As you drive down the road, your paint takes the abuse from dirt, sand, rocks, rain, wind, and anything else that decides to appear during your commute. While we would like to think of paint as being a hard substance which could take a lot of abuse before it becomes damaged, the reality is: paint is actually fairly soft.
So soft in fact, that if you were to drag your finger across dirt, such as writing a message or drawing an image in the dirt on a friend's car, the grains of dirt create scratches within the paint. This is why sometimes after that happens, when it rains, you can still see the image.
As you begin washing your car, you should first start by following the best hand washing practices found in this article. No matter how you wash your car, you will be using a wash mitt to scrub the dust away from your paint. This means a quality wash mitt is essential to a clean car.
Why Does Paint Scratch So Easily?
When a vehicle is painted, a manufacturer will create a certain blend that they are satisfied with for the use. This means that all paint across the automotive industry is not 100% the same. One design of automotive paint is the elasticity, or the ability to flex and return to the original shape without breaking apart.
We’ve all leaned against our vehicle a bit too hard and felt the panel move. If the paint on top of that panel was really hard, or brittle, it would break instead of bend. This flexing happens as we drive down the road, especially in windy situations, and is vital to the design of automotive paints. This elasticity also means that automotive paints must be a bit soft.
The other idea of soft paint is the ability to absorb some of the force from things like flying rocks. The softness of the paint acts sort of like a pillow in hopes to reduce damage on a metal panel.
What Are Scratches?
With a goal to avoid scratching our paint, we should begin to understand just what a scratch is so we can better watch for the signs.
When a car is painted, it is painted in layers. Between these layers and the individual particles of paint flying from the paint gun, a painted surface at a microscopic level is actually far from smooth. When light bounces into these scratches, they become visible and easy to see.
To fill these layers, we could add a wax sealant which acts as a soft clear coating. The wax fills the grooves and provides a thin smooth layer on top of the clear for UV and contaminant protections, and the now filled scratches become far less visible. Wax coatings are known to last five to six weeks.
Another option is to utilize ceramic coatings, which fill the scratches, and then harden to create a strong protective layer over your paint and clear. Similar to wax, this coating will reflect the light near the surface, not allowing the light razy to reflect off the inner edges of the scratch which would make it visible. Spray on ceramic coatings are known to last two to three months, with professional grade etched ceramic coatings lasting four to five years with proper care.
What Scratches Your Car’s Paint?
The simple answer is, without a protective layer over your paint, everything can scratch your paint. From the dust kicked up from a stone driveway, to the fine sand particles blowing in a gust of wind, nature can have a drastic impact on your vehicle. As humans, we also make a lot of errors that negatively affect our paint, such as setting things on top of our vehicles, or leaning on our vehicle.
Leaning on your vehicle creates two issues when considering scratches.
First, we must look at what we are wearing. Many of us wear jeans, and while the denim material itself can be rough and quite abrasive, many small details such as metal buttons or embroidered designs that are more abrasive. You may also be wearing a wedding band, and while it doesn’t necessarily feel sharp against your finger, your ring dragging along your paint can cause severe issues.
The second consideration is the dust that’s on the car before you lean on it. Dust and sand are sharp when looked at up close, this means as you add your weight onto the particles they begin to dig into the painted surface, and the situation only becomes worse as you slide or shift your body.
Often, cars can be found with scratches on the door just inside the handle. This is from the driver’s nails or rings hitting the painted surface as they reach for the door handle.
One common cause of scratches that many people don’t consider are automated car washes. From hard bristle brushes to heavy wet pads slapping your vehicle, these machines are known to both cause scratches during operation, as well as push dirt and sand against your paint with force.
This is why hand washing your vehicle is the best approach to a quality cleaning process which promotes paint protection and longevity.
With the scrubbing process being the vital moment where you put force on the dirt and debris in attempt to lift it, you should be certain to buy a quality wash mitt.
Ultimately there is one way to reduce the potential for scratches while washing your car: reduce the amount of contact with the car itself. This is why as you read through the “Washing Your Car” section below, such a focus is put on pre wash and soaking prior to scrubbing.
