How to wash your car and save money

By glblguy

Car Washing supplies
Photo by: Micah Taylor

I was finally able to wash our cars this weekend for the first time in nearly 6-months. We’ve been on water restrictions until recently in our area and not able to use any outside water. Many people opted to take their vehicles to the local commercial car washes. Call me cheap, but I just wouldn’t pay the $20.00+ for someone else to wash my car. I know many people who did (and still do), sometimes even multiple times a week!

Sure, our cars were dirty…okay, real dirty, but we saved an incredible amount of money by not using the commercial facilities. The least expensive wash option at the local Auto Bell is about $20.00. I typically wash our cars every week (Call me crazy, but I like clean cars, not to mention it makes them last longer and hold their value). A wash a week would have worked out to 24 car washes for each of our 2 vehicles, so 48 car washes all together. 48 washes times $20.00 is $960!

While washing our cars this weekend, my neighbor and I started talking about how many people we’ve met that don’t wash their cars because they don’t really know how or if they do wash them, they don’t really wash them correctly. Given my passion for cars, and clean cars at that, I thought I would share one of the right ways to wash your car and save yourself a ton of money! It’s great exercise too.

Supplies Needed

Obtaining a good car wash doesn’t require a great deal of sophisticated chemicals, brushes, hoses, nozzle, etc. As far as soaps and waxes go, you can either purchase products or make your own. If you choose to purchase your own, I highly recommend Meguiar’s products. They are a little more expensive, but in this case you get what you pay for.

In any case, here’s what you’ll need:


Where you wash your car is almost as important as how you wash it. One of the biggest mistakes people make is washing their cars in direct sunlight. Doing so causes the car to dry too quickly, leaving soap and water spots on the glass and paint. Instead, find a shady location with good drainage. This will keep the water from drying quickly and provide you with amble time to wash and dry the car, leaving a spot free finish. A side benefit, at least for me, is I don’t get sun burnt either!

Start with a good rinse

One of the key steps is to thoroughly rinse the car down before you begin actually washing it. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it removes any large particles such as sand, paint, dirt, etc that can cause significant scratches to your paint while washing. Second, rinsing the car off well cools off the surface of the car, again keeping the car from drying to quickly.

Rinse from top to bottom so that the dirt and grim move to already dirty areas of the car and not to areas you’ve already rinsed. Take a few extra seconds to spray up behind the wheels and tires and up into the fender well with a strong spray. You’ll be shocked at how much dirt is hiding in there. I also use a strong spray to remove any “crud” or dead bugs from the cars front grill and radiator.

Tires and wheels first

Clean tires make the difference in a clean car and a really clean car. I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t wash their tires at all. Spending a few extra minutes scrubbing and cleaning your tires will make a big difference and will give you that professional/detailed look.

I always start by washing the wheels and tires first. Grab your tire brush and thoroughly rinse it with your hose. Sprinkle a little Ajax or Comet on the brush, and start scrubbing. I start at the top and work my around in a clockwise motion, working unless the foam turns a dirty brown color. Avoid scrubbing your wheels and hubcaps as they can and will get scratched. Rinse immediately. Don’t let the tires dry without rinsing them first or you’ll end up with tires covered with dried soap residue.

Now, grab your bucket and pour in a little car soap , add your wash mitt and fill up your bucket with water. I like to create as foamy of a mixture as possible. The more bubbles you have the better. Using your wash mitt, clean off the your hubcaps or wheels. Make sure you get all of the crevices and corners. Depending on your wheels this make take some time, but it will be worth it. For hard to reach areas, I use a wash cloth wrapped around my index finger.

Rinse the wheels and tires off again thoroughly. Now it’s time to clean the body.

Work from the top down

Rinse the body of the car once again real quick, grab your wash mitt and begin washing. Wash in small sections, then rinse, and wash some more. Avoid letting any soap dry on your paint. I generally go in the following order:

  1. Roof, front and rear windshield
  2. Hood and front
  3. Driver door and front quarter panel
  4. Rear door and rear quarter panel
  5. Back of the car
  6. Other rear door and rear quarter panel
  7. Passenger door and front quarter panel

Wash in a circular motion and apply very little pressure. If you come across sap or road tar, apply concentrated pressure to just that area using a finger or two. Applying to much pressure while washing can scratch your car. Also, keep that wash mitt soapy! The bubbles in the soap lift the dirt and grim away from your paint and avoid scratches. That is why it’s important to wash small areas and then rinse.

