How to wash your car without scratching your car finish

In this article, you will learn:

  • What causes scratches and swirls while washing your car

  • Which cleaning products and accessories are the safest for clear coat finishes

  • Tips and tricks for washing your vehicle without scratching your car finish

Washing your car regularly is a great way to keep your ride looking shiny and new, especially if you take the time to do it yourself. But, like with any DIY detailing, just one mistake using the wrong products, tools or cleaning techniques is all it takes to scratch your beautiful paint job.

Luckily, with a few simple adjustments to your car wash routine, you can prevent scratches in your vehicle's paint surface and get an even deeper clean! Here are some helpful tips to avoid scratches and swirls during your next wash.



One of the worst things you can do for your car is to use household cleaners to scrub dirt and stains from the finish, so ditch the dish soap and laundry detergent. These products aren't designed to safely remove dirt and stains from your car, and, in most cases, their harsh chemical formulas will do a lot more harm than good to any wax you may have on your car.

You should also steer clear of wash cloths, bath towels and shower sponges. These cleaning accessories may be great for exfoliating your skin, but they're too rough to use on your car. Plus, the bulky fibres of most cotton cloths don't safely encapsulate dirt and soils. Instead, they drag these contaminants across the finish, leaving tiny scratches and swirls that dull the transparency of the clear coat.

Using a high-quality car wash soap and wash mitt will help you avoid much of the damage caused by dirt and other contaminants. At Turtle Wax, every car wash soap, sponge and microfiber towel we sell is safe for automotive use. We recommend a high-foaming, lubricating car wash detergent like our M.A.X. Power Wash to prevent tough soils from grinding into the clear coat.

For best results, you should also have microfibre cloths or wash mitt, a bucket, and a grit guard to filter dirt and debris from your cleaning solution.



Car wash soap creates a slippery, protective barrier around the surface of your car to reduce the friction between your wash mitt and the finish, so use it generously. When it comes to preventing scratches and swirls, more is more. At a minimum, use the concentration of car wash soap specified on the back of the bottle.

Fill your bucket with a strong stream of water to create as much foam as possible. Foam helps to cushion and protect the surface of your car so that dirt and other contaminants don't scratch the paintwork.

Pro Tip: Most car wash soaps are measured in ounces per gallon to account for different bucket sizes, so pay attention to how many oz per gallon the product label tells you to add to your cleaning solution and then convert this to mL and/or L if needed.



Your wheels pick up tons of heavier soils and road grime that could transfer to the rest of your vehicle and scratch or damage the paint surface. To avoid cross-contamination, you should wash your wheels with a separate cleaning tool before moving on to the rest of your car.

We recommend a dedicated wheel cleaning brush, along with our All Wheel & Tyre Cleaner, to remove brake dust from your wheels and tyres. Be sure to hit every surface of your wheels, including the rims, spokes, wheels facing and even the brake rotors and calipers!



There’s no good reason for making car care harder than it needs to be. Make life easier on yourself with a few handy tools.

First off, a stool (with or without wheels) will make waxing the lower areas of your car much, much easier. In a pinch, you can always use your wash bucket, turned upside-down.

You may have areas on your car where you don’t want wax. If so, use masking tape to cover those areas and just keep waxing easily and quickly right up to the tape without worries.

Try to keep a spray bottle with water by your side. Sometimes, excess wax doesn’t bond with the finish but doesn’t come off cleanly with a dry microfiber towel. If this happens to you, just mist the area with some water and wipe clean.



The more times you make contact with the surface of your car, the more chances you have to scratch or damage your paint during a car wash. While you can't have a completely contactless and effective wash, you can still reduce your contact with the finish by using a blower to dry your vehicle. You can even use a leaf blower for this step.

Make sure the concrete or pavement around your car is clean and wet before using a blower. This will help you avoid kicking up dust and other contaminants from the pavement onto your freshly washed car.



Of course, one of the best ways to protect your vehicle against scratches and swirls is to apply a fresh layer of wax to a clean paint surface. While this won't help you avoid scratches during this particular car wash, it will reduce the risk of scratches during your next wash and make it easier for the rinse water to slide off your car, promoting water beading for faster dry time. Plus, car wax has a long list of other benefits, including UV protection, chemical resistance and a wet-like shine.

Any car wax will make your washing easier, but if you're looking to add the most protection to your car in the least amount of time, we recommend our Hybrid Solutions PRO Flex Wax. This ultra-premium spray wax is infused with pure graphene for maximum heat dissipation, durability and an eye-popping gloss.



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