The Garage Cars 101

How Often Should You Wash Your Car?

Hint: More often than you do now.

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

So you want to turn your perpetually dirty car into a shining example of cleanliness. Great! Your automobile and your neighbors thank you. 

Like cleaning a kitchen, keeping a vehicle in tip-top shape requires discipline, persistence, and a positive mindset, because it’s a never-ending uphill battle. There are only a few hours, maybe minutes, when the car will be as perfectly clean as your OCD mind wants it, but washing the vehicle is not only good for aesthetics, it’s great for the vehicle’s health, as well.

With a variety of external forces constantly attacking your ride’s windows, body paneling, and wheels, it’s up to you to take care of one of the biggest purchases of your life. The Drive’s crack informational team is here to tell you exactly how to clean the car and how often to do so.

Car Washing Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Half-hour

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

Car Washing Safety

Washing a car is a simple, low-risk task, but cleaning products could be toxic. Be sure not to get any soaps, waxes, shines, detailers, or grime in your eyes, mouth, or open wounds. Wear gloves if you want to keep your hands clean from the chemicals.

Use a two-bucket system when washing a car.
A hose nozzle and a bucket., Deposit Photos

Everything You’ll Need To Wash Your Car

Using the wrong items, such as a dish towel or dish soap, to clean your car could damage the paint. A few cheap purchases, some of which you’ll only have to buy once, will greatly upgrade the effectiveness of your next wash. Here’s what you need:

Tool List

Many of these items can be purchased in all-inclusive packages. Here are The Drive‘s Best Car Wash Kits for Your Ride.

Check your local laws and/or building rules to make sure you’re not violating any codes pertaining to your washing location, because we aren’t getting you out of the clink or paying your fines.

Use a hard-bristle brush to wash a car's tires.
Scrubbing the tires., Deposit Photos

Here’s How To Wash Your Car

Let’s do this! 

  1. With dirt traps at the bottom, fill two buckets with water and add the soap.
  2. Rinse the car, top, body, and underneath, with the hose.
  3. With a lathered up mitt, start washing the car from the top and proceed down the car. 
  4. Wash and rinse the car in quarters to help prevent dried streaks and/or water spots. 
  5. Wash the wheels with a brush and rinse. Always do this last as you don’t want the brake dust or dirt and grime getting transferred to your paint and scratching it’s enamel. You can also use a different brush or towel if you want to do them first. 
  6. Once all parts of the car have been washed, rinse the entire vehicle again.
  7. Use one towel to quickly soak up the large majority of the water around the whole car.
  8. Use a second dry towel to detail dry. 

For more information read The Drive’s guides for How to Hand Wash a Car and The Best Way to Dry a Car.

Get Help With Washing Your Car From a Mechanic On JustAnswer

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you.

Pro Tips to Wash Your Car

The Drive’s editors have washed countless rides over the years. We’ve picked up a handful of pro tips along the way we’re sharing with you. Check these out. 

  • Wear clothes with soft surfaces. Jeans, for example, have metal that could scratch the car.
  • Always park in the shade, and if there isn’t any, wait for it. In the sun, the heat could dry washing chemicals or water streaks onto your vehicle.
  • Don’t ignore the wheel wells and underneath the car. Just because these sections aren’t visible does not excuse half-effort cleaning. These spots are hit with more dirt and grime than any other part of the vehicle and require extra attention to get it all off.
  • Never go to a gas station car wash or any other wash that uses those giant brushes that look like Sideshow Bob’s hair. They often collect dirt, rocks, and other contaminants that will damage your vehicle.
  • Don’t forget to open your car doors and clean the sills.
  • Car windows require a car window cleaner, not Windex.

How Often Do You Need To Wash Your Car?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s important to wash your car at least every two weeks. Obsessives will do it every week, or sometimes more frequently. Additionally, irregular dirt such as road salt and bug guts require immediate attention to prevent paint or metal damage. Here are a number of common reasons to wash your car more often.

Common Reasons to Wash Your Car More Often

Use a microfiber towel to dry the car.
Drying the car., Deposity Photos

How Much Does It Cost To Wash Your Car

Affordable car wash kits are available for less than $25. More professional products can cost more than $100 in total. We always recommend hand-washing a car over using an automatic car wash, but if that’s your only option, be sure to go to use a touchless wash. 

Life Hacks To Wash Your Car

Follow these hacks for an easier wash.

  • If the vehicle is too tall, open the door and stand on the sill for more reach without a ladder.
  • If your hose does not have a spray nozzle to help with pressure and water regulation, no worries, just use your hands. Kink the hose and hold it when not in use to prevent wasteful water usage. For higher pressure, place your thumb over the top of the water to create a jet.

How to Maintain Your Car’s Clean Exterior 

Once a car is washed, there are several ways to elevate its cleanliness, smoothness, and shininess. To give you that extra shine, follow The Drive’s other detailing and cleaning guides to add protection and gloss to your ride:

Featured Car Wash Products

Turtle Wax Ultimate Car Care Kit

Mothers California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax

Chemical Guys Bug & Tar Heavy Duty Car Wash Shampoo

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note:


Tony Markovich Avatar

Tony Markovich


Tony Markovich is a former Senior Editor at The Drive, departing in 2022.