Best way how to dry a car after washing without scratching the clear coat

Drying your car or truck seems like it should be a fairly simple task but there are many different methods people claim are the best for not scratching or causing swirls in your paint.

The reason drying your car is important is because water beads left on your car will leave water spots if not removed before they have a chance to dry. These water spots can often be very difficult to remove so preventing them is a very good idea.

Probably the most important reason to choose a good method of drying your car or truck is to prevent causing scratches or swirls in your clear coat.

We’ll cover all of the popular ways to dry your vehicle safely and break down the pros and cons of each method so you can decide for yourself what the best way to tackle this job is for you and your circumstances.

The most popular methods for drying your car or truck are microfiber drying towels, chamois, air driers, the sheeting method, and drying blades. All of these methods have their pros and cons.

how to dry a car

For the TLDR on this lengthy article we’ll just say that a quality microfiber drying towel is going to be the fastest, cheapest, safest, and most convenient way how to dry a car for most people.

Keep reading though because just one option can be limiting. Combining options can speed up the process and make it more convenient without sacrificing safety or much cost.

Water spots on car after washing

Water spots can form on the finish of your car or truck after washing it when water beads evaporate and leave minerals or other contaminants in the water behind. As a water bead evaporates the minerals and contaminants will usually migrate to the edge of the bead and leave a small ring.

Usually this ring is whitish which makes these spots more problematic on darker cars. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem for light colored cars, even white cars. In bright sunlight, even a white car can look pretty rough when covered in water spots.

Not only are these spots unpleasant to look at but they are also very difficult to remove. The minerals and contaminants will bond very tightly to the clear coat.

Water spots can escalate to a more serious level in some cases. Intense heat can cause the minerals and contaminants to actually etch into the clear coat which make them extremely difficult to remove.

how to remove water spots on a car

It’s not just the painted surfaces of your vehicle that can have these water spots. The glass surfaces also have the same problem. They are just as difficult to remove from windows as they are from your clear coat.

Hard water is what causes these water spots primarily. Hard water is simply water with a high mineral content. Softening your water can significantly improve the problem. You can get a water softener for car washing that will remove minerals from hard water but this isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get spots on your finish if you don’t dry your car or truck. Some areas may have unusually hard water that could be difficult for a water softener to completely resolve.

Best water spot remover for cars

Water spots are very difficult to remove usually. To get water spots off your finish or windows you’ll need to use vinegar or some other strong cleaner to get the little white rings to break loose.

Chemical Guys and Meguiar’s both make a great water spot remover that’s more effective than just using vinegar. If you have some difficult water spots to remove you’ll probably want to pick up one of these products and a few good microfiber rags.

You may find you need to use a clay bar to get some of them to come off. If you’re not familiar with clay bars and how they’re used for detailing a car, the short description is that the clay bar glides across the surface of your finish and any contaminants stuck to the clear coat will get ripped away by the stiff clay.

Clay bars require the surface to be sprayed with a lubricant so they’ll glide well across the painted surface. There are clay bar lubricants available for this purpose. These lubricants are essentially just a spray liquid. It’s possible to just use water but I’ve found this to be less ideal than using a good clay bar lube. When using water only the clay bar tends to start and stop gliding often, sticking to the surface on occasion.

How to remove etching from car paint

If you’re unlucky enough to have your clear coat etched from water spots, there is no spray and wipe solution. Unfortunately these etches will need to be polished out.

If you’re dealing with minor etching in a few isolated spots you can use a quality scratch and swirl remover and a few hand polishing pads.

If the damage is more severe or you have a larger area to restore you’re probably better off picking up a quality dual action polisher kit with a few different grades of polishing compound.

Polishing essentially wears down the clear coat on your finish to a point that the etchings have been removed and the finish is consistently smooth.

How to prevent water spots and etching on car paint

Washing your car is a common source of water spots and properly drying it before they deposit on the surface of your car is one plan of action.

Another great way to avoid unsightly and damaging water spots is to always keep your finish well protected with a good quality paint sealant. We are huge fans of Wolfgang’s Deep Gloss Paint Sealant. It’s extremely long lasting and does a good job of creating that wet look that we all crave.

Rain can have harsh and acidic contaminants in it. These contaminants can cause water spots or etching the same as hard water. It’s not always practical, but drying your car off after a rain will help protect it from potential damage. Keeping a microfiber towel or other drying tool in your car or truck is a good idea.

Another source of water spots is getting unexpectedly hit by sprinklers. Sprinklers can produce some severe water spots since it’s not unusual for sprinklers to be run off well water in some areas which can be quite hard water. Watch where you park.

