car wash employee thoroughly washes a modern ca

15 Worst Mistakes You’re Making When Washing Your Car

Washing your car may seem like a straightforward task, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. From choosing the right cleaning products to employing proper techniques, there are numerous pitfalls that can lead to unintended consequences. Whether you’re a seasoned car enthusiast or a weekend warrior, mastering the art of car washing will not only keep your vehicle looking its best but also protect its paint and finish for years to come.

1. Using the Wrong Type of Soap

dawn dish soap
Image Credit: Billy F Blume Jr/Shutterstock.

Using dish soap or household cleaners instead of automotive-specific soap can strip away wax and protective coatings, leading to premature paint damage. Automotive soaps are specifically formulated to gently remove dirt and grime without harming the paint or clear coat. They also contain conditioning agents that help maintain the shine and gloss of your car’s finish. Using the wrong type of soap can leave your car vulnerable to scratches, swirl marks, and other forms of paint damage, so it’s essential to choose a product that’s specifically designed for washing cars.

2. Washing in Direct Sunlight

Image Credit: Michael Hunziker/Flickr.

Washing your car in direct sunlight can cause water spots and soap residue to dry quickly, leaving behind unsightly streaks and blemishes. The heat from the sun can also cause water and soap to evaporate faster, making it challenging to rinse thoroughly. To avoid these issues, try to wash your car in the shade or during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon. If washing in direct sunlight is unavoidable, work in small sections and rinse frequently to prevent soap from drying on the surface.

3. Neglecting the Wheels and Tires

Finger pointing to damage on tire tread. Tire tread problems by tire pressure improper, Wheel alignment
Image Credit: Smile Fight/Shutterstock.

Forgetting to clean the wheels and tires can result in brake dust buildup and dull, faded rubber, detracting from the overall appearance of your car. The wheels and tires are often the dirtiest parts of the vehicle and require special attention during the washing process. Use a separate brush or mitt to clean the wheels and tires, and choose a cleaner specifically formulated for removing brake dust and road grime. Pay attention to crevices and hard-to-reach areas, and rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of cleaner and dirt.

4. Using Dirty Wash Mitts or Sponges

Old abrasive used sponges for household cleaning of kitchen: attention, they can hide dangerous bacteria
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Reusing dirty wash mitts or sponges can introduce dirt and debris back onto your car’s surface, causing scratches and swirl marks. It’s essential to use clean, grit-free wash mitts or sponges each time you wash your car to prevent damage to the paint. If your wash mitt or sponge becomes dirty during the washing process, rinse it thoroughly in a separate bucket of clean water before continuing. Alternatively, you can use multiple wash mitts or sponges and switch them out as needed to ensure a thorough and scratch-free wash.

5. Scrubbing Too Hard

Man worker washing car's on a car wash. Cleaning concept.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Applying too much pressure when scrubbing can scratch the paint and clear coat, especially if there’s dirt or grit on the surface. While it’s essential to remove dirt and grime, it’s equally important to do so gently to avoid damaging the paint. Use a light touch and let the cleaning products do the work for you. If you encounter stubborn spots or contaminants, try using a specialized cleaner or detailing clay to loosen them before gently wiping them away. Avoid scrubbing in circular motions, as this can create swirl marks and scratches, especially on dark-colored cars.

6. Washing in Circular Motions

Car detailing - the man holds the microfiber in hand and polishes the car. Selective focus.
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Washing in circular motions can create swirl marks and scratches, especially on dark-colored cars. Instead of using circular motions, opt for straight lines or gentle up-and-down motions when washing your car. This technique helps minimize the risk of introducing swirl marks and scratches by reducing the friction between the wash mitt or sponge and the paint surface. Working in straight lines also makes it easier to see any areas that may need additional cleaning or attention, ensuring a thorough and scratch-free wash.

7. Not Rinsing Thoroughly

car wash employee thoroughly washes a modern ca
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Failing to rinse your car thoroughly can leave behind soap residue, which can lead to streaks and water spots as it dries. After washing your car, be sure to rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove all traces of soap and dirt. Pay particular attention to crevices, trim pieces, and other hard-to-reach areas where soap residue may accumulate. Using a hose with a gentle spray nozzle can help ensure thorough rinsing without causing damage to the paint or clear coat.

8. Using a Dirty Drying Towel

The guy's hand wipes the car wing mirror with a dry cloth. An orange rag cleans car side mirror. Car cleaning sponge
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Using a dirty or abrasive drying towel can scratch the paint and leave behind lint and fibers. Before drying your car, be sure to use a clean, soft microfiber towel to absorb excess water and prevent streaks and water spots. Avoid using towels made from materials that may scratch the paint, such as terrycloth or cotton. Instead, opt for high-quality microfiber towels specifically designed for drying cars. If your drying towel becomes dirty or saturated with water, switch to a clean towel to avoid reintroducing dirt and debris onto the surface.

