Top 15 Car Cleaning Mistakes Owners Do

There must be over 100 mistakes that people do when washing their car, but I want to focus on the 15 that I used to do. These mistakes are not critical, but it’s best if you don’t do them. Here are the 15 car cleaning mistakes owners do:
  1. Taking Your Car To A Car Wash

  2. Cleaning Your Car In Direct Sunlight

  3. Using Kitchen Soap Or Degreaser

  4. Not Using Lubrication

  5. Using Paper Towel Or Old T-Shirts

  6. Not Cleaning From The Top To The Bottom

  7. Cleaning In A Swirling Motion

  8. Using Only One Bucket

  9. Using Dirty Towels

  10. Spraying Steering Wheel, Gas, And Brake Pedals

  11. Applying Too Much Wax

  12. Not Cleaning Your Tires

  13. Washing Your Car In The Grass

  14. Neglecting Your Car Seats
  15. Not Cleaning Your Windshield And Windows Properly

I will go over the mistakes one by one to tell you why these mistakes are mistakes. Like I said before, do not worry if you are making these mistakes, but please do correct yourself. Make sure you pay attention to mistake #13 as it may be illegal in some countries.

#1 Mistake – Taking Your Car To A Car Wash

Car washes will scratch your paint for sure. Even if they say they use only soft bristles and a soft cloth. The problem is that they are not cleaning their bristles and cloths often. Dirt gets stuck in between and then, with the same bristles they are cleaning your car. Car washes are aggressive. Even the touchless type where powerful jets of water slam your paint surface to remove the dirt. The water pressure could be too high, and even if the water pressure isn’t too high, the water will push dirt against the paint thereby scratching. Please don’t get me wrong, car washes are good for cars where you don’t really care about the little scratches in the paint. I take my old car to a car wash regularly, but I will never bring my brand new car to a car wash. I understand you might be busy, but you can get 1 hour of free time every month, and clean your car at home. You don’t need much equipment to do that. All of us have a vacuum cleaner, microfiber towels and a water hose at home. You will, however, need to purchase a Car Shampoo which is an affordable thing.

#2 Mistake – Cleaning Your Car In Direct Sunlight

Another mistake people do is they clean their car in direct sunlight and when it’s really hot. It’s best if you wait till the Sun is just about setting. Then you get a really good shine on the car so you could see where all the dirt is. The reason why you shouldn’t clean your car in the Sun is that the car’s surface will be so hot, and the water you’re cleaning with will evaporate and leave water marks on your paint. Another problem is that the chemicals and cleaners that you’re using, aren’t made to be put on hot surfaces. If you read carefully on the product’s manual, you will see that it says to park the car in the shade. Of course, this matters only for the summer. In the winter, you can wash it whenever you feel like. Also, washing a car in a direct sun puts you in the same direct sun, and if your car is dirty and you push yourself, you might get dizzy.

#3 Mistake – Using Kitchen Soap Or Degreaser

Using dawn or some type of kitchen soap or degreaser to clean your car is a big NO. These products are bad for your paint and will strip your protective wax coating. So, all that hard work waxing goes to waste. Also, these products are not always pH balanced, so you could be damaging your clear coat. You do not want to use a degreaser. What you want to use is an automotive soap. This stuff is specifically formulated to clean your car’s paint so it won’t strip the wax, and its pH balanced. It also foams up really well and provides good lubrication while you use your towel against your paint. You can read on the automotive soap that it says it won’t strip wax like some dish soaps.
QUICK TIP: Make sure you always clean out your bucket so that you get all the dirt in the bucket out, so when you put your towel in there, you don’t pick up the dirt and rub
it right into your paint and scratch your paint.

#4 Mistake – Not Using Lubrication

This mistake is very common. People don’t use lubrication when they’re cleaning their car. You could use some type of spray wax if your car finish is completely dry. For example, if you have some bird poop on your car, never just wipe it off with just a towel. Always spray some lubricant, and then the ‘mess’ will come right off. After you wipe one way, fold your towel over wipe it the other way to clean it off. Do get that bird poop off that car right away, because bird poop has acid in it, and the acid will break
down your paint and the clear coat, and leave a nasty mark. But make sure when you take it off to use some type of lubricant, or just make sure your car is soaking wet and you have a towel that is completely covered in soap and water so you won’t scratch your car. Black is one of the most difficult colors to clean, and the reason why black is so difficult to clean is that you have to be extra careful. Black shows scratch really easily. Also, make sure you get the car soaking wet and when you get in the car wet, make sure you’re not using a power washer. Make sure you can put your hand in front of it and it doesn’t hurt your hand. If it hurts your hand, that’s too much pressure for your car. Also, if you never used a power washer before, start off by washing on a 3 feet distance. Come closer to the car as you start to feel more comfortable.

#5 Mistake – Using Paper Towel Or Old T-Shirts

You do not want to ever use a paper towel on your paint. Paper towels are rough on touch, which could damage your paint. You don’t ever want to use an old t-shirt on your paint. Some T-shirts have printings on them, which could act as a sanding paper. Also, if your t-shirt is very old, it will leave streaks all over your car. You never want to use a sponge or the rough end of a sponge on your paint. And, you never want to use one of those bathing towels on your paint. The only thing that should touch your paint is a nice and soft microfiber towel or something with the similar softness.