How to choose the best method to dry your car or truck

Each of these factors will affect our bottomline decision. Ideally we want perfect safety, super low cost, ultimate convenience, and amazing speed. That’s not realistic obviously but we will rank the pros and cons of each of the best methods available for you to choose the best option for you. You may even want to combine methods to increase convenience, speed, or safety.

We’ll rank each of these factors on a 5 point scale with 1 being unacceptable and 5 being excellent.

Safety

The reason we’re drying our cars and trucks after washing them is to prevent water spots. Arguably the most important factor to consider when choosing a method of drying is protecting the clear coat from damage. Drying a vehicle is one of the most likely times that scratches and swirls on the finish can occur.

Cost

Individual budgets vary from person to person. If you have a large budget you won’t be too bothered by the cost of any of these options. Ultimately though this is the biggest factor most people consider.

Convenience

Convenience will factor high for most people. Grab-and-go solutions that require little before or after prep are obviously better than solutions that require careful attention before and/or after drying the vehicle.

Speed

Methods that are tedious are usually not desirable. Ideally we want to be able to quickly dry our cars and trucks and move on to more rewarding tasks. As with most things though, speed means a trade off in quality in one or more areas.

Microfiber towel to dry a car

Microfiber has become the standard material for all sorts of things when it comes to detailing. It’s particularly ideal for drying cars after washing. Microfiber is extremely absorbent. Much more so than a chamois.

The high nap of microfiber is another great benefit. It provides a very good level of protection. The nap will be far less likely to create a lot of downward pressure in any grit or road grime that may have been missed. Also, the nap will most likely trap small particles deep within it so that it will not even touch the surface of the clear coat.

Waffle weave microfiber drying towels are most ideal for drying your finish. The waffle weave design aids in the ability of the towel to pick up and retain even more water than microfiber alone.

Microfiber towels will need to be washed after each use with a gentle detergent at a low temperature. You also shouldn’t wash them with other items. They can be dried in a dryer but be sure to keep the temperature on low to protect the microfibers.

Safety

4/5

Cost

4/5

Convenience

4/5

Speed

4/5

Best microfiber drying towel

If you want to use a microfiber drying towel I recommend the Rag Company’s Platinum Pluffle Waffle Weave Microfiber Drying Towel. This is the towel I personally use and it is very large and absorbent.

Chamois (pronounced “shammy”) to dry a car

Chamois are praised by many as being an extremely absorbent material that is very safe for drying your car or truck. While they are somewhat popular they are not nearly as absorbent as microfiber and I have to say that it’s a myth that they’re safe for your clear coat. If your vehicle is perfectly clean then you’re probably fine but that’s the problem. We all make mistakes from time to time and will miss a spot here or there.

Additionally chamois require a lot of care both before and after drying your car or truck to ensure they stay in good condition. Any new chamois needs to be thoroughly hand washed to remove any residual oil. After each use a chamois will need to be thoroughly hand washed and hung up to dry. A chamois can not be machine washed or dried.

A good microfiber towel will be a little faster than a chamois due to it’s higher absorbency. Chamois tend to just push water off a car more than absorb it which in and of itself isn’t a problem. But I have personally found that I need to frequently wring it out very thoroughly before it will pick up enough water to not leave any behind.

Chamois basically have no or next to no nap and therefore little protection to prevent from dragging grit and road grime that may have been missed across the surface of your clear coat. If you’re drying your car or truck with a chamois you must wet it thoroughly before using it or you run the risk of scratching the surface.

Safety

2/5

Cost

4/5

Convenience

2/5

Speed

3/5

Best chamois

While I haven’t used a chamois for drying a my personal vehicle in quite some time, I would recommend the Chemical Guys Water Sprite Drying Chamois. Most of their products a quite good. Some better than others but I don’t think anything you’d purchase from them would be a disappointment.

Touches Car Air Dryer

Air dryers are purpose designed gadgets that blow high velocity air that you can use to push excess water off of your vehicle’s finish. Air dryers have the highest safety rating since you’re not actually touching the physical surface of your car or truck. A good air dryer will have a soft rubberized tip to protect your finish from those accidental bumps which will inevitably happen.

Another plus that an air dryer has over any other method is its ability to blow water out of nooks and crannies. This is important unless you plan to let your vehicle sit for an extended period of time so that moisture can evaporate before you drive it. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, the moment you drive away after drying your car or truck, water trickles out of many little places leaving drip lines everywhere.

One last benefit that an air dryer can provide is heated air. Higher quality air dryers include heating coils that heat the air coming out of the blower tip. The heated air will help evaporate water, especially in hard to reach areas.

While air dryers are the safest method, they aren’t cheap. Also they aren’t fast. If you value safety and maybe the idea of having a gadget to play with, they’re a good choice.

