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How to Maintain the Condition & Appearance of your Vehicle

Prevention is better than cure! The first step in maintaining your vehicle is to avoid:

  • Parking under trees. Tree debris is the main cause of blocked drain points. This can lead to water ingress into the interior. The resulting mold and damp is difficult and expensive to resolve. Bird droppings are more likely under trees and etch deep into the clear coat. Removing these marks can require substantial amounts of clear coat to be removed. Sap is the most difficult contaminant to remove. The claying process used to remove this inflicts light scratches that can only be removed by machine polishing. You only ever get the paint once!


  • Road salt. If this cannot be avoided, remove the salt as soon as possible following the guide below.


  • Touching your paintwork. Some of the most severely damaged paint is found on the door pillars. Each time your fingers press against the paint they trap dirt. This is then pressed into and scraped across the paint inflicting scratches. I see many people rub their paintwork in an attempt to better see an imperfection or remove lose debris. This damages paint through the same mechanism. All contact with the paint is bad contact. My advice is to open and close the doors on the handle and the boot using the number plate or a badge. If something is on your paintwork leave it until you can safely wash the car.

Assess Your Vehicle 

The first thing to do is to walk around and assess what dirt and contamination is on the vehicle. After an evening’s summer drive it most likely splattered insects that will be most important to remove, whereas it may be brake dust following a spirited drive or droppings if birds have chosen your car to be their toilet. Not all of the things listed below will need doing on each wash and a little thought is needed before beginning the process.


Now, break the car down into its component parts:


  • Under chassis

  • Wheel arches

  • Alloys

  • Calipers

  • Drain points

  • Door & boot shuts & the fuel filler cap

  • Paintwork

  • Exhausts

  • Glass

The Under Chassis

This is problematic to get to without the right tool; a Kärcher Chassis Cleaner. This allows a rotating jet of high pressure water to remove loose dirt. The foam attachment allows snow foam, such as Gyeon Foam or Auto Finesse Avalanche to cling to and break down dirt before removal with high pressure water again. Investment in the tool is by no means essential, but does allow removal of salt from the underside in a safe and controlled way.

The Wheel Arches

In my experience, these are the most neglected area of a car. Typically rust will first appear on the wheel arches and knowing how to clean them helps prevent this. To gain better access, jack up each wheel in turn so it is just off of the ground. With the wheel dropped at its lowest point, dirt that is otherwise obscured can be pressure washed away. The rest of the arch can be pressure washed, but the edge closest to the bodywork cannot normally be sprayed sufficiently to remove all of the dirt.

I remove clumps of mud from this area on every single car that comes to me. The trick is to use a Multispray Gun on fan to blast this dirt away. For those with a Kärcher pressure washer, the angled spray lance attachment can also achieve this, but it is a very strong fan of water that can strip rusting or damaged paint. Discretion advised! It is usually necessary to use the spray gun on shower to rinse away the lip that joins the bodywork. Doing this on every wash ensures moisture isn’t constantly present in a layer of mud and helps prevent future rust problems.

The Alloys

Powder coated or diamond cut alloy wheels are very simple to clean and maintain. Firstly, avoid strong wheel cleaners. These will strip the lacquer and cause the paint to blister. My favoured wheel cleaner is Auto Finesse Imperial that can be diluted 1 part to 4 parts water in a trigger spray bottle for safe cleaning. An Atomiza Bottle and Chemical Spray Head make an ideal trigger spray bottle for both.

The process is simple and systematic.

  • Jack the wheel until it is just off the ground (ideally this step immediately follows cleaning the arch to prevent this from being repeated).

  • Ensure the wheel can be spun (this may require releasing the handbrake or putting automatic cars into neutral). Chocking the wheels is advised. I prefer to rotate as I clean so I can see what I am cleaning.

  • Clean the tyre wall with the big Atomiza brush and the face with the smaller brushes. The smaller Wheel Woolies are useful for getting in between the spokes. Rinse off the alloy. Then use the Big EZ Wheel Brush to clean the rim. Rotating here allows any part of the rim obscured by the caliper to be accessed. Rinse again. Either with your fingers (I would suggest wearing Bodyguards Nitrile Gloves), a Spoke Back Woolie or Disposable Microfibre Towel, clean behind the spokes and around the hub. Rinse again.

