We don’t want to be “that guy.” You know the one—the guy who constantly tells you how to do your job (or how “you’re not doing it right.”)

So please think of this post as more of a public service message.

In conjunction with Mothers, Meguiar’s, and other automotive detailing experts, we’ve put together a list of common detailing mistakes and why you should avoid them. With a full season of car shows and cruises just beginning, it’s best to eliminate these mistakes now:

1. Washing in direct sunlight—or washing a car that’s hot.

We’re starting with the most obvious here.

It’s widely accepted among most detailing companies and professional detailers that you should NOT wash your car in direct sunlight. Some argue that it’s bad for your vehicle’s finish, but at the very least, it makes the job much, much harder. Because the water and cleaner/soap dries quicker in the sun or on a hot surface, you’re more likely to get water spots. And you may even notice swirl marks in your car’s paint after washing.

If you absolutely must wash your car in the sun, keep the surface cool with a regular spray of water.


2. Using your drying towel to remove dirt you missed during washing your car.

All you’re doing here is grinding the dirt into your finish.

By using your drying towel to remove dirt, you risk scratching your paint. And while we’re on the topic, you may want to pass on the squeegee for drying your vehicle’s surface. A squeegee can pick up and drag dirt into your paint.


3. Pouring waxes and polishes directly on the vehicle’s surface.

Don’t pour liquid waxes and polishes directly on the surface of your vehicle. This can lead to dark, uneven streaks in your finish. Instead, pour these types of the waxes and polishes directly on to your applicator.


4. Using solvent-based tire and rubber protectants.

Avoid solvent-based tire and rubber cleaners and protectants.

Mothers suggests checking your rubber cleaner bottle for distilled petrochemicals, which can adversely affect your tire’s surface integrity.


5. Cleaning your wheels and tires last.

Many of us were taught to clean our vehicle from the top down.

However, this does not include the wheels and tires.

In fact, you should clean your wheels and tires first, since they are most often the dirtiest parts on your vehicle. This will prevent you from splashing wheel well dirt and grime on your just-washed vehicle surface.


Mothers California Car Wash is specially formulated to be gentle on car surfaces.

Mothers California Car Wash is specially formulated to be gentle on car surfaces.

6. Using dish soaps or detergents.

Truth is, dish soaps are convenient and cheap to use, and they’re even somewhat effective at cleaning cars. In fact, they’re a little too good—harsh even. Dish soap and detergents are formulated to remove grease and wax and can strip away automotive waxes and sealers that are there to protect your vehicle’s finish.

Instead, use a purpose-made automotive wash.




7. Using ammonia-based glass cleaner. 


Mothers Glass Cleaner is ammonia-free