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The Dos and Don’ts of Washing Your Car

By AMA Staff

A sparkling clean car isn’t just for show. Keeping your vehicle in good cosmetic condition increases its lifespan and resale value. Here are nine pro tips for washing your car at home (plus one for choosing an automated car wash):

DON’T go too long between washes, as accumulated dirt, dust, bird droppings and more can weaken your vehicle’s paint and cause it to chip off. Experts recommend washing every one to three weeks and waxing every season, depending on weather, driving conditions and how often you use your vehicle.

DO gather supplies before you start. Your toolkit should include: a bucket; sponges or mitts; soft brushes; clean towels, chamois, squeegees or blowers for drying; and any necessary protectants.

DON’T use soap or detergents. Bylaws in cities like Calgary, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie forbid allowing chemicals, including those found in most soaps, to run into storm drains and sewers. (Edmonton, on the other hand, does allow the use of biodegradable soap.) Check with your municipality if you’re unsure of the rules—or just err on the side of the environment and wash with water only.

DON’T wash your car in direct sunlight or when the finish is hot. High temperatures cause liquids to dry quickly, leaving spots and mineral deposits on the paint.

DO start by cleaning the wheels and tires, then rinse one section of the body at a time, working from the top down. Use a back-and-forth motion rather than rubbing in circles, which can leave swirl marks.

DON’T reuse wheel and tire cleaning tools on the vehicle exterior. They’ve likely picked up dirt particles that could scratch your vehicle’s paint.

DON’T forget out-of-sight areas like door and trunk jambs. Pop the hood and remove leaves and debris from the base of the windshield. If you live in a dusty or muddy climate, or where chemicals are used to melt ice and snow, wash the underbody to help remove any harmful deposits.

DO read your owner’s manual for instructions on how to care for your car’s carpet, upholstery and trim. Before you use specific cleaning products, test them in a small, out-of-the-way spot—such as a door jamb or under a seat—to make sure they don’t cause discoloration or other damage.

DO use detailing brushes and a vacuum to clean dust and dirt from heating and air-conditioning vents.

And if you forgo cleaning by hand in favour of a commercial car wash…

DO choose a car wash that uses cloth brushes. They’re less likely scratch the paint.