7 Mistakes You Might Be Making When Washing Your Car

7 common car washing mistakes YOU could be making

When it comes to car care there are some basic mistakes you could be making that have a devastating impact on the look and finish of your car. Swirls, scratches and paint degradation ruin the gloss levels of your paint, making your car look old and tired.

Here are the top 7 mistakes you could be making when washing your car:

1. Using Automatic Car Washes

Automatic car washes have been around for years and are generally busy due to how quick and cheap they are. You drive in one end, the machine does the washing and you drive out the other end with a car cleaner than when you came in. Sounds good right?


  • As the wash cycle is automatic, particularly dirty panels don't get the attention they need, often resulting in a sub-par wash.
  • The brushes in the car wash are cleaning hundreds of cars each day, picking up dirt and debris that can cause tonnes of small scratches and swirls on your paint. This will reduce the shine and dull the appearance of your paint.
  • Cheap prices = cheap products. Some chemicals used in car washes are heavily caustic and can eat away at your clear coat over time.

Do this instead

Having a professional detailer wash your car regularly would be ideal, but this may not suit everyone as this can be quite expensive - especially if done regularly.

However, with the right products, accessories, a water source and some elbow grease, you could achieve professional results at a fraction of the cost (and you might even enjoy it!).

Click here to check out our starter kit.

2. Using the Wash Brush at Self-Service Jet Washes

You're off to a great start and are avoiding using an automatic car wash, and for convenience have chosen to use a self-service jet wash at your local wash centre. These can be found at places such as Jet Petrol Stations and a select range of Tescos. However, don't use the public brushes there...


  • These soap brushes have been used by hundreds of people over the week. Cleaning dirty cars, vans and laying on the gritty ground. These brushes can pick up a lot of dirt and debris that can scratch your paint and cause swirls. 
  • These brushes are made of a hard-wearing bristles, good for durability, bad for your paint. 

Do This Instead

If you are using a public jet wash, bring your own bucket and wash mitt. That way you aren't using something that's been used by hundreds before you.

A high quality microfibre or lambs wool wash mitt will be delicate on your paint and help prevent inflicting swirls and scratches.

3. Using Generic Washing Up Liquid

You're washing your car yourself and you nip into the kitchen to grab a bottle of washing up liquid to fill your bucket - let's be honest, we've all done it. However, using washing-up liquid can cause more harm than good.


  • Washing up liquids were designed to remove baked on grease and oils from foods. This can strip away waxes that you've applied to your car to give it that shine. A lot of hard work down the drain (pardon the pun).
  • They do not contain purpose-specific lubricants that help glide dirt and debris off your paint without causing scratches to your car.
  • Detergents don't contain added protection or gloss enhancers such as wax or SiO2 Ceramic sealant. This means your paint is unprotected, with a lacklustre shine and will get dirty quicker.

Do This Instead

Instead of reaching into your kitchen cabinet for your washing-up liquid, invest in a premium car shampoo.

These are specifically designed to tackle road grime, effectively cleaning your car. They also contain lubricants to reduce the likelihood of causing scratches when using your wash mitt. They are available with added wax or ceramic Sio2 that provides protection from the elements (grime, bird poo, acid rain) and provides a boost in shine.

A ceramic shampoo such as Ablution is much better suited to washing your car.

Click here to learn more about Ablution Ceramic Car Shampoo.

4. Skipping the Pre-wash Stage

This step is often missed because people simply don't know about it, and that's understandable, but now you do, so there's no excuse! Pre-washing is very important, it removes as much dirt as possible before touching your car and speeds up the contact-wash process whilst making it considerably safer when it comes to scratching.


  • If you go directly into scrubbing your car with a mitt, you'll be dragging 100% of the dirt across the paint which makes it highly likely this will cause some form of swirls and scratches.
  • Simply rinsing your car before the contact-wash stage isn't usually sufficient. Though it may look cleaner, once the water dries you'll see rinsing hasn't shifted much of the grime at all.

Do This Instead

Using a dedicated pre-wash is important to remove as much dirt and grime from the panels of the car before touching it with a mitt. There are 2 main types of prewash. Snow Foam and Citrus/Traffic Film Remover.

If your jet wash allows for it (you may need an additional attachment), using snow foam really helps by removing more dirt than rinsing alone. The foam clings to your car, allowing the surfactants more time to dissolve the grime before slowly dragging it down and off the body of your car.

For heavier soiling, a TFR or citrus based cleaner is needed. This can be sprayed across the heavily soiled areas and rinsed off to remove the majority of the dirt. These are particularly useful during the wet winter months.

Click here to browse our pre-washes.

5. Not Using the 2 Bucket Method

Eh? 2 buckets? I hear you ask. Using a single bucket when washing your car using a mitt can still leave room for swirls and scratches to be caused. This is a detailer's top tip!


  • As you clean your car, your mitt picks up dirt and debris. It is vital that the mitt is rinsed out to remove this dirt into the bucket
  • Over time, the water gets contaminated and you'll be picking up dirt from the bucket into the mitt and wiping it on the car again - risking causing scratches.

Do This Instead

Two buckets. Use the first bucket with water and car shampoo as you would normally. Then use a second bucket filled with plain water. This is your rinse bucket.

After wiping the car a few times with the mitt, dip the mitt into the rinse bucket and squeeze out as much of the dirt as you can. Then, dip the clean mitt into the shampoo bucket to replenish it with water and car shampoo, before wiping the next panel on your car.

This process will ensure you return to your car with a clean mitt and fresh uncontaminated shampoo, ultimately significantly reducing the risk of swirls and protecting your finish.

6. Using cheap sponges and cloths

When you think of washing a car, the first image that pops into your mind is probably a bucket and sponge. Though using a sponge is common place, it is actually not good for your paint.


  • Sponges are great for absorbing water, but due to being flat in shape with very tiny holes, the dirt you pick up from your car sits on the surface of the sponge. This means with every wipe you're dragging contaminants across your paint.
  • Sponges are inherently abrasive due to their design. The only time any form of abrasives should be on a car is during the polishing stage.

Do This Instead

Instead of using a sponge, use a high quality microfibre or lambs wool wash mitt. They are a little more expensive to buy initially but can last longer and will save you in the long run when it comes to damaging your paint.

Wash mitts have soft fibres that allow the dirt to latch on, aiding the removal of dirt from your car. They're also designed with deep pores so that once dirt is latched on, it travels deep within the mitt allowing for a fresh surface to be used on your car again. 

7. Not Using Finishing Products After a Wash

You've gone to the trouble of giving your car a safe and thorough wash, but why stop at 80%? The last 20% can seriously improve the finish of your car and make it look cleaner for longer!


  • Glass can be left smeary, with water marks. When you're driving, everything you see is through the glass and if the glass is dirty and smeary your vision can be obscured.
  • You're losing out on the added levels of shine a wax or ceramic coating can offer, leaving your paint flat and not very glossy within a few days (or even hours).
  • Paint left unprotected can leave the clear coat vulnerable to damage from salt, road grime, bird poo and acid rain. 
  • Tyres and trim after a wash can look dull and grey, really letting down the look of your car when everything else is so clean and shiny.

Do This Instead

Make sure to mop up all the water on the body and glass using a super absorbent drying towel before it dries naturally leaving ghastly water marks.

Using a smear-free glass cleaner and glass cloth, you can make your glass and mirrors crystal clear.

Adding a wax or ceramic coating can add an additional layer of gloss, making that shiny wet look last longer. Available as a spray on Carnauba Wax, Ceramic spray or a ceramic hard wax - between ease of use and durability, there's a product perfect for you.

Wipe over the sidewalls of your tyres and plastic trim to replenish a deep black colour using a tyre & trim dressing and applicator pad - this will make your rubbers and plastics look new and protects them from fading in the sun's UV rays.

Click here to browse our range of finishing products.


Now that you are aware of the 7 mistakes you didn't know you might be making, you should be able to protect your paint from losing its shine through the accumulation of scratches and swirls through washing your car incorrectly. 

Check out our broad range of quality hand made car care products!