Washing A Wrapped Car – Ultimate Guide

Daily dirt and grime can quickly build up on any car and should be removed regularly.

It’s doubly vital to wash your wrapped car’s surface to maintain vivid graphics and the protectant quality it provides.

How you wash a wrapped car matters.

Quick Answer

Washing a wrapped car should be done by hand. Hand washing a wrapped car is essential to extending the life and protectant quality of the wrap. Washing a wrapped car by hand ensures a gentle touch while focusing on problem areas requiring extra care.

There are many ways to hand-wash a wrapped car, as many products and tools are available.

In this article, I’ll give you the down and dirty on the why’s, how to’s, and don’ts when washing your wrapped car.

Can You Wash A Wrapped Car?

The mortal enemy of your wrapped car is pollutants, dirt, and grime. Simple cleaning can extend the life of the wrap.

Washing the wrapped finish is as important as essential vehicle maintenance.

Automated car washes are easy but not a good option for a wrapped car because of the rough brushes, strong chemicals, and high-pressure water application.

The water pressure typically applied in an automatic car wash is more than 2000 psi (13.8 MPa), damaging the car wrap.

Quick Answer

You can wash a wrapped car. Washing a wrapped car is necessary and must be a part of regular maintenance. Hand washing is the preferred method, according to most businesses that professionally apply car wraps like DetailXPerts with twenty years in the car detailing industry. 

Hand-washing your wrapped car may seem daunting, but the task will become more accessible with a bit of planning with each wash.

You will find the results are far superior to any automatic car wash. 

Supplies Needed To Hand-Wash A Wrapped Car

Hand washing your car may be a novel idea if you’re accustomed to the drive-through car wash option.

No worries- it’s super simple and can be an enjoyable process, even cathartic!

You’ll need several items before beginning. I keep a car washing kit in my garage, always ready when I am.

The less I have to search for these items, the more enjoyable this task is, and I am more likely to do it.

I’ll explain each item in your kit:

Two Buckets (Soapy Water And Rinse Bucket) 

This is the double-bucket system. This method ensures that the dirt never enters your clean soapy water bucket.

For additional protection, you can purchase a Grit Guard for each bucket to sieve the grime and grit to the bottom of the bucket.

A Non-Abrasive Soap

Car wrap manufacturers recommend using a mild, non-abrasive soap.

The commercial products on the market designed for wrapped cars are numerous.

Refer to the maintenance information for your specific car wrap to determine the best option for both glossy and matte finishes.

Two Large Microfiber Towels Or Cleaning Mitts

This is all about your personal preference. Either option will work fine for washing and drying your wrapped car.

Sponges are not recommended for washing any vehicle because they trap debris in the pores, which will damage the paint and wrap. 

Auto Care HQ says, “Sponges should never be used to wash a car because they are very likely to cause scratches.

A car’s paint is quite delicate, and sponges are too abrasive to safely wash it.

Sponges also trap dirt and drag it over the paint causing hundreds of tiny scratches.”  

Extra Cleaning Supplies

I keep a couple of extra items handy to complete my kit.

I include window cleaning supplies, including window cleaner, paper towels, and a small squeegee.

I also have a tire cleaner, interior cleaner, and a small shop vac or standard vacuum with attachments.

That rounds out my kit. I store everything in one of the buckets and stack the buckets creating a small footprint and easy storage.

How To Hand-Wash A Wrapped Car

Hand-washing your wrapped car is a simple process:

  • Rinse your car using a standard garden hose. A nozzle attachment will help during this step to remove debris.
  • Soap up your wrapped car using the double bucket system. Fill both buckets with water and add the soap to one bucket. Use one of the microfiber towels or mitts in the soapy water bucket, and use it to soap up the car. Don’t return the soapy towel or mitt to the soapy bucket until you clean it in the rinse bucket.
  • Rinse your car using the garden hose. Remove the nozzle attachment at this time. This will allow the water to flow evenly while the water sheets over the car’s surface, reducing the chance of spotting.
  • Dry the car completely using the second microfiber towel or mitt. Flip and shake the microfiber towel or mitt often to reduce the chance of pulling debris over the car’s surface. Hand drying will leave your wrapped car spot-free and perfectly clean.

When hand-washing your wrapped car, it is essential to consider the time of day to plan your wash.

Mornings before 10:00 a.m. and in the afternoon after 4:00 p.m. are the optimal time slots for washing your wrapped car. 

The direct and hot sun will too quickly dry the car before you have a chance to remove the cleaning products or leave spots during the drying off period.

Additionally, your car’s surface must be cool to the touch before the wash begins. Heat is the enemy of a professional wash.

As you use microfiber towels or mitts to clean and dry, it is best to rub your car in long straight lines rather than in circles.

This process reduces the opportunity for scratches and swirls. 

Wash from the top of the car to the bottom,as the bottom of the vehicle is the dirtiest.

This method will ensure that debris will not be brought to the vehicle’s top and damage the wrapped finish.

How Long After A Wrap Can I Wash My Car?

Quick Answer

Regular hand-washes can begin after five days of it being wrapped. The frequency of washing depends on the level of use and accumulated grime your car has during regular use.

Your wrapped car may not look dirty weekly.

Still, everyday air pollutants can cause as much damage to a wrapped finish as the traditional dirt and grime that is easy to see on a well-driven car. 

Auto Artisan, a car wrapping company with more than 15 years in the industry, recommends hand-washing your vehicle each week to maintain the finish and keep it looking beautiful for years to come.

Can You Go Through A Car Wash with A Vinyl Wrap?

Quick Answer

You can’t go through a car wash with a vinyl wrap. The bristles and brushes of a car wash will damage the wrap and negatively affect the durability and look of the wrap. It’s best to hand-wash vinyl wrapped cars for the best results.

