Most drivers do not protect the paint on their cars enough and polish too much. A car care professional explains how to do it properly and gives valuable tips.

Why does my car become so dirty?

If you’ve ever seen dust spread in sunlight, you’ll understand the first part. The air around us is filled with tiny particles all the time. The dirt particles not only float around but also settle on your vehicle. The initially light film of dirt, however, is usually only visible when rain falls on the paint surface. Because of the raindrops, the particles concentrate in one place, and what remains is an irregular residue that must be removed easily and safely.

Why raindrops may not be clean?

Shouldn’t you think rain washes away the dirt on my car? Rainwater is not as clean and purifying for paint as you might think. There may be microscopic particles of dirt in rainwater. Water molecules form around particles and bond together. On their way down, the impurities from the air collect in the raindrops. When raindrops dry, they leave the dirt they collected on the way down on your car.

My car has lost its shine and gets dirty faster

In a perfect world, the new car you pick up from the dealer has a rich high gloss finish and its surface is smooth like a baby’s bottom. This prevents dirt particles from settling on the paintwork in the first place and makes sure that your car gets dirtier more slowly. A car wash creates tiny scratches that begin to damage the surface. Initially, this happens at a level that is hardly visible to the human eye. The paint starts to lose its original high gloss (the unbelievable deep shine, which accentuates the curves of your car and makes the paint look wet from all the reflections). These fine scratches create a texture on the surface so that your paint no longer feels smooth and dirt and contaminants stick to it instead of running down the body. Little by little the defects become more visible, you can see scratches in the sun that look like cobwebs and this causes your car to lose its shine. The paint appears lifeless, almost dull. Take a deep breath and relax, because there are many ways to remove these swirls and scratches and protect your paintwork from them!

First aid for the paint

You should remove bird droppings as soon as possible. The acid in these annoying stains can cause irreparable damage to the clear coat. Usually a soft microfiber cloth and a detailer will do. Tree resin should also be removed as soon as possible as it otherwise binds strongly to the lacquer and is difficult to remove without a clay bar or a solvent-based cleaner.

There are other dirt particles in the air that adhere to or even damage paint surfaces, such as flash rust (often from brake dust or industrial plants) or tar, which in most cases makes the paint surface feel rough. Even car washing cannot remove these impurities. Decontamination is necessary to remove stubborn particles that adhere strongly to the paint. The most common method is the application of clay bar. This is used to freshen up the paint surface again and effortlessly remove even strongly adhering particles from the vehicle.

Where do many car drivers go wrong with paint care?

Many drivers leave dirt on the paintwork too long. All unusual soiling such as bird droppings, tree resins or other deposits must be removed immediately, because every hour counts. This is because they first attack the safeguarding of the paintwork and then the paint and can burn into the paintwork in strong sunlight. Then the only thing that helps is a complex process such as polishing with subsequent sealing.

Is that bad?

When we polish our car, we remove a small layer of the lacquer with fine-grained means. With subsequent polishing, a layer of finish is partly removed and with it the UV protection. Color depth is also reduced and color pigments fade if too much lacquer is removed. It is therefore better to protect the paint with a good sealant and to wash the car regularly. Most car drivers do not protect the paint enough and polish too much. This only reduces the thickness of the paint coat unnecessarily.

How do you wash your car?

The classic way is to wash it by hand with two buckets of lukewarm water. One bucket contains a mild car wash shampoo, and the other bucket contains clear water. There I rinse out my car wash tools, wring them out to reabsorb fresh shampoo water. Otherwise the dirt will stay in the foam, sponge or microfiber cloth, that can scratch the paint.

Then I wash my car from top to bottom. Section by section, so first the roof, then the hood, then the trunk and then the sides. I generally use a microfiber car wash mitt, towel or glove for washing as they are less likely to leave swirl marks and fine scratches. I avoid using flat-faced sponge or wash brush, especially on the lower sides as they are usually heavily soiled by brake dust, tire abrasion and coarser stuff. The flat surface on the sponge and the hard parts of the brush can leave fine scratches while rubbing. After washing, I clean my washing tools in the hand basin with a special detergent under running water to remove dirt particles.

Some tips:

  • Before you begin, you should first remove all jewelry from your hands, otherwise you risk a scratch when washing your car.
  • Instead of a sponge which is not very absorbent, it is best to use a microfiber glove / mitt that encloses dirt particles.
  • A car shampoo is also a good idea. This is mixed carefully in a bucket according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The rule here is: less is sometimes more. Too high a dosage of the cleaning agent can attack the protective layer of the paint.
  • The car should also not be left in the blazing sun, but washed in the shade. If the paintwork has heated up, water and cleaner dry quickly and cause unsightly stains that need to be polished away later at great expense.

What mistakes do many car drivers make when washing?

First, they forget to clean the sponges and washing gloves regularly. A thorough wash is important, because dirt residues in the washing tools produce the most marks and scratches in the paintwork. Polishing the paint, which removes some layer of the top coat can then only remove these scratches. A special cleaning plasticine or automotive clay bar absorbs particles on the surface so that these do not later scratch the paint. These are crucial for further steps such as polishing or waxing.

Drivers rarely pay attention to the exposure time of the chemicals. If the pre-wash remains on the paint for too long, burns can occur. Rubber seals are also attacked by cleaning chemicals that are applied for too long, and they can also corrode anodized parts. This often happens in summer, when long queues form in front of the car wash. Drivers should therefore make sure they enter the car wash quickly after pre-washing.

What about self-service car wash?

Drivers should also pay attention to the exposure time of the pre-wash and the correct dosage of car shampoo. A high dosage can attack rubber and plastics. It is important to rinse thoroughly after washing to prevent dirt and shampoo residues from forming streaks.

On very hot days, we should cool the car before washing, so that the cleaning agent does not burn into the hot paint. This can be done by parking in the shade or by cooling the car with clear water in the wash area. Because every cleaning process has four parameters: chemistry, temperature, reaction time and tools. If the temperature of the sheet metal is too high during cleaning, washing chemicals can damage the paint.

Are there special rules for owners of convertibles?

Before convertible owners drive their car into a car wash, they should find out whether there is a special convertible washing program. This is important, because otherwise the rollers and washing nozzles act too strongly on the fabric roof and damage it. Not all fabric roofs can tolerate the cleaning chemicals used for car paints. When washing by hand, we should clean the soft top with a special and gentle cleaning agent without applying too much pressure. Otherwise, the fabric structure may suffer.

How often should owners wash their vehicle?

I can’t give a blanket answer to this question, as it depends on the annual mileage of the car and the soiling of the car surface. Above high speed, small stone chips increasingly destroy the paint surface. For a city car that covers about 8000 miles a year, I recommend a weekly car wash and an immediate wash after unusual soiling. That sounds like a lot, but it protects the paintwork by preventing frequent polishing. With a good paint sealant, a coating that is applied about twice a year, owners preserve the paint. A good sign is the formation of water droplets, if these no longer form on the paint surface, it is time for a new layer of sealant. Only if fine scratches become visible, I advise a mild polish.

Do you have tips for interior care?

If you want your car interiors clean, vacuum your car regularly and wipe the dashboard and plastic surfaces with a damp cloth. It’s best to use distilled water, because that won’t leave any stains. Once or twice a year a special plastic cleaner provides UV protection and cleanliness. Actually, that’s about it.