For some people, the very idea of taking their car to a car wash doesn’t make sense. Why pay people to do something you can do just as well yourself? It’s only soap, water and a bit of elbow grease, after all.
But is it? And do you get your car as clean at home as you would taking it to a professional service? There’s certainly no reason why you can’t. But if you want to get your car really clean – as in sparkling, pristine, shiny clean – there’s a bit more to it than a couple of old rags and a bucket of water.
This is what separates professional car valeting from giving your vehicle a once over on the driveway on a Sunday morning. If you don’t mind washing your car, or even enjoy it, by all means do it. But at least familiarise yourself with a few professional tricks of the trade if you want to do the job properly.
Ever seen the staff at your local car valeting service cover a car from wheel to roof in a fine foam? That’s called snow foam. You might assume it’s some fancy spray-on shampoo that valeting pros use to save time because it’s so quick to apply. But actually, snow foam is a type of pre-wash used before a shampoo.
Snow foam acts to break down dirt and loosen heavy contaminants that have attached themselves to your car. Roads are pretty dirty places and it doesn’t take long for all sorts of dust and debris to become smeared and ingrained all over your body work. When it dries it can become pretty hard to remove.
Snow foam does a good job of loosening the most stubborn dirt without having to rub it off, which risks scratching your paintwork. You will need a snow foam lance, a special spray tool, to apply it. Then simply wash it off for a no-contact start to your home valet.
The two bucket method
The two bucket method is close to being considered sacred in car valeting circles. If you’re not using at least two buckets to wash your car, you’re doing it wrong.
The basic principle is this. One bucket should contain your shampoo and water, the other just plain water. Washing should proceed as a cycle – dip your wash mitt or microfibre cloth in your shampoo, wash down your car, rinse out your mitt in the clean water. Then repeat.
Rinsing your wash cloth in a separate bucket prevents dirt from your car getting into your shampoo bucket. Which would mean just end up rubbing it back all over your car again. Professionals will tell you that you also need a grit guard in your rinse bucket. This will trap the heaviest bits of dirt when they sink to the bottom, meaning they can’t get back onto your wash cloth. This is important because grit on your cloth will scratch your car.
The right wash tools
We’ve dropped a couple of hints already about the type of accessories you should be using to wash down your car. Microfibre wash mitts or cloths are designed to be ultra soft so they offer minimal chance of marring the paintwork of your car. This is easily done. Even a standard cloth or sponge has a high chance of damaging the delicate topmost surfaces of the paintwork on your car.
Don’t neglect harder to reach places like the wheel arches. Because there’s no paint here, you can use tougher brushes. This will both give you the reach to get into all the nooks and crannies, and help to remove the really stubborn filth that builds up here from the road surface.
Finally, no car valeting pro worth their wash mitt ever leaves a vehicle out to dry in the sun. Why? Because any remaining shampoo or cleaner residue left on the surface will crystallise out as the water evaporates. Not only does this not look pretty, but some chemicals will damage your paintwork.
Once you have finished shampooing, you should rinse everything thoroughly with clean water, and then dry by hand. Again, ultrasoft microfibre towels are the way to go to avoid scratching. You can also use products known as drying aids – hydrophobic substances that repel water and make it easier to remove. These are often sold as rinse aids or quick application waxes, leaving a pleasing shine as you wipe them away.