10 Car Cleaning Myths Debunked!

Myth 1

Dishwashing detergent is safe to use on your car.

Remember all those commercials about how dishwashing detergent ‘fights grease’ and ‘eliminates streaks’? As appealing as it may sound to use that on your car, consider it a huge no-no if you ever want to get that showroom SHEEN again. Dishwashing detergent is meant to remove everything from surfaces- including stripping polymers off the paint surface. By using dishwashing detergent on your car, you’re accelerating the oxidation process. It’s always best to use a dedicated car-wash product, which is milder and specifically designed for use on automotive paint.

Myth 2

Washing and cleaning are the same.

Car washes are one of the greatest inventions of our time. How easy it is to pay $10 to have your car gleaming and sparking on a sunny day? However, it’s important to note the difference between washing and cleaning. Car washes focus on the exterior of the car and remove any dust and debris that has built-up. It’s a great way to maintain the wax and paint finishes on your car by removing anything that could damage it without being overly time consuming. On the other hand, car cleanings are more detailed, take more time to complete and are recommended to be done at least a few times a year. Whether you do it yourself or go to a car detailer, car cleanings primarily tackle the inside of your vehicle as well as any stubborn stains and blemishes that occasional car washes can’t clean on the exterior. You won’t get sparkling chrome rims from that touch-less car wash you frequent- you need to put in the elbow grease, my friend!

Myth 3

A shiny car is a clean car.

Although a car may look clean, you should always put it to the touch test. Rub your hand over the surface of the car after washing it to feel for any leftover contaminants. If you did the job well, it should feel like touching glass. For stuck on dirt, use a clay bar to help remove any residue prior to applying polish or wax. Clay bars are easy to use and often are sold in a kit with easy to follow instructions. This is one job you DON’T need to leave to the professionals!

Myth 4

Eliminate swirl marks by waxing

Swirl marks, aka scratches on the paint surface, can only be removed by getting to the bottom of them. You can fix them depending on how deep the scratch is. A micro-fine scratch can be fixed with a non-abrasive paint cleaner. If it’s a moderate scratch, it may require something a bit more serious. Deep swirl marks will likely require professional help. Note: We didn’t mention to use wax for it at all!

Myth 5

There is no difference between polishing and waxing.

Many people don’t know that there is a difference between polishing and waxing. Although both are intended to help keep the exterior of your car looking clean and new, they serve different purposes. Polishing helps create a brilliant high-gloss surface. If you’re looking for that ‘straight off the dealer’s lot kind of clean, you’ll definitely want to include a polish in your cleaning regiment. On the other hand, waxing works to protect the vehicle’s finish. It does so by coating the exterior of your car with wax polymers, resins and silicones and unlike a polish, it won’t make a dull surface shiny.

Myth 6

Flannel, diapers and t-shirts make good cleaning cloths

The last material you want when cleaning your car is a smooth surface. Without any means of absorbing fine particles, these types of fabrics will end up just swirling dirt around on your car, possibly causing new micro-scratches. To avoid disaster, try using a microfiber towel since the deep surface creates a buffer zone that will pick up dirt and not grind it into the paint finish. The way we see it? Microfiber or bust!

Myth 7

Paste wax offers greater protection than liquid wax.

Years ago, carnauba wax was one of the hardest natural waxes available. However, compared to liquid waxes, it’s been found to gray the surface of a vehicle. It takes a lot of effort to apply and is not as durable as some of the liquid waxes. Paste waxes also tend to last up to 10 weeks. Some people still prefer paste waxes since it gives more of a classic finish. Nowadays we have synthetic waxes, polymers and resins that are more resilient and help enhance the gloss finish of your car. Liquid waxes are easy to use, are durable and can last up to six months. It’s quick and hard wearing, making it easy for widespread use and leaves a glass-like finish.

Myth 8

Wait until the car is really dirty to clean it

Although a black car turned white with dirt or a ‘Clean Me L’ message on the back of your car is a surefire sign it needs to be cleaned, don’t wait to clean up dirt and debris from your car. Regardless if your car has been waxed or not, when it comes to dead bugs, bird droppings and tree sap, it’s best to clean them before they start to strip away the wax on your car and damage the paint finish. With car washes at $10, it’s worth adding to your regular car maintenance schedule.

