How to avoid scratches when detailing your car
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Detailing your car is a fun and fulfilling activity, but you could mar it (and your paint) if you're not careful. Here's what you should know!

Category: Car Maintenance Advice

The weekend has finally arrived and you're all set to give your car some much needed TLC. For the past five days, it has sat in traffic, weathered thunderstorms and accumulated a fair amount of dirt.

So, you prepare your kit. Products, applicators and microfibre cloths are at the ready. Your wash bucket, car shampoo and loose change (for the water) are good to go.

But don't just jump right into it. Here are a few tips that can help you avoid scratching your paint while detailing your pride and joy.


Use the two-bucket method

Rinsing the wash mitt minimises the amount of dirt that gets transferred back onto the car body
Most folks use a single bucket to wash their car, but using two buckets can save your paintwork from those unsightly scratch and swirl marks.

One bucket is filled with water and car shampoo, while the other contains clean water. After dipping your wash mitt into the shampoo bucket and cleaning a portion of your car body, you rinse the mitt in the other bucket before continuing the wash.

This gets rid of the dirt and grit that the wash mitt picked up, so that it's as clean (as can be) before you continue the process. If you can add a grit guard into each bucket, so much the better.


Wash from top to bottom

Take it from the top - the roof has less grime compared to the lower body panels
This one is pretty easy to remember.

Wash your vehicle from the roof downwards in a systematic manner. Most of the dirt on your car is located on the lower body panels, so you should never start there.

If you do, you risk marring other areas of the paintwork.

That said, it is always prudent to scrub the wheels and tyres before washing the car, as you wouldn't want to risk flinging brake dust and metallic particles on your clean car body.


Keep your mitts clean and don't use sponges

Use a separate wash mitt for your wheels, as brake dust and metallic particles can be quite harmful to paintwork
Mitts should be washed after every use. One reason why petrol kiosk car washes cause scratches is because the mitts or cloths are used to wash every car that drives through.

They only get a quick rinse between customer cars, and it is unlikely that they'll be given a proper wash at the end of the day.

Meanwhile, sponges are not ideal for car washing as they tend to trap and hold dirt and grit, which will obviously lead to scratches and swirls.


Try to loosen large particles first

'Snow' is best, but if you don't have a foam cannon, give your car a good rinse before washing to help clear some dirt
Don't just attack bird poop or tree sap by scrubbing vigorously, as this will surely mar your car's finish. 

If you have a portable foam gun, use it to cover your car with some nice 'snow'. Leave it on for a few minutes so it can soften and/or loosen any contaminants, which can then be safely rinsed away before the actual wash begins.

If you don't have a foam gun/cannon, a quick detailer can also be used to soften contaminants prior to washing. Quick detailers are formulated to trap particles and provide lubricity, thereby reducing the risk of scratches.


Use clay to remove embedded pollutants

Claying the car removes embedded contaminants that would otherwise (you guessed it) scratch the paint during the polishing or waxing process
Unfortunately, not everything can be removed by quick detailers, pressure washers and foam cannons.

Embedded contaminants require the use of automotive clay bars and a lubricating spray.

Follow the directions and don't forget to fold the clay bar once it feels rough. If you accidentally drop it, toss it in the dustbin as the clay would have collected dirt on the ground that could scratch your car.

Claying your car leaves the paintwork clean and bare, so that your polish becomes more effective, while the wax can bond properly with the clear coat for best results.

That's it. Happy detailing!


Keen to learn more? Perhaps these stories will interest you:

How to detail your car engine bay like a pro detailer

DIY car detailing: How to choose the best products for every inch of your car

How to maintain your ceramic coating

Car detailing services you should consider besides a regular car wash

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