If you have one of those traditional sponges used to wash your car, most commonly big and yellow, it’s time to put it away for good. The large flat dense surface of the sponge traps the dirt and debris particles against the paint and causes scratches on your finished surface. For this reason, we find a wash mitt an essential tool for washing your vehicle.
Wash mitts are defined by the pile design of material, meant to give room to the dust and debris particles lifted away from the surface. You generally have the ability to place your hand inside the mitt, allowing you to follow the car with your actual hand.
Chenille Microfiber Mitts: A common selection for detailers, the microfiber construction creates a long lasting surface great for prolonged use. The bright colors allow easy inspection to check for contaminants, and they are easily rinsed out and cleaned for multiple uses. Always inspect your mitts before reusing them.
Wool or Sheepskin Mitts: These wash mitts are considered to be the highest quality on the market, and unfortunately the price does represent that opinion. The large mass of fibers are often longer, hold a large amount of soap and water, and are extremely soft. These mitts do need a bit of care, since they are real fur, and tend to not last as long.
Synthetic Wool Wash Mitts: In an attempt to create a similar product to a real wool wash mitt that’s more cost effective and lasts a bit longer, manufacturers have created a synthetic option. While these mitts lack a bit in the ability to hold soap and water, and their overall ability to clean the surface, the synthetic options allow precise adjustments and consistency with products. For example, if you like that a specific mitt is a bit rougher, these mitts being manufactured means they should always be the same consistency.
At this point, you must ask yourself, “what is your expectation for a mitt?” Each mitt shines in its own way, with the microfiber mitts being a cost effective long lasting product which fits into most consumers’ expectations, the wool mitts being a high cost but high quality option intended to give a quality result, and the synthetic wool mitts finding that middle ground between the low end and the high end.
Washing Your Car
As a car owner, washing your car is important to the longevity and visual appeal of your paint. With the risk of scratching your paint, you should always follow specific hand washing practices for your car which focus on your paint’s care.
First, rinse your vehicle from top to bottom with a fairly gentle water pressure. A pressure washer can be used, but should be rated for 1200 to 1900 psi and sprayed from a considerable distance. Your goal is to allow the water to pull loose contaminants such as dust away from your paint without any contact.
Using a soap gun or soap cannon hooked to either a garden hose or pressure washer, cover the entire vehicle in soap. Allow three to five minutes for the soap to soak below the debris. This soaking will begin to lift the dirt and debris away from your paint. Try to avoid letting the soap dry.
At this point, you will begin using your selected mitt. Start by rinsing the mitt with a hose or in a bucket of clean water. Choose a starting point on the vehicle, such as the roof or the driver side door. Spray this section once more with fresh soap and water. With the mitt, begin scrubbing the area in circular motions with medium pressure. Ensure you are consistently overlapping your previous circles so you don’t miss anything, which will become extremely obvious later when your wash is all said and done. Work your way from panel to panel around the vehicle until you return to your starting point.
Begin rinsing the vehicle, spray the water over the vehicle, allowing the soap, dirt, and grime to run off onto the ground. You do not want to start off spraying directly onto the paint with high pressure since this would push the dirt into the paint and risk scratches.
Now that a large majority of the soap and contaminants are washed onto the ground, you can focus more water pressure toward the vehicle.
Allow the vehicle to drip dry for a few minutes. Once a majority of the water has run off, use quality microfiber towels to wipe the remainder of the vehicle dry. If a towel becomes too wet and begins producing streaks, set this towel to the side and continue with a dry towel.
Once the vehicle is dry, we recommended using a ceramic car coating or spray wax to protect your paint and promote longevity. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the product is applied correctly.
Armed with the knowledge of wash mitts, you are now able to select a was mitt that best fits your expectations and work demand. With ease of use and care, and longevity, you can better understand why microfiber mitts have become a popular option within professional and home detailers around the world.
In the end, you should choose a product that best fits your want, and feel.