9. Skipping the Clay Bar Step

Using Clay bar to cleaning the car surface.
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Neglecting to use a clay bar to remove embedded contaminants can leave your paint feeling rough and looking dull. Clay bars are designed to gently lift and remove bonded contaminants from the surface of the paint, such as tree sap, tar, and industrial fallout. Skipping this step can result in a rough, gritty texture that detracts from the overall appearance of your car. To ensure a smooth and glossy finish, be sure to use a clay bar as part of your car washing routine, especially if your paint feels rough to the touch.

10. Letting Water Spots Dry

dirty black car with water stained dry
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Allowing water spots to dry on your car’s surface can make them more difficult to remove later, requiring extra effort to clean. Water spots are caused by mineral deposits left behind when water evaporates, and they can be particularly stubborn to remove once they’ve dried. To prevent water spots from forming, be sure to dry your car thoroughly after washing, paying extra attention to areas where water tends to accumulate, such as windows and mirrors. If water spots do appear, prompt removal with a clean microfiber towel and a quick detailer spray can help prevent them from becoming permanent.

11. Not Drying the Car Properly

Man-hand-car-black/ drying car, sponge
Image Credit: man-hand-car-black/WikiCommons.

Leaving your car to air dry can result in water spots and streaks, especially on sunny days or in windy conditions. To prevent this, be sure to dry your car thoroughly after washing using a clean microfiber towel. Start by blotting the surface to absorb excess water, then use a gentle wiping motion to remove remaining moisture. Pay particular attention to areas where water tends to collect, such as door handles, mirrors, and trim pieces. Drying your car thoroughly not only helps prevent water spots but also ensures a streak-free finish that looks clean and polished.

12. Using a Chamois or Towel for Too Long

yellow PVA chamois for car cleaning in man's hand
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Reusing a chamois or towel that has become dirty or saturated with water can increase the risk of scratching the paint. Over time, chamois and towels can become contaminated with dirt, debris, and abrasive particles, making them more likely to scratch the paint surface. To avoid this, be sure to use clean, dry towels each time you dry your car. If your towels become dirty or saturated with water during the drying process, switch to a fresh towel to prevent scratching and streaking. Regularly washing and replacing your drying towels can help maintain the integrity of your car’s paint finish and keep it looking its best.

13. Ignoring the Undercarriage

Hand of a man holds the blue rubber tube to inject to water washing the undercarriage car in the garage.
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Neglecting to clean the undercarriage can allow salt, dirt, and debris to accumulate, leading to corrosion and rust over time. The undercarriage is particularly vulnerable to damage from road salt, mud, and other contaminants, especially during the winter months. To prevent corrosion and rust, be sure to clean the undercarriage regularly using a pressure washer or hose with a high-pressure nozzle. Pay particular attention to areas where dirt and debris tend to accumulate, such as the wheel wells, suspension components, and chassis. Applying a rust inhibitor or undercoating can also help protect the undercarriage from corrosion and prolong the life of your vehicle.

14. Using Too Much Pressure When Rinsing

Washing Cars
Image Credit: SYA Extreme/Flickr.

Using a high-pressure nozzle or pressure washer too close to the surface can damage paint, trim, and delicate components. While it’s essential to rinse your car thoroughly to remove dirt and soap residue, it’s equally important to do so gently to avoid causing damage. Use a low-pressure setting or stand at least a few feet away from the surface when rinsing to prevent excessive force from damaging the paint or clear coat. Pay particular attention to sensitive areas such as emblems, grilles, and weather stripping, and avoid directing the stream of water directly at these areas to prevent damage.

15. Washing Too Frequently

car wash
Image Credit: Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock.

Washing your car too often can strip away wax and protective coatings, leaving your paint vulnerable to damage from the elements. While it’s essential to keep your car clean to protect its finish and appearance, washing it too frequently can do more harm than good. Excessive washing can strip away the natural oils and protective layers that help maintain the shine and gloss of your car’s paint, leaving it susceptible to scratches, swirl marks, and other forms of damage. To strike the right balance, aim to wash your car every few weeks or as needed to remove dirt, grime, and other contaminants, but avoid overdoing it to preserve the integrity of your paint finish.

Author: Madison Cates

Title: Managing Editor


Research journalist, Freelance writer, Managing editor

  • Expertise: automotive content, trending topics.
  • Education: LeTourneau University, Bachelors of Science in Business Administration.
  • Over 400 articles and short news pieces published across the web.

Experience: Madison Cates is a journalist located in the great state of Texas. She began writing over eight years ago. Her first major research piece was published by the Journal of Business and Economics in 2018. After growing up in a household of eight brothers and a dad who was always restoring old Camaros, she naturally pivoted her freelance career into the automotive industry. There, she found her passion. Her experience paved the way for her to work with multiple large corporations in automotive news and trending topics. Now, she now finds her home at Wealth of Geeks where she proudly serves as Managing Editor of Autos. Madison is always down to geek out over the latest beautiful cars on the market, and she enjoys providing her readers with tips to make car ownership easier and more enjoyable.

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