We’ve previously talked about how automatic car washes can damage your cars paintwork. As such, that is our first bit of advice; don’t use an automatic car wash.

It is extremely easy to minimise and prevent installing scratches and swirls in your cars paintwork. Please note that it is not possible to never have any scratches or marring in the paint, but by following these steps you can help prevent the majority of them from appearing. Swirls are a pretty big problem since they are basically circular scratches. In general, it is much easier to remove a straight scratch than a circular one.

The first step is to make sure that as much loose dirt and debris as possible is removed from the car. There are two options for this, a hose/pressure washer or a pre-wash.

1) Hose/pressure washer for swirl and scratch prevention.

If there is only a light layer of dirt and road grime on your car, then it should be more than enough to rinse the car off with your hose or pressure washer. This will safely let the loose dirt and grime roll off the car without you having to put your wash mitt anywhere near it (more on that below). After this, you’ll then be able to move onto a pre-wash.

If you live an an apartment building, it can be tough to do this. However, the Worx Hydroshot is a great way to clean off your car when you don’t have access to a hose.

WORX Hydroshot Cordless Portable Power Cleaner, 20V Li-ion, 2.0Ah, 320psi, 20V Power Share Platform WG629.9, Tool Only Battery, Charger + Cleaning Kit Included
  • First truly portable power cleaner that lets you easily and quickly clean and maintain all your outdoor spaces and gear
  • Includes 3 cleaning accessories: Soap Bottle, Scrub Brush, and Window Squeegee to extend your portable power cleaning tasks

2) Using a pre-wash to safely remove excessive loose dirt

There will be times that there is a large degree of road dirt and grime on your paintwork that a hose/pressure washer won’t be able to remove on its own. This normally takes place if you’ve went off roading with your car and it is caked in mud and dirt. Similarly, during the winter months it is very tough to wash your car due to the poor weather. As such, layers of dirt will accumulate on it and if you go straight to washing it, it’ll mar and scratch the paint. Therefore, a prewash is required to safely and effectively remove any dirt before you make an contact with it.

There are a variety of prewash products on the market. It is best to opt for a pH neutral formulation. The reason for this is that it won’t cause any damage to any sealants or waxes that are still present on the car. Also, it is best to avoid any prewash products that have strong colours in them. This is due to the fact that some brightly coloured prewashes can stain trims and alloy wheels if they are left on for too long.

Having said that, a prewash really is the safest way to remove excess dirt when your car is caked with grime. It will safely lift off the dirt as it rolls down the body work. A lot of people may consider using car shampoo for this purpose instead. However, if you were to do this, it would cost a lot of money since they are not designed for this task. The prewash formulations are used with a pressure washer and also a foam lance. It is also crucial that it is properly removed with copious amounts of water afterwards. After you’ve rinsed the car off, it’s then time to use a contact cleaning method on it that will minimise the scratches and swirls.

3) The two bucket method is crucial to minimising paint degradation

Many people when they start out (myself included) thought it would be fine to dip your dirty wash mit in the bucket again to pick up more soap. Think about it though. If you do that, you’re taking the dirt that is on the car and putting it right back onto your soap bucket again and then onto the paint. That nice and clean soap/shampoo is going to get dirty extremely quickly.

The way to get around this is to make sure you have two buckets. One is filled with your favourite car shampoo mixed with water, and the other bucket is just plain water. That way, after you have cleaned part of the car with the shampoo, you can then rinse off that wash mit in the second bucket of water. It is also advisable to have a grit guard in the buckets. What these do is trap the grit at the bottom of the bucket so it means that it can mix again with the water in either bucket. Using the two bucket method can seriously reduce the chance of you having new scratches or swirls on your paint.

4) Use a high quality soap which will provide enough lubrication to minimise swirls on your paint

When it comes to buying car soap or shampoo (whatever you like to call it), it’s important that you buy a quality product. There are some products out there in pound/dollar stores that are extremely abrasive and will strip any protection that you currently have on your car.

What you’re really looking for is a product that will provide you with enough lubricity (a degree of lubrication). Unfortunately extremely cheap shampoos will not give this for you. What this means is that the dirt and grime particles are not being encapsulated within the suds. Therefore, they are merely being dragged along the paintwork, resulting in it being damaged. There are various products on the market that can give you enough lubrication to carry out a safe and effective wash. You can’t go wrong with products from Autoglym or Meguair’s when it comes to car shampoo. Bilt Hamber also make a brilliant concentrated car shampoo.

Bilt Hamber Auto Wash Car Shampoo (500ml)
  • Up to 60 washes from one bottle
  • Highly concentrated

5) Don’t use a sponge for washing the car, use a wash mitt to prevent scratches

Sponges are great for washing dishes, but they are a nightmare when used on cars. They are abrasive products and the dirt is carried on the top of them. What this means is that you’re dragging dirt along the paint work. Do you see a pattern forming here? However, when using a wash mit, be it lambs wool, or microfibre, it traps the dirt, but it also allows it to be release when submerged in the rinse bucket for the two bucket method.

Not only that, but these are made of much softer material than a sponge. This therefore allows them to glide over the paint when used with a high quality shampoo to safely remove the dirt.

6) Washing in a circular motion will cause swirl marks!

This makes plenty of sense that if you end up slacking on some of the other steps mentioned on this page and you go get a rock chip or grit stuck on your wash mit, washing in a circular motion will put swirl marks into your car. Even if you do follow the steps in this guide, this isn’t a free pass to wash in a circular motion. There could be some debris in the air that lands on the car and making a circle when washing can really rub this into the clear coat.

7) Drying the car properly will reduce the number of scratches on the car

One thing that you need to make sure you don’t do when drying a car is to use a water blade. This is a device that is similar to a windscreen wiper blade. However, the rubber on these blades can install deep scratches onto your paintwork.  It is much better to use a large microfibre cloth or a waffle weave towel to dry the car properly. All you need to do is gently let it glide over the surface.

An alternative is to use a powerful air blower, such as the Master Blaster. That way, there will be no contact with the paint work.

Metro Blaster Sidekick Professional Series
  • Effectively removes fibers, dust and debris from clothes, surfaces, or components
  • Powerful airflow produced by the SIDEKICK delivers a high volume of air at a relatively low pressure – only 3.5, well below OSHA standards

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Last update on 2024-04-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.