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Washing a Ceramic Coated Car
So you’ve just ceramic coated your car or perhaps a car detailer ceramic coated your car for you. Now, you may be wanting to know how to wash and maintain it properly. Contrary to what some people may believe, ceramic coatings are not some mysterious product that needs extra special care. It simply just needs to be washed with proper wash techniques and with the right car wash products.
If you must take your car to an automatic car wash, then take it to a touchless one where no brushes are used. Therefore, nothing physically touches your vehicle that can introduce scratches into your ceramic coating. However, because there are no brushes to physically clean the car, the chemicals used at touchless car washes tend to be harsher in order to clean your car without touching it. These harsh chemicals can degrade your ceramic coating.
The main point of washing and maintaining your ceramic coated car is to minimize scratching. Every time you wash your car, there is inherently an increased risk of scratching your ceramic coating. Imagine all of the dirt, dust, and grime on your car’s paint as tiny, tiny rocks. If you took your hand and rubbed it along the paint, you’d be essentially grabbing these little rocks and dragging them across the paint surface. Since you have a ceramic coating, this would cause micro-scratches in the coating. These micro-scratches can decrease the performance of the ceramic coating’s hydrophobic properties, as well as decrease the life of the coating.
I believe that the best way to preserve your ceramic coating is to wash your car by yourself. I personally don’t trust car washes to employ proper wash techniques to minimize scratching of my car, nor can I expect them to use safe chemicals to protect my ceramic coating. The absolutely safest way to wash and maintain your ceramic coated car is to invest in some car wash products so that you can wash your own car at home. These products include: car soap, wash mitt, drying towel, and a few wash buckets and grit guards. If you want to up your car wash game and further preserve your ceramic coating, you can look into getting a a pressure washer along with a foam gun or foam cannon.
Tools & Materials
Car Soap, Wash Mitt, and Drying Towel
A big thanks to Meguiar’s for providing these products for this article. They are a highly reputable company in the detailing community and their products are fantastic, so I was perfectly content using their Hyper-Wash Car Soap, Microfiber Wash Mitt, and Water Magnet Drying Towel for this write-up. There are certainly other tools and products that will help with the process of washing your ceramic coated car, but these are the main products that are needed.
Choosing which car wash soap to use is an important aspect as you don’t want to use one that has additional properties that might mask over the ceramic coating’s own hydrophobic properties. One of the greatest strengths of ceramic coatings is its ability to bead and sheet off water. Therefore, you want a car soap that provides only cleaning action and does not leave any of its own hydrophobic properties (e.g. wax) behind. Your ceramic coating will generally perform better than other waxes and sealants and therefore you don’t want to cover it up. Meguiar’s Hyper-Wash car soap is a superb choice that doesn’t leave any superficial properties behind.
You’ll also need a microfiber wash mitt to physically clean off the contaminants on the car’s paint. Just spraying soap on the car and washing it off alone will not remove all the dirty particles off of the paint. Even using a pressure washer to do this will not get the vehicle completely clean. You need to use soap and a wash mitt or towel to effectively wash the vehicle.
Finally, a drying towel is essential because if you leave water to dry on its own, you will get water spots. Ceramic coatings are not impervious to water spotting. If water spots are left on the paint surface for a prolonged period of time, it is inevitable that the salts and minerals left behind will eventually etch itself into the ceramic coating and if left even longer, into the clear coat. All water that remains on the vehicle after a car wash needs to be completely wiped and dried up.
Car Wash Soap: Meguiar’s Hyper-Wash (1 gal)
Wash Mitt: Meguiar’s Microfiber Wash Mitt
Drying Towel: Meguiar’s Water Magnet Microfiber Drying Towel 22″ x 30″
Wash Buckets (2 qty)
Grit Guard Inserts (2 qty)
Microfiber towels are typically used in car detailing due to its ability to wipe up contaminants and hide them within its fibers. This minimizes scratching of the paint. You may even use microfiber towels in place of a wash mitt if you wish. Whenever I wash cars, I usually use these for cleaning glass and for cleaning door jambs.
Optional Equipment: Pressure Washer, Foam Gun/Cannon
Using the Two Bucket Wash Method with all of the products above will have everything you need to safely wash and maintain your ceramic coated car. If you want to take it an extra step or two, you can further minimize potential scratching of your ceramic coating by using a pressure washer along with a foam gun or a foam cannon.
A pressure washer utilizes pressurized water to spray contaminants off of your car. You definitely still have to use a wash mitt with soapy water to wash the surface to completely remove all the dirt and grime off of your car. What you’re using a pressure washer for is to get as much of the dirty particles off of the car with pressurized water so that when you do get to the next step of washing the car with a wash mitt, there are less particles on the car that can potentially scratch your paint.
Using a foam gun or a foam cannon also aims to minimize scratching. These two tools are used to lather up the soap into a rich and foamy mixture that when sprayed onto the vehicle’s paint, stays suspended on the vehicle longer. When the foam stays suspended on the surface, it gives the soap a better chance at working loose the contaminants from the ceramic coating. Then after a few minutes of dwell time, the contaminants have a higher chance of washing away when rinsed with water.
