Guide: How To Wash A Car After A Paint Job

After paying a hefty sum for a fresh paint job, you as the driver want the paint to stay in pristine condition the longest time possible. Next to environmental contaminants, improper washing is the main reason for scratches and damages on the paint. So how exactly do you wash a car after a paint job?

In general, it is best to wash a freshly painted car after two to three weeks at the earliest. This is when the paint has fully cured and has reached its maximum hardness. After the waiting period, it is best to wash the car by hand with proper equipment to avoid scratches and damages.

Have already painted your car or are going to do it in the future? Follow these steps to wash the car safely:  

  • Let the paint cure
  • Prepare The Car And Wash In The Shade
  • Use pH-neutral and non-aggressive products
  • Perform a safe hand-wash

Scroll the page to read about each step in detail. 

Let the Paint Cure

A freshly painted car needs time. How much? Well, that depends on several factors, but you should not wash a car within less than 2 weeks after the paint job.

What happens here is paint polymerization. Special additives  —  called polymers —  are added to paint to provide superior adherence and protection from environmental factors (such as corrosion). These polymers charge 2 weeks to partly cure, and 8 weeks to set fully. 

Time is the best contribution you can make at this stage. So, wait long enough after the paint job is done. The minimum gap between a paint job and the first wash shouldn’t be less than 14 days.

Prepare The Car And Wash In The Shade

At this stage, it is important to remember that the paint is not yet ready for aggressive exposure. You probably know that paint is applied in layers: the outer layer dries faster, while the deeper layers of paint take 2-8 weeks to fully cure. Here are few tips:

Had a drive under the scorching Miami sun? The car should cool down naturally by waiting for some time in the shade or garage. If you wash immediately, the temperature difference can lead to the clouding of the clear coat. 

The washing procedure itself should also be done in the shade. If you do it in the sun, the droplets may become optical lenses, which will cause uneven burnout of the paintwork. Remember burning ants with a lense? The same happens to your paintwork.

Windy areas should be avoided, as this leads to dust, which becomes abrasive that causes new scratches to appear. Besides, the wind causes the auto paint to dry very quickly, leaving white spots on the surface. To remove them, you’ll need extra scrubbing, which could make the paint dull.

Use pH-neutral And Non-Aggressive Products

Check your chemicals. Overly aggressive chemicals are not good for washing vulnerable paint. Never use Dawn-esque products or any other dish soap. Read this to grasp why dish soap is a dead-center you want to avoid by all means.

Get some car shampoo that contains wax. Waxing helps create a protective film on your freshly painted surface that has a triple benefit: 

  • protects the coating from UV rays
  • prevents the accumulation of dust and dirt
  • delays the need to wash your car for a longer period. 

You can find the ultimate waxing round-up here.

If you painted your car in the fall and winter, you can use a cleaner that has silicone in it. In this case, an invisible film is formed, protecting the surface of the painted body from various damages. 

The materials with which you are going to wash the surface of the car are of great importance. For example, sponges are capable of holding abrasive particles in them, which can cause damage to the paint coating at the time of cleaning. Even if the sponge seems clean, it’s probably not. That’s why you should utilize a soft microfiber or a time-tested wash mitt. Both are great for washing freshly painted cars.

Tip: Make sure your microfiber has 400+ GSM density.

Forget about the pressure washer. The jet of chemicals bombarding your freshly painted car won’t be the best bang for your buck. What you want to do instead is careful hand wash. Check out the next step.

Performa a Safe Hand-Wash

Opting for the right wash technique directly affects the condition of your car’s paint. Never use a high-pressure washer. The best ways to treat a fresh paint job would be a hand wash or a touchless wash. Perform either of them to avoid scratches or any other paint damage. 

Hand wash technique (two buckets)

To wash your car by hand, you will need two large buckets, some dense yet soft microfibers, a pair of grit-guards, and car shampoo.

This classy method is often referred to as the “two-bucket”. The idea behind it is pretty plain: you manually apply shampoo using two buckets. One bucket with clean water, and another bucket with soapy water. Here is an action sequence to perform two bucket method safely:

  • Fill both buckets with water. Add car shampoo to one of them, and then lather it up by targeting a jet into the water. Leave the other bucket untouched; it should have clean water in it.
  • Place grit guards on the bottom of the buckets. You will bring dirt from the surface of the car into the buckets. The grit guards make sure all the dirt remains at the bottom.
  • Put microfiber or wash mitt into soapy water, and start wiping the car. Use straight motions and avoid circular motions. Wipe one area at a time from top to bottom before rinsing the wash mitt in the bucket without the car shampoo.
  • When you have cleaned all body panels rinse the car to wash off any leftover soapy residue. This can be done with a pressure washer on low pressure or with buckets.
  • Clean the car with a special microfiber towel. Again, make sure to use straight lines instead of circular motions. Also, do not apply a lot of pressure.

Tip: avoid hard water, as it leaves white strips. 

Waterless wash technique

The point of this method is to apply a special high-lubricating cleaner to the car, which will destroy the dirt without your active participation.

If you are using a concentrate, you will need a little water to dilute it to the right consistency (read the instructions on the label). A spray form is even easier: just apply the product to the car body directly from the bottle. Coat part of the car with chemicals, wait a couple of minutes and then wipe it off. 

Use medium-hard microfibers for this purpose. Too soft material can accumulate hard particles, while stiff rags can harm the paint. 300-400 GSM is the optimal density for a microfiber. Fold your rag in half twice (8 folds) and use only the clean part of the microfiber.