Hand-washing your wrapped car is far superior to an automated car wash.

The use of brushes, intense water pressure, harsh chemicals, and high heat all lead to the early demise of your beautiful car wrap.

Plus, automatic car washers never fully clean your car. So, it’s not worth the money or risk.

Not to mention, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency finds that automatic car washes also have issues concerning wastewater management for the environment.

There are three automatic car wash types; spinning brushes, soft cloth, and high water pressure touchless systems.

The first two options are fraught with serious issues.

The brushes and soft cloth attachments are used repeatedly, picking up road debris from every car cleaned. 

These small deposits stick to the brushes or soft cloths and are now heading right for your car wrap!

The force applied with these two options are spinning or dragging finish killers over your wrapped car. Not cool!

The touchless option seems less problematic however the psi force in these automatic car washes is just that, force.

That force is more significant than any car wrap company suggests.

The power of this spray can cause the car wrap to peel and loosen prematurely.

Additionally, that force will push the grit and grime into your car wrap before dislodging. No thanks!

And don’t get me started on the dryer at the end of the automatic car wash tunnel. Just no!

Check out this table which demonstrates the differences between the automatic and hand-washing methods. 

Hand-WashAutomatic Car Wash 
The water pressure is higher than 2000 PSI (13.8 MPa).X
Causes premature peeling and degrading of the wrap.X
Use of harsh chemicals.X
Use of high heat to dry.X
Best All-Around WashX

The other option available at drive-in car washes is the brush on the extension wand that you use to “hand-wash” your own vehicle. Ugh. So many things are terrible with this option. 

Imagine how often that wand rested on the ground, each time picking up a bit of debris from the hundreds of cars cleaned before yours. 

How many tires, engines, and car mats have come before you and have been cleaned using that same wand.

Never, ever use this car wrap scratching device. This wand should never be used on your wrapped car, a painted car, bicycle, or wagon. 

Never Should You Ever…

Several products should never touch your wrapped car to maintain a beautiful finish.

Over time, these items, which contain harsh chemicals, degreasers, and citric acid, will cause permanent damage to your wrap.

It’s essential to find the right cleaners for your car wrap. The best place to find this information is from the manufacturer of your car wrap.

Here are several products you should never use on your wrapped car:

  • Oil-based solvents or cleaners: Fades and stains car wraps.
  • Harsh cleaners designed to clean bathrooms or kitchens: Often contain abrasives that will scratch your car wrap finish.
  • Chemicals designed to clean ovens: Contains harsh chemicals and degreasers.
  • Orange-based cleaners: Citric acid is what the name implies – acid.
  • Engine degreaser: Fade and stains car wraps.
  • Traditional car wax: This will cause the finish to cloud.
  • Car polish: This product may adhere to a wrapped finish.

Some Product Favorites

Everyone has their favorites, and these are mine. This assortment of products will assist in cleaning and maintaining your wrapped car for years to come.

Do your research, learn, and understand the manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular wrap to make an informed product decision.

Wrapped Car Cleaning Soaps

Soap technology is designed to protect vinyl-wrapped surfaces and graphics from premature aging.

Look for soaps that shield against harmful UV rays and promise to remove dirt, dust, and grime using chemicals deemed gentle and safe for wrapped finishes. 

Microfiber Mitts

Microfiber is extra-plush and holds plenty of clean water and soap to clean any car.

The microfiber mitt material is designed to glide over the car’s surface to clean and pick up any leftover debris, all without causing any damage to your wrapped finish.

Microfiber Towels

Microfiber is lint-free for a perfect finish. The microfiber material is designed to lift and trap dirt and debris without damaging your wrapped car.

Therefore, not only do microfiber towels trap any dirt or grease, they’re also machine washable and can be reused- making them both durable and long-lasting!

Grit Guards

Grit guards are essential for washing your car.

These are inserts for wash buckets that allow the grit and grime to fall to the bottom of the bucket for scratch-free cleaning.

Therefore, they significantly reduce the possibility of scratches and swirls on your wrapped finish.

How To Find The Time To Hand-Wash Your Wrapped Car

Still not convinced? Maybe it’s an issue of time.

Automatic car washes are fast and easy, not cheap, but considerably quicker than hand-washing. 

The idea of giving up, carving out, or finding an hour to hand-wash your wrapped car every week, is hard to imagine.

But imagine this small task becoming a big responsibility for your 13-year-old.

Hand-washing the family car is an age-old chore worthy of a few bucks in allowance cash. Money well spent.

Maybe your kiddos are too small for this independent job. How great would it be if they became the chief tire washer?

There is no risk to the beautifully wrapped finish, just good work and big fun for them.

Single? Partnered? How about one hour all to yourself. Radio blaring, warm sun on your back, just you and your car. Sounds awesome.

The task that seemed burdensome now sounds like an opportunity for blissful peace.

Key Takeaways

  • Hand-washing is the preferred cleaning method.
  • Car cleaning kits are easy to assemble and make hand-washing a snap.
  • The double bucket system will keep your microfiber cleaning towel clean and free of debris that could scratch your wrap.
  • Early morning and late afternoon are optimal to hand-wash your wrapped car.
  • Never use an automatic car wash.
  • Hand-washing your wrapped car can be a family-friendly event or blissful solitude.


DetailXPerts: How to Wash a Vinyl Wrapped Car

Auto Care HQ: Why You Should Never Use a Sponge to Wash Your Car

Youtube: How To Wash Your Car: Two Bucket Method with Meguiar’s

Auto Artisan: Vinyl Wrap – Aftercare

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency: How Do I Handle My Professional Car Wash Wastewater?

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge