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A Detailer’s Perspective: Why We Wash, Polish & Apply Protection


Washing Icecream Fire Truck

I attended a car show event in support of a client and classic car enthusiast, who was sponsoring the car show.  He wanted to let me know that members of a popular local car club group were in attendance.  Although at the time I had yet to attend any meets from this group, I already could identify the members of the group.  They were the individuals who were not obsessively wiping their cars.  Their cars were also not as riddled with micro scratches (swirls) that were easily seen in the sun, like the majority of other cars.

That was not a coincidence!

swirls and scratches

James Melfi goes into greater detail of what I consider the Show Car Fallacy with his article on car show maintenance. To some enthusiasts the important question, “why should I wash my car?”, may seem like a silly question. To professionals like myself who hear regularly, “I don’t let my car get too dirty” followed by 8 to 48 hours of dedicated cosmetic repair (polishing sessions), it is a serious question.

The washing and or wiping a car frequently at the sight of any dirt or dust may not be worth the consequences of the accumulation of paint marring (swirls and some scratches).  Are you washing your car unnecessarily?  Are you in such a panic to wipe your car, that you are also not cleaning your car in a safer way that is gentle on your paint?  Are you assuming that polishing and applying a wax, sealant, or coating will overcompensate for your lack of care in how you approach washing your car?

The primary reason I wash my car is to remove foreign substances such as bird droppings and bug guts, that can on their own over time damage to the paint.  Car washing is meant to complement the protection a wax, sealant, or coating has to offer.  Car washing is meant to make the polishing effort meaningful over time. More on the value of washing with care and caution below:

The Importance Of Proper Car Washing Techniques

water beading

Water beading, Looks cool, doesn’t it!  But we often get wrapped up in how cool this looks versus the benefits of what this implies.  How much fun are you having washing your car?  If you can feel with your mitt dirt sticking to your paint, the potential of more marring of paint and the accumulation of deeper scratches goes up.

The first and most important reason is for UV protection! New cars that are generally neglected by not having a very quality protective product on the paint, have about 5 to 6 years at most before the paint starts to delaminate.  These consequences are known as clear coat failure.

The second reason why you apply durable protection is to more easily and SAFELY clean your car.  Remember the triangle (emphasis on the word ‘safely’).

Car Care Graphic 2

The secondary benefits are it buys you more time against contamination.  The time bought includes preventing it from bonding or etching the paint.  But that is also where washing contributes to protecting your car.  Not compulsively washing, but responsibly washing your car frequently is the key here.  Other secondary benefits are in improving the looks.  But this is where it complements polishing, where most of the improvement in the looks will actually come from.

Graphic Triangle Of Car Care 3

Let us start with this reminder.  We polish primarily to improve the appearance of your vehicle and we wax, seal, or apply a ceramic coating primarily to protect your vehicle.  Washing our cars is a dance, a delicate balance of both (beautifying and protecting).

Rupes Mini lower panel

Many think of polishing only in terms of cosmetic repair (which is in part technically true).  But it is also about enhancement.  Understanding this concept will give you a greater appreciation of the practical balance of improving the appearance of your car and protecting it.  I often tell my clients three things with respect to polishing.  First, the paint is razor-thin.  Second, improving (enhancing) while removing less paint can still significantly improve the appearance of your paint.  Lastly washing and applying high-quality protection compliments the work I do with a polisher.  You wash/clean your car when detailing to prep for polishing.  You follow that by applying a wax, sealant, or coating protective layer over the paint.  But for the life of that protection, your car washing is considered a maintenance type of wash.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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2 comments on A Detailer’s Perspective: Why We Wash, Polish & Apply Protection

  1. THOMAS DAMORE says:

    Excellent write up to remind and hit home the ABC’s, great job Rodney! I also think we need to remind the owners of the final product, that auto car washes can also ne one of the root causes to death of their protection and a partner of neglect , added marring and the thin paint and clear coat.

  2. Brian T Jones says:

    How often should we polish and wax our own vehicles? I use a torq random orbital with foam pads and compounds plus a swirl remover. How many sessions will it be before I go too thin on my clearcoat?

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