Washing A Car By Hand (Step by Step)

Image Credit: PxHere

Image Credit: PxHere

Washing A Car By Hand (Step by Step)


Taking your car to get a car wash costs too much money for something that you can do yourself, and a better job at that.

Aside from getting your car clean, the main concern with washing any car is preventing scratches in the clear coat.

No matter if your car is dusty, dirty, or just looking a little dull, by reading and following this article you can have your car looking better in no time and have the skill of washing your car mastered.

What is the best way to wash a car by hand?

The two bucket method is the best way to wash your car by hand. When using two separate buckets, you are preventing dipping your mitt back into the dirty water that you just washed off of your car. 

The pros of this method involve dirt and grime being eliminated from the vehicle and it being affordable as there isn’t an expensive product in this method! 

The only con is that it can be time-consuming if you’re not used to this process, but once you get over the learning curve, you won’t go back to any other way. 

Learn more about the two bucket method and have it explained in detail.  Other car wash methods can work as well, just ensure that you are putting fresh soapy water on your car and not layering the dirt back on. If you have any doubts about how clean your washing mitt is, use a new one!

Vehicle Paint Layers & Scratches
Car Wash Scratched My Car! What To Do Now?
Clear coat scratches from improper washing and care on the right. Polished area on left.

What can I use to wash my car at home?

By using products that aren’t trustworthy, you can decrease the effectiveness of your car wash and could extend the amount of time it takes to wash your car.

  • Shampoo – A good car shampoo is an important tool to have for any at-home car project, especially when the key focus is washing your car! You want to make sure that the shampoo that you use is good on all vehicle surfaces as you don’t want damages to your newly washed vehicle. Car shampoo by the Chemical Guys does just that. I love this shampoo because it is a snow foam that allows for deep cleaning and cutting through thick dirt and debris.
  • Microfiber Cloth – If you dry your car with a normal towel, the surface of the car is subject to those dreaded swirls and light scratches across the paint. In order to take care of your paint and keep it looking pristine, use a microfiber cloth such as the options by The Rag Company. These cloths not only protect your vehicle but are also very absorbent which will prevent water spots. 
  • Two Buckets and Two Grit Guards – You’ll need two buckets for the two bucket method and two grit guards to place at the bottom of your buckets. The grit guard prevents any dirt left from washing your vehicle from getting back on your mitt that could cause scratches which is exactly what you don’t want to see. The Chemical Guys have a great grit guard that fits in the bottom of just about any 3-5 gallon bucket that you use to wash your car.
  • Wash Mitt – For something that is directly touching the surface of your car, a good wash mitt is essential. The lint-free wash mitts by The Rag Company will get the job done safely and effectively. These mitts are also durable which will keep you from buying new mitts season after season. 
  • Space and Time – You should use an area where you have plenty of space to move around your vehicle and can reach every surface. There is nothing that can make having to wash the car more frustrating than having to jump over and squeeze around obstacles just to get to what you need. Also, make sure you have time! You don’t want to rush while you’re washing a car and just may be one of the worst mistakes that you can make. You risk scratches, water spots, and an overall poor appearance.

Steps to wash a car by hand

This easy to follow step by step guide combines the best process for washing your car with some tips to help you get only the best wash for your vehicle. 

  1. Pick a time and place – You want to wash your car out of direct sunlight such as under a tree and you may need to wait until a day when the air is calm as a breeze or wind can cause your car to dry quicker than needed, leaving soap spots, or putting dirt back onto your car which can result in scratching.
  2. Prepare your tools – Place a grit guard in the bottom of each bucket to collect dirt and fill them about ⅔ full with water. Add shampoo to one of the buckets, following the instructions on the shampoo of your choosing. Fill the bucket the rest of the way to put the soapy water in the bucket. There should be only water in one of the buckets. 
  3. Rinse  –Rinse your car to take care of anything loose off of the surface of your vehicle. This will make your job much easier in the long run.
  4. Begin to Wash – Dip your mitt into the car wash solution and wring out the mitt over the surface of the car. This will give you more product to work with and spread out over the surface of your vehicle. Keep the areas that you wash small in order to prevent soap from drying on the surface of the car. Your washing method should begin at the top and move down the car. The top to the bottom method will theoretically save the dirtier areas for last, such as those covered with brake dust, and prevent the wash mitt from bringing the surface areas that are likely covered in dirt up to the top of the vehicle. Use overlapping passes rather than circles which is a lot gentler on the surface.
  5. Bug Scrubbing (Optional) – Do you have bugs that are starting to look like they are a part of your paint job? It’s way past time to scrub them off. Use a damp rag if you need an extra scrubbing boost or you could also use a bug sponge which typically consists of meshed microfiber material for extra power. Make sure not to dig into the paint and keep the surface well lubricated with water and soap to avoid damaging your paint job. 
  6. Wheel Well Cleaning (Optional) – Your wheel wells are the dirtiest part of your vehicle and if they are really dirty this step may be just what you need. Your wheel wells come into contact with grease, brake dust, and gunk from the road constantly which can decrease the value of your car’s appearance. In order to clean it up, you need to take a wheel brush and a degreaser and really scrub the area where the dirt build-up is. If you need a little extra assistance, let the degreaser sit on the dirt on your wheel wells while you scrub off the bugs.
  7. Rinse – The method of rinsing that I have found easiest is to let the water run over your car. This is better than spraying off the vehicle due to less water beading up on the surface making your drying time significantly quicker. As a result of less water on the surface, you can kiss those water spots goodbye!
  8. Dry – Use a microfiber towel to get most of the water off of the vehicle. Make sure to wring the water out often so as to not spread more water on your car. Once most of the water has been removed, use a second microfiber towel to remove any remaining water droplets or streaked finishes. 
  9. Finishing Touches (Optional) – Is your car lacking its usual luster? Apply a coat of wax or polish! If you have the time, this step can result in your car looking like it just rolled off the lot, all from a little extra effort in your driveway. A good coat of wax will also prevent your car from getting dirty as fast which is a major benefit for people who struggle to find the time to wash the car.

Can you just use water to wash your car?

The trick here is being aware of what is on your vehicle. Do you have only dust from sitting in the garage too long or are you trying to clean it from normal daily driving? Daily driving collects oils, road debris, and grease, all of which water alone does not wash off. If you just spray down your vehicle with water, you’re not actually removing what needs to be removed for a clean finish which will ultimately be a waste of your time.

Can I just use dish soap to wash cars?

No! Your first instinct should never be to grab the dish soap. Your car stays protected and shiny from a thin layer of wax that stays on the clear coat surface of your vehicle. A good car washing soap cleans the dirt and debris without removing the wax and some soaps even have small levels of wax in the shampoo to help recoat the surface as you wash your car. Although dish soap may not be extremely harmful and eat off your vehicle’s paint, it’s better to use a shampoo that will help your vehicle instead of hurting it over time. 

Do I have to hand dry my car?

You don’t have to hand dry your car as there are touchless methods that you can use such as utilizing a forced-air dry with pressurized air. This can be accomplished using a leaf blower, a detailer’s air dryer, or an air compressor. The most common but worst way to dry your car is sitting the vehicle out in direct sunlight which causes water spots and major streaks completely distracting from your newly dirt-free car. 


By following this method and the tips provided, you’ll be ready to give your car the best wash of its life! So grab your trusty buckets, your favorite car shampoo, and a good attitude, and let’s get to washing. A clean car is calling your name.

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