Two Girls Washing Car Together


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Wax On, Wax Off

With the astronomical cost of cars, gas, and pretty much anything auto-related, car owners are desperate to save money. That can mean waiting in long Costco gas lines or skipping frivolous services like car washes altogether. But as perpetual penny pinchers know, there’s almost always a cheaper way — especially when it comes to car washes. Have a dirty car? With the proper know-how, you’ll save time, money, and your sense of dignity if you wash at home. If it’s been a while since you’ve unfurled a hose and filled up a bucket of soapy water (don’t use dish soap!), rest assured that his guide will equip you with everything you need to wash your car at home like a pro.

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Car-Washing Supply List

The items in the chart below are recommended by Cheapism and buyer reviews. Click the product names to find out more or purchase. 

Man cleaning car wheel with brush.Photo credit: djedzura/istockphoto

Step One: Clean Your Wheels and Tires

A man with a high pressure hose applies foamPhoto credit: Juleta Martirosyan/istockphoto

Step Two: Clean the Body

  • Optional: Spray your car with a lubricating car foam using a foam gun. Let the foam sit for around 10 minutes, but keep your car out of direct sunlight so that it doesn’t dry. After letting it sit, rinse your car off. The foam ensures that dirt and debris won’t scratch your vehicle when you wash it with a mitt.

  • Fill two buckets with water. Add car shampoo to one bucket, reserving the other bucket for clean water. You can add a grit guard to the buckets, which will trap unwanted dirt.

  • Begin to scrub your car with the mitt and shampoo, starting with the roof and the side glass and working downward. Move the mitt in a straight line; scrubbing in a circular motion could lead to swirl marks. When your mitt gets dirty or runs out of soap, rinse it off in your bucket of clean water before reapplying car shampoo.

  • Use the nozzle or foam gun to rinse off the car.

Man after washing wipes white car with a rag at car wash.Photo credit: Harbucks/istockphoto

Step Three: Dry the Car

  • Optional: Use a leaf blower, like this cordless option, to dry your car. Contactless drying methods like this one reduce the chance that you could damage the car’s paint. But if you have a 15-year-old beater and/or don’t have a blower on hand, skip this (admittedly over-the-top) step.
  • Use an absorbent microfiber towel to dry your car, making sure to squeeze out excess water and change towels as you go.
  • Optional: Use a streak-free glass cleaner and microfiber glass towel to make your windows shine.
  • Optional: Once your car is completely clean and dry, you can spray your car with  protective wax. The wax won’t just make your car shiny; it will also protect the vehicle's clear coat.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I have to wash my car?

You might be tempted to skip car washes altogether, but there’s a reason auto experts recommend washing every two weeks or so. Not only does washing your car allow you to inspect the vehicle’s body for any defects or rust, but it’s also the best way to protect the car’s paint.

Can I wash my car with dish soap?

Probably not. Since dish soap is meant to remove heavy grease and food, it's abrasive and could damage a car’s paint. It’ll also break down a vehicle’s protective wax coating.

When should I wash my car?

Wash your car in the early morning and evening, avoiding the sunniest part of the day. If it’s too hot out, your car will dry while you’re cleaning it, leading to water spots. For the same reason, don’t drive your car right before washing it, as the engine will heat the vehicle's body.

What car wash products do I need?

At a minimum, you’ll need a hose, bucket, car shampoo, and some rags, which shouldn’t cost you more than $30. While that’s a higher upfront cost than many car washes, you’ll start to save money if you continue to wash at home. Plus, commercial car washes can damage your car.

What are the best car wash products?

The biggest mistake you can make is to use household cleaning products on your car, as using Windex or Dawn on your car’s body could strip the paint. Instead, purchase auto-specific products from reputable brands. 

How much does it cost to go to a car wash?

Depending on the type of service, a car wash can range from around $10 to $100 plus. After two at-home car washes, you’ll likely start saving money, though it depends on how much you need to purchase upfront.

Why is the car washing process so elaborate?

You want to avoid scratching the body during the process. Everything from the foam gun and microfiber cloth to the grit guard and leaf blower reduces the chances that you’ll drag a piece of debris or dirt across the car, scratching the paint.

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