Home » I Was Shocked To Learn I’ve Been Washing My Car Wrong This Whole Time

I Was Shocked To Learn I’ve Been Washing My Car Wrong This Whole Time

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I am not a pig, but I am also not a neat freak. Only by virtue of working with Jason and David do I seem fastidious, but most people would feel like a Felix next to these two Oscars. This means that I do wash my car and I’ve always thought I’ve done a decent job of it. And then I went to our pal Joel Johnson’s place and we spent five hours doing what he considered a rush job. I was wrong. So very wrong.

Five hours! Cleaning a car! Five hours cleaning a car I thought was relatively clean. Specifically, I rolled in around 10 am to wash my $3,000 BMW E39 at Joel’s place with a long laundry list of other things I needed to do to the car, including fixing a busted rear window regulator. Instead, we stopped at 3:00 PM because I had to get back to the real world and I’d spent 95% of that time cleaning.

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It turns out that the bucket of soap + soft chamois glove treatment is not actually a sufficient way to clean a car, and all that money I’ve given to various 4Hers and field hockey teams was for basically nothing. There is a better way to clean a car that makes all other car-cleaning look like the Lascaux cave drawings next to anything by Georges Seurat. Here’s everything we did or, rather, everything I can remember watching Joel do while I stared slack-jawed.

The further we got into this process the more concerned I was that the car would just look like the car when we were done, since it looked fine when I got there, but it made a bigger difference than I was prepared for.

Step One: Evaluate The Patient

Bmw E39 Clean 1

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The wheels are a little trashed. I knew that when I bought this $3,000 E39 with 234,000 miles on it last year. The original owner had the car cleaned before he delivered it to me, which was quite nice, and the job was done professionally. It felt like a steal and looked pretty good at a distance, even though up close revealed some issues that come with a car driving that far without being cosmetically refreshed:

Bmw Headlights

Most obviously, the hood is seriously pockmarked and the headlights were as faded as the guy who runs the Phish merch table. This is a driver and a hood is replaceable, so this didn’t bother me. Eventually, I need to take a paint pen and fill it in, but this is a driver.

Joel took a quick size-up of the car, which again seemed relatively ok to me, and sighed and went inside to get his power washer. At first, I thought Joel was upset as he took a deep drag of his e-cig, but then it was clear that he was excited. This was going to be fun for him.

Step Two: Rinse Off The Bug Guts And Foam Her Up

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Joel is a great friend and a little bit of an OCD person. Even better, he has a driveway and all the tools one needs to do car things, which I currently lack. This means that he was happy to get out the power washer, the foam attachment, and everything needed to clean off the first layer of dirt.

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Honestly, at this point, I thought we were mostly done. This is where I normally stopped.

Joel was like “rub your hands over the car, it’s still dirty.

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Oh, yeah. I guess so. A quick wipe and this is where I’d be done.

“Some of that’s iron build-up from brake pads” Joel explained before reaching for a magic bottle.

Step Three: Get The Iron Off Of It

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Joel admits that, if he were trying to sell car detailing, he would do this as his carny trick. My car looked like it was in a Prince video all of a sudden, with a sudden deluge of iron-y purple rain flowing down the car.

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The bottle Joel used was Optimum FerreX Iron Remover which, as the name suggests, removes iron deposits. It’s quite the trick and I quickly feel like I’ve neglected my car, Clive, for far too long.

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I got to wash this stuff off the car and it was satisfying to watch the iron rinse into the street. Certainly, we were done.

Step Five: Clay Bar And Some Other Stuff Bmw E39 8

Joel showed me how to use a clay bar to remove the littlest, toughest dirt, but then I was way too slow so he used a glove and some other mystery fluid to do the half of the car I wasn’t able to get to. I was already amazed at how much smoother car felt so I just went with it. I’d have probably felt fine taking the clay bar to the whole car as it was quite a lot of fun and seemed to be making a difference, but we were already way past where I intended to go.

Step Six: Trying To Fix The Wheels

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Joel was a little curious about what was happening to my wheels, especially since telling him that the wheels are probably half the value of the car itself based on market trends. He went through various types of sandpaper and liquids, like this Simple Green HD (you apparently need the HD because it doesn’t mess up metal alloys). After a bunch of experimenting Joel concluded that the paint was coming off and corroding in places that were exposed, meaning that maybe a little Never Dull (basically wool dipped in kerosene) was the way to get it looking a little better.

