How to Wash a Car at Home

Updated: Apr. 09, 2024

A clean, shiny car never stays that way for long, so proper washing techniques are essential. Learn all about how to wash a car yourself.

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A clean, shiny car looks great. But unless it's a showpiece that never leaves the garage, it won't stay clean for long. Road dust, bug splatters, bird poop and, in winter, salt residue soon cover a vehicle that's driven regularly.

This is where proper washing can help. If your car needs a good cleaning but you're not sure how to do it, follow this detailed step-by-step guide. In less time than it takes to drive back and forth to an automatic car wash, you can do a better job yourself.

Tools Required

  • Car washing sponge
  • Hose
  • Large bucket
  • Long-handled brush with hose connection
  • Microfiber Cloth

Materials Required

  • Bug stain remover
  • Car soap or mild dish soap
  • Heavy-duty shop towels
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Water

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Fill Your Bucket and Soak the Car

  • The first step to knowing how to wash a car properly is getting your soap mixture right.
  • Drizzle three tablespoons of car washing soap or mild dish soap into your bucket, then fill the bucket with water. Make sure the solution is nice and foamy.
  • Let the soap and water mixture sit while you soak and brush the entire car thoroughly with your hose-attached brush and water only, making sure to get water into all nooks and crannies, including the wheels. Wash off all the loose dirt you can.

Fill Your Bucket and Soak the CarSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 2

Scrub One Section at a Time

  • Use your car washing sponge and soapy water to thoroughly hand wash the car one part at a time.
    • I like to start with the hood and work my way back. Work on about one quarter of the vehicle before moving on.
  • Scrub vigorously with the sponge to remove all the dirt, grease and debris. Add more soap as needed to maintain suds.

Scrub One Section at a TimeSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 3

Rinse One Section at a Time

  • Use your hose-attached brush to scrub and rinse the soap off each section after finishing the sponge work.
  • Don’t wait too long after washing to rinse, because the soap and water will dry on the vehicle quickly and could leave spots behind.
  • Repeat the wash and rinse pattern for all sections of the vehicle including the roof, windows, grill, head and taillights, fenders and wheels.

Rinse One Section at a TimeSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 4

Remove Extra-Stubborn Dirt and Grime

  • Spray bug stain remover on streaks left by insects. This works best in the shade.
  • Let it sit for a few minutes, then rub the spot vigorously with a heavy-duty shop towel.
  • Use rubbing alcohol and another shop towel to remove tree gum. Swarfega Original Classic Hand Cleaner works well on tree gum if alcohol doesn’t. Test it on a small, inconspicuous area to be sure it’s compatible with your vehicle’s paint.
  • Give a final, thorough rinse and scrubbing to these spots once they’re clean.

Remove Extra-Stubborn Dirt and GrimeSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 5

Do a Final Inspection and Scrub/Rinse

  • Inspect every part of the car carefully to make sure you haven’t left any dirt, grease or soap.
  • Scrub and rinse everything one last time with your hose-attached brush when you’re satisfied the car is clean. Don’t have a hose? Learn how to wash your car without a hose.

Do a Final Inspection and Scrub/RinseSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 6

Dry the Vehicle

  • Use your microfiber cloth to dry the vehicle, making sure to absorb all the water droplets so they don’t leave marks on the paint.
  • Look for any water marks already formed by drying water, and use the damp microfiber cloth to wipe them away.
  • Give your car optional added shine and protection after washing by polishing and waxing it.

Dry the VehicleSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman