When selling a car, you want it to look its best, especially if you've spent money to fix it up and post a for-sale ad. Imagine if you were a potential buyer looking at a used car with muddy tires, a dirty exterior, and a stained interior with a rank odor. Wouldn't you rather spend your hard-earned money on a clean, well-maintained car?

The great news is that washing a car before selling it is one of the fastest and least expensive ways to boost its resale value. You don't have to spend outrageous amounts of money or wait for a professional to schedule an appointment. With guidance, anyone can learn how to properly wash a car.

Why You Should Wash a Car Before Selling It Privately

With more and more used car buyers starting their search online, a picture is often their first impression of your vehicle. A thoroughly washed car looks great in photos. A snapshot of a shiny, pristine vehicle will likely catch a shopper's eyes before a dingy, dirty one.

Because most used car buyers will want to sit in the car before purchasing it, a clean interior is crucial. Stained upholstery, filthy floor mats, and smudged windows might indicate a lack of pride in the vehicle.

How your used car interior smells is also a crucial factor to consider. Cigarette smoke, pets, and food are just some things that can leave a lingering odor in a vehicle. A person sitting in a stinky car might question if they can tolerate the smell that may not come out.

The bottom line is: a clean car looks like a reliable car. A vehicle with an unkempt appearance might lead buyers to wonder what other maintenance the owner might have neglected.

Required Cleaning Tools & Materials to Wash Your Car

Ideally, you will want to use the following items to wash a car properly:

  • Hose: A hose with multiple pressure settings is a must. You will use your hose for various steps in the process, and the optimal pressure setting differs for each.
  • Three buckets: You will need one bucket filled with washing solution for the car's body, one with washing solution just for the tires, and one with clean water.
  • Two wash mitts: You will need one wash mitt for cleaning the tires and one for the rest of the car. Look for wash mitts made of microfiber strands. Microfiber is gentle and effective when used to wash painted surfaces.
  • Grit guard inserts: Grit guard inserts are circular, meshed objects that you place at the bottom of buckets. Grit guards filter out dirt and debris, allowing your wash mitt to stay free of contaminants when you dip it into the bucket.
  • Multiple microfiber towels: Microfiber excels at drying freshly washed vehicles to a streak-free shine.
  • Car shampoo: Using a cleaning agent developed explicitly for cars is essential. Car shampoos are specially balanced to provide cleaning power without harming the vehicle's surface.
  • Tire and wheel cleaner: Using cleaners specially formulated for the different materials that comprise wheels and tires is important.  
  • Tire and wheel brushes: A soft wheel brush can get into nooks and crannies to clean without scratching the wheel's surface. A tire brush can be more stiff and bristly to scrub the tough rubber exterior of tires.
  • Window cleaner: When you want sparkling windows and windshields, window cleaner is your best bet.
  • Paper towels: Paper towels are perfect for streak-free glass and windows.
  • Interior cleaners and sanitizers: The delicate surfaces of your vehicle's dashboard and console need cleansers and sanitizers created for this purpose. An upholstery cleaner may be necessary for your car's seats and headrests.
  • Car wax: A good-quality car wax will ensure your vehicle is sparkling and protected.
  • Gloves: With all these cleaning agents, it's wise to protect your hands and use gloves when you wash your car.

Step By Step Guide to Wash Your Car Properly

Before you fill your buckets and gather your car-washing supplies, it's a good idea to check the weather report. When you wash a car on a hot, sunny day, there is a possibility for streaking and water spots. If a soapy car exterior dries before being adequately rinsed, it will leave behind residue that will dull the finish and attract dirt and grime. If you must wash your can on a sunny day, park it in a shady area.

Also, be aware of how windy it's outside when you wash your car. Even a gentle breeze can blow debris and dirt onto your vehicle. You could scratch the vehicle's paint if that sediment gets under your wash mitt.

Now that you have learned the best supplies and conditions for properly washing a car, it's time to get into the step-by-step process.

