How to properly wash your car and prevent micro-scratches, swirl marks on paint

Washing your car may look like a simple task, but there is high probably of paint damage in the long run if you don’t do it properly. This comprehensive guide will help you learn all the tricks and techniques needed to keep your car’s paint shiny and also last a lifetime.

What causes micro-scratches and swirls?

The micro scratches and swirls that form on your car’s paint don’t come out of thin air, they are formed with every touch, even when you’re washing your car or dry wiping the microfiber cloth. Other reasons for these swirls can be because of removing snow with a brush, or bad buffing techniques. Automatic car washes are particularly bad, they are actually number one contributor of swirling.

Best washing method

There are many ways to wash a car, touch-less, tunnel washes, hand washes and even water-less washes. Each type of wash has a purpose. Most people can’t see swirls or don’t even care about swirls, that’s why we have a lot of people go into these tunnel washes. But if you care about your paint and you want it to look good, hand-washing is the way to go. I mean proper hand washing, because I’ve seen a lot of hand washes that can do a lot of damage if you’re not using the proper tools and techniques.

Car washes are bad for paint

The most common type of car wash that people do is a tunnel car wash which is also the most damaging to paint. Imagine hundreds of cars going through a tunnel and they’re all using the same fabric. There are soft cloth washes and then there are some that use bristle brushes, but you don’t see them much anymore, meaning they have advanced in the past couple of decades. They’re safer than they used to be but if you’re going for the microscopic level, like if you’ve got a nice car and you want to keep it looking as clean and scratch-free as possible, then you should avoid those tunnel washes and stick to proper hand-washing.


Soap is the lubrication for the wash and it will encapsulate any dirt or particles that are on your car so you don’t scratch or create swirl marks.

Avoid soaps with degreaser

There are many types of soaps you should never use, for example Dawn dish soap, because it has degreaser in it. It will strip off any wax or protection that you have on the car and will also dry out any trim or rubber moldings.

Choose thick concentrated soap

There are a lot of different soaps in the market, what you should be looking for is a thick concentrated soap. Most of the car soaps are pH balanced, some of them have wax in it which adds another layer of protection. The pH balance is important because you have acidic, and you have alkaline, the acidic is bad for the paint as it’ll strip off any type of protection that you have on there.

Get a pH tester if you’re really serious about car wash

You can get as crazy as you want with soaps, you can get pH testers and test each soap, but generally most of the car wash soaps are going to be properly pH balanced.


I’ve seen a lot of people wash their cars with big yellow sponges, that is not the proper way. The car washing industry has advanced a lot in the last couple of decades, so its time to get proper mitts.

Choosing the right wash mitts

When we’re talking about car wash, you can get as crazy as you want, you can really get in depth with different kind of mitts. But what you should do is start with microfiber dreadlock mitts as shown below.

Soft Microfiber Chenille Knobby Scratch-Free, LINT-Free Wash Mitts by The Rag Company

Why choose knobby mitt

The purpose of a mitt is to absorb a lot of soap, water and dirt. The fibers are very important as they encapsulate dirt taking it off your paint. If the sponge is flat and doesn’t have any porous details to it, then you would be grinding all the dirt, salt and grime into the paint. The knobby things holds all that dirt and particles inside the mitt reducing the sandpaper effect.

Use dirt lock insert in bucket

You don’t want any sand or debris in your mitt so you should get a dirt lock bucket insert and put it in the bottom of your bucket.

It traps all the debris and the sand and dirt below it, so when you put your mitt back in the bucket, you’re not dragging the dirt back onto the car.

Cleaning Wheels

Coming to wheel cleaning, there’s a lot of different types of cleaners divided between alkaline and acid.

Stay away from acid cleaners

Its best to stay away from the acid cleaners just so you don’t breath them or get them on your skin and have some kind of adverse health affect. There are a lot of good non acid wheel cleaners so choose wisely.

Use car soap for wheels in regular wash

If you’re taking good care of your car and maintaining it regularly, washing it every week or every two weeks, then you shouldn’t have to use a heavy degreaser or cleaner for the wheels. You could even use a car wash soap in that case.

When to use heavy wheel cleaners

If you’re in a situation where you haven’t washed in a while or you have built up brake dust, then you can use some heavier wheel cleaners, like iron removers. If you ever see iron particles or yellow kind of dust on your wheels, then its built-up of brake dust that’s actually rust and iron removers will remove those.

Spotting rust on black glossy rims

The rust particles are more clear on silver wheels as compared to glossy black rims, so what you could do is take a white cloth or tissue paper and rub it on the wheels, if you see traces of rust on it, then its time to use heavy cleaners.

Brush for wheels

The wheels can scratch just like your paint, so don’t use anything with bristles on a high gloss wheel. Use a wheel woolie as it has a microfiber head and it’s really soft.

Wheel woolie brush

Towel for drying

When you’re done washing the car you’re going to rinse it, and then it comes to drying with a towel. This part is the biggest contributing factor to installing swirls and scratches into your car’s paint. Once you start drying it, you don’t have any lubrication as compared to when you were washing the car with soap. So choosing the right drying towel is very important.

You don’t want to use your bath towel, what you want is terry cloth towels, you want to use something with a microfiber weave. You can take it the extra step and use a quick detailer, or spray wax, or something that’s going to lubricate that towel when wiping down the car. These products will add lubrication and it’s also going to add another layer of protection.

Water Quality Matters

The water that you use to wash the car is very important because if you use hard water, you can end up with water spots which you don’t want on your car. If you’re washing outside in the sun using hard water, and it dries on your car, that water evaporates leaving a lot of minerals and impurities found in hard water. It can actually engrave those minerals into the clear coat and you may have to use a machine to remove those hard water spots. So that’s one of the reasons why its recommended not to wash your car in the bright hot sunlight. If you have hard water, what you can do is get water softeners, and always wash in a shade.

Author: Nabeel K

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James Franco
James Franco
3 years ago

Automatic car wash can damage your car paint, this is why I think going to car detailing experts are totally worth it compared to just automatic car washers. Also, car detailing shops are very good in cleaning your car exterior and interior and always use premium products for your car to avoid any issues.

Liam Myers
Liam Myers
2 years ago

Getting your car cleaned by detailer is better because it will get done properly and thoroughly.