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FAQ: Prepping and Washing

  1. I have bugs/tar/grease/gum/worms on my car-how do I get it off?

    Bugs & tar most often come from the road, obviously. Grease can come from the road too, if you drive through some, or it can come from your own car, most commonly from axles, hubs, and CV joints. Gum & worms come from being run over on the road. If you see web-like, splattered crud on the lower fenders of your car, you probably ran over a wad of chewing gum on the road. Worms look like dried mucus and goo.

    The process of cleaning these things off of the car is called prepping. The biggest rule to follow when prepping is to not rub, scrub, or scrape too much, or you'll end up with scratches. The best product I know of is Tar Remover, a.k.a. New Car Prep, from Valugard/Automotive International. When sprayed on and allowed to soak, it helps remove tar, grease, gum, and scuff marks on paint. The best tool to aid in removal is a 3M "Scrubby" pad, similar to a Scotch-Brite pad but not nearly as abrasive. These pads are available at body shop supply stores and online detail supply stores. I've also found them at Lowe's and Home Depot (the Spot-X No Scratch Scrubbing Pad) in the cleaning supply section. Just be sure that whatever you get does not have any abrasive qualities or you will end up with hazy dullness & scratches in your paint & trim. Even these no-scratch pads have some slight abrasive qualities, so use them lightly and with lots of water and/or cleaning chemical as lubricant. For the bugs, worms, and other stuff, you can carefully (and I mean CaReFuLLY!!) try a little bit of Westley's Bleche-Wite with the scrubby pad and tar remover. Bleche-Wite is strong stuff, and if allowed to dry on the paint, it will etch. The reason I use the Bleche-Wite on paint as well as on the tires is because it is similar to the prep spray used in automatic car washes (that white foamy stuff that is sprayed on your car at the beginning of the wash.) This prepping product has a little bit of bite to it to loosen up the dirt & crud on your car, making the automatic wash process easier. Just be careful with the Bleche-Wite! If you'd like to take a safer route, try Simple Green as a prep agent instead-it works well and isn't quite as strong. Keep in mind, though, any chemical left to dry on the paint can cause etching.

    Be cautious with bug sponges and those green Scotch-Brite pads. They are simply too abrasive to use on paint, chrome, simulated chrome, and plastic. A broken-in bug sponge is good only for cleaning the car interior, in my opinion. Scotch-Brite pads should stay in the kitchen for scrubbing burnt bacon off of cast-iron skillets. Here's a rule of thumb: If you don't think you could wash your face with the pad in question, you probably shouldn't use it on your car's paint.

    Keep in mind that using tar remover or most any other cleaner/solvent on the paint will remove some or all of your previous wax protection, so a good waxing will be in order if you prep the car prior to washing. Prepping is not always necessary, especially for those "in-between-detail-job" washes. It's ok, though, to do the prep if you plan to wax the car anyway. If you decide not to prep, make sure you look closely for tar, grease, and other contaminants that should be removed-they really stick out later after you've waxed the paint, and at that point it's a pain to take care of. A good prep job is the foundation for a good detail job.

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  2. Can I use kerosene, lacquer thinner, or acetone on my paint?

    Some people like to use kerosene, lacquer thinner, or acetone for removing tar & grease from paint-I don't agree, and neither do the car manufacturers. They are too harsh for automotive paints and will soften the clearcoat by breaking down the resins that bind the paint together. If in doubt, read the label and be sure the product you are using is safe for automotive paints, including clearcoated paint.

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  3. How do you get those doorjambs & door hinges so clean?

    With degreaser and a pressure washer! It may seem a bit barbaric, especially when you accidentally blast the interior with the power washer, but it makes an incredible difference. Try sitting there with a toothbrush and a rag to achieve the same results and you'll be ready to shoot yourself in no time.

    First, spray the dirty, greasy parts of the jambs with a degreaser, such as Simple Green or Valugard's tar remover. Let it soak and then blast it. If the grease and dirt is particularly heavy, try loosening it with a scrub brush before power washing. Don't forget to power wash the underside of the hinges, bottom edge of the doors, and the rubber weatherstripping-they all can hide a suprising amount of dirt. After the power washing is done, treat the doorjambs and weather-stripping just like the interior plastic, rubber, and vinyl-give it a spray/air blow/wipe down with protectant or dressing using the techniques outlined under interior cleaning.

    And don't forget that cleaning the jambs removes the grease from the hinges, so you'll need to lube them up when done. Avoid the white lithium grease-it gets all over the place and looks awful, especially after you spent all that time cleaning the jambs. Try a transparent spray lubricant, or use a plastic syringe or stiff paintbrush to apply small amounts of multipurpose grease to the moving parts of the hinges. Use a small amount of light lubricant in the door latch mechanisms (instead of grease) to avoid getting grease on the latch posts, which will eventually end up on your clothing and seat belts.

    Keep in mind that spraying the doorjambs will make a mess of the exterior (and probably the interior, too), especially when spraying dressing, so more cleanup will be necessary. With practice, you'll be able to power wash the jambs with only a little bit of water mess in the interior. That's the name of the game in detailing-you have to make one mess to clean up another. Just make smaller and smaller messes until they are all gone! Cleaning the doorjambs may also remove the clear or opaque rust proofing that may be present in the jambs-no big loss, in my opinion. Read the section on rust proofing and undercoating for my opinion on that stuff.

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  4. I heard you shouldn't wash or wax a car in the sun?

