How to Properly Wash & Dry Your Car

How to Properly Wash & Dry Your Car

Proper Washing & Drying Technique

Are you washing your car, or just damaging the paint?
Most of the swirl marks that disfigure your vehicle are likely caused by poor washing technique. Thorough weekly washes and careful hand-drying can be the best care you can give your vehicle. Improper techniques will cause unsightly swirls and scratches in the paint requiring compounding or polishing at the very least. You can eliminate these problems and save yourself extra work by following a few simple tips when washing and drying your vehicle.


Are you washing weekly or weakly?

Weekly washing is best because some contaminants quickly do serious long term damage to paint if they are allowed to remain. Two such organic compounds are bug remains and bird droppings. These bio-hazards contain complex proteins that bond to the surface and organic acids that penetrate and break down the surface, eating into your clear coat if not removed promptly. Weak spots in the clear coat make your vehicle susceptible to corrosion and discoloration.

Another problem contaminant is brake dust. It contains metal shavings from the rotors and adhesives used in the production of brake pads. Try to picture the dirty plume of brake dust and roadway chemicals that travels along with a moving vehicle. This fog of chemicals shower the lower portion of your vehicle with a clinging, nearly invisible mist. Brake dust itself, is highly corrosive and very sticky. Washing your vehicle weekly will remove these contaminants before they have the opportunity to do unsightly permanent damage.


Wash Tools

First, never wash in direct sunlight. Pick a shady spot. Second it's very important to choose tools that are gentle on the paint, yet still effective at removing contamination. As a rule of thumb, sponges and mitts that are plush or have a deep nap are better than flat weave towels or dense sponges. For example, a Cobra Gold Plush Micro-Chenille Wash Mitt features long fibers that pull debris from the surface, away from the paint. You'll be able to work faster, and the long, plump microfibers will hold even more soapy water for superior lubrication.


Another option is a Speed Master Car Wash Brush. Crafted using a premium synthetic fiber that mimics the look and feel (without the exorbitant cost!) of genuine hog hair, the Speed Master Car Wash Brush allows for the safe removal of surface contamination during a car wash. With fibers measuring 3 inches all around, the Speed Master Car Wash Brush pulls contaminants from the surface and "stores" them close to block, and away from your paint!

The Speed Master Car Wash Brush brings you back to the car washing basics with the super-soft bristles that gently clean your car, truck, SUV, RV, or even boat! Designed to be used with a telescoping handle, the Speed Master Car Wash Brush eliminates the need for ladders, stools, and bending!

Proper Washing

1. Wash the wheels and tires first. If you splash wheel cleaners or dirt onto your vehicle, you can simply wash it off as you wash your vehicle. Use a cleaner that is safe for all wheels, like Wolfgang Tire & Wheel CleanerBLACKFIRE Tire & Wheel Cleaner, or Pinnacle Advanced Wheel Cleaner Concentrate. It is water-based and has no corrosive chemicals, which is safer for coated wheels and rubber. Agitate with a wheel brush to clean wheels without scratching. Wash each wheel and tire one at a time and rinse thoroughly before moving on to the next one. NOW EMPTY AND RINSE ALL CLEANING MATERIALS including your Pinnacle Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Sponge and your wash bucket.

2. Now you're ready to wash. Let's start with clean water and a freshly rinsed container and our Micro-chenille Wash Mitt. It's important to use a car wash that is rich in lubricants. The purpose of the car wash is to remove contaminants and lubricate them so they do not scratch the paint as they slide off the vehicle. Dish detergents are not ideal because they remove protective coatings. BLACKFIRE Car Wash , SONAX Gloss Shampoo Concentrate and Pinnacle Bodywork Shampoo are all fantastic choices. They do not remove wax and provide ample lubrication of gritty particles.

3. How do you prevent swirl marks? Use two buckets. Fill one bucket with soapy water and fill the other with clean water. Each time you're ready to reload your sponge or mitt with soapy water, dip it in the clean water first, to rinse out the grit and contamination you've just removed from your vehicle. Then dip it in the soapy water and continue washing. An even better option is the Grit Guard. This plastic grid sits in the bottom of a 5-gallon wash bucket and stabilizes the water. Contamination and particles settle to the bottom of the bucket and the clean wash water remains at the top.

4. Always rinse your vehicle thoroughly before you begin washing in order to remove loose debris. Then begin washing at the top of the vehicle. Wash down the vehicle as opposed to front to back. Remember that the lower panels are dirtiest. You want to clean the windows and the upper panels before cleaning the lower half of the vehicle so that you don't transfer grit to the top half of the vehicle. Rinse and reload your Sponge often to prevent cross-contamination. Rinse your vehicle frequently as you work, especially in hot weather. For stubborn spots, like bugs or tar, use the Pinnacle Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Sponge to gently remove sticky contaminants without scratching. To soften the sponge, soak it in warm water for 3 minutes. Always use it with soapy water to lubricate the sponge. If you choose to use a spot cleaner, spray it on before washing and reapply wax to the treated area after you've dried the vehicle (paint coatings won't need to be reapplied).

5. When rinsing, you don't have to blast your car clean with the water hose. Free-flowing water (no nozzle) will allow the water to sheet off of your vehicle for a more thorough rinsing.


