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5 Reasons Why Your Car May Still Look Dirty After Washing

A puzzling problem that I have encountered a time or two after washing my car is that…well…it still looks dirty. While there is no one-answer-fits-all explanation for why this typically happens, there are a few common culprits worth diving into.

In this blog post, I’ll break down 5 common reasons why your vehicle may still look dirty after washing it.

1. Using contaminated brushes or wash mitts

car wash buckets

Many people end up contaminating clean brushes and wash mitts because they re-dip everything into the same bucket. I mean everything.

For example, keeping a wash mitt in the same bucket as your wheel brush, or dipping a wheel brush in your wash bucket. Or simply not rinsing off a wash mitt in between passes.

If you don’t wash clean, you end up adding a lot of dirty water to an already dirty vehicle. 

Over time, the bucket will accumulate dirt, as long as there are thick, foaming suds covering your mitt you’re in the clear.

2. Not enough soap

filling wash bucket

On that same note, another common reason why you may not be achieving the results you desire is not 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 the dirt already in the bucket.

Sometimes it’s necessary to rinse out your bucket and add another ounce of soap. If I’m washing a car with a lot of surface area, adding more soap is sometimes necessary to produce the suds I need to carry away dirt.

Quick Tip

A product called a grit guard helps keep dirt particles at the bottom of a bucket. This device helps soap stay at the top and prevents the wash mitt from sinking to the bottom.

If I’m washing a car that hasn’t been waxed and is filthy, I prefer using a foam gun or cannon to pre-treat the vehicle. I may switch to the traditional bucket method after I remove traffic film or heavy mud, because the level of 

Without proper lubrication, dirt simply won’t be carried away when you graze a wash mitt over a dirty panel of your car.

3. Hard water

hard water spots on car

One of the most frustrating reasons why your vehicle may still look dirty (even using a good wash technique) is often due to hard water. Hard water spots, or basically dried impurities found in water like calcium or magnesium, can sometimes appear to be a powdery-white color if severe.

Once dry, these spots aren’t always to easiest to remove. This is why so many people discuss using air dryers, or towels to remove water beads before they have a chance to dry.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do if you suspect this is the root cause of your car appearing dirty. One of them is by using a portable water deionizer to remove these substances.

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

This is essentially a device you attach your hose to that filters your water.

Check out my post Washing Your Car With Hard Water? 3 Spot-Free Solutions for a few tips on solving this problem, and a few popular water deionizers on the market you can pick up specifically used to wash cars.

4. Dried soap

Ever heard that it’s best to wash your car in the shade? That’s because an extremely hot vehicle can dry soap on-contact.

Unless you use foam and water at the same time, it’s nearly impossible to completely wash dirty suds off of a flaming-hot car.

One workaround solution, if you are a detailer (or just someone looking to stay cool), is to purchase an auto detailing canopy to cool things off a bit.

auto detailing tent

You can pick these up on Amazon and are a great idea to set up for staying cool –especially if you normally take an hour or two to wash and detail your vehicle.

Check out this post I wrote to check out a few of these canopies that are affordable, portable, and ideal for washing and detailing.

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.

Some detailers that specialize in washing large semi-truck trailers use what’s called a two-step wash process, which uses both acidic and alkaline chemicals to clean a vehicle without agitation. That’s really the best way to get a touch-free wash…but not a direct replacement for hand washing

This process contains chemicals that often aren’t used in consumer-grade car washes. Check out our post, Automatic Car Washes vs Hand Washing: The Honest Truth to learn more.

Tired of your vehicle always looking dirty? 

If you’ve tried hand washing or even a few car washes…but you’re still not happy with the results, I invite you to check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners.

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 fundamentals auto etailers 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! :)

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