Products used in this tutorial:
Pressure Washer: Sun Joe SPX3000 Electric Pressure Washer
Foam Cannon: Chemical Guys Foam Cannon
Foam Gun: Torq Snow Foam Blaster R1 Foam Gun (the one I have is discontinued, but this one is similarly constructed)
How to Wash and Maintain a Ceramic Coated Car
People always ask if its worth it to do a ceramic coating on a car and I typically say yes as long as you don’t mind putting in the work (or paying) up front. What you do get in return, is an exterior that is easier to wash and maintain in the upcoming year or so. Especially if the vehicle has been properly prepped, the ceramic coating really helps to keep the car clean. Below is the vehicle that will be washed: our 2020 Ford F-150 that was ceramic coated with Gtechniq Crystal Serum Light more than a month ago.
I recommend washing your ceramic coated car every 2-3 weeks to ensure that contaminants don’t linger on the surface too long. These particles can eventually embed themselves into the ceramic coating, which can compromise the coating and make it difficult to remove. This truck was washed after about six weeks of being coated. If I could, I would stick with the 2-3 week timeframe for washing a ceramic coated car.
Initial Water Rinse to Wash Off Loose Contaminants
The first thing I like to do is spray down the entire vehicle to wash off any loose dirt and debris. A pressure washer is more effective at doing this, but even a garden hose with a sprayer can do a good job of removing these loose contaminants. Spray every part of the vehicle down including the wheels and wheel wells.
Cleaning Wheels and Tires
The first thing I like to do prior to washing the car is to clean the wheels and tires. The wheels are probably the dirtiest part of the vehicle. It’s low to the ground and is constantly exposed to: things getting kicked up from the ground, high heat from the brakes, and brake dust from constant use of the brake pads. Don’t wash the wheels (and tires) with the same tools you’d use to wash the car with as you don’t want those dirty particles from the wheels/tires being thrown back onto the paint surface. If you want to learn more about washing wheels and tires, there’s much more details here: How to Clean & Protect Wheels / How to Clean & Dress Tires
There are two main tools to use for cleaning wheels and tires. One is a wheel barrel brush, which cleans (you guessed it) the barrel of the wheel. The other is a general-use wheel and tire brush which can clean both tires and wheels. I use a bucket with a grit guard and fill with water and car soap. Normally, you’d want to use a dedicated wheel/tire cleaner as they tend to be a bit more aggressive at cleaning these highly-dirtied parts. However my wheels were coated previously and therefore are easier to clean with milder chemicals. If you have a wheel cleaner to use, you can spray it on your wheels/tires and brush away.
The wheel barrel brush should be inserted between the wheel spokes and scrubbed along the inner wheel barrel at different angles to completely clean the wheel barrel surface. The general wheel and tire brush should be brushed along the entire wheel face, as well as the tires. Once the wheel and tire are adequately washed, then rinse it all off with water. If you’re working in the sun or if it’s a hot day, I advise to wash one wheel at a time, otherwise these chemicals might dry in place, which will make it harder to wash off later.
Optional: Pre-Soak with Snow Foam and Water Rinse
Washing the car with the Two Bucket Wash Method is the main part of washing your ceramic coated vehicle safely. However, if you want to perform this optional pre-soak and rinse to your routine, you’ll be rewarded with a longer-lasting and better performing ceramic coating in the long run.
Pre-soaking the vehicle with a snow foam from the use of a foam gun or even better a foam cannon, will allow the soap to stay suspended on the vehicle. This results in the soap working the contaminants loose, which will free it from the ceramic coating. Rinsing it all off with water will remove those particles from the vehicle; particles that would have been dragged along the car’s surface when washing it with a wash mitt.
This pre-soak step is very simple. Spray the foam onto the vehicle thoroughly and allow it to sit on the vehicle for a few minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of it being more difficult to wash off; definitely do not allow it to dry. Don’t forget to spray the wheel wells and the wheels and tires too. Finally, rinse it all off with water.
If you use a foam cannon, you’ll get a nice rich foam, which stays suspended on the vehicle longer (see above photos). However, if you don’t want to bother with a pressure washer and a foam cannon, you can opt for a foam gun. A foam gun attaches directly onto a garden hose and sprays foam without the need of a pressure washer. The result however, is a less foamy mixture that does not stay suspended on the vehicle as long (see below.)
Washing with the Two Bucket Wash Method
If you want an in-depth guide to washing your car with the Two Bucket Wash Method and learn how it prevents scratches, read this post: What is the Two Bucket Wash Method & How Does it Prevent Scratches?
The Two Bucket Wash Method is a way of washing your car to minimize the amount of contaminants being dragged across the paint. To do this, you use two wash buckets with a grit guard placed into each bucket. One bucket is filled with just water, and the other bucket is filled with car soap. In this case, I’m using the recommended dilution ratio of: 1 ounce of Meguiar’s Hyper-Wash car soap to 5 gallons of water.
