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This cheat sheet breaks down the basics so you can get squeaky-clean, pro-level results on the inside and outside—every time you wash!

11 Sneaky Smart Car Wash Tips for Beginners

There are a bunch of advanced tips and techniques on how to wash your car…but some of my favorites for beginners without experience often don’t get mentioned!

Even if you know the basics, these 11 not-so-well-known tips and techniques will actually give you an edge the next time you wash your vehicle. No prior experience required :)

1. Use carts and cabinets to stay organized

A messy garage and/or driveway will make washing your car a hassle—and it will take longer. You can do a lot to stay organized, starting with pickup up a car wash and detailing cart. Simply wheel it around your vehicle, grab the spray or product you need, and return it to its place.

WEN 2-Tier Utility Cart

What I like

Large and ideal for storing buckets, vacs, or compressors.

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WEN Car Wash Detailing Utility Cart

If you’re considering a few detailing garage upgrades, I’d start with a simple cabinet for towels and product storage. When you need a microfiber towel for glass, it’s easier to grab a towel off shelf #2 than dig through your garage.

I promise a little bit of organization will make washing your vehicle way more fun.

2. Use a separate tire bucket

Many people only use one bucket to wash wheels and tires…and it’s a really bad idea! You never want brake dust from your wheels mixing into your clean suds bucket. For me, it was always dropping the tire brush into the bucket that got me in trouble early on.

I wash wheels and tires with my white bucket, paint with the blue one.

I highly recommend you use one bucket for tires, and one bucket for paint. Check out my post on buckets 101 and the two-bucket method to dial in your setup.

3. Know why and how to use clay

Spoiler: you can’t remove everything from car paint with just soap. That’s where clay comes in! If you’re not familiar with how to use clay, check out this step-by-step guide for beginners.

In a nutshell, clay is like a skin exfoliator for your’s car. It removes embedded contaminants like iron and small metal particles often referred to as industrial fallout. To get a truly clean car, you must remove these bonded contaminants from your clear coat. And it helps wax and sealants to adhere to the clear coat.

You don’t need to clay every time you wash, but if your car isn’t smooth to the touch after using soap and water, it’s probably a good time to pick up a clay bar kit.

Meguiar’s Smooth Surface Clay Kit

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4. Wash those microfiber towels—the right way

Microfiber towels aren’t expensive..but you should know how to wash and separate them to avoid streaking and scratching the clear coat. You’ll need to use a simple microfiber towel detergent and wash and dry them a bit differently than you would normal clothes.

Microfiber can melt at high temps! Check out this tutorial on washing, drying, and organizing microfiber towels so you can save some money…while washing clean.

5. Remove faint scratches with an easy-to-use DA polisher

You’re bound to have a few faint scuff marks, or light scratches from time to time. The good news is you can remove faint scratches yourself with a simple dual-action polisher. Paint correction does take some time to perfect, but a simple dual-action random orbital polisher is pretty easy to use and forgiving for a beginner.

You don’t have to worry about burning your clear coat (or the paint), because a DA will distribute the polish and heat over a larger surface area, like an entry-level unit by Porter Cable that I recommend for beginners.

Porter Cable Random Orbit Dual-Action Polisher

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If you’re thinking about upping your game to remove some light scratches, check out my post on Polishers for Total Beginners where I share some practical tips and recommendations on getting started.

6. Pre-treat dirty vehicles with foam

Especially as a beginner, you really need to understand what type of car soap to use to pre-treat or maintenance wash your ride. For example, if you have visible dirt, mud, or anything heavy, it’s a good idea to pre-treat with foam before you apply soap with a wash mitt to avoid scratching.

A simple device like the one below is perfect for a beginner. Just add a product like Chemical Guys snow foam and get after it.

Foam Gun

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7. Use putty for interior dust

Sand, dust particles, pollen…or any other tiny particle always get trapped in the areas you can’t reach with a microfiber towel or brush. That’s where putty comes into play. After you use detailing brushes to dislodge visible dirt, cleaning gel can be your friend.

This interior cleaning gel comes in a resealable container.

They look a little gimmicky, but they do work! Simply mold the gel to the button cluster (or other area with trapped particles), lift it up, and see for yourself what these things can pick up!

Blowing compressed air can also help in these hard-to-reach areas.

8. Dilute and save money

Here’s the plain truth: you really don’t need a ton of products to clean the interior or exterior…just a few staples in your detailing arsenal. You basically need a quality degreaser and all-purpose cleaner to tackle traffic film, brake dust, carpets, exhaust tips…and a ton of other use cases.

It’s a good idea to have some empty spray bottles with dilution charts so you’ll be able to purchase concentrated products, mix them as directed, and save money in the process.

9. Take time to learn the fundamentals

Many people don’t get the results they want because they don’t really know the basics of washing and detailing. If you need to learn the basics (or just level up your knowledge), check out 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!

It’s our entry-level course that will make it a lot easier to wash your vehicle this summer.

10. Wash your car in the morning

Does it matter when you wash your car? If you live in an area that gets super hot it does. I prefer to wash my vehicle before around 11:00 am because it’s more comfortable and soap won’t evaporate immediately.

If you wait until 3 or 4 pm, not only will it be blazing hot, soap can dry on contact (which you don’t want).

If you wait until 7 or 8 pm in the summer months, flies and mosquitos can enter the equation—which you don’t want! If it’s just brutally hot any time of day, you can pick one of these pop-up canopies I recommend here for vehicle washing.

Want to wash faster? Check out these tips

Time is money, so why wait a minute more than you have to in the driveway this summer? Check out these 10 simple hacks to wash your car faster.

Every second counts and the less fatigued the better…especially if you plan to properly wash and detail your vehicle this weekend.

Good luck, and happy detailing!

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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