Never skip drying! Drying your vehicle after washing is necessary to prevent water spots. Water spots are caused by mineral deposits that etch the outline of a drop of water into your vehicle's paint. All water has minerals, whether it's from the hose or the sky. As the water evaporates, the minerals remain on the surface and they will eventually, invariably create water spots.

You can dry your vehicle in a variety of ways, but you want to make sure you do it quickly. Investing in a quality microfiber drying towel is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t get water spots. The Cobra Guzzler Hybrid Twisted Drying Towel is a unique hybrid towel that is made out a twist-loop microfiber combination that allows for extra levels of absorbency. The Cobra Guzzler Hybrid Twisted Drying Towel is made out of 1200/GSM, which makes the softness almost unmatched.

The Guzzler is a large 20" x 40" microfiber towel that is manufactured with a waffle-weave texture. This weave increases the surface area so the towel can absorb more water. It can absorb 7 times its own weight in moisture, and it's completely nonabrasive. Microfiber towels come in a number of sizes and they can be altered for a specific purpose. For example, the Cobra Waffle-Weave Glass Towel will clean and dry glass without streaks. Microfiber is more absorbent than terry cloth or chamois, and it lasts longer.

Terry cloth towels are not recommended because the fibers can become matted and hard after repeated uses. They shed lint. They increase the chance of swirls. Compared to microfiber, they are not as absorbent and they don't last as long. Never use bath towels that have been discarded from the house. They are probably not soft or paint safe. All Cobra Microfiber Towels are engineered to be LINT-FREE!

You may also use a genuine or synthetic chamois. The SONAX Leather Chamois dries any type of paint finish quickly and completely without the risk of swirls or streaks. The ultra-soft leather buffs your paint to a gorgeous luster as you dry.

Drying Tips

1. Dry the windows and mirrors first.

2. Use the large The Supreme Guzzler to remove the majority of water from your vehicle. This towel measures 20"x 40" and it absorbs seven times its own weight in moisture. Go back over the vehicle with a smaller towel, like the The Guzzler(16"x 24") to catch any water the large towel may have missed. This quick two-step process will leave your vehicle bone-dry and ready for wax.

3. Once the outside is dry, wipe down all your door jambs. Open the trunk and hood to wipe the jambs. Our Cobra Microfiber Starter Kit can get your vehicle dry and spotless with the best in LINT-FREE drying technology.

4. Dry your wheels using a towel or chamois that is designated just for this purpose. Don't use this towel on your paint to avoid cross-contamination. You may also use this towel to wipe off surfaces under the hood. Wash this towel before you use it again.

The Finishing Touch

Use a spray wax or spray sealant like BLACKFIRE SiO2 Spray Sealant to rejuvenate the shine of your existing wax. Skip this step if you are going to apply another coat of wax. 

The Foam Gun Option

If the hose and bucket method isn't for you, there's the foam gun option. The idea behind a foam gun is that it presoaks the vehicle in suds to start loosening grime and lubricating the paint right away. And truth be told, it's a lot of fun to use a foam gun. Wolfgang has three foam gun options:

The Foamaster Foam Gun works with your water hose to deliver the soapy water to the vehicle. The Foamaster's tip helps boost water pressure to put a little power behind the delivery. Pair this nifty tool with BLACKFIRE Foam Soap to create mounds of thick suds. If you want to add some extra gloss and protection after each wash, pair the Foamaster Foam Gun with BLACKFIRE Wash & Wax. This wax-infused wash cleans, shines, and protects in one step!


The Tornador Air Foamer HP is a high powered foam gun that works with any air compressor capable of producing 60-90 psi. The Tornador uses very little water so it's a good idea to hose down the vehicle first. Then let the foam fly! The Tornador create fluffy, air-filled foam.

The Foam Cannon HP work with a pressure washer. The Foam Cannon HP blasts a mixture of water and soap through the tip at a high pressure to release a lot of grime immediately. This foam gun uses less water than a hose, but packs a lot of pressure. The foam produced is not as light as the Tornador, but it clings very well.

Clean Water Makes for a Clean Car

If you're taking all the precautions every time you wash your vehicle and you're still getting spots and swirls, the problem may be the water. No water is pure. All water has minerals and most has some form of sediment. If your car shampoo (or hair shampoo) doesn't lather well and your faucets and fixtures tend to turn green, you've got hard water. If water will not sheet off your vehicle and you're constantly battling water spots, you've got hard water. Hard water is mainly caused by calcium and magnesium, which can be removed with a water softener. Sediment is another common enemy of any paint finish. Sediment is actually dirt and rust in the water line. Water treatment plants filter out sediment but more sediment can enter the pipes between the plant and your home. This is why household faucets have screens in them. If you have well water, beware. You most likely have sediment and hard water. A Simple Chucks Double Chuck Spotless Water System will clean and soften the water before it reaches your vehicle. Connect it to any standard garden hose hooked up to an exterior spigot. 

With a little preventative maintenance, your vehicle will rinse clean and have less water-related micro-marring. Check out all the great tools and products we have to clean your vehicle right on our Washing page!