How to Wash a Car by Yourself

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

It takes some elbow grease, and attention to detail, to get a gleaming, spotless car (just ask the people down at the car wash). But it's an easy car maintenance task to DIY, and on a warm summer day, it's even kind of fun. Don't use kitchen soap—it may strip your car's wax. Instead, use soap specially designed for cars.


• Rags

• 2 buckets

• Garden hose

• Large sponge or wash mitt

• Long-bristled brush and short, stiff-bristled brush (optional)


• Car wash soap

• Car wax

• Glass cleaner

1 Park the car in the shade. If you leave a very wet car in the sun, it will get spots similar to those on an improperly washed wineglass. You will need to be parked within reaching distance of a garden hose. And don't forget to close the windows! When your car is situated, mix the car wash soap in a bucket as instructed on the wash bottle. Fill another bucket with plain water.

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

2 Hose down the car. Rinse it clean of major debris. Stay away from highpressure jets of water, which can drive grit across the car's finish, potentially scratching it. Likewise, angle the spray down near the windows, as water pressure can blast through loose window molding and leak into the car.

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

3 Soap the car. Pull the windshield wipers up and then scrub the car with soapy water, using a large sponge or wash mitt. Start at the top and spiral your way down, soaping up one small area at a time. This is like sweeping your house from the corners first—starting at the top ensures that dirt rains down and away from cleaned areas. When the sponge or mitt looks gray, rinse it in the bucket of plain water (don't squeeze it into the soapy water). Once you've scrubbed an area of the car from top to bottom, rinse it with the hose before going on to the next section. Don't let the soap dry on any area, and periodically spray the entire car with the hose to keep it from drying (again, to prevent the spotty wineglass effect).

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

4 Clean the wheels and lower panels. Use an old wash mitt or sponge to scrub the lowest parts of the car last. These are the grimiest parts of the car and there's no need to sully a good sponge with the worst of the dirt. You might consider using a long-bristled brush to clean the hubcap spokes, then a short, stiff-bristled brush to clean the tires' sidewalls.

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

5 Rinse again. Once more, rinse the car from the top down, spraying underneath to loosen road grime. This is especially important in the winter to make sure salt deposits from icy or snowy roads don't eat away at your undercarriage.

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

6 Before the water has time to evaporate, use towels to dry the car thoroughly, again from the top down. Use Windex or another glass cleaning product on the windows to avoid streaking. If you want to apply wax, now is the time. (See Wax On, Wax Off, for details.)

How to Wash a Car by Yourself

No time to wash? Live in a drought zone? Using glass cleaner to wipe down windows and windshields can make a big difference in appearance and water conservation.


Wax should be applied with your right hand in clockwise strokes and removed with your left hand in counterclockwise strokes—that is, if you're Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. For the rest of us, the exact strokes don't matter so much, as long as you use a clean, soft, lint-free cloth. A liquid or soft wax is fine for most washings. If it's been a while, consider a hard or paste wax, which will protect your car longer but will also be more difficult to apply and remove. For the most durable care, go with a polymer preservative. With a soft or liquid wax, apply to the whole car according to the package instructions and then use a lint-free cloth to polish the car clean. With a hard wax, apply to only a small section at a time and then polish clean before the wax sets into an impenetrable veneer.


The difference between hazy and clear headlights can be the difference between seeing and not seeing the deer in the road ahead of you. If your lights are looking dim, it might be time to polish the headlight covers. After you've washed your car, cover the area around your headlights with painter's tape and use a drill-mounted polisher and plastic polish to de-haze the plastic covers. (If they're really dirty, consider removing the covers and cleaning the inside as well.) One common drill-mounted polishing tool is called Mothers PowerBall, which can be found at most auto supply stores.