Washing a Car Like a Dealership: How To Do It – 9 Step Process

Keeping your car clean is essential for many reasons. Washing your car like a pro can motivate you to keep it looking good and give you that satisfaction knowing that people constantly compliment you on how nice and clean your car is. So, how do you wash your car like a dealership?

To wash a car like a dealership, you have to:

  • Rinse the car.
  • Hand wash.
  • Clean headlights properly if needed.
  • Clean all windows.
  • Dry the car properly.
  • Apply product to make paint shine.
  • Clean all floor mats.
  • Vacuum the whole car.
  • Clean the windshield from the inside.

Read on for more insights into these steps, the type of equipment dealers use to clean cars, and whether you should get your vehicle cleaned at the dealership.

How Do I Wash My Car Like a Dealership?

When dealerships sell new or pre-owned cars, they take special care in cleaning every inch of the car to make it shine before putting it on display. In general, cleaning a car is a crucial part of their business to show it off and win the buyer’s trust. After all, first impressions are everything.

Here are my two cents on how to go about the two steps:

Perform an Exterior Wash

It all starts with an excellent exterior wash. You have to remove any solids stuck onto your paint so that your soap doesn’t leave a hazy residue that your wash mitt can’t remove.

Here’s a rundown of the critical steps when performing an exterior wash:

Rinse the Car

Clean off any dirt, grime, or mud stuck onto your car’s exterior paint with a hose or just a plain water spray bottle. If you skip this step, you may end up scratching your car’s paint as the debris in your mitt or sponge can stick onto the paint and leave scratches in its wake.

Water is gentle enough to leave no marks in the clear coat of your vehicle, so there’s no need to use something more potent than water right now until after you’ve washed everything else away. 

Hand Wash

Now that the exterior is free of dirt and other particles, it’s time to get down and dirty and start hand washing your car.

Start by wetting the car with plain water in a spray bottle and grabbing your favorite soap.

Now, I like to start by washing the car’s roof first and working my way down. The reason for this is that if you wash your car from top to bottom, the low areas may trap dirt and grime as you wash each section, making it more challenging to get a clean finish.

Don’t forget to wash your rims, the insides of doors, and the inside of your trunk as well.

Clean Headlights Properly if Needed

You’ve probably noticed how dirty your headlights can get over time. To save both headlights from scratching with a sponge or mitt, use a clay bar on those headlights first before moving on to any final polishing stages.

Here’s how:

  • Dust off the headlight lens with compressed air in a spray bottle.
  • Press some clay against the plastic lens and gently rub back and forth with an up-and-down motion until the clay glides smoothly.
  • Polish off any remaining specs with a polishing compound and a microfiber towel.

Clean All Windows

At this point, you want to use your spray bottle filled with plain water to rinse off all of your wash tools and make sure they’re not covered in dirt and grit like before.

After rinsing them, go ahead and grab some glass cleaner and do a final wipe down on all windows to get rid of any residue — most defects will show up in the form of streaks on the windows if you missed them.

Dry the Car Properly

Now’s the time to grab a soft microfiber towel and carefully dry your car. You don’t want to wipe down too hard, or you might scratch your paint. Instead, wipe it all off gently, making sure to get the interior crevices where water could accumulate.

Pro Tip: If you have a car vacuum, it’d be best to use it to suck any residual water from crevices and seams. This saves you the trouble of sitting there with a towel and drying it all off by hand.

Apply Product to Make Paint Shine

Remember, your car spends most of its life outside, so it needs special care. Waxes are what you need for this step since they’re designed to protect against UV rays and environmental damage.

Therefore, if you have some natural wax lying around that your car needs, now is the time to hit whatever body panels you can reach with it. Doing this will give your car a nice shine as well as hydrophobic capabilities. Your paint job will better resist dirt and grime from adhering after it’s been washed.

Here are the benefits of waxing your car:

  • Prevents rust and corrosion. Waxing can fill in any tiny scratches and crevices on your car’s exterior, preventing rust and corrosion from coming through.
  • Makes it easier to clean in the future. If you get a little bit of dirt or grime on your car’s paint job, it’ll usually come right off with water because wax makes the paint hydrophobic.
  • Resists UV rays from sun exposure (UV rays can damage your paint if left untreated). Waxing helps your paint job repel sun exposure that can cause fading over time.
  • Leaves a glossy shine on your car’s body panels. Waxing is a sure-fire way to enhance the shine on your car’s paint job, leaving it shiny and lustrous.

Here’s a video demo that may come in handy when performing an exterior wash on your car:

Perform an Interior Detail

Now that your car’s exterior is looking glistening and hand-washed, it’s time to move on to the interior.

If you have leather or cloth seats that are relatively clean, feel free to skip this section. However, if the interior needs a thorough cleaning, you’ll want to use some leather cleaner and a wet vacuum to save your seats from getting damaged.

