An Illustrated Guide to the Perfect Driveway Car Wash

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 25, 2012 · 43 Comments

in Cars, Manly Skills, Visual Guides

1. Park car in shade, or wash car when not sunny to prevent premature drying and water spots. Gather materials: 2 buckets, hose, wash mitt or sponge, brush, car wash soap, wheel cleaner, 2 microfiber waffle towels.  2. Wash wheels with wheel cleaner and brush. Make sure to scrub inside wheel wells.  3. Pre-rinse car with hose.  4. Use the soap bucket to suds up your mitt; the water bucket to rinse off your mitt after you scrub and before you suds up again.   5. Scrub car from the top down. Keep wash areas small and rinse mitt frequently. To avoid water and soap spots, keep your car wet as your scrub by misting car with hose.  6. Remove hose head and give car a final rinse. Rinse from the top down with steady, gentle stream. Let the water sheet over the car’s surface to prevent water spots.  7. Dry with waffle towel. Don’t apply much pressure, just focus on soaking up the bulk of the water. Wring often. Spot dry with second microfiber waffle.

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Illustration by Ted Slampyak

Have any other tips for a perfect driveway car wash? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anders April 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

You guys have a gift. You can make me want to run out and excitedly do the most mundane things. Then once I am finished, I feel great and accomplished. Today when I walk in the office, people will have the morning small talk and I will be the nut who proudly tells everyone, “This morning I washed my car and shaved and made breakfast in my cast iron skillet.” Thanks y’all!

2 Paul B. April 25, 2012 at 10:27 am

Can you please put out some info on washing and caring for a convertible top? Would really appreciate it.

3 Gary House April 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

This just might be the way to convince the boys that washing my truck is a fun idea! Great artwork!

4 Levi A. April 25, 2012 at 10:48 am

Sponsored by Armor All? That’s not manly at all. I’m all Meguiar’s ;) lol

5 Andrew April 25, 2012 at 11:05 am

First picture: Sponge on the ground. TERRIBLE IDEA!

6 Lance Osborne (@Osborne) April 25, 2012 at 11:09 am

Once again, Ted’s AoM illustrations just blow me away. I’m ready to go wash my VW right now! (Check out my profile link to see my ’79 Beetle.)

7 Ted Slampyak April 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm

There’s nothing like washing and waxing your classic Beetle to get you lost in your thoughts and fall in love with your old clunker again. (Mine’s a ’68.)

I’m sure it’s true for other cars, too. But the Beetle has so many unique corners, crevices and curves that are fun to discover while you’re polishing it up. You really get to know your car while you wash it — you get a sense of ownership and familiarity you don’t get by driving through an automated car wash.

8 Jeremy April 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Note, depending on where you live, this may very well be illegal. In California, it is illegal to allow the runoff from washing your car to flow into the storm drains, although the rule is rarely enforced.

That said, regardless of where you live, at least grab some biodegradable soap. Man and nature go hand-in-hand, so doing the right thing is surely an art of manliness.

9 Invictus April 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Hmm. You gentlemen would clearly benefit from Optimum No Rinse, especially in California, but in general.

10 Ted Slampyak April 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm

My 13-year-old daughter just washed our car for the first time, using the Art of Manliness Car Wash Guide, and I”m happy to report that it works great for girls, too!

11 Jeff Kendal April 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm

One thing that you should add to this illustration as a disclaimer. Some cities do not allow you to wash your vehicle on the street; you must go to hand wash stations.

This is true in Calgary, Canada, where the storm drains in the street enter the river, so it is illegal to use soap on your driveway, as it will affect the river environment.

12 JeffC April 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Did Ted every own a Bug? He gets all the details correct, down to the shape of the holes in the slotted rims and the flat steel strut that supports the front bumper. I can’t find a single inaccuracy.

I’ve read that sponges can hold dirt and scratch paint.

13 Ted Slampyak April 25, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Hey Jeff!

Yes, I own a Bug — see my comment #7 above. It’s a ’68, but it was customized to use pre-67 headlights. All the illustrations are based on photos I took of the car. (I left out the dents and scrapes I haven’t gotten fixed yet!)

Glad you like my attention to detail — and good work spotting it!