Bmw E39 9

Ultimately, the wheels are going to need to be taken off, sandblasted, and powder-coated if I want them to look perfect which, given the value and the way I drive the car, I currently do not want. One of these days, maybe.

Step Seven: Polish The Car/Add The Badge

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Joel wasn’t convinced the car was clean enough for his standards, but he still had a list in his head of other things he wanted to do, so he got out some cheap polish and started working the car over while I put the badge on the car.

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Bmw E39 12

The radiator is offset a little in the BMW so I decided the best spot to affix the Autopian Member badge (available to Velour members) was to put it where there was no fan to block. There is a little flap there I’m blocking that does something. I assume Thomas will read this post and tell me I shouldn’t be blocking that. Until then, here’s what it looks like:

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Step 8: Wash The Car Again

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This is where it started to feel like I was being Punk’d. I needed to wash and rinse the car again? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing the whole time? I was going to protest, but then Joel handed me the foam gun and I realized that I really wanted to foam my car from top-to-bottom. It’s so much fun!

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Step 9: Polish The Headlights

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My headlights were trash and Joel was right that this would be the lowest-effort fix to get the highest reward. And by lowest-effort fix, he meant that he was going to really go to town on this with Meguiar’s PlasticX. It worked! I thought nothing else needed to be done, but this is Joel so…

Bmw E39 14

He kept working on it while I went in and cleaned out the trunk and vacuumed the car.

Step 10: Ceramic Coat The HeadlightsBmw E39 19

Knowing that I am, relatively, a slob, Joel decided if I wanted to keep my headlights clearer for a longer period of time he should probably coat the headlights. Sure! He then pulled out a small bottle of what I assumed was some fancy cologne and he slowly brushed the headlights.

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Bmw E39 20

They look amazing now. Surely, we must be done.

We are not, and don’t call me Shirley.

Step 11: Ceramic Coat The Rest Of The Car

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I like Larry Kosilla but I am not Larry Kosilla. Neither is Joel, but he would probably like me to mention that in an ideal world, we’d have gone a layer deeper into the clearcoat and built up to the step, but I need to get a paint pen and some other stuff before we do the car “right” next time, and Larry’s coat-and-protect stuff was what Joel had on hand so we applied it.

And by “we” I of course mean he applied it.

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Step 12: Tire Shine

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The wheels looked a million times better, the paint sung in spite of enduring a mix of Texas and San Diego summers. There’s still much to be done to correct and fix the paint, but at least now it’s protected. Honestly, I’m smitten with this car all over again.

“Ah, but it wouldn’t be a true detail if I didn’t slather on some tire shine” Joel reminded me.

Look at this thing!

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It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.

Step 13: Wienerschnitzel

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The only way to celebrate a job well done is with some good German beer and some good German-Austrian food. I started to feel a little guilty again about all the time I took from Joel, but man he looked stoked. I threw Joel the keys and he found out why I loved my car so much.

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His being stoked about the car made me that much more stoked about Clive.

Ed note: This post does contain a couple of Amazon affiliate links and if you click on them and buy something we might make a commission.

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Frederick Tanujaya
Frederick Tanujaya
2 days ago

The way that I do it is Always
1. Prewash if necessary (1:10 Dilution of Sonax SX MULTISTAR) (MUST USE Power washer if prewashing) , if its only thin dust, dont have to.
2. 2 buckets with a grit guard in one of them
3. High Quality car soap, I use Sonax’ Intensive Gloss Shampoo, works great and have a very efficient dilution ratio
4. Wheels first, body later
5. Inspect for missed spots / damage
6. Dry thoroughly, spray a coat of detailer on the whole car
7. Tire shine (Sonax Extreme Tire Gel) / Tire Wax (Soft99’s Tire Wax is a godsend for matte, new-tire looking fans.)

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
3 days ago

This was fun. I don’t often have the time to spend a day detailing, but I hope I will be able to do the wife’s car sometime soon.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
3 days ago

My father and I used to wash and detail the cars on weekends. As an adult, I have no time for it and have discovered having a more crappy daily driver is way less stressful then one you cringe at every time they salt the roads here.

