byTony Markovich|
An Acura RSX in a driveway with car wash equipment.
Tony Markovich

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I believe in the devil for one reason and one reason only. After every seemingly car wash, the clouds darken, the humidity goes up, and little water bombs drop from the sky. Whether a small sprinkle or a thunder-cracking deluge, it’s like there’s a vengeful deity with a creepy laugh-cackle somewhere controlling the precipitation, “Truman Show” style. 

This unlucky coincidence used to automatically spool up the anger turbo, but knowing I can easily repeat the wash for free at home eases the mind. Washing a car is like a little love peck between partners. You show it attention and care, and it returns the feeling with the warm fuzzies you get from having a long-lasting great-looking ride.

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The Basics of Washing a Car

Estimated Time Needed: Less than an hour

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

Car Washing Safety Precautions

I’ll be honest, the only safety precaution I really take when washing my car is making sure I’m not in the way of other cars. I’ll typically post up in a driveway in my bare feet and basketball shorts and get after it with a bucket in tow. However, if you’re using chemicals to wash the car, you could use safety glasses to protect your eyes. Otherwise, just make sure your car is cooled down, it’s parked in the shade, and the parking brake is on.

Legal Precautions

Different towns, cities, and states have different laws, restrictions, and regulations. Because of this, washing a car at an apartment, condo, or even a house in certain neighborhoods could technically be illegal. I’ve never personally had an issues with this, but some areas are stricter than others, so make sure you’re in the clear.

Pro Tips for Washing a Car

Prepare for the job with these extra tips.

  • An extra person to help you rinse while you wash can save a bit of time and make things easier.
  • Make sure your clothes do not have buttons, rivets, or anything else that could scratch your car’s paint.
  • Keep your wheel-cleaning tools separate from your body-cleaning tools.
  • Be careful with used towels, both regular and microfiber. They might have dirt buried inside of them that could scratch your paint.
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Everything You’ll Need To Wash a Car

Preparation will always be the key to completing any job with your car. Gather the items you’ll be using, read our step-by-step guide to make an attack plan, and get after it. Here’s a checklist to make things easy: 



Here’s How To Wash a Car

Let’s do this!

1. Park in the Shade

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It’s best not to wash your car when it is in direct sunlight, so find a shady spot or wait for the sun to go down. 

2. Rinse the Car Down

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Using a hose and spray nozzle or a pressure washer, spray the car down. Hitting every inch of the vehicle, including the underside and wheel wells, rinse  loose dirt off. This will help prevent scratches during the main wash. 

3. Wash the Wheels and Tires

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Using a microfiber towel, microfiber mitt, and/or wheel brush designated only for your wheels, spray wheel cleaner and rub over the surfaces of the wheel. Make sure to get into the cracks and on the backside of the wheel. Once the wheels are done, spray them down and wash your tires, if you need to.

4. Start Washing the Car in Sections From the Top Down

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After your wheels are done, rinse the car down again. At this point, some people choose to use degreaser on spots with bugs or other road films, but it’s not always necessary. Grab your two buckets with dirt traps at the bottom and add your soap directly to your microfiber mitt or into one of the buckets.

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Dip your mitt into the first bucket, start washing the car’s roof, and work your way down. Wash the car in sections, and move around the vehicle, rinsing as you go. After each section, dip your mitt into the second bucket to rinse it off, squeeze out the nasty water, then dip it into the first bucket and proceed with the wash. Continue until the whole car is clean.

5. Rinse it Again

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Once you’ve washed the entire car, rinse the whole thing in water again. In general, I try to keep rinsing the car while I’m washing, which is when a friend is helpful. I never allow the car to air dry before I dry it with towels.

6. Clean Sill and Jambs

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Using a damp microfiber towel, quickly wipe off the dirt inside the car on the door sills, jambs, and bottom edges.

7. Use Two Towels for Drying

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I prefer the two-towel method for drying. First, quickly go over the entire car with the first towel to collect a large majority of the water. Second, use the other towel to detail dry and pick up the leftovers.

8. Protect Your Clean

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After you wash your car, it’s time for protection. Not everybody details and/or protects their cars, but we highly recommend it. A wax or coating will not only keep the car in good contindition for longer, it will also make future washes even easier.

9. Wait for the Rain

It always rains after washing a car. Why doesn’t the universe like clean cars?

FAQs About Washing a Car

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Can you wash a car with dish soap?

A. If you’re not a perfectionist or are a casual car owner, it’s fine. I’ve seen my dad do it my entire life. However, it is important to know that certain dish soaps are caustic and the chemicals aren’t good for the paint. I personally always use soap specifically made for washing cars. It’s inexpensive, and you can buy big jugs that last a long time. Grab some next time you’re at the store.

Q. Can you wash a car with only water?

A. Yes, you can, and there will be no harm done. This method is perfect for quick rinse jobs that you can do in a matter of minutes. However, just know that using soap could help clean the car better. Water will not break down any dirt or grime on the car, while the car soap is designed to help remove anything that’s sticking to the car.

Q. How often should I wash my car?

A. The answer to this question depends entirely on your personal situation. If you get the car dirty often, wash it more often.  In addition to making it look good, washing your car is preventative maintenance that will keep your vehicle in good shape for years to come. In particular, you want to wash your car shortly after it is exposed to animal poop, mass insect splatter, and road salt. 


If you don’t feel like reading all of that text, it’s okay, this video will do. Give it a watch.

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