Safety

5/5

Cost

1/5

Convenience

4/5

Speed

1/5

Best air dryer

The top-of-the-line air dryer to get is the Air Force Master Blaster Sidekick. This tank of a blower dryer is powerful, has a safe tip, and heats the air to help evaporate water in hard to reach places.

Leaf Blower to a dry car

While it is essentially the same thing as an air dryer there are a few differences to keep in mind. Gas leaf blowers are less than ideal because of the exhaust fumes that invariably get blown onto the surface of your clear coat and can add to the possibility of etching the clear coat. It’s not a deal breaker in my opinion since it is likely very minimal but it is worth considering. Obviously electric leaf blowers won’t have this concern.

The other concern for leaf blowers is that since they are oversized it’s not uncommon for things on the ground around your car or truck to get blow up and at the finish. Small rocks, dirt, and other things can fly up and cause minor unwanted damage if you’re not careful.

Last, good air blowers have a soft rubberized tip that protects from accidental impacts. Leaf blowers won’t have this feature. You can tell yourself you’ll be careful and it won’t happen but I guarantee at some point it will. This is especially true if your working area is very tight which is often the case since we all try to stay out of direct sunlight when detailing or cars and trucks.

Probably the biggest pro to a leaf blower is if you already have one the cost is essentially zero. If you don’t already have one I wouldn’t suggest going out and buying a leaf blower just for drying your car or truck.

Safety

4/5

Cost

5/5

Convenience

4/5

Speed

3/5

Best Leaf Blower

If a leaf blower is your preferred method I’d recommend keeping your costs down. The SunJoe SBJ597E-SJB is super cheap but has a good reputation.

Water Blades for drying cars (aka Squeegees)

The concept is simple, a soft silicone blade sweeps water away. Great for large flat surfaces but a little more challenging on curves and creases. They’re cheap and convenient, requiring no maintenance. Plus, they can dispatch large amounts of water quickly.

If it weren’t for the issue with safety, a water blade might be the most ideal solution for how to dry a car. Unfortunately there is no buffer against dragging the water blade across grit and road grime that may have been missed. It will scratch the clear coat significantly. For this reason I would steer clear of water blades. You will eventually miss a spot while washing and create some nice scratches.

Safety

2/5

Cost

4/5

Convenience

5/5

Speed

4/5

Best Water Blade

Specifically designed for car drying, the Chemical Guys Quick Drying Wiper Blade Squeegee is an excellent pick. The super flexible silicone blade is going to be ideal for handling bends and curves.

Sheeting Method to a dry car

The sheeting method isn’t a complete drying solution but it is a technique you can use to speed up drying your car or truck. The concept is that you take water from your hose with no attachments and start at a high spot and allow the flow of water to sheet across the paint and pull water beads along with it. You’ll still have areas that you need to go back over with another drying method but this method can be great for speeding up your overall process.

Aside from not being a complete solution, the only other concern I have with the sheeting method is being careful with the hose so as not to bang the metal end against your finish. A good idea is to get an attachment that has a rubber end to protect from accidental bumps.

If you have a pressure washer for washing your car or truck you’ll have to break out your hose to properly get the water to sheet off your vehicle.

The sheeting method isn’t going to work unless you have a good hydrophobic protective coating on your car or truck. You’ll need to have a quality wax, sealant, or ceramic coating previously applied or the water will just continue to stick to the surface of your finish.

Safety

4/5

Cost

5/5

Convenience

5/5

Speed

4/5

Best Hydrophobic Protective Coating for the Sheeting Method

My go-to paint protection is Wolfgang’s Deep Gloss Paint Sealant. It is very long lasting and looks amazing. It’s easy to apply and maintain as well. You won’t be disappointed. Its hydrophobic properties are excellent and creates a very effective sheeting action.

Helpful Links

Conclusion

Drying my car is not my favorite part of detailing. I know it needs to be done and done well but I want to knock it out as quickly as I possibly can. Having the proper tools to handle a job helps me get it knocked out so I can move on quickly.

In the end, my personal go-to tool for drying my personal car is a waffle weave microfiber drying towel. It’s cheap, fast, safe, and reasonably convenient. I use the sheeting method to speed things up, and I occasionally use a good air blower to get difficult to reach crevices.

People will have different preferred methods than mine based on their levels of importance of my 4 grading criteria. Cost is likely going to be the biggest determining factor and convenience being a close second. For this reason I can see the SunJoe SBJ597E-SJB leaf blower being a big winner for many. It’s amazingly cheap and excels at convenience.

I’d suggest staying clear of chamois and water blades personally but there may be circumstances I’m not aware of that these are great options.

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