Best Way To Wash A Car Without Scratching The Paint

Image Credit: Envato Elements

Image Credit: Envato Elements

Best Way To Wash A Car Without Scratching The Paint


I’ve found that owning silver or white cars is best for not being able to see swirl marks or scratches easily in paint. That said, a black car has a certain allure. 

Black looks especially stunning when it’s clean and atrocious when dirty and scratched up. 

I’ve had various color cars over the years, including black, but swirls and scratches can be an issue on all of them if care isn’t taken. 

We can minimize the chance of swirls and scratches if we wash our cars properly though. 

There are 2 primary methods for washing a car to ensure minimal opportunity for scratching your paint. These are the

Touchless Car Wash Method

and the

2 Bucket Car Wash Method


Best Way To Wash A Car Without Scratching The Paint

The best way to wash a car to prevent accidental scratching is to use the touchless method.

As the name implies, this is a method for washing your vehicle without physically touching it. This virtually eliminates opportunities to scratch the finish.

The touchless method requires a pressure washer, foam cannon, quality car shampoo, and an air dryer.

The Touchless method is the best way to avoid scratches but requires spending money on a pressure washer and an air dryer which may not be realistic for those of us on a tighter budget. If you can afford the tools you literally won’t need to touch your car. 

The power of the water pressure and the soap will do all the work. You won’t even need to touch it to dry it if you use an air dryer. The biggest downside to this method is that it may not be effective enough on a particularly dirty car. Sometimes nothing beats a little elbow grease.

The more wallet-friendly method is the 2 Bucket method. As the name implies, you use 2 buckets. One is for soapy water and the other is for rinsing your wash mitt. 

The idea is to keep grit and road grime that gets picked up by the mitt off the mitt to minimize the possibility of creating swirls and scratches in the paint. Ideally you’d have a grit guard at the bottom of each bucket to better prevent picking grit that has been removed back up onto the mitt.

One key to either of these methods having outstanding results is to use a proper ph neutral auto shampoo. This will eliminate the possibility of water spots forming on the paint surface. Continue reading to learn more about the details of each method.

Touchless Car Wash Method

The basics of the touchless car wash method include:


Step One: Rinse off car or truck with pressure washer to get the larger and easy to remove grime off. Thoroughly rinse everywhere.

Step Two: Foam the car thoroughly with a foam cannon and ph neutral car shampoo. You are simply coating the car and not actually washing it. The soap should sit on the car for a few minutes to work its magic on the road grime and dirt adhering to the paint and other parts of the car.

Step Three: Rinse the shampoo off of the car or truck. Be prepared to begin drying quickly after rinsing the car off to prevent water spots. Try to avoid direct sunlight if possible.

Step Four: Dry the car with a leaf blower or purpose-built car air dryer. Be sure to get nooks and crannies where water can hide thoroughly to prevent water leaking out later.

2 Bucket Car Wash Method

The basics of the 2 bucket car wash method include:


Step One: Rinse off car or truck with hose to get the larger and easy to remove grime off. Thoroughly rinse everywhere.

Step Two: Thoroughly soap up a wash mitt and begin washing the car. Avoid circular motions. Frequently rinse your mitt in the rinse bucket and soap back up in the shampoo bucket.

Step Three: Thoroughly rinse off the car or truck.

Step Four: Use a quality microfiber towel to dry the car off, being sure to avoid drying in circular motions to prevent swirl marks and scratches.

Other than washing, what causes scratches and swirl marks in car paint?

Unfortunately there are almost innumerable ways that you can end up with scratches and swirl marks on your car.

  • Using a clay bar can cause scratches and swirls if you don’t pay attention to the grime building up on the surface of the clay. Be sure and fold your clay regularly and replace it when it gets too dirty.

  • Waxing with cheaper waxes can cause swirls or scratches due to the need to use excessive pressure to apply or remove.

  • Car covers are notorious for scratching. Even the best designed cover can ruin paint if the car hasn’t been properly washed before putting the cover on. Never assume you can take your car cover off for a quick drive and throw it back on without washing your car. You’ll always pick up a little road debris and that debris can easily scratch the paint when putting on or removing your car cover.

  • Dusters and quick detailing are opportunities for introducing scratches and swirls. If you’re going to use a duster or a quick detail regimen be sure it’s proven and safe. The best thing to do is wash your car as opposed to a quick detail.


The most thorough way to wash your car is going to be hands on using the 2 bucket method. Unless you wash your car frequently and the amount of crud built up on your car is light, the touchless method may not be powerful enough to do a proper job. 

I myself prefer the 2 bucket method. It’s reasonably safe and allows me to get up close and personal with the paint. 

A hybrid approach would be a good alternative solution if you have a power washer available. Use the power washer to more thoroughly rinse the car and foam the car up and then switch to the 2 bucket method for a good hands on cleaning. 

Switch back to the power washer to rinse the car thoroughly and then grab your microfiber towel or air dryer for drying the car off. No matter how you decide to get the job done you should now have a good grasp of how to prevent swirls and scratches from showing up after washing your car.

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