Washing and Drying

How and When Should I Wash and Dry My Car?


Frequent washing removes dirt from a car’s finish before it can do lasting damage. Before you wash, consider the weather. Never wash in direct sunlight or when the paint is hot to the touch. That can damage the paint or leave water spots on the finish. If sunshine is inescapable, wash either early or late in the day, when the sun’s rays are less intense.

Before washing, remove any heavy deposits of tree sap or road tar with a soft cotton rag that you’ve dampened with mineral spirits or a cleaner specifically designed for the job. Rinse the area immediately. While the car is still wet, use a lambs-wool mitt or soft cotton cloth (not synthetic fabrics or brushes, which can scratch) to apply a mix of water and detergent. A cleaner especially formulated for cars should spare existing wax. Do not use dishwashing detergent; it is too harsh.

Wash from the top of the car down, so you don’t have to clean lower areas repeatedly. Rinse the mitt or cloth often and the car periodically, before the suds can dry. Check the finish for beads of water. If the beads are bigger than a quarter or if the water forms sheets, it’s time to wax.

After the last rinse, dry the car with a soft cotton towel or genuine chamois. If you opt to take the car to a car wash instead of doing the job yourself, choose one with a brushless system, which won’t scratch.


It is most important that the cleaning items be clean themselves! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen someone whip out an old dirty rag or sponge to clean their car. You shake the suckers and sand falls out! Sheesh. The best thing for cleaning is to get a cotton mitt designed strictly for cleaning cars. Better yet, get three! You want the big fuzzy looking ones that will let the dirt rise up into the mitt instead of being kept against the surface of the car. Why three? You will want one for the wheels/wheel wells, one for the lower half of the car (for use below the centerline of the doors where the most dirt/debris from the road will collect), and one for the top of the car. Rotate them frequently and always wash them when you are done. (Make sure NOT to use any scented detergents or anti-static items as they leave a film/residue on the cleaning materials that contaminates the finish of your paint).

Next, you will want the best cleaner you can find! It doesn’t have to be the strongest, in fact, you want the mildest you can get away with.. however, you want the one that will not damage your paints finish. The best two I have used have been Meguires Soft Gel Car Wash and Zymol’s AutoWash. Both are around $4-6 and will wash many cars. Household detergents and kitchen soaps will strip the wax and oils from the cars finish. The wax isn’t that much of a problem, but when you pull the oils from the paint you dull it and make it break down quite quickly. Both Zymol and (to a greater degree) Meguire’s soaps will put those oils back into the finish as well as provide an additive to help the water sheet off of the paint. That makes it easier to clean.

Get the soaps to foam up as much as you can. After all, the foam is what cleans, not the water. It’s also the foam that draws the dirt away from the surface of the paint and suspends it (preferably in the mitt, you did get the mitts right?). Start from the bottom to the top, then rinse the car, then do a quick once over from the top back down to be sure you haven’t missed anything. Be sure to keep the area’s very wet and only do one section at a time to prevent the soap from drying on the surface (which can not only scratch but otherwise damage your paint). You will have a few hard to reach area’s and a few area’s that the mitt just won’t reach. Best for these? Get an old paintbrush (about 2" wide, soft tipped) and swirl it around in the foam for a while then do your light brushing on the hard area’s. They are also great for between wheel spokes. Rinse the area’s frequently and always rotate the mitts and brushes.

Don’t forget to open the doors, hood, trunk, etc. and get the jams around them. It’s not clean until it’s CLEAN.

When the car is completely clean, take the nozzle (if any) off and turn the water down to where it’s a steady stream with as few bubbles as possible. Lay it next to (not on) the finish and let the water roll across and take away as many drops, etc. as you can. This will make it much easier to dry off your car as well as show you any area’s you might have missed.


[SA] I sent an email to Proctor and Gamble inquiring about the wax stripping characteristics of Dawn dish detergent. (Before anyone jumps on me, I admit, I did use Dawn, once, to take the wax off. I rinsed quickly and followed with Zymol auto-wash, but the fact remains, my paint was exposed to Dawn. I repent! I ordered Zymol HD-Cleanse yesterday).  Here is their reply:


Thanks for your message, Steve.


I'm sorry to disappoint you but we don't recommend using Cascade or Ivory on your automobile. Mr. Clean All-Purpose Liquid is safe for washing cars, however, we would not expect it to strip the wax. We'd suggest using a product  specifically designed for that purpose to avoid possible damage to the paint.




Mary Lou

   USA Consumer Correspondence Team

[WMO – 2001/10/10] My owner’s manual recommends dishwashing liquid for washing the NSX, despite the reservations of contributors to the forum. I am now using a specialty product, but I have used dish liquid since 1980 on Honda/Acura products, and you would not believe the excellent condition their paint was, and is, in. Secondly, I have picked up an excellent product for polishing the finish. It is called Turtle Wax Scratch and Swirl Remover, if I remember correctly, and I only found it at Discount Auto Parts. It comes in a bottle, and is not the same Turtle Wax product that is found at Wal-Mart and Auto Zone. It is very, very gentle, and can be applied by hand or polisher. It does not act like a filler, as so many products which claim to remove scratches and swirls. With 3 or 4 moderate rubbing applications, you can see the surface start to get that telescope lens polish to it, and it feels silky smooth. By comparison, regular polishing compound is like sandpaper, and it can quickly turn your shine to haze.