    Yup, you're right. You shouldn't. The sun can dry out the soapy water on the vehicle and can also make the paint surface too hot for waxing or buffing. This is a limitation of mobile detailing, but a careful detailer with a watchful eye can avoid the problems associated with working in the sun-like keeping the vehicle constantly wet and cooling the paint in a shady spot, under a canopy, or indoors before doing any waxing or buffing. Remember-I treat you car like it was my own, so there's no need to worry about damage!

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  5. Is it okay to use dish soap to wash my car? What kind of wash soap do you recommend?

    Use dish soap only if you hate your car. Your car will hate you back. Dish soap is for dishes, not cars, and is strong enough to strip off your wax protection. In general, dish soaps rely on soaps instead of detergents. Soaps are generated from animal fats, which can leave trace elements on the paint finish and cause damage. Stick with the stuff made especially for washing cars, unless you like waxing after each and every wash.

    I prefer good old reliable liquid car wash soap. ("Soap" is a misnomer here; as most car wash soaps are actually detergents, and there is a difference.) The brand doesn't really matter, just as long as it's intended for cars, which means among other things, it's pH balanced. Use just enough soap to do the job-the more soap used, the more wax it will remove. Avoid soap flakes or granulated soap-a particle of un-dissolved soap could scratch the paint if it gets onto your wash mitt or brush. You might want to try the "wax as you dry" type stuff if you want to cheat on the waxing, or the Mr. Clean Auto Dry, which is supposed to dry with no water spots or streaks. I have yet to use either of those. Right now I'm using Turtle Wax Platinum Series Car Wash and Conditioner-it's a long name for a simple mild soap with a bit of "Turtle Wax Green" dye in it. It makes good bubbly lather and does a good job.

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  6. Do you prefer wash brushes, sponges, or wash mitts?

    I use both brushes and mitts, depending on the application. Unfortunately, there is no way to wash a car and avoid miniscule hairline scratches (also known as "spiderwebbing".) The friction necessary to clean the paint is a necessary evil. The wash brush, sponge, or mitt provides that necessary evil. Some swear by the wash mitt; some prefer the brush. I stay away from using sponges mainly because they don't seem to rinse out as well as brushes or mitts. The grit has a better chance of scratching the paint when it doesn't rinse out as well. As for mitts, there are several types, such as lambs wool, synthetic, cotton chenille, and microfiber. Take your pick. If you have a preference for the mitt or the brush, let me know. Rest assured, my wash brushes and mitts are super-soft. I also use a "Grit Gaurd" in the bottom of my wash bucket. It's simply a grid that sits a couple inches off the bottom of the bucket. The idea is to allow the grit and dirt to settle out at the bottom of the bucket, while the grid keeps your brush or mitt from reaching the dirt at the bottom. It's good insurance against scratches.

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  7. What is the best way to dry my car after washing?

    For those of you who do not dry your cars after washing, be cautious that you don't let your car dry in the sun, or water spotting may result. Either wash your car on a cloudy day, or park it in the shade after washing to minimize spotting.

    If you like to dry your car by hand, there are several techniques. I prefer the combination of a chamois and a squeegee. Terry towels can also be used. The chamois can be made from either synthetic (man-made) material or from real animal hide. The synthetic chamois tend to perform better in that they require less maintenance-they don't mildew or rot as much if left damp. Both the synthetic and natural chamois will be stiff when dry, so keeping them wet is a good idea, but they may mildew if kept in an airtight container. Probably the best product on the market right now is The Absorber, a synthetic chamois that will not rot or mildew when left damp in its storage tube. In fact, it is designed to be left wet, and can even be washed with the laundry. You can't do that with a genuine chamois.

    As for the squeegee, don't think you can use the window squeegee from the gas station on your vehicle's paint! Those are okay for windows, but the rubber is much too coarse and would scratch and dull paint if used on the body. There are special squeegees made just for the body of your car, and the best in my opinion is the California Water Blade. It is made from very soft silicone rubber, which can conform to the shape of the body panels to whisk the water away. I use the Water Blade on the larger flat surfaces and follow up with The Absorber for the tight spots. Using a squeegee on the paint might seem unnatural and nerve-wracking at first, but you will soon fall in love with it. The only word of caution is to be absolutely sure the surface you are squeegeeing (and the squeegee itself) are totally free of grit & dirt, as the squeegee can drag the grit along the surface and scratch it. But if the water on the car is clean & clear, you too are in the clear.

    To get the last of the water off of the car and out of the crevices, you can blow it out with compressed air and wipe it up. If you don't have compressed air, try driving the car around the block-the wind & g-forces will force the water out of the cracks & crevices for easy wipe-up. Don't try that if you live on a dusty dirt road or if the road is wet, as it will get the car dirty again and you'll easily scratch the car when wiping.

    Some people love terry towels for drying. I don't use them simply because I like the method I already use. Plus, brand new terry towels can leave lint on the car, and also, when drying an entire vehicle with terry towels, you'll go through a ton of them, so you'll need quite a stockpile of towels to dry that way.

    Another helpful product for drying is a spray that makes the water bead up and roll off of the car, often known as "Bead Up" or something similar, depending on the manufacturer. This stuff is really nifty-when sprayed on the car, the water instantly beads up and almost "falls off" of the car, making the drying much easier.

    For those of you who are sneaky and lazy about waxing, try the "wax as you dry" products that are sprayed on the wet car and wiped off with chamois or towels. If you never wax you car, this is a reasonable alternative to leaving the car unwaxed.

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