Myth 9

It doesn’t matter when you wash your car

FALSE. You don’t want to wash your car when the body is hot, whether you just drove it or it’s been in the sunlight for a while. The heat will speed up the drying of soap and water, making washing more difficult and increasing the likelihood of spots or deposits. It’s best to wash your car in the shade and to soak the car thoroughly with water before you begin to remove loose dirt and debris that could cause scratching.

Myth 10

Let your car air dry

If you thought driving around the block or letting your car air dry is a good idea, boy, were you wrong! Letting your car air dry will leave watermarks which is exactly what you don’t want to happen after you’ve spent time and effort to clean it. To avoid this, use a clean chamois (natural or synthetic) or soft microfiber cloths to blot the water up instead of dragging the cloth or chamois over the paint. An alternative to speed up the process would be to use a soft squeegee to remove the water on the body of your car. However, be sure the rubber is pliable and doesn’t pick up bits of dirt that can cause scratches!


  1. Just two clarifications in the article,

    (quote) “if you want a straight off the dealer’s lot kind of clean, you’ll definitely want to include a polish in your cleaning regiment.” Please note Polishes are abrasive and should only be used when the surface lacks lustre. Get expert advice on which polish to use before applying, as I have seen people ruin the clear coat on their car paint by using polishes too regularly. New car paint should be waxed every 8 weeks, for good results. Silicone waxes last longer than carnuaba.

    (quote) “Carnuba wax has been been found to gray the surface of a vehicle” Firstly, it is spelt CARNAUBA. Secondly, carnauba wax does not discolor the paint surface.

  2. You got it wrong on polishing vs waxing. Polish contains abrasives that ruin a clear coat. It should NEVER be used on a typical vehicle that has a clear coat except on rare instances where there is bare metal that has some surface rust, or on a classic car with no clear coat.

    • Yeah….I work at a body shop and you are so so wrong. Polishing actually is used to revive clear coats. Polish absolutely can not be used on rust, bare metal, or a car without a clear coat- which is included within the single stage paint on classic cars.

  3. Great stuff Amanda and everyone else who has shared their experiences. I’d like to pass this information onto those car owner who own black or dark cars. If you “detail or wax” a very dark or black colored automobile, I strongly suggest NOT using a micro soft towel. If you look closely, especially in bright sun or light after wiping off detailer or wax, you will see “treads of the micro towel” adhered to the clear coat. Yes, they wipe off but if you don’t remove before your next detailing, they may cause micro scratches in the clear and makes the car look dirty!!!
    I’m not an expert on paint, just on cleaning black paint. I’ve many BLACK cars and recently completed a BLACK 55 Thunderbird Pro Touring and the micro fibers stay put on this car as well.
    Fact is, its not joke and little is ever said about it. I use new and washed WHITE terry towels. Always have, always will. Hope my experience help

  4. I hate using chamois, rag, or squeegy. I like to use an electric leaf blower to get the water drops off the surface of the car, grill, door handles. Don’t use gas leaf blowers because they emit oil with the air flow.

  5. I have a white truck when y boyfriend cleaned it I was shocked to see that he had made it look practically new when I asked him how he did it he told me he used ajax powder cleanser. It took off every black mark there was removed rust and the scratches by the dent on the door. I thought he was kidding… he wasn’t. You can’t scrub too hard it has to be wet when you do it and you don’t want to let it dry…then you just use a spray wax and dry It looks Awesome!

  6. There are several micro fibre towels avaiable, I’d like to see a comparrison of the ones for car washing. Any one know of some good USA made ones?

  7. Great list Amanda, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen people clean their cars with an old t-shirt or cloth! The right materials are there for a reason!

  8. Professional car detailing is about getting the paint perfect and applying sealants or coatings. Interior cleaning is important but should not be the main focus of a detailer. As far as myth 7 goes, paste waxes (good ones) last 6 months, liquid waxes don’t last anywhere near as long. If you want longer durability a paint sealant is much prefered.

  9. Don’t use your household microfiber cloths on your car! They will scratch it and leave those microswirls that are visible in the sun. There are microfiber cloths which have a different surface that are specifically made for the safe use on car paint. It just happened that I read on this subject before I bought my very first car and I’ve seen some people with new shiny cars ruined by this little detail. They will do no harm on the inside and windows though.

  10. I’d love to learn your wonderful (and very usefull) tips on HOW TO CLEAN THE INTERIOR OF MY CAR – and how to keep it clean and desinfected. Thanks ! Cheers from Brazil – kiss/Thaiz

  11. These are great information regarding the most common car cleaning myths. These facts are very helpful in clarifying these notions. Thanks for sharing.

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