  • This should see all of the dirt removed. If you wish to remove brake dust spray the face and rim with a product such as Auto Finesse Iron Out. Spray the product on neat using an Atomiza Bottle with Chemical Spray Head and watch the brake dust turn purple as it is dissolved. Leave this for 10 minutes for the reaction to take place. Extend this in cold weather and shorten in warm weather. If the product starts to go white, pressure wash it off and it has dried out and stopped working. Heavy build ups may require several applications.

  • The whole process can be made much faster if the alloys are coated in a ceramic coating. Brake dust and tar struggle to stick to it and dirt can just be removed with the wipe of a finger. It is also perfect to coat calipers and paintwork.

The Calipers

The smaller Atomiza brushes are excellent for cleaning the face of the caliper and the small and large EZ Wheel Brushes are excellent and cleaning the sides. The wheel cleaners are perfect for cleaning calipers as the nature of the contamination is the same.

The Drain Points

Commonly these are found inside the fuel filler cap, at the base of the windscreen and the bottom of the doors (under the rubber seal). Check they are not blocked. If they are, clean out debris and then clean the area with a Detail Factory Ultra-Soft Brush, Atomiza Brushes and Meguiar’s All Purpose Cleaner (diluted 1 part to 4 of water in an Atomiza Bottle with Chemical Spray Head) or Auto Finesse Citrus Power (neat). Keep going until water drains freely. The Hozelock Spray Gun is your best friend here as the flow of water can be adjusted.

The Shuts & Fuel Filler

Sometimes these just require wiping out after the wash, but if grubby clean them with All Purpose Cleaner or Citrus Power and the smaller Atomiza Brushes or Detailing Factory Ultra-Soft Brushes. Make sure water drains either side of the boot and engine bay. Clean your hinges and door sills. Remember to clean both sides of the rubber seal that runs under your doors. These soon become exceptionally grubby!

The Paintwork

Here it is easy to inflict huge damage. However, following some simple steps minimises this risk.

  • First of all avoid washing your car in direct sunlight. This will prevent streaking and staining.

  • Pre-wash is key! First of all pressure wash the paintwork and glass. Focus on where you can’t see under the sills and bumpers. 5 minutes of pressure washing is probably the least amount of time required.

  • Then step back and see what is still dirty. Mist Citrus Power through a Mesto Pressure Sprayer (for bases) on insect splatter, bird droppings and any areas of the paint that look really dirty. Leave this for a few minutes, but don’t let it dry! Pressure wash off this area. It may require a few applications for stubborn dirt and splattered insects, but removing this now as much as possible means this won’t be dragged across the paint later when washed.

  • Snow foam the whole car. This is an essential pre-wash step that softens and loosens dirt similar to putting a dish into soak. I use Gyeon Foam as it doesn’t stain delicate surfaces. Add around 100ml to half a bottle of warm water and apply it though a Foam Cannon, just be sure to choose the right attachment for your brand of pressure washer. The former allows precise control of the foam thickness and the latter is quick and easy to use. Note! The foam should begin to run off straight away. If it doesn’t your foam is too thick and will take a long time to remove. Leave this for a few minutes in warm weather up to 10 minutes in cold weather. Don’t allow it to dry or you risk staining your paint! Pressure wash your paintwork through the foam and this will remove even more dirt.

  • Now it is time to wash the car. Fill 2 Clear Wash Buckets with hot water. Add the remainder of your snow foam solution to one plus a roughly 3 second pour of pH neutral car shampoo such as  AM Bubbles or Auto Finesse Lather. With a few washes you will learn how much to add as the suds produced are heavily dependent on how hard the water is. This makes your wash water.

  • Squeeze a Microfibre Madness Incredimitt half in and half out of the wash water several times to produce suds or direct the Spray Gun on jet into the bucket. The Incredimitt or any microfibre wash mitt is designed to remove dirt and draw it up into the mitt so that isn’t dragged across the paint like a sponge and to a lesser extent a lamb’s wool mitt.

  • Wash the car top down (roof, glass and pillars, bonnet, tops of doors, boot, bottoms of doors, bumpers) working methodically in sections. Flip the mitt once half the panel is washed so a fresh clean side is used.

  • Rinse out the dirt caught in the mitt in the second bucket. This is your rinse water bucket. Split big panels into sections. The more you divide the car the more carefully you are washing it. If you have done your pre-wash right, the rinse water will be barely distinguishable from the wash water. I point the spout of the wash water bucket at the car and point the spout of the rinse water away from it, but whatever works for you.

  • In cold weather it is possible to wash a whole car and then rinse. In warm weather every panel may need rinsing before moving to the next. Use your judgement and rinse before the panel begins to streak or dry.

  • Once the bodywork that can be seen is done, but the mitt to one side. Take a second mitt and clean under the bumpers and sills. Using this second mitt stops the first being ruined by catching dirt built up in these areas. It is very easy to ruin mitt from a small section not fully cleaned in the pre-wash.

  • Rinse the whole car once more top to bottom to ensure all car shampoo is removed.

  • Now it is time to dry. Either:

  • Use an air blower to blow off the water. This is a noisy machine and may piss off your neighbours! This will also allow water to be blown out of the panel gaps. A quieter tool for just panel gaps and alloys is a hand held blower.

  • Use microfibre towels such as PB Luxury Drying Towels. 3 of these will dry a whole car. For the patient out there place the towel over a wet section, pat the towel onto the surface and lift off. This removes the water without any wiping and minimises the likelihood of marring the paint. For the less patient, spray a little water or a drying aid such as Gyeon Prep (not strictly a drying aid, but it works superbly as one) or even just water. Adding moisture to the towel prevents dry fibres being dragged across the wet paint and marring it.

  • Top tip! Wash your microfibre towels in a non-bio detergent or a dedicated microfibre detergent such as PB Micro Restore. Make sure there is no conditioner in the washing machine tray as even a little will coat the fibres and they will no struggle to absorb water.

  • Be sure to dry your door shuts, around the engine bay and in the filler cap. PB Disposable Towels work well for this task and prevent the drying towels from getting grubby if anything has been missed here.

  • Washing and drying is made far quicker if the car is coated in a ceramic coating. This coating is amazingly hydrophobic meaning water just rolls off the car and carries most of the dirt with it. They provide this strong self-cleaning longer than any other coating available, 24+ months.


I would suggest mixing pure Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) equally with pure water such as battery top water to make a glass cleaner. Fold a Microfibre Madness Cloudbuster Towel into 4 and mist one side with the homemade cleaner. Clean one panel at a time and buff off each panel before moving to the next. Less is more with glass cleaner and try to avoid saturating the towel. 2-4 sprays per panel is usually sufficient.

Cleaning is made much easier if the glass is coated with Gtechniq Clearvision Smart Glass. It also greatly enhances visibility in wet weather as water beads up on the glass rather than coating it. At 50mph+ wipers aren’t required as the air just pushes the water droplets over the windscreen.


Keeping on top of these prevents the metal from pitting. Auto Finesse Mercury is a solid abrasive cleaner for neglected exhausts and Gtechniq’s Metal Polish is a superb chemical cleaner for metal in good condition. PB Disposable Towels are great for this applying and removing these products.

A Finishing Touch

Restore the tyre walls to a satin black using Swissvax Pneu and a Flexipads Split Foam Applicator. A little goes a long way and I would suggest wearing nitrile gloves!



Hopefully this is an informative guide on how to safely wash a car and some of the thinking behind it. Putting the kit together adds up, but it pays for itself in a cleaner, better maintained and well presented car to drive and enjoy. If you are interested in putting a wash kit together I have found the suppliers below reliable and reputable.

Polished Bliss  |  Ultimate Finish  |  Auto Finesse  |  AMDetails  |  Gtechniq

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