[GM 98/8/24] After trying all the rest I like thick cotton towels the best. If you drop one set it aside and pick up a clean one – something you cannot do with a chamois. When done throw them in the laundry and start fresh the next time.


[AF] Chamois drag dirt back and forth over your car ***IF*** it is not totally clean. This might not be a problem with a White or Silver car because the scratches are so light, one would never notice, but if you have a darker color car such as Red, Blue, and especially Black, those scratches become more defined. The answer to the drying question are soft 100% cotton towel. As said before, do not use fabric softer because it tends to streak more.

 "California Water Blade" Type Products

This product is sort of like a windshield wiper for your whole car. You can squeegee the flat parts of the car dry very quickly. According to the product literature it is 15 times less abrasive than a towel or chamois. The only problem is that like anything else that touches the car, if there is any dirt or contamination the blade will draw it across the surface and can scratch.

[JCH – 2000/7/13] I have one and don’t have any problems with it except: The blade itself is extremely soft and I pull water off very quickly, however, the handle is hard plastic and if you’re careless when you’re wiping off the side of the car, you can hit something (like the mirror) with the handle. It was Motor trend’s product of the year I believe. It’s supposed to have less friction than any cloth.


[JHO – 2000/7/13] I haven’t had any problems. BUT, someone else on the list just replied and said they noticed marks and scratches in the wax (not the paint, I would be very very surprised if it affected the paint). I’m very carefully when I use it – you only have to apply a little pressure, don’t press down hard when using it. And, I also tend to not use it on parts of the car with very complex surfaces (like the bottom part of the doors) simply because it cant conform to all those curves and tends to leave a lot of water behind. But for the hood, trunk, roof, spoiler and rear section it works amazingly well in my opinion.


[TSI – 2000/7/13] My experience with these products hasn’t been as positive. I also have a black NSX, yet both products left obvious marks/scratches after a fresh detailing. I quit using both products over a year ago after few uses.


[JH – 2000/7/13] The BEST deal on the plant can be found at Costco. They sell the water blade for $12 (I paid $20) and the car duster kit that includes the lagre and mini duster and a large case for $14. Most places want 20 for the large and 5-7 for the small.


 How Dangerous Is Acid Rain/Snow?

[GM] Here’s some more info on acid rain damage, reprinted from the BMW Roundel magazine:


"I was part of an acid rain monitoring program and I tested bodies of water that had pHs of 1.8 and 2.3, roughly that of vinegar and tomato ketchup! This is why you want to clean the snow off your car as soon as possible because acid snow is worse than acid rain - acid rain at least runs off the car, while the snow just sits there. Remember that BMW and at least one other manufacturer stopped using some ports of delivery in the USA because of acid rain damage. Ever notice how many manufacturers now glue those white protective foam sheets to the roof, trunks and hoods of their new cars and how they remain in place even until the time of delivery to the retail customer? Its protection from acid rain."

So … if your NSX or other fine car is rained on, wash it soon afterward!


 Are Drive-Through Car Washes Safe?

[medprobe@worldnet.att.net] !!!!!!!!!!Beware!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When you put the NSX on the tracks of a car wash, the wheels will probably get scraped. Because of the large wheel base in the rear, when you align the front wheels the rear wells are not properly aligned so they can get scraped on the track. Unfortunately I know this too well, because I tried the brushless car wash once and they had to stop the "line" when the wheels started rubbing on the guide track. Fortunately, the car wash covered the repainting of the wheels, which fortunately was minimal.

 Are Wax Jobs At Car Washes Recommended?

[MB] No, no, no, no, no, no, no! I used to own a chain of car washes in the Philadelphia area, and I refused to put my own Corvette through it to film a commercial! First of all, some car washes use a polish, not a wax. Second, you will be left with horrible swirl marks in the paint. Third, their priority is economy and speed, not results.

They will use the cheapest product, and apply it in the fastest way possible. Not really the way you want your new NSX to be treated, is it?

I suggest glazing the car with Eagle 1 Wet Look or 3M Imperial Hand Glaze. Then follow that with Meguiar’s #26 Yellow Wax. Once you have done that, you should never have to glaze the car again, as long as you keep the coat of wax on. For touch ups, use Meguiar’s Final Inspection. That should keep your NSX looking almost as good as ours! 🙂

 "Waterless" Car Washes

[GM – 98/12/26] Stay away from waterless car washes. In my experience they scratch the finish. I test I did showed water and soap to be more effective at removing dirt, left a higher gloss finish than the sprays, plus no scratches. Get the hose out and belly up.

If you can’t wash your car due to weather concerns this time of year you can use a detailing spray to clean off light dirt and dust. I think Wax Shoppe’s Slick Stuff is the best, followed by Meguiar’s Instant Detailer and Zymol’s Field Shine. But I wouldn’t use any of these on tough dirt, and I wouldn’t use a waterless carwash either.

Car Care