Washing your car on a regular basis is the best way to keep it clean and protect it from the environment. However, car washing resembles more of an art than a science, and it seems like everybody has their own opinion on how often they should wash their cars these days.
Most experts recommend you should wash your car every 2-3 weeks, but this rule is too broad to apply to every case alike and serve as a “one size fits all” answer.
For example, a guy driving a pickup truck in the middle of nowhere will need to wash his vehicle more frequently than a school teacher commuting to work, who will both need to wash their car more often than somebody who uses a car cover when their vehicle is not in use.
So, instead of giving you a fixed number of days, we’ll go through the reasons why you should wash your car more or less often and how you can know which side of the spectrum you lie on.
That way, you won’t risk either over washing it, which could leave scratches in the painting, or under-washing it and waiting until a prankster writes “Wash Me” on the back window to grab a bucket and some quality car wash soap.
Keep reading below to learn how often you need to wash your car to keep discoloration, fading, rusting and other signs of damage at bay.
Why Should I Wash my Car Often?
Washing your car is the best way to keep the body and windows protected from the elements in the environment. Anytime you take your car outside, it’s exposed to contaminating agents which will damage the paint and finish if you let them.
Some of the most common sources of problems include:
These little critters always seem to get on the way. The resulting splatter in your window not only looks gross (an important reason why you should frequently clean your car’s windows) but will damage the body with time. The sooner you wash a splattered bug from the body, the easier it’ll be to remove it without chipping the paint.
Even if you live in the city, you’ll end up parking under a tree from time to time. And if tree sap falls on your vehicle, it will damage the paint’s finish, discoloring the body and creating stains everywhere – a process which will only speed up the hotter it gets outside.
They come out of nowhere, and once they dry up and harden, they’ll leave a stain on the painting. You need to remove them and wash the car as soon as you notice them since they can dry up really fast, especially in the hot summer months.
Too much sun and heat will melt down the wax protecting your car’s paint, leaving the body exposed to the elements. Heat can also accelerate the damage caused by these contaminants — bugs, bird droppings, etc. – and even multiply their damaging effect.
If you think the shower is good because it washes the dirt away, think again. The rain actually drags a lot of the pollutants which lie in the air and humidity, deposits them on your car and traps these contaminants in the exterior. This creates rust and eventually will rot your car’s body if you don’t remove it soon enough (which you can do if you follow our guide on how to remove rust from your car.)
We live in a world filled with contamination. Car exhausts, factories, construction sites…all of these release a ton of microscopic pollutants you can’t see until they start spoiling your car’s paint.
This is like the cocktail where all the other problems get mixed. The longer your commute lasts, the higher exposure your vehicle gets to a host of elements. From dirt to bugs, pollen, smog, smoke…you name it. All of these elements will damage your car, so you need to plan your washes accordingly.
How Often Should I Wash my Car?
The answer to this question will depend on several factors, such as where you live, how often you drive, and the local weather. We’ll go through each one to help you identify how often you should be washing your ride.
Location is Everything
Where you live and park influence how dirty your car gets. Think about it for a moment. Do you live in a sandy environment — like Arizona — or park near industrial areas, construction sites, or other dusty places? If so, you should wash your car at least once a week.
Nearby bodies of water can also speed up the deterioration process. So if you live near a lake, river, or the beach, your car will also require a weekly wash. Depending on how often it rains you might even need to wash it every day.
On the other hand, if there’s little wind, dust, or bad weather where you live, you’ll only need to wash your car once a month to keep it looking sharp.
The More You Drive, the More You Need to Wash
The length of your commute is another factor to keep in mind. The longer it lasts, the more bugs, sand, smog, and other contaminants will get stuck to your car.
If you only go out every once in a while, you’ll just need to wash it once a month.
Similarly, if your daily commute only lasts a few minutes, washing every two weeks should keep it clean and protected.
Finally, if your commute is longer than 20 miles or you use rural roads, make sure to wash it once every week.
Beware of Mother Nature
Lousy weather and car washing go hand-in-hand. Depending on which season you’re in, you might need to wash your car more or less often.
A lot of owners love to wash their cars when it’s hot, but this is not a very good idea as it can actually damage the paintwork.
The best way to wash your car — whether snow, rain, or shine — is to do it inside your garage.
During the summer, you should wash it every time you go out because the heat accelerates the effects caused by contaminants and melts away the protective wax layer.
Winter is even harder on your vehicle. Snow carries a lot of salt, which creates rust if you don’t wash it off.
To stop this, you could wash your car at least once a week, if not every day. Yes, the water may freeze a bit, but it won’t leave a layer of salt covering your vehicle.
What if I Wash my Car Too Often?
Remember the saying: “everything in moderation.” Just because washing your car makes it look nice and keeps the elements at bay doesn’t mean you should do it every day.
Over-washing creates issues in your paintwork, particularly if you use more powerful tools to wash with such as a car pressure washer, and this will ultimately cost you money and affect your car’s appearance.