Pre-Rinse With Water

Pre-rinsing is vital to remove loose dirt from your car's exterior. Even a speck of dirt can seriously scratch an otherwise pristine paint job. Remember to rinse from top to bottom to ensure surface-debris travels to the ground and not to other parts of your car.

What substance you use to pre-rinse your vehicle is just as important as the method. Contrary to what you might think, tap water may not be the best choice. Tap water can contain minerals like calcium and iron that can dull your car's surface by forming water spots.

The processes that create deionized and filtered water remove these hard minerals and other abrasive and cloudy impurities. Because the point of pre-rinsing is to create a smooth, even surface for washing, these waters are ideal.

Start With the Wheels

Because wheels and tires are generally the filthiest parts of a vehicle, they are an excellent place to start when you wash a car. Wash, rinse, and dry the wheels one at a time so that they don't have time to air-dry, which can leave spots.

Set your hose to a high-pressure setting and spray away loose dirt from the tires and undercarriage. Using your tire brush and tire cleanser, scrub the tires until they are clean. Next, dip your wash mitt into the tire cleaning bucket and wash the wheels and rims. Rinse the tires with the hose and dry them with a microfiber cloth.

It's important to remember that the tools and supplies you use to wash the wheels and tires are unsuitable for the car's body. Not only are the cleaners and brushes designed specifically for tires, but the wash mitts and microfiber towels would have picked up lots of dirt. Using them on your vehicle exterior would most certainly scratch the finish.

Clean Your Car's Surface With Quality Car Shampoo

The car shampoo that you use to wash your car's exterior matters. You must choose one with high-quality ingredients to clean the vehicle while maintaining the integrity of the paint and any surface protectants.

Prepare your car shampoo and clean water buckets and put on a fresh wash mitt. Working in sections, wash the car's exterior from top to bottom.

When you swipe through an area with the mitt, turn it over and make another pass. Rinse each section after you have completed this process to prevent air drying. Swish your mitt around in the clean water bucket and repeat.

Rinse Away Soap With Clean Water

If you do not use clean water to rinse away the shampoo, you are defeating the purpose of washing your car altogether. You need to rinse all the soapy water, or else it will leave a sticky residue. This residue is like a magnet for dirt and filth, which could leave your car looking dingy.

Always Dry With a Microfiber Cloth

Microfiber cloths are ideal materials to dry vehicles to a sparkling finish. While you might have them in abundance, kitchen towels, bath towels, or other household towels should not be used. Soft cloths made of microfiber are absorbent and perfect for preventing streaking and water spots.

Clean the Windows

Dirty windows pose a visibility issue and can make an otherwise clean car look grungy. However, many people struggle to clean windows without leaving streaks and residue behind. Your favorite window cleaner and some paper towels are all you need. Only ensure the cleaner does not travel to the exterior paint or interior, as it could discolor or damage these surfaces.

Make Your Car Shine by Using a Wax

Applying wax after washing and drying your car's exterior is an essential final step. A layer of car wax protects your vehicle's paint from being exposed to abrasive dirt and debris. Waxing your car adds a beautiful sheen to the surface, giving it an unrivaled sparkle.  

Deep-Clean and Sanitize Your Interior

The state of the car interior leaves a lasting impression on potential buyers. Make sure that impression is positive by thoroughly deep-cleaning and sanitizing the dashboard, center console, upholstery, floor mats, and all other interior surfaces and crevices. Ensure the products you use are specifically designed for this process to avoid damage and discoloration.

A Seamless Experience to Sell Your Used Car

Now that you know how to properly wash a car, you're ready to snap perfect photos, post an engaging ad, and reach potential buyers. However, it's good to note that car washing is just one way to have a positive experience selling your used car. Visit Caramel for more helpful articles.

This article was provided by Caramel. Caramel's mission is to change the way people buy and sell cars from one another — making the entire experience safe, simple, and sweet. The first car checkout platform designed for private party buyers and sellers, you can find or list your car anywhere and use Caramel to handle everything else. That includes DMV work, secure payment, identity verification, vehicle reports, financing, delivery, insurance, vehicle protection, and more.