14 Mr Writing III April 25, 2012 at 9:11 pm

To anyone that posts it is illegal to wash your own car in your own driveway. Please wash your car in your own driveway every F’n weekend just as a poke in the eye to big-brother. Jeeze – ruined my day reading those posts.

15 kai April 25, 2012 at 10:09 pm

@Mr Writing III

It’s not a poke in the eye to Big Brother, it’s a poke in the environment that the laws were made to protect.

16 jsallison April 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Or, locate a local carwash that has actual people do actual pre-wash scrubs and tip appropriately. Think of them as the neighborhood barber for your car.

17 Mike April 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I miss having a driveway to wash my car in. I can’t wait to move out of this apartment and back into a house again.

18 basic April 26, 2012 at 12:17 am

I had a ’68, great year, as it is the last year of the swing axle and first year of the four lug wheels. ;)

I currently own a ’59 and a ’66, and a ’73 Plymouth satellite, and I endorse this article. Hand washing your own car, and then waxing it and polishing the chrome is a great way to spend an hour or two. You also benefit from being able to inspect things like the tires or rubber seals that you might overlook in your day-to-day grind that might cause bigger problems down the road. (pun intended.)

19 Bran April 26, 2012 at 12:18 am

I’m getting a new car in a couple weeks and the first I’m going to do is give it a good wash.

20 jr April 26, 2012 at 12:54 am

How about a picture guide to waxing??? Should be done at least 1x per year. I prefer 2x: one in spring and one in fall.

21 Mellls April 26, 2012 at 5:06 am

As our small independent filling stations close due to the rising fuel costs here in the UK, Eastern Europeans move in under the canopies and open “Hand Car Wash” stations. Drive in, 4 guys straight on the job, almost as described in your instructions (apart from the addition of blowing out excess water from wing mirrors with an air blower, oh and tyre shine applied too) …. 5 mins later …. AMAZING SPARKLE!!
All for a mere £5 … For this we thank the Eastern Europeans

22 rseifer April 26, 2012 at 8:06 am

In Picture 3, I would suggest removing the pressure nozzle on the hoze before pre-rinsing the car. Using high pressure water pushes the dirt down into the paint, which is relatively soft, and will dull the finish over a period of time. I use the high pressure nozzle after I have soaped the car, and when the dirt has been loosened and lifted off the skin.

23 Tim Lesher April 26, 2012 at 8:47 am

One correction: wash from the *bottom up*; rinse from the *top down*.

Otherwise, the soap running down the side of the car can make it harder to see whether you’ve missed any spots.

24 Tony V April 26, 2012 at 8:57 am

I love the artwork and the tips. I’m one of those apartment dwellers who washes his car in the street. I use 10 old plastic milk/water gallons filled with sink water to get the job done. I’ve been washing our cars by hand for years. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning and you save a ton of $ if you like your car(s) washed weekly.

25 caleb April 26, 2012 at 9:05 am

I go to the had wash place and spend $2-$3 to get it cleaned. Less mess, quicker, better for the environment, and does a better job getting the mud off (I live in Colorado). I used to work for a car rental place so I can do a better job than the automated ones. Not quite as good as the professional hand wash places, but who wants to spent that much on a wash?

A guide to waxing and buffing would be great. Not much experience there.

26 Steve April 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

No cute girl in skimpy outfit helping out = not perfect.

27 Brian April 26, 2012 at 11:39 am

Great picture tutorial (as always!)

This is to the people who cant put water into the storm drains, could you wash your car on your lawn? That way the water feeds the grass and you arent’ in violation? I’m in MA where there aren’t any such restrictions.

28 Duff April 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Make sure you use soap that will not harm the environment when the soap suds wash into the gutter.

29 Kyle April 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I fully expected to be let down, but I am very surprised. I’ve been studying (yes studying chemical processes etc.) auto detailing for a number of years now and when I saw the two-bucket method I had a tear in my eye!

30 Kyle April 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm


**** For those who cannot have runoff into storm drains, look into a product called Optimum No Rinse. It truly is revolutionary. I have tested it extensively as well as the rest of the high end detailing community. I know what I’m talking about!

