The car wash — we sing about it. We fantasize of beautiful people soaping up our vehicles in it (always in the name of charity, of course). It’s become as big a facet of our culture as the hamburger or the vote-in reality show. Either by our own hands, by the hands of others, or by the powers of machines, washing our cars is regular wet wonder of a ritual. Yet for as important and socially ingrained as car washes are, all that water and chemical content could actually damage the qualities of our vehicles. They waste gallons of water, often containing environmentally corrosive content — the byproduct of cleaning materials. And believe it or not, washing your car may not be the most effective way at keeping it shiny.
(courtesy of detailer.com)
Few people are alert to the potential hazards that a car wash can pose to their vehicles, let alone the environment. As they accumulate dirt and microscopic debris, a car wash’s bristles can morph into high-speed scratching machines, scoring the paint on the car. Improper drying means — such as sopping up the excess liquid with a beach towel — can be even more abrasive. Any water not dried up by a towel can actually evaporate into the paint, leaving behind harmful mineral deposits. Only one single unfortunate experience with any of these threats could detriment the look and quality of a car.
Instead of a fixation with washing our cars, there should be an emphasis on thoroughly and regularly cleaning them to stave off dirt, debris, and aesthetic damage. Many may ask, “Aren’t cleaning and washing a car the same process?” The answer to that is a surprisingly decisive “no.” While washing a car will take off the exterior contaminators, cleaning (much more exhaustive) is what removes the tough, set-in stains, unsightly speckles, and also what are known as “bonded contaminants,” such as muck from the road blown onto your car by the tires of cars ahead it during a drive. Washing your car until your hands wrinkle will still not remove these peskier properties that bond deeply with your car’s surface.
“Waterless car washes” have gained headway as gentle yet effective means of car cleaning aimed at bonded contaminants, without actually wetting the car. The process uses a cocktail of dirt-stripping compounds, including wetting agents, lubricants, and surface protecting properties, lifting up the debris via emulsification. Waterless car washes obviously save enormous sums of water, but they also slash car cleaning time by an impressive margin: whereas a good car wash can take up to an hour, this cleaning technique can be as short as twenty minutes. Availability seems the only downside; few professional waterless car washes have been established in the country. Freedom Car Wash, however, lets customers buy the necessary products themselves, for as little as $33.
A more bizarre yet intriguing car cleaning method is “claying,” a technique that removes invisible yet potentially harmful compounds on the car’s surface with poly clay. The clay gently lifts up the dirt from the car’s surface, the particles becoming entrapped in the clay itself. Bonded contaminants, those previously mentioned nasty stubborn stains, easily fall prey to clay. Claying is most frequently associated with a car’s metal-borne sides, but it can also clean windows as well (see above photo). Cleaning purists who insist upon a perfectly spotless vehicle gravitate to claying as a means of arriving at a near-perfect finish. Ideally, a car will undergo claying immediately before another thorough polishing, a few times yearly. Diehards conduct the claying process themselves; Car Cleaning Guru provides more info on the exact steps involved.
Here are some other ideas on how to maintain your car’s cleanliness with, at most, just a bit of water:
Employ a spray detailer for the car’s flat surfaces. Areas like the hood and the drunk can be gussied up with just a pair of tools: a microfiber towel and a spray detailer, according to Edmunds. The spray detailer coats each particle of debris with water, so the towel can more easily sop it up. Be sure to flip the towel as you use it, being sure not to overload one side of it with dirt.
Concentrate on the windshield. If eyes are the windows to the soul, the windshield holds a similar position when others consider your car’s state of attractiveness. All you need is some glass cleaner and some paper towels to achieve a finish that gleams. Like to squeegee? Do so during the morning, when the dew that’s collected will help stave off streak marks.
Get low and rolling. Second only to the windshield in terms of indicators of “clean” are a car’s wheels. Be sure to fully clean the spokes and grooves of the tire with a towel that you regularly rinse. Once done, spray each wheel with shine product for that professional shimmer.
Wax and polish more often. Too many car owners lather and rinse their vehicles over and over at the expense of forgetting these two vital steps. Including them as the final measure of a cleaning routine could significantly stave off cleaning and maintenance time in the long term. Waxing the car helps in ensuring that its exterior shine fades as little as possible as the vehicle ages. Polishing helps to keep up the integrity of the original paint finish and also helps preempt scratches and chippings of paint.
What to use, what to avoid? Chamois are by far the best possible tool for drying off a car. So effective yet delicate are they, in fact, that chamois can actually be used as a way to “dry-clean” a car, bringing a greater warm shine to a car’s surface with every circular stroke. Although it is an ingredient common in a bounty of car cleaning products, ammonia is actually a nemesis to a nicely finished car surface. This holds true particularly for window cleaners, as ammonia can corrode tint in glass.