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5 Reasons Why Your Car May Still Look Dirty After Washing

Noticing the surface of your car still looks dirty even after washing? While there is no one-answer-fits-all explanation for a perpetually dirty car, there are a few common culprits.

In this blog post, we’ll break down 5 reasons your car’s paint job may still look dirty after washing it and what to do about it.

1. Using contaminated brushes or wash mitts

car wash buckets

One of the most common car wash mistakes I see all the time is using the same bucket for tires AND paint. 

For example, you should never dip a microfiber wash mitt in the same bucket as you dip a wheel brush. When you don’t work clean, it’s easy to leave swirl marks, since brake dust on a clean wash mitt can easily scratch a clear coat.

We recommend using at least two buckets every time you wash, so you never have to worry about dirty brake dust contacting clean car wash soap.

2. Not enough soap

filling wash bucket

If you still notice visible dirt after washing a panel, you may not be using enough soap.

At the end of the wash, it becomes more difficult to generate suds, especially on large vehicles. This is partly due to clean suds attacking dirt already in the bucket.

In this case, it’s a good idea to rinse out your bucket and add another ounce of soap. 

Quick Tip

We recommend a product called a grit guard when bucket washing. This device helps keep soapy water at the top, and dirt particles at the bottom of a bucket.

If washing a filthy car with more than light dust, it’s a good idea to use a foam gun or cannon to pre-treat the car’s surface with snow foam—a product designed to trap heavy dirt on the surface of your car. By spraying soap or snow foam directly on a vehicle, you can ensure you’ll always have enough soap.

Pre-treating with foam won’t remove traffic film, but it can remove a fair amount of loose dirt before hand washing with a microfiber towel or mitt. 

3. Hard water

hard water spots on car

A common reason some vehicles always look dirty is due to hard water. Hard water spots are formed when mineral deposits like calcium or magnesium dry.

Once dry, these spots often form chalky water beads that can be a pain to remove.

Fortunately, you can turn hard water into clean water using a device called a portable water deionizer, which filters water from your tap.

CR Spotless Portable Water Deionizer

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

cr spotless hard water spot remover unit

Check out my post Washing Your Car With Hard Water? 3 Spot-Free Solutions for more tips on getting rid of even the hardest water spots. Deionizers are one way, but not the only way.

4. Dried soap

Dirty suds (when dry) will also make your vehicle look dirty.

It’s easy for soap to dry on contact whenever washing your car on a hot or windy day. Whenever it’s scorching hot, your best option is to find shade and never let soap dwell on any part of the car for too long in direct sunlight.

Car washes are also notorious for leaving behind trace amounts of soap and other cleaning agents.

5. Using an automatic car wash

car in automatic car wash

While car washes do have their place in certain contexts if you don’t have any alternatives, oftentimes they aren’t the best at removing dirt from a vehicle. Many older car washes still use flappers and brushes…which are already filthy before they make contact with your car.

 Check out our post, Automatic Car Washes vs Hand Washing: The Honest Truth for our verdict on whether or not to regularly use car washes.

Ready to see better results?

Check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners if you’re tired of spending money on car wash services…or just not seeing the results you want.

Ready to improve your washing and detailing skills?

This video course unpacks the fundamentals of washing and detailing. From exterior cleaning and blemish removal…you’ll learn the secrets that will give you spotless pro-level results!

In this course, you’ll learn how to clean the interior and exterior the right way, by using the same car washing fundamentals auto detailers use. And better yet, you’ll save time and a lot of money at the car wash. Use code BLOG for 15% off at checkout. 

Hope it helps! :)

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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