Clean All Floor Mats

The first step is to gather all of your floor mats and remove any mud and rocks. Ensure that every nook and cranny is free of tiny pebbles that could end up in your vacuum.

If you have non-rubber mats, then simply vacuum over them. Also, make sure to grab your upholstery brush and give the mats a good cleaning to get all debris off of them.

Vacuum the Whole Car

With your floor mats out of the way, it’s time to move on to the interior. The first thing we want to do is part out our car and vacuum thoroughly. You’ll probably need a shop-vac for this, but you can also use your wet/dry vacuum cleaner (which has more suction power).

When vacuuming the carpet and seats, ensure that you go slow and methodical because there may be small rocks or debris that can damage your vacuum nozzle if they get stuck inside.

If the carpet is really dirty, use some carpet cleaning solution and a wet vacuum cleaner. You can do the same for non-leather seats too.

Clean the Windshield From the Inside

If you drive in dusty conditions frequently, then chances are your windshield will need some attention. You’ll need a razor blade scraper and some glass cleaner for this step.

First, wet the windshield with the glass cleaner and let it sit for a bit before drying it off with a clean cloth. Once all dirt is removed from the surface, apply more glass cleaner to a microfiber towel and use it to dry off the remaining residue on your windshield.

You may want to try going over it again if there is still dirt that needs removal after applying fresh glass cleaner.

Now comes the tricky part: you need to hold the razor blade scraper at a 45° angle and “haze” the dirt/debris off your windshield.

However, DO NOT apply too much pressure as you might scratch the glass.

The best way to do this is by holding down two fingers on each hand and allowing them to control how much pressure is applied and where (since you only need to haze the material, not scrape it entirely off).

What Do Dealers Use To Clean Cars?

Dealerships use special equipment like dual-action buffers, rotary buffers, car shampoo, and microfiber mitts made for car cleaning. However, some dealerships will skip this step or use inferior equipment/materials that won’t properly clean the cars.

Additionally, it’d help to note that stress levels and the type of car the dealer is servicing can affect how the car is cleaned.

For example, some dealers with the proper techniques and products will focus more on high-end cars, but they may skip steps or not use the right amount of cleaner for lower-end cars. Most notably, they may only perform the bare minimum in cleaning (for instance, they could use dish soap, sponges, and brushes instead of car shampoo).

Similarly, some dealerships may not detail cars. They might even drive high-end cars through automatic car washes. Driving cars through these automatic car washes may result in damages and scratched paint, especially if the brushes aren’t properly maintained.

Should I Get My Car Cleaned at the Dealership?

You shouldn’t get your car cleaned at the dealership. In general, dealerships are in the car selling business, not the car wash business. However, if the dealer has a proven track record of using high-quality equipment and products, you can consider getting your car detailed at the dealership.

Personally, I wouldn’t trust the dealer to clean my car thoroughly. Though they’ll tell you that their cleaning method is top-notch, they are only trying to sell you on the idea so you can spend more money at their dealership.

That being said, dealerships know how to sell cars, not how to detail them properly. Therefore, if you want better results, I recommend doing it yourself (as long as you know the right way to do it).

Alternatively, you could get your car cleaned at a professional detailing service. Here are some of the benefits of getting a professional to detail your car:

  • You don’t have to worry about cleaning equipment. The service will have all the necessary equipment to get your car cleaned.
  • They can perform specific detailed services like leather conditioning, headlight restoration, paint sealant, and more. Therefore, you can get a better overall clean than what you get from the run-off-the-mill exterior and interior car wash.
  • They’ll pay attention to detail and remove stubborn stains that the dealer might miss. General car washes may just get rid of dirt and dust, which is why the car doesn’t look brand new. In contrast, a professional will work on more difficult stains, giving your car a more thorough cleaning.
  • You can get the level of cleanliness you desire. Your car will look better than new after a professional detailing.

Pro Tip: If you want to go the dealership route, make sure to research what their cleaning process entails. You can also ask friends or colleagues for recommendations for reliable car detailing services in your area. Just remember that if they are reputable, it’ll cost more money.

If you want to go the do-it-yourself route, prepare your car beforehand. If you don’t have the right tools or equipment, I’d recommend either getting them or renting them. 

For example, you can use microfiber towels for the exterior wash and interior detail. Additionally, you’ll need to buy car shampoo, tire cleaners, and glass cleaners for a thorough clean.

You should also make sure you have the time to properly clean your car.

The duration it takes to properly clean your car is subjective. It depends on the make and model of your car, what sort of dirt you have, how dirty it is, and if you have a more specific process in mind. I’d recommend spending 45-60 minutes to give yourself enough time to get the job done.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a roundup of this article:

  • To wash your car like a dealership, you need to perform an exterior wash.
  • After washing the exterior, perform an interior detail.
  • Dealerships may drive your high-end car through an automatic car wash.
  • Dealerships aren’t a reliable place to clean your car.
  • It’d be best to wash your car on your own or take it to a professional detailer.


Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge