Cheap car cleaning that costs you dear

Posted on June 24th, 2015 by Rob Marshall


We all love a bargain but does your nearest supermarket car park, mobile car wash attendant, or your local cleaning outfit that has sprung-up outside a redundant petrol station forecourt, really know how to clean your car properly and safely?

Of course, most of us do not ask questions past the price and most of the services offered are quick, cheap and convenient. Yet, strings can be attached. After spending a working day with a professional vehicle detailer recently (who charges £15 for a professional clean, which is not as expensive as I thought), the exercise demonstrated how easy it is to wreak thousands of pounds’ worth of damage, with a single, careless wash – despite the cleaner’s best intentions.

A false economy
Using dirty water, low-grade equipment and poor technique can not only scratch the paint but also inappropriate wash products (or lack of knowledge about how to dilute and use them correctly) will strip the finish of protective waxes, dull the surface, or even discolour and damage both plastic trim and brightwork. You may not notice the effects straightaway but an eagle-eyed trader will and may offer a lower value, should you choose later to part-exchange the car.

“We have come across an increasing number of unregulated car wash businesses that are untrained and uninsured”, reports Bert Youell of the Professional Valeters and Detailers Association, who continues, “While some may have liability insurance, they rarely have cover for damage to customer vehicles due to careless wash methods and some unfortunate owners have found that there is no comeback, if their car has been damaged by careless reversing, for example”.

Bert also highlights situations in which strong acids, designed for cleaning masonry, have been used to remove brake dust from alloy wheels. While effective, they are too harsh and damage the protective paint lacquer, allowing corrosion to set in. Yet, the car owner is unlikely to associate such deterioration with a seemingly harmless car wash.

Cleaning tips for home washing
Naturally, we could be cynical and view that Bert is angling to obtain more work for his members. Yet, he insists that part of his remit is to inform the public how to avoid damaging the paintwork, because, as he explained, “… a significant proportion of our members’ work comes from rectifying damage done by roadside car washes, or over-zealous owners”.

To help us look after our cars safely at home, he imparted the following top-tips:

1. Throw away traditional sponges and chamois leathers and use wool or chenille wash mitts as they do not trap dirt as readily.
2. Use plenty of water and remove as much dirt from the panels as possible, with a pressure washer, ideally using a snow-foam pre-wash, prior to touching the paint by hand.
3. Use two buckets, one for rinsing, one for washing, and focus on one panel at a time. Rinse your wash mitt as often as possible, at least a couple of times per panel, more so if there is heavy soiling. You can use a grit guard in the bottom of each bucket. Consider a third bucket, dedicated to wheel cleaning only, for extra surety.
4. By working from the top of the car and down, you avoid picking up grit from the sills and damaging the paint. It also prevents dirty water dripping over areas that you have washed already.
5. Do not work in a circular motion, which can cause swirl marks, and do not use pressure, let the wash mitt and automotive shampoo do the work.
6. Use good quality products for cleaning cars – never use domestic products, because they will remove any protection and can dull the paint.
7. Allowing detergent to dry on the paintwork will cause streaks – rinse it away before that happens.
8. Most clean water droplets will dry and form droplets; dry the car before this happens using a proper drying microfibre, which is more absorbent than a conventional cloth. (I have had good experience with products from Paragon Microfibre Limited, the prices of which are very competitive).
9. Avoid washing the car in direct, bright sunlight; choose a cloudy day instead, or work under cover, remembering to let the car cool prior to starting work.
10. While hand-polishing the paintwork with a very mild abrasive can enhance its appearance, consider using a clay bar and lubricant for a truly deep clean. A good wax will not only create both a pleasant beading effect, while enhancing the lustre of the finish, it also helps prevent dirt from hanging on to the paint, thus keeping the car cleaner for longer.