How to Wash a Car by Hand

Learning how to wash a car by hand is an important step in car care routine. It prevents dust, dirt, and other particles from becoming embedded in your car’s paint. More importantly, washing your car shows off that beautiful shine!

Washing by hand effectively cleans your dirty car and helps prevent swirl marks and scratches. Avoid automatic car washes like the plague. While their equipment may look clean, it’s actually filled with a build-up of dirt particles from the hundreds of cars washed daily. Automatic car washes are almost guaranteed to harm your finish by creating swirl marks. Using a power washer is also an option, but does require additional equipment. Washing by hand is much safer when done properly.

We’ll show you how to wash a car by hand, the do’s and don’ts, top car washing tools, and more.

Do’s and Don’ts to Car Washing

Don’t use a car wash sponge 

No matter how careful you are, sponges can create light scratches and harm your finish. It all comes down to the shape of sponges – they’re flat. When wiping a sponge across your car’s finish, you’re essentially moving dirt back and forth along the paint. Many of these particles are sharp and can create even more swirl marks. Please ditch the car wash sponges!

Do use a car wash mitt

Car wash mitts don’t have the same issues as sponges. Grit particles are absorbed into the mitt’s material when passed along the paint surface. Your chances of harming your paint is far less when using a wash mitt to clean your car. Our go-to is is made by Chemical Guys.

Don’t use an all-purpose cleaning soap or dishwashing soap on your car

Household cleaning liquids, including dish soaps, are meant to be used in the house, not on your car. Many can actually harm car finishes. Most of the household products won’t rinse off easily, could strip away wax, and some can even dry out your car’s paint.

Do use a quality car shampoo or car washing liquid

Car washing soap is specifically formulated to easily and safely clean car finishes. Most are concentrated. Simply mix with water and you’re ready to go. Some contain additives to help enhance shine and reduce water marks.

Top Car Washing Tools

Chemical Guys Chenille Microfiber Premium Scratch-Free Wash Mitt

 out of stock
as of July 18, 2024 10:06 pm

Chemical Guys makes a solid car wash mitt. It’s made from thick microfiber strands and easily absorbs soaps and shampoos. It’s machine washable and the stitching is great. We’ve been using ours for months now with little wear. This is our go-to non-abrasive car wash mitt.

Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash Soap and Shampoo

 in stock
1 new from $39.99
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as of July 18, 2024 10:06 pm

Mr. Pink Super Suds Shampoo does a great job removing dirt and grime. This is our go-to soap. Not only does it tackle tough dirt, it’s really gentle on your car’s paint. It won’t remove existing wax or sealant coatings. Most commercial-grade car soaps can easily strip away waxes. It’s also pH-balanced and gentle on plastic, rubber, and vinyl trim. It rinses off really clean with little to no water spots.

The Two Bucket Method

In our step-by-step guide, we’ll be using the two bucket method. We recommend following this method everytime. It’s one of the most widely used techniques used by car detailing pros. It lessens your chances to create swirl marks and scratches.

The method itself is simple. When prepping to your car, have two separate buckets ready. Fill one with clean water, the other with the shampoo and water mixture. Dip the washing mitt in the soap bucket and begin washing your car. When done, rinse out the mitt in the clean water, then dip back into the soap solution. This back and forth method helps keep dirt particles off the washing mitt.

If using one bucket for everything, eventually the soapy water will become filled with dirt, which means your washing your car with contaminated water. Keeping everything separate minimizes the chances of swirl marks and light scratches. After all, you’ve probably spent some time polishing and correcting your paint. The last thing you want is to create more issues by not carefully washing your car.

How to Wash a Car by Hand Guide

Now that you’re armed with the do’s and don’ts, plus an understanding of the two bucket method, let’s tackle the proper steps on how to wash a car by hand:


Try to avoid washing a car in direct sunlight. If you don’t have enough shade, try handling in the morning or late evening.

Tool Prep

Using the two bucket method, fill one bucket with clean water. Fill the other with the soap mixture. Also set aside your mitt and plenty of towels.

Pre-Soak (Optional)

If you have a foam cannon, lance, or foam gun, now is the time to pre-soak. If you’re unfamiliar with foam cannons, they’re an excellent way to safely clean your paint.

Initial Rinse

Begin rinsing off the car, from top to bottom. The goal is to loosen as much dirt and grim as possible. The more dirt rinsed initially, the less that will end up in the buckets.


Dip your mitt in the soapy mixture and begin washing the roof of the car. Similar to the initial rinse, the idea is to move from top to bottom. As your mitt runs out of soap or becomes dirty, rinse it in the clean water bucket. Continue this step back and forth until the car is completely clean.

Final Rinse

Completely rinse off all remaining soap, again from top to bottom. If you notice any dirty spots that were missing, go ahead and quickly wash with your mitt. If the entire car is clean, finish rinsing.


Use your towels and begin drying, starting with the roof and hood. Don’t forget to dry off side mirrors and all windows. Depending on the weather, you may need to towel off your car quickly to avoid water spots.

Tires & Wheels

You may have noticed we left out tires and wheels in these steps. Ideally, it’s best to clean these separately. Dirty wheels are full of brake pad dust. It’s extremely abrasive and can harm a car’s finish. Given this, don’t use the same buckets for your tires and wheels, the cross-contamination can do more harm than good. Check out our dedicated guide on how to clean car tires for more info.

Next Steps

Congrats, your ride is clean! If your finish is in good shape, now is the time to apply a quality car wax or paint sealant. Or, if you need to remove swirl marks, now is the time.


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