Washing your car seems pretty straight forward: Water. Soap. Water. Dry. Most of us just run through the automatic car wash from time to time and call it good. Some of us don’t ever bother to wash our vehicles. Over the last few months, washing what is likely the most or second-most expensive thing we own has been spotty. Car washes were closed across the country. The supplies to wash vehicles by hand at home were not the easiest to find. Some folks got stressed out. Others looked at the dirt as a sign of solidarity. Others didn’t even notice. Here is why you should wash your vehicle, and how you can get the most bang for your buck at home.

First off, washing your car is crucial to normal maintenance. Dirt is abrasive. No matter where you live, there is going to be dirt that collects on your car as you drive around. If you live in a colder climate, you’re going to get salt mixed in, too. Even in the warmer months, there is still residual salt getting mixed in with the rest of the dirt that gets kicked up and clings to your car.

All that dirt acts like fine sandpaper. But it’s not just hard on the paint. The underside of your vehicle is taking the brunt of the attack. And that just happens to be where all the important parts of your vehicle are located. When things move, there is room for dirt to get in. That dirt will cause premature wear.

So how do you properly clean your vehicle? First, use the right soap. Dish soap is formulated to clean dishes. It can damage automotive paint and other areas of your vehicle. And that is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do.

Use different buckets and sponges. One bucket should be soap and water. The other should be just water. Get your sponge wet and soapy. Clean part of the car, rinse in the clean water. You can use the hose to rinse the sponge between dips too. An alternative is a soap gun, but that’s an expense you can forgo unless you plan to regularly wash your own vehicle.

You’re going to want to use a different sponge on the wheels and tires. Brakes and tires make their own dirt that acts differently than regular dirt. Rubbing that on your car isn’t good. You don’t necessarily need a whole line of other products for the wheels and tires, but a dedicated sponge is a good idea. Also, never move the sponge in a circular motion, long wipes the length of the car work best to preserve the paint.

Start with the bottom. And then finish there too. Clean the wheels and tires first, then the body. Then the underbody. A brush on a stick is going to make getting the underside easiest. Or the aforementioned soap gun works well, too.

Wax might seem like something that is just an extra step, but it does help protect your car and extends the time between needed washes. Unless you’re planning to show your car, a simple spray wax or soap/wax combo will do the job well enough.

Drying should never be left to nature. A few soft terry cloth towels should be fine. Only use them to dry the car, though. Be sure to wash them when you’re done. You can get a chamois if you want, but it isn’t necessary for your daily driver. The soap should help the water run off, so there shouldn’t be much water to dry up, but you may still need a few towels, so be ready.

There are some cleaning things you just don’t need for most cars: clay blocks, special waxes, buffing compounds, and specialized polish are all intended to make a car look showroom ready. Unless your car is in collector condition, that level of care is a bit excessive.

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