#6 Mistake – Not Cleaning From The Top To The Bottom

Next mistake is not cleaning from the top of the car to the bottom of the car. You always want to start cleaning your car at the top and then finish cleaning at the bottom. The one exception is you could start with cleaning your rims. When cleaning your rims use a microfiber towel and some type of lubricant(water and a wheel cleaner), and make sure you don’t use the same towel for the rims as for the paint. You should have two different towels because rim dust is acidic and gritty. Do not use a paper towel on the rims because the rims are actually clear coated to protect the aluminum finish and paper towels are just going to scratch your clear coat, just like it’s going to scratch the clear coat of your paint. So, that’s why you don’t want to use on your paint. After you clean all 4 tires, now is a good time to start cleaning from the top to the bottom. Start at the top because on all cars the bottom is going to be a lot dirtier compared to the top of the car. The bottom of the car is close to the dirt road, and all the road grime and dust and mud kick up on the bottom, but rarely make it to the top of the car.

#7 Mistake – Cleaning In A Swirling Motion

Mistake number seven is cleaning in a swirling motion. Pick a direction and clean in that direction. If you do it in a swirling motion, you’re more likely to see scratches at different angles. When you’re cleaning your car, go in one direction. Pick a direction and go from front to back, from the front of the car to the rear of the car, and that’s the direction you should stick to.

#8 Mistake – Using Only One Bucket

This is also a common mistake. I am not sure why people repeat this mistake. Do they not have two buckets or they are just lazy. You need to have 2 buckets at all times. One bucket which is just for the soapy water, and one bucket with clean water. So, take soap from the soapy bucket and apply it on your car. When your microfiber towel gets dirty, put it in the bucket with the clean water and wash it off. After you’re done cleaning everything rinse off all the soap. Again you do not use a sponge, you do not use a bath towel, you do not use a t-shirt, and you do not use a paper towel. When you dry off your car, you want to use a good microfiber cloth that absorbs water really well. Same as washing your car, you should dry it in one direction. You don’t want to add a lot of pressure.

#9 Mistake – Using Dirty Towels

This mistake I see all the time. People just love dropping their towel on the ground and picking it right back up and use it on their car. When you drop your towel on the ground, it picks up all types of debris including little rocks which will put a nice scratch in your car’s paint. So once you drop the towel on the ground, that towel is done. You can’t use this. So once this touches the ground, keep it there.

#10 Mistake – Spraying Steering Wheel, Gas, And Brake Pedals

I always see people put armor-all or some type of leather and vinyl cleaner on their steering wheel, on the brake, and the gas pedals. I also see them put it on the shifter which is never good. All these things you need to grip onto, whether it’s with your hands or with your feet. You never want to put any chemicals on your steering wheel, brake pedals, or gear knob that are going to make it slippery. This just makes driving dangerous and you could potentially cause an accident and hurt yourself or hurt somebody else. Also, you will be constantly touching your steering wheel and gear knob with your bare arms, and if you are on a long drive you will probably touch your face, especially your eyes. Your eyes could react to the chemicals that these cleaners have. If you’re going to use some type of leather or vinyl protectant, make sure that you spray it on a paper towel and not directly on the leather or vinyl. This will prevent it from getting all over your windows and things you don’t want it on.

#11 Mistake – Applying Too Much Wax

Waxing your car should be easy as it sounds – Wax On, Wax Off. After you wash your car, you should wax it. There is no need to apply extra layers of wax. It’s just a waste of time and resources. Apply some wax until the surface gets a little bit white, and then wipe it off with a microfiber towel.

#12 Mistake – Not Cleaning Your Tires

The tires are the dirtiest part of the car. They are in constant contact with the mud and dirt. They deserve to be cleaned. Also, a nice and clean rims will give that extra shine to your car. So grab a bucket with soapy water, or a cleaning solution and clean your wheels. Also, make sure that you use a clean microfiber towel.

#13 Mistake – Washing Your Car In The Grass

This is something that you probably don’t think is a mistake. Some of you have nice backyards and you enjoy washing your car there. The big problem occurs when you rinse off your car, and all of the chemicals go down on the grass. Some of you have kids, some of you have pets. It is both dangerous for your kids and pets, as well as it is dangerous for the grass. In some countries, it is illegal to wash your car in a place where there is no drainage system nearby. So please, next time you wash your car, do it on your driveway. Safe the kids, the pets, and the grass.

#14 Mistake – Neglecting Your Car Seats

It is not enough just to vacuum your car seats. Whether you have leather or cloth seats, you have to clean them. Leather seats are easy to maintain. Whenever you spill something on leather sits, you can just wipe it off and give it a cool finish with some cleaning solution. When it comes to cloth seats, it’s a whole different story. If you spill something, you have to make sure that you clean the spot right away. If you are unable to do that, you need to make sure to dry it off. Driving around with a wet seat could create a mold, and you don’t want that. You need to make sure the interior of your car is clean for you and your family, especially if you have small kids or a pet. Pets can be messy. I personally drive my dog only in my van, and I have a special place for him in the trunk. It is an open trunk and my dog loves it. This way, when my dog comes in from the park all muddy and dirty, I have to clean only the trunk.

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Hi there. I am a certified Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) mechanic since 2018 and a car detailer for 10 years.

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