The best pattern to safely wipe your car is from top to bottom. Start with the roof, then treat the side view mirrors, hood, and trunk lid. The next step is the front of the car, the rear bumper, and, finally, the wheels. Make sure to use another rug for wheels.

How NOT to Wash a Car After a paint job

  • Avoid brushes at all costs. They are guaranteed to cause scratches.
  • Never use sponges to clean the car. Use high-quality microfiber mitts and cloths.
  • Avoid washing a car near grass, gravel, or sand
  • Don’t wash a newly painted car in a strong wind. The wind can cause dirt to scratch the car.
  • Do not wash your car in the sun. Any water droplets on the car act like magnifying lenses and can cause burns on the paint.
  • Do not use high-pressure water on fresh car paint

How Long Do I Have To Wait To Wash My Car After A Paint Job? 

In general, it is best to avoid washing a freshly painted car for at least two weeks. This is the time it takes the upper paint layers to cure completely and reach their maximum hardness. On average, it takes up to eight weeks, before all paint layers are cured fully.

The paint cures about 2 days after the paint job, but that doesn’t mean your car is ready for a wash. Generally, It takes 2 to 8 weeks for the inner layers to cure. The drying process depends on the thickness of the paint layer, the materials used, and the drying method. The safe coat for washing forms in 2 weeks after the paint job is done.

This topic is very controversial, and by searching on the Internet, you can come across a variety of estimates. Some claim to wash cars in 12 hours with no negative consequences; others advise to wait at least 90 days. To get more specific answers, it’s worth turning to professionals. Here’s a list of a few detailing shops and their comments about washing your car after painting:

Auto Body ShopCommentAdvice
Tead Auto“It all depends on how well the paint has dried. If it was heated in the paint booth and stayed there long enough, you can wash it by hand the next day, as long as you don’t rub it too hard”We recommend at least a 7-day break after the paint job
But it’s better to wait a bit longer. Say, 2-3 weeks.
Hybrid DetailingAt least 3-4 days, so as not to deal massive damageBe patient, it takes about 10-15 days before cured to treat the car safely
BM TuningTrust professional washers, but warn them that the paint job is fresh. Light pressure is also ok.Stick to 15 days. The distance from the pressure washer to the car’s body should not be closer than 16 inches!
Vanguard Car StylingThe key here is not to perform Marie Kondo-ing. Not wipe —  but gliding across the top. You have to be gentle with paintwork. Yet confident.The safe period varies depending on many factors. However, you are not going to cause serious paint damage after 12-15 days.
Opel Official ServiceWe don’t recommend washing the car earlier than 2 weeks. This is a borderline number. That is, you can’t be sure that the paint will have fully “taken root” by that point.Wait 2 weeks and wash your Opel (or any other car) safely. 
Ask your detailer about paint properties. He knows better than anyone.

Will Rain Hurt A Freshly Painted Car?

Unless this is a high-toxic chemical rain, a freshly painted car will not be damaged from rain. The outer layers of paint on your car cure in about 24 hours, thus forming a hard layer. Rain cannot damage this hard layer.

However, it’s still undesirable to expose your car to strong external influences. Especially, if it’s raining cats and dogs. Leave the car in the workshop/garage for 24 hours after painting to avoid any exposure. 

Other natural phenomena like snow or hail similarly affect the paint. However, the effects are more intense. If the weather forecast predicts snowfall, it’s best not to expose the paint to it, if it hasn’t had at least 48 hours to cure.

Key Takeaways

  • Wait at least 2 weeks before the first wash
  • Use dense microfibers instead of sponges
  • Your paint will not be affected by rain once the outer layer of paint is cured
  • Overly aggressive chemicals are not good for washing vulnerable paint
  • The washing technique directly affects the condition of the car’s paint

Here Are All My Favorite Car Detailing Products

Proper car detailing requires a lot of products. Given that the market for car detailing products is huge and there are many different products available, it can be very confusing and hard to find seriously high-quality products online.

I want to make sure that you as my reader get great car detailing products, so I decided to list my favorite products down below. I am sure you and your car will love them! 🙂

Microfiber Wash Mitts: Microfiber wash mitts are the go-to piece of equipment for every car cleaning enthusiast. Without a proper wash mitt cleaning a car is impossible. These are my favorites:

  • Amazon Basics Deluxe Microfiber Car Wash Mitt: Click here
  • Armor All Microfiber Car Wash Mitt: Click here
  • The Rag Company – Cyclone Wash Mitts: Click here

Car Shampoo: Car shampoo is the only suitable shampoo for washing cars safely. Make sure to get a high-quality car shampoo to prevent scratches. Check my favorites here and get yourself a good car shampoo!

Pressure Washers: If you are serious about car detailing and about cleaning your cars properly, there is no way around a high-quality pressure washer. I know that they are expensive, but trust me, a good pressure washer is a game-changer. Check out my recommendations below!

  • Karcher 13246440 K 5 Premium Full Control: Click here
  • Greenworks Electric Pressure Washer GPW2003: Click here
  • Karcher K1700 Electric Power Pressure Washer: Click here

Paint Protection: Paint protection is something that belongs to every car detailing routine. As it is so important, there are many different products and many different use cases. Check the list below to find my favorite paint protection products.

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Jan-Lucas Ganssauge

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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124