As part of this wash method, I’ve taken my Meguiar’s microfiber wash mitt, dunked it into the soap bucket, and gently washed the entire surface of the vehicle one section at a time. I make sure to turn the mitt around to wash with the other side as well. Once I’ve washed a section, there will likely be dirty particles pulled from the car’s paint and held within the fibers of the mitt.
Take the dirtied wash mitt and plunge it into the water bucket. Then rub both sides of the wash mitt against the grit guard like you’re using a washboard. Remove the (now clean of dirt) wash mitt, and dunk back into the soap bucket for more soapy water. Wash the next section of the vehicle. You’ll repeat this cycle until the entire vehicle is cleaned.
If it’s an extremely hot day, I’ll rinse the dirty soapy water down off the vehicle every panel or two to ensure that nothing dries up on the surface of the car. If it’s cooler and/or overcast, I’ll rinse it down with water every 2-3 sections. If you wait until you’ve washed the entire vehicle with soapy water before rinsing, you might find that the earlier sections you’ve washed are difficult to rinse off with water.
When rinsing off the car with water, make sure to spray from the top-down, and spray every nook-and-cranny. Once you’ve finished rinsing, get to drying off the vehicle as quickly as possible to reduce the chance of water spots.
Drying off the Car
Drying off the vehicle of water is important to do because if water is left to dry on its own, water spots will be left behind. Water spots are basically the minerals from the water supply that remain after the water evaporates. A good quality microfiber drying towel is essential to drying. The drying towel I used here is Meguiar’s Water Magnet Microfiber Drying Towel. It has a waffle weave texture and has pretty good absorbency.
Before using the drying towel, rip off the tag as this can scratch your car if it makes contact with it. Run the drying towel across the entire vehicle from top to the bottom. When the towel gets saturated with water, simply wring it out and continue drying.
My general practice is to go once over the entire vehicle with the drying towel, wringing it out as I go. I don’t worry about drying every bit of water off the vehicle on the first pass; I’m just trying to get the majority of it first. Then, I’ll go over the entire vehicle again with the drying towel, this time getting most of the leftover water from the first pass. After the second time around, you’ll have dried practically all of the water off of the vehicle. If not, do another pass to dry any remaining water left on the paint.
After the entire vehicle is dried, you may choose to open all of the doors and take a separate towel to wipe the inside of the door jambs, as well as the door itself. Simply, you can use the leftover car wash soap along with a microfiber towel to do this. Finish with the cleaning of the inside of the fuel door. I generally use an old microfiber towel do do all the door jambs and finish with the fuel door. I will then throw this old towel away.
Finally, close all the doors. You’ll might get some water that has splashed up onto the vehicle due to the force of the doors closing. Use your drying towel to wipe up these areas. Finally, do a last look around the entire vehicle to see if you have missed any spots that still need cleaning and/or drying.
When you’ve finished, you’ll be able to stand back and bask in the glory of your clean ceramic coated vehicle. Furthermore, you’ll be rest-assured that you have been able to wash and maintain your ceramic coated car, while minimizing the risk of scratching it. As you can see, it’s not difficult to care for your own ceramic coated vehicle as long as you have quality car wash products and follow good wash technique when washing your car.
Using a Maintenance Spray
After your car is completely clean and free of contaminants, you might choose to use a ceramic coating maintenance spray to apply, just as you might apply a spray wax. You would spray the product onto the vehicle or into a microfiber towel, wipe the surface of the vehicle, and then use another part of the towel to wipe off. This effectively applies a very thin sacrificial layer on top of the cleaned surface and prolongs the life of your ceramic coating.
If you do use a maintenance spray, make sure to use one that is composed of the same product as a ceramic coating. For example, don’t apply a spray wax on top of your ceramic coating. I would also recommend sticking with the same brand of maintenance spray as the ceramic coating. This is not to say you can’t switch brands for your maintenance spray, but it’s generally safer to stick with the same brand as they are typically tested to work compatibly with one another. For the following popular ceramic coatings, you’ll also have maintenance sprays that work with them:
After every six months or so, you might want to consider applying a bug & tar remover and/or iron remover to your vehicle if needed. A ceramic coating is not immune to these elements and so after washing your vehicle as outlined in this post, you may want to follow-up with an application of these products if you identify the need to do so.
Finally, there are other final steps that are generally performed after washing your vehicle that weren’t outlined in this post. However, they can be performed after an exterior wash for the best looking results:
- Clean windows inside and out with a glass cleaner.
- Use a tire dressing to apply on the sidewall of the tires.
- Clean and detail the interior of the vehicle.
That is practically everything you need to know about washing and maintaining a ceramic coating. We know that ceramic coatings are not bulletproof, and that maintenance is key to prolonging its lifespan. By performing this regular maintenance wash by ourselves, we can guarantee minimal scratching of the ceramic coating and ensure that it is treated with care. And with a ceramic coated car being so easy to wash, it is no longer a chore, but a pleasure to wash your car.