Pay particular attention to the following areas:

  • Lip of the wheel well
  • Underside where the body rolls up under the car
  • License plate (nothing worse than a really clean car and a dirty license plate)
  • Front grill, lights, and bumper. The front of your car picks up tons of dirt and bugs, spend lots of time washing this area.

Once done, give the car one final through rinse to remove any left over soap. Spray down seams, cracks and crevices to remove any “hiding” soap.

Dry the car as quickly as possible

To avoid soap or water spots, it’s important to get the car dried quickly. One big mistake people make is thinking the car has to be completely dry. Not true. The primary purpose for drying the car is to remove any large water droplets that will magnify the suns light and cause the paint to burn (often called spotting).

The best way to dry a car is to use one of the fairly new super absorbing drying clothes, like Meguiar’s Water Magnet. They absorb a great deal of water, area easy to wring out, and are very soft and easy on your finish.

As when we washed, dry from the top down to avoid getting areas already dried wet again. Dry the roof, front and rear windows, hood and trunk first, then the sides.

Once done, take a walk around the car and look for places you may have missed. Rewash and dry those areas if necessary.

The final touches

Whew…all done right? Nope, not yet. One final step…Tire Shine. Spray some tire shine on all of your tires. Do your best to avoid spraying it on your hubcaps or tires as it’s greasy. Tire shine makes a huge difference in how clean your car looks. You can spray tire shine on a dirty car and it will suddenly look 100% better.

Another touch that makes a big difference is cleaning the door wells. Open up each door and using your damp wash mitt or a damp towel, wash the dirt off the painted areas hidden when your doors are closed. This is a small detail that will make your whole car look clean.

Now it’s time to wax, but I’ll save that topic for another article. Great job! Now, take it around the block to blow off any residual water and heck, show it off a bit. After all, you worked hard!

This article is part of an ongoing series here on Gather Little by Little called Money Saving Monday. Every Monday is dedicated to a topic that will save you money. Have an idea you would like to share? Contact me and If I choose to write about it, I’ll give you the credit and link to your blog or website if you have one.

12 Responses (including trackbacks) to “How to wash your car and save money”

  1. Nicole Says:

    See, this is what I should have done this weekend. Way to save money and water!

  2. Ryan Says:

    Wheels first? With the same wash mitt you’re using for the rest of the car? Ouch! You’re taking all of the break dust, rocks, and other small debris and rubbing that right into your paint.

    If you’re going to do the wheels first, use a completely separate mitt / bucket.

  3. David Carter Says:

    I lived with a car nut for a year at school. He had his own way of washing his car. He said he washed it like 3 times or something every time he cleaned it. I think this was to put on some sort of wax or something. Anyway I’m pretty sure its a really good way to clean your car. He would never go to a professional because he said they do it wrong and I think he just loved doing it. Maybe I will shoot him an email and ask what the process was.

  4. Ryan Says:

    David – Sounds like Zaino or something similar. He probably wasn’t washing it 3x every time, but more when he waxed (polished is more accurate) it.

  5. Nate Says:

    thanks. we haven’t washed our car in a while either. under the same restriction as you guys. i’ll try the order you suggested when we wash our PAID FOR car in the next week or two.

  6. castocreations Says:

    Hubby and I just washed our cars on Saturday…well, more hubby washing and me watching. *grin* But my car looks SO much better – almost like new. It’s so great. I forgot what my car looked like clean. =D

  7. Mike Says:

    I wish I could actually wash my car at home where I live. Instead, I frequent a $1 coin wash. :)

  8. Wess Stewart Says:

    One way to save a couple bucks while gathering those resources for car washing would be to fill up at Shell (for those not squeamish, or who just like Shell fuel) and go in and ask for the free microfiber cloths that they are offering. Lots of times, the clerk will give you more than one at a time.

    I’ve got a few out in my work truck right now…very handy!

  9. Rachel @ Master Your Card Says:

    I totally agree with you about paying to go to a commercial car wash. I just will not pay the money and despite paying someone to clean my house, cannot justify the expense of a car wash. I guess I prefer cleaning the car to the house and if I do not get the time to clean it, it doesn’t not matter so much as if the house is dirty.

  10. Jeff Says:

    Gibble, have you looked into waterless products? I have used the Dri-Wash for many years (10+) and have been faily happy with it. However there are a lot more products on the market today. Check out this review of the top 4:
    And here is a link to a more eco-friendly product. [www_ecotouch_net]

    My experience is that it takes about the same time to “wash” the car with a waterless product as it does with soap and water. However if you factor in the waxing, etc after the wash then a great deal of time is saved, not to mention the amount of water being saved. :)