The biggest issues are…
The Wax will Fade Quicker
Wax does a great job at protecting your paintwork from the environment. However, over-washing your car can damage its wax layer and leave it unprotected against the elements.
This can become a problem if you need to wash your car frequently — which would be the case if you live in a dusty area.
In that case, you could try changing the products you use. For example, consider using a pH-balanced soap and a polymer-based paint sealant instead of average carnauba wax. (Source)
You’ll Scratch the Paintwork
Ever noticed tiny, hairline-like scratches around the body of your car? Well, these weren’t caused by the neighbor’s kids. They’re commonly called spider webs and appear when you over-wash unprotected paintwork.
But spider webs don’t always appear only when you over-wash your car.
An excellent way to prevent them is by using plenty of water when you’re scrubbing to avoid scratching the surface. Finally, make sure you protect the body with a functional layer of wax.
The Finish will Look Unimpressive
Washing shouldn’t be your go-to option whenever you want your car to look shiny and beautiful.
Like everything else, the paintwork fades the more you mess with it, so washing it frequently is the last thing you want to do to make it look new.
Instead of soap and water, you could try using car beauty products such as paint cleaner, a polishing treatment, or glaze.
These will make it look dazzling again and give it a dealership shine that will turn heads while you’re driving!
How do I Avoid Damaging my Car while I’m Washing it?
As you’ve seen, washing your car can be good or bad for the paintwork. It all depends on whether you follow some simple rules which will help maintain the quality of the paint and finish.
This will make your car look shiny for longer, reducing the number of times you need to wash it every month.
When washing your car, keep the following tips in mind.
Only use Car Wash Shampoos.
Many household cleaning products contain abrasive components which can strip the wax protection on your car. Car Shampoos, on the other hand, can remove contaminants from the paintwork without degrading the wax or sealant.
Never Wash Your Car when It’s Hot or under the Sun.
It’ll create ugly water spots and drip marks which you’ll have trouble removing….though luckily for you, we have a guide on how to remove water spots from cars!
Use the Two-Bucket Method.
This tried and tested system ensures dirt and grime come off your car for good. Not only will you get rid of the dirt, but you’ll also avoid creating swirl marks, scratches, or other imperfections on the surface while you scrub it.
Use Separate Sponges for Your Tires and Wheels.
After washing your car tires, you don’t want to pass the sand and dirt from your wheels to your paintwork and damage your car’s finish.
Sidenote: Follow this guide for details and steps on how to clean car tires.
Use a Microfiber Cloth to Dry it.
Not only will it pull away dirt, but will also leave the surface completely dry and prevent water spots.
What About Waxing and Detailing?
We couldn’t possibly finish this article without speaking about waxing and detailing. Both of these are finishing tools which create a barrier between your paintwork and the elements.
Besides making the body look shiny, wax adds an extra layer of protection which ensures that contaminants like bugs, bird drops, and salt, among others, slide off without touching the paintwork.
You should wax your car at least twice a year. To know exactly when it’s time to re-wax it again, you can splash some water over your car and see if it beads up.
If it does, it means the wax layer is still holding on. If it doesn’t, you have to wax it as soon as possible.
Finally, a good wash isn’t complete without a detailing.
You can hire somebody to do this type of cleaning yourself or do it yourself and save a lot of money. Just make sure you detail your car every couple of months, and you’ll have a ride all of your friends will envy!
What about Cleaning the Engine?
An often negelected part of the car when it comes to cleaning and detailing, the engine is a super important part of your car that that can benefit from the occasional cleaning.
If your engine is allowed to build up heavy layers of dirt, grease and grime, it can hide minor issues that can become much larger and expensive problems to fix. Minor cracks and leaks in engine parts, the tubes and pipes can be blocked by a build up of grease and dirt, hiding the fact. Whereas if your engine is clean, such leaks will be found earlier and hence fixed sooner, before the problem worsens.
For a standard city-dwelling car owner, or those who live in clean and temperate climates, a good steam clean and degreasing once per year will suffice. If you live in an extremely dusty area, or a climate prone to regular freezing, then 2 to 3 times per year is advised.
All you need is a decent steam cleaner, some engine degreaser, and a spare half hour to get the job done and keep your engine in a clean condition.
Wrapping It Up
Washing your vehicle is one of the best ways to protect your investment.
Now that you understand how the environment affects your car, it’ll be easier for you to create a schedule that fits your needs.
You should be able to deal with pollutants without damaging the wax layer or scratching the body.
Remember to keep your location, length of commutes, and weather in mind when deciding how often you should wash your car.
Two washes per month are usually enough for most cars, but if you ignore your car’s needs, you could end up over-washing and damaging it.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun!
Yes, washing your car can be dull at times, but just think of how much money you’re saving and how well your car will look when your friends ask how you manage to keep it in such good looking condition.
They’ll be asking you “Yo! How often do you wash your ride?” – Then you can look at them in the eyes and answer: “Well…it depends!”