J Money
J Money
3 days ago

Can you ask Joel if I can come by with a six pack this weekend?

Beto O'Kitty
Beto O'Kitty
3 days ago

Did he clear coat the Autopian badge?

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
3 days ago

I used to spend WAY more time keeping my cars up before I had kids. Wash, clay, buff, sealer/glaze and two coats of wax. Now, I am lucky to get one good wash per year. But when I do, I spend a bit of time, clay bar it, and hit it with the Turtle Wax Hybrid ceramic. That stuff works very well at keeping the crud off, though it doesn’t pop like when I would use Porrboy’s White Diamond and Meguiar’s Ultimate.

Of course, it has rained EVERY WEEKEND for the oast month…

Moonball96
Moonball96
3 days ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Same, before my son was born I used to spend most weekends detailing – now I’m lucky if I even get a Saturday morning just to do a quick wash

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
3 days ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

I’m amazed by how well that turtle wax ceramic coating works for being less than a dollar per ounce. That’s my plan for this weekend, do my anual wash + ceramic coating. The rest of the year if it rains I feel like my car gets clean enough. Relevent to this though is that I drive roughly 2K / year / car so it probably won’t last as long for others, but for me it still works well after 2 years.

Ben
Ben
3 days ago

Turtle Wax makes some really good stuff for a mainstream brand. I’ve been using their Ice spray wax for a few years and love it. Doesn’t hold up that well on my outdoor parked car (nothing I’ve tried really does though), but on the garaged ones it lasts for a long time.

CEVette
CEVette
3 days ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

With kids and what not, I try for 1 or 2 good washes per year now.
I wash, then use the 3M claybar that only needs soapy water. After that, a random orbit buffer with the Turtle Wax Ceramic Polish & Wax. Late that day or the next, I coat with the Hybrid Ceramic spray.
This protects for many months and makes cleaning so easy!
Pro Tip – A quick wash and dry with the Ceramic Wet Wax keeps things looking great! I will do this the day before I go to a cars & coffee. Even that is rare, but happens more as my son is 14 and is getting into cars finally!

Ncbrit
Ncbrit
3 days ago

Tires are made of rubber. They do not need to be shiny. I don’t know why every detailer thinks this is a critical step. Shine the chrome, not the tires.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
3 days ago
Reply to  Ncbrit

Because if you don’t, the tires stand out for the wrong reason. I don’t like them looking like they are glazed, but getting them nice and dark brings it all together.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
3 days ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Exactly! Tire shine is so often overdone. The tires don’t need to shine they just need to have that new tire look where they’re black and not be dull…

The Modern Leper
The Modern Leper
3 days ago
Reply to  Jason Smith

I really like Griot’s Garage Black Satin Tire Coating. Not greasy. Not shiny. Just a nice, deep black with a touch of luster.

Frederick Tanujaya
Frederick Tanujaya
2 days ago
Reply to  Ncbrit

Tires looking glossy or matte, is a preference, I personally Shine / Wax my tires with high quality products to help keep road grime off the sidewall and protect it from the harsh environment, Protected tires have way less risk of dry rotting on the sides.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
3 days ago

My brother has medically diagnosed OCD. If he doesn’t lock the front door 8 times he thinks his family will die. However his car is an unwashed mess, and his office looks like two hoarders got a team of squirrels to move their entire houses full of junk in to just one room.

Obviously when I heard about his diagnosis I thought I was going to get free car cleaning for life, but that’s not how OCD works. I guess if it was useful it wouldn’t need treating.

DadBod
DadBod
3 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

From what I understand, actual OCD is debilitating and unfunny. I’m sorry for your brother, good luck to him.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
3 days ago
Reply to  DadBod

Thanks for that, he’s doing OK, he’s getting treatment and has a good support network. Being married to a doctor helps too.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 days ago

> the headlights were as faded as the guy who runs the Phish merch table

Dead.

Interrobang‽
Interrobang‽
3 days ago

No, Phish. Says so right there.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 days ago
Reply to  Interrobang‽

Bwahahaha

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