Little boy washing a car with his dad.

How to Wash Your Car Like a Pro

Updated June 5, 2020 . AmFam Team

With these DIY car-washing tips, you’ll have the cleanest car on the block without spending your hard-earned cash.

You take great pride in your ride and do what you can to keep it looking good. But maintaining that shine can take a toll on your pocketbook. If you want to save some hard-earned cash and still drive the cleanest car on the block, skip the high-priced detail shop and do it yourself!  With these do it yourself tips, and a little TLC, you’ll have everything you need to keep your dream car looking like new, without paying the pros big bucks.


Wash Weekly

You might be asking yourself, “How often should I be washing my car?” Well, if you wait for your car to get dirty, you’ve waited too long. A good washing once a week will help keep your car’s finish at its finest. Bugs, bird droppings and tree sap should come off right away. They can strip away wax and eat at your car’s paint.

If the body of your car is hot from driving or sitting in the sun, move it to the shade and let it cool down for a while. Heat speeds up drying and can increase the changes of spots.

Use the Right Soap

You might think a little dab of dish detergent will do just fine. Not really. Dish soap might make your car look clean, but it strips protective coatings and can expose your vehicle to nicks and scratches. A dedicated car wash solution is highly recommended. A quick Google search will bring up several great brands.

First Rinse

A good thorough rinse before the wash will rid your car of loose dirt that could cause scratching. Start at the top, and work your way down.

Use the Three-Bucket System

When it comes to washing like a pro, three buckets is the way to go. Why three? One for soapy water, one with water only for rinsing the sponge, and one with a mix of soap and water. Use this third bucket only for the wheels since they’re easily the dirtiest part of your car.

Clean the Wheels

Grab your bucket, separate sponge and wash the wheels before the rest of the car. Car wash soap works well, but a good quality wheel cleaner will make those round-rubber beauties sparkle!

Lather and Scrub

Work that wash solution into a good lather with plenty of suds. Scrub in sections to ensure a detailed clean. And be sure to move your sponge lengthwise, not in circles. Scrubbing in circles can cause light scratches in swirly patterns.

Wash the Headlights

Cloudy headlights can make your entire car appear dirty – even if the rest of it is spotless. The normal lather and scrub will help make your headlights look cleaner, but consider buying a headlight restoration kit to keep your lights looking shiny and new.

Final Rinse

Once the whole car has been thoroughly scrubbed, it’s time for one last rinse. Use your hose without the spray nozzle and start from the top with a gentle stream.

Dry, Dry Again

To avoid spots, dry your car as quickly as possible. A waffle-weave drying towel does an excellent job. For that extra-special touch, give your car a final wipe with a microfiber towel. This added step will eliminate any pesky spots.

Glass, Last

You’re almost done. But to finalize the lustrous look, your windows need to shimmer. Use an ammonia-free glass cleaner — it’s better for vinyl upholstery. Go the extra mile by buffing the glass with a microfiber cloth. It’ll get rid of that foggy residue on the inside.

And if you still have some cleaning momentum, take a look at the inside of your ride. Whether it’s a thorough car cleaning or simply reorganizing and storing items away, it’ll be an added bonus to have your car sparkling from the inside out!

The final step: Lose yourself in the luster. Not only is a DIY car wash good for your car and your wallet, it’ll be good for you, too. Because there’s no feeling like the peace of mind that comes with a job well done. Shine on!

With your car washed and looking good as new, don’t forget to keep it protected from the unexpected. Find the car insurance coverage that’s best for you, or get in touch with your American Family Insurance agent. (Opens in a new tab)

Looking for More Car Maintenance Tips?

Look no further! We have all the resources and advice you need to keep your car looking and driving like new.

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    Make music selection easy

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    Don’t text while driving

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    Eat at home or while stopped

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