How To Dry Your Car the Right Way 

Find out the best way to dry a car. 

A microfiber drying towel on the hood of a classic Dodge Charger.
Hank O'Hop

I’m not going to pretend that I’m some super-clean neat freak that keeps his car detailed to perfection every day. You’ve all seen my Charger, and you know I’d be lying. The Charger isn’t exactly a Pebble Beach concours winner, but I do take the time for the occasional spit shine. 

Washing your car can also be relaxing. It’s one of the few things you can do to your car that provides instant results. And when you have a project car like mine, there’s no easier way to give your morale a boost than to simply spruce up your car with a quick wash.

A microfiber towel on the left compared to a blue Absorber chamois on the right.
Hank O'Hop

On the left is a towel, and on the right is a chamois. The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

Like all tasks, however, it’s possible to get frustrated if you don’t know what you’re doing. When it comes to washing a car, failing to dry it properly can lead to water spots and streaks that make your drive to a car show or post on Instagram less than enjoyable. That’s why The Drive wants to take a couple of minutes to fill you in on how to properly dry your car.

Ed. Note: This post was updated with all-new text and photos on 07/12/2021.

The Basics of Drying Your Car

Estimated Time Needed: 5-10 minutes

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

Why Is Properly Drying Your Car Important?

I can hear you now. “Wait. Are you really going to try and tell me how to dry my car? It’s simple! You just get the water off. Heck, I could let the sun do that for me.” Wrong. As simple as the concept is, there is a right and wrong way to dry a car. Before we dive into the proper method, let’s talk about how not to dry your car.

First, don’t let the sun do the work for you. Sun-drying leaves behind all kinds of marks and spots, which means all of your hard washing work will be in vain. Next, ditch those rags you made from old T-shirts. They’re the fastest ways to leave scratches and swirls in your topcoat. 

You’ll also want to avoid the typical microfiber towel for this job. It’s not the worst choice in a pinch, but you’re better off with something made for drying, such as a microfiber waffle-weave towel.

Everything You’ll Need To Dry Your Car

We’re not psychic, and we’re not snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a shaded, flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when washing and drying your car. We aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How To Dry Your Car

Let’s step to it.

1. Get the stool out

As a rule of thumb, you always want to start with the highest surface on the vehicle. So, get out the footstool and prepare to dry the roof of your car.

2. Spray a drying aid on surface

You can use a quick detailer or drying aid to help shorten drying time. These can help push water off the surface, reducing the amount of work your towels need to do.

3. Wipe/blow away water

Simply wipe away the water with your drying towel or blow it away with an air dryer. If you are using towels, be sure to use long, sweeping motions. You’ll be able to absorb more of the water this way.

4. Wring out/switch to clean towel

Between wipes, make sure to wring out your drying towel, if possible, so the towel can continue to absorb water rather than just push it around. Every so often, inspect your towel for bits of debris. Switch to a clean towel when necessary to avoid scratching the paint.

5. Move to the next-highest part of the vehicle and repeat.

Once the roof is dry, you’re ready to move to the next-highest portion of the vehicle, which will be either the hood or the trunk. Repeat the previous steps and then move to another part of the car. Continue to work your way down the vehicle until it is completely dry. And you’re done!

A microfiber towel on the roof of a '69 Dodge Charger.
Hank O'Hop

Always wash and dry your car out of the sun.

Pro Tips for Drying Your Car

We’ve picked up a few tips along the way, and we’re sharing them with you, our dear readers. Check it out.

  • Keep your car out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight dries water rapidly, especially on dark-colored vehicles. To give yourself more time to dry the water correctly without water spots forming, wash and dry your car in a shaded area.
  • Always have clean towels on hand. Towels will collect debris as well as minerals left behind by the water, so you will want to replace them to prevent scratching. It’s a good idea to buy more towels than you think you’ll need so you don’t find yourself trying to stretch the usable period of each towel.
  • Never use a towel after dropping it on the ground. Even if it doesn't collect large rocks, that towel now has contaminants and particles that will most likely scratch your car's paint. Grab a new towel and move on.
  • Always work from top to bottom. Working from top to bottom prevents water left on higher surfaces from sliding down onto areas you’ve already dried. Also, it’s usually harder to try the higher parts of a vehicle. Getting them out of the way first makes the process more enjoyable.
  • Spray waxes and quick detailers can help with some water spots. It’s common for some water spots to be left behind. The same detailers you used as drying aids can also be used to deal with spots by applying and buffing them away with a clean microfiber drying towel.

Video

That’s really all there is to drying your car. Pretty simple, right? The video below does a great job of showing you a ton of useful tips and techniques to dry your car.

FAQs About Drying Cars

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. Can I use a bath towel to dry my car?

A. You can use a regular towel to dry your car, but it’s not the right tool for the job. Normal towels tend to leave behind lint and can scratch the surface over time. It’s better to use a dedicated microfiber towel designed to dry the surface.

Q. How do I dry my car faster?

A. Using large microfiber towels specifically designed for drying your car. They quickly absorb water, and only a few wipes will take care of large areas. A forced-air dryer is significantly faster, but those can be expensive.

Q. Do microfiber towels scratch cars?

A. Dirty microfiber towels and those that have been ruined by heat can leave behind scratches. Microfiber towels are made of polyester, and they will melt if they aren’t dried properly or are subject to high heat. Always inspect the condition of your microfibers before you use them on painted or delicate surfaces.

Q. Is it bad to let a car air dry?

A. Allowing your car to air dry means minerals in the water will be left on the paint’s surface. At the very least, you’ll end up with water spots that can be hard to remove. If you ignore these water spots and continue onto other steps, however, there’s a chance you will scratch your paint.

Q. Is it bad to wash my car every day?

A. Washing your car frequently is only harmful to your car if you aren’t doing it properly. Make sure to keep up with waxing or sealing the paint. Washing every day isn’t necessary, and you will burn through a ton of cleaning product that way. 

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