It’s common for people to use a sponge to wash their car. Sponges are soft and gentle and shouldn’t cause a problem, right? Well, actually they could be causing significant light scratches and swirls in your clear coat. The reason for this is that a sponge isn’t the greatest at picking up dirt and keeping it away from your finish as you wash your car or truck.
Some dirt will collect in the pores and crevices of the sponge but much of that dirt won’t stay trapped and will flow back out as you wash your finish and get rubbed between the sponge and the clear coat causing fine micro abrasions.
If you’ve ever seen a dark colored car in bright sunlight you’ve almost certainly seen the spiderweb-like scratches all over the surface of the paint. Also, cheap sponges are typically made from harsh synthetics that themselves can cause scratching. If you want to avoid this problem, a sponge isn’t your best option.
The best choice for is to use a microfiber wash mitt. Microfiber traps dirt and debris in the tiny fibers and keeps them away from your finish while washing. Microfiber also holds much more soap and water which will aid in lubrication while washing and also help prevent remaining road grime and dirt from doing as much damage. Microfiber mitts are especially good even when compared to microfiber towels due to the threaded design which increases the effectiveness even further. Some of the best microfiber products can be had from The Rag Company and as luck would have it, they sell a wash mitt made from premium Korean microfiber. It’s called the Cyclone Wash Mitt. They also sell a knobby chenille microfiber wash mitt which is also very good for a few dollars less, but the Cyclone is the ultimate way to go and isn’t a wallet buster. A sponge will be cheaper than a microfiber wash mitt but it isn’t as if a microfiber wash mitt is a lot of money. If you want to keep the price more comparable I’d recommend a small microfiber towel over a sponge any day. It’ll work almost as good as a wash mitt for a fraction of the cost.
If you are determined to use a sponge to wash a car instead of a wash mitt your best bet is going to be a natural sea sponge. The reason for this is that these sponges are extremely soft and forgiving which will be less prone to scratching your finish. Also, their natural irregular shape avoids large flat surfaces which could increase opportunities for grit and grime to scratch your clear coat. They typically are more expensive that a quality microfiber wash mitt while also being less effective. For these reasons I don’t recommend them but to be completely honest, there are worse things to use. Many people swear by them and refuse to use anything else. They are quite happy with the results and I assume that good results can be achieved when also following some of the following tips and techniques.
A better alternative if you must use a sponge is the Big Chubby from Chemical Guys. It’s a sponge wrapped in microfiber so you get the best of both worlds. The sponge inside is a plush memory foam while the outside microfiber has the stitching hidden within to keep the less forgiving stitching from coming into contact with your paintwork. The primary downside of this microfiber sponge design is the lack of chenille on the sponge. The dreadlock style design of most microfiber wash mitts increases the ability of the microfiber material to trap dirt and grime and keep it away from your finish. If you want to go with a sponge this would be the one to get but I still recommend a good microfiber wash mitt instead.
It’s important to know that whether you’re using a sponge or a microfiber wash mitt, you want your water to be excessively soapy. Soap is your last line of protection between whatever it is that you’re using to physically touch the surface of your car or truck and the finish of your vehicle. The soapiness acts as lubrication to help prevent the dirt and grime that doesn’t get caught up in your wash mitt or sponge pores from causing swirls and scratches. As far as what soap we recommend, there are plenty of great options but I personally fancy Chemical Guys Honeydew Snow Foam Auto Wash. You might be tempted to just use some good old fashioned dish washing soap but you may want to reconsider. While dish washing soap won’t harm your car or truck in any way, it is too aggressive for your paint protection whether it’s wax, paint sealant, or something else. If you don’t have anything protecting your finish then Dawn liquid dishwashing soap will do just fine. That said, I highly encourage you to get a good quality paint sealant applied to your finish. Not only will it protect your clear coat from oxidation but it will also make washing much easier and removing bugs, tar, and road grime easier as well.
An additional device that can help keep grit off of your wash mitt is a grit guard. A grit guard is a simple plastic grate that sits in the bottom of your wash bucket. It provides a barrier that keeps your wash mitt from hitting the bottom of the bucket and picking up any dirt or debris that may have fallen off your mitt and collected in the bottom of the wash bucket from earlier dips of the mitt in the bucket. Also, the guard can be helpful for rubbing your mitt against to help dislodge dirt and grime so that it will fall off your mitt and to the bottom of the bucket. If you are using a sponge and prefer it you can still use it with a grit guard to help keep it clean between dips in your bucket by scrubbing it against the grit guard.
Grit guards are best when used with the two bucket method. The two bucket method involves two buckets (obviously) with one filled with just water and the other filled with soapy water. Grit guards ideally should be in the bottom of both buckets but if you only have one you should put it in the bottom of the bucket with water only. The water only bucket is used as a rinse bucket. It is used when you remove your wash mitt or sponge from your car or truck after washing a bit to rinse off the dirt and road grime that has stuck to your sponge or mitt. Scrub your sponge or mitt on the grit guard and shake it in the rinse water thoroughly. Once you’re satisfied that it has been well cleaned, place it in the bucket of soapy water to lather it back up for another pass on your car or truck. Continue until your vehicle is clean. The grit guard in the soapy bucket is extra protection to help keep any residual grit and dirt that inadvertently gets into your soapy water from getting back onto your wash mitt or sponge.
One last tip to keep in mind is to properly care for your microfiber products. I use the same soap that I use to wash my car and I wash them by hand. I also let them air dry. This is the safest approach. Never put microfiber in a dryer on high heat and never use fabric softener or dryer sheets. This will ruin the ability of the microfiber to trap dirt and absorb liquids. If you must use a dryer use the lowest temperature setting, preferably air dry with no heat. If you’re going to wash your microfiber in your washing machine be sure to only wash other microfiber products and only use mild detergent. Chemical Guys sells a concentrated microfiber wash for high efficiency front loading washers but it also works just fine in top loading washers too.
My best suggestion instead of a sponge to wash a car is to go with the Cyclone Wash Mitt by the Rag Company This microfiber wash mitt uses the finest quality Korean microfibers which will be the most effective and trapping dirt and grime and absorbing soapy water to protect your clear coat from fine swirls and scratches. There are other decent options available such as the “Sea Wool” sponge or the Big Chubby wash sponge but you’ll be better served with the Rag Company wash mitt, or any other microfiber chenille-style wash mitt on the market. The cost of a good wash mitt is similar to a quality sponge and likely not going to be a deal breaker for anyone. Don’t forget to use a proper wash process and care for your microfiber products to ensure they work as you expect.