31 Jerrad April 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I’m all motivated; now I just have to wait till it stops raining haha. I second jr’s suggestion for a awesomely illustrated waxing guide

32 caleb April 26, 2012 at 10:06 pm

A lot of places it is not just the runoff, but the water use. A car wash cleans and reuses the water so you only use a couple gallons each time. Hand washing in the yard can use 100 gallons or more. There are times in Colorado (and the rest of the southwest) were it is illegal to water your yard on certain days or at certain times (ie – even or odd street numbers; only before 8am and after 7pm) because of drought conditions. You will get big tickets if you water on the wrong day or wash your car by hand.

There are huge legal battles over water rights. Certain district courts are also “water courts.”

33 don Roberto April 26, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Using the driveway to wash your car is a bad idea because, as others have pointed out, all that soap ends up in the storm drain. If it’s not biodegradable, then it can be bad for lakes & rivers. If it is, it can provide nutrient for algae and other things you don’t want to encourage. The solution is simple: biodegradable soap and *washing the car on the lawn or other dirt surface.” Soap and water will soak into the soil and be broken down with a much lower risk to the water table.

34 L April 27, 2012 at 8:26 am

@ Tim Lesher – The majority of the road grime and dirt accumulates on the lower half of the vehicle, wash from top down, rinse mitt often, and work in small sections to avoid spreading the dirt from the lower half to the hood, roof, trunk lid, etc.
Good thought though, nothing worse than doing a nice hand wash and finding you’ve missed a spot!

35 John.G. April 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm

One more correction… In step 5, DO NOT wash your car in a circular pattern. Your mitt can pick up dirt and this motion will cause swirl marks. Instead go from front to back, parallel to the ground.

36 Kyle April 27, 2012 at 9:14 pm

@ John.G.

Washing in a circular pattern does not cause swirl marks. That is an “illusion” of sorts. The light reflecting at a certain spot spreads and refracts over the surface, making it look like the marks are in a circular pattern. They are actually just marks in random different directions and due to the reflection, looks like circles. It doesn’t matter which way you wash (directional), just that the mitt is rinsed each panel or after it becomes soiled.

37 Bill April 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

I love this. A VW Bug is my dream car. Not a huge dream, but it’s my dream.

38 Kerfin April 30, 2012 at 12:34 am

Hmmm… I always just used one bucket, without the rinse bucket. I’ll have to try that one out to see if it helps. I also like to wash my tires last. They typically get the dirtiest, and I don’t want any of that on the rest of the car.

39 joe May 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

I am also interested in convertible top care. Is there any conditioner you can use that won’t run off the top when it rains, and streak the paint. Black top, black paint, 1 little rain, equals big giant mess and haven’t even left the driveway.

40 Justin May 7, 2012 at 1:47 am

For those of you in cities that don’t allow washing your car in your driveway, or just want to save some water; look up GoClean waterless car wash. They sell it at Canadian Tire, and I use it at work all the time. So long as there isn’t any caked on dirt it doesn’t scratch the paint at all, and leaves a nice wax.

-Not a salesman, just satisfied.

41 Kyle May 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

This is a nice and simple wash that I’ve done frequently for quite some time but my latest routine involves extreme attention to detail including the door jambs, wheel wells and even removing the wheels to clean brake dust from the insides. It all comes down to how much you appreciate your car and how long you need it to last for

42 Terry Allen May 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

re: convertibles. I have a Mustang GT ragtop which lives outside, though under a carport. My road is gravel (“You might be a redneck if. . . “), and my baby gets filthy from dust and pollen. I use my shop vac to pre-clean the surface, then, a 5″ round brush with my water/car wash solution to get down into the fabric grain. The brush has very soft bristles to avoid abrasion, and yet get the detritus. I don’t have a recommendation on dressings–I don’t like anything I’ve ever used, so I go “commando”. This top had been on my Mustang for years when I bought my baby, 12 years ago, and it still looks great, so I guess the scheme works. On a side note, I think that people should be responsible conservators of our home (even dogs don’t take a dump where they sleep) and the government should butt out. On a personal note, it’s WAY MORE fun to wash a Mustang GT convertible than a VW!

43 Ted February 16, 2014 at 11:14 am

It would be nice to do the tutorial how to wash a car with pressure washer.

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