How to Wash a Car Without Scratching the Paint

Washing a car should be easy and simple but making sure that you prevent getting scratches or watermarks on the paint can be tricky. If you want to know how to wash a car without scratching the paint, all you really need to know is the basics. If you know the right way to do it, your car is safe from any scratches or swirl marks.

If you have not been keeping up with our latest blogs, we also published guides on washing your car under direct sunlight and washing your car while conserving water. Now, we’ll teach you how to do it without scratching your car’s paint.

What Causes Scratches While Washing A Car?

You think you washed your car really well but you noticed there are some minor scratch marks on the paintwork. There could be more than one possible reason as to why that happened.

Knowing what caused this can help you determine how to properly wash and take good care of your vehicle.

1. Not pre-rinsing

Getting your car wet without properly rinsing before applying the cleaning solution can cause minor scratches on your vehicle’s surface.

Even when you did rinse prior to washing but did not do it thoroughly, there can still be some damage. The dirt and dust residue will grind to the paint if not removed completely.

2. Using the wrong washing tools

Gentle is the way to go if you want to avoid scratching your paintwork. You have to avoid abrasive brushes and hard sponges and rely on the wonders of soft microfiber towels and wash mitts. For extremely dirty and muddy cars, a pressure washer would be the best tool to use. For minor dirt, a garden hose should do.

3. Using dirty wash mitts or used/unwashed microfiber cloths

Microfiber towels are reusable but make sure they’re clean and dry before using them on your vehicle. The last thing you want is to transfer whatever dirt is on the towels onto your car paint.

4. Drying without thoroughly rinshing off the cleaning solution

This is a common problem among automatic tunnel car wash systems. This can also happen when you wash your car and dry it while there’s still some soap on the body.

5. Going to automatic car washed with harsh brushed, bristles, and wipers

A lot of car owners avoid going to tunnel car washes unless utterly necessary because of the quality of the result. Sometimes the brushes, bristles, and wipers they use are old and stiff and can cause damage to your car’s paint.

6. Using dirty car covers

Dusty and dirty car covers can be blown by the wind and rub the dirt on your paint. It may keep your car safe from the outside environment but the dirt and dust from the cover will definitely leave scratches. 

Wash a Vehicle Without Scratching It

A lot of car owners opt to wash and clean their vehicles themselves primarily because they don’t want any scratches on them. An automatic car wash or drive-through car wash has been known to leave scratches or watermarks on vehicles because of the brush bristles and the water and soap not drying well.

Well, the good news is that you can totally clean your car on your own. And you can do it without getting a single scratch on your paint. 

Here’s how:

What You Need:

  • Dilutable degreaser for paint, preferably 1:10 ratio for stubborn dirt and grime
  • Deionizer- to prevent hard water minerals
  • Two buckets each with grit guard to remove dirt from the wash mitt. 
  • Soft-medium stiffness wheel brush and lug nut brush for factory and forged wheels.
  • Hand wash and soft microfiber wheel brush for painted, chrome, and aluminum wheels.

Step 1 - Wash the wheels first

pressure washing car wheel

Rinse the dirt, grime, and dust off your tires and rims first before washing the rest of the car. They often have the most dirt on them and you’d want to deal with that first before working the rest of the vehicle.

Getting rid of the debris on your wheels first keeps the dirt from splashing onto your freshly washed paintwork. You can use a pressure washer to easily remove tough dirt that has dried up in the crevices and hidden spots.

Read our detailed guide on cleaning your wheels efficiently. 

Step 2 - Hose down the rest of the car using a portable water deionizer

Spraying deionized water on car

Expert mobile car detailers like River Islands Car Salon use an on-the-go portable water deionizer to prevent water spots from forming on the surface of vehicles. You should consider investing in one if you’re planning to clean your car yourself more often.

Pre-rinse your car with a pressure washer or garden hose to get rid of the dirt and dust. Any residue will grind to the paint which can cause scratches when you’re scrubbing or wiping even with a microfiber towel.

Step 3 - Use microfiber towels to soap up and wash your car section by section

cleaning car with microfiber towel

Use the towel method in order to avoid scratching your car’s paint. You’re going to need several towels, an effective cleaning solution, and start the washing process.

Just fold each towel into 2 or 4 parts depending on the size and use each clean side to wipe in one direction of each car panel. After wiping each panel, turn or fold the towel so that the clean side will touch the panel.

Each towel with 8 clean sides can clean about half or an entire panel. With this method, any dirt picked up from the dirty side of the towel won’t scratch your paint.

Step 4 - Use a liquid spray wax for an additional layer of protection

applying liquid spray wax on car

This can help prevent water spots and keep your paint looking glossy and shiny. Professional car detailers use a liquid spray wax as a drying aid. It gives water-repellent protection on the section you just washed.

Tips for Washing Your Vehicle Without Scratching It

Tip #1 -

Wash your car in a shaded area. Although this does not directly protect your car from scratches it helps by preventing the cleaning solution or water from drying quickly when you’re washing it. But if there’s no shade available, here’s how you can wash your car under direct sunlight.

Tip #2 -

Use the touchless car wash method. It’s essentially using a water hose or high-pressure car wash hose to wash away the dirt and grime on your car. You can use a snow foam cannon with your pressure washer to apply the cleaning solution all over the car.

Tip #3 -

Have two buckets ready when cleaning your wheels – one with warm water and cleaning solution, the other with clean water for rinsing.

Tip #4 -

Don’t use dish soap for your paint. It’s great for your wheels but not for the paint of your car. Use a proper cleaning solution (homemade or commercial) for the rest of your car.

Tip #5 -

Use microfiber towels or soft wash mitts instead of synthetic sponges and old washcloths.


We’ve got more tips on how to wash your car like a pro car detailer right here

With the step-by-step process and tips given above, you should be able to wash your car like a pro by now. But if you are not confident about your car washing skills or if you just don’t have the time to do it, you can always trust River Islands Car Salon to deal with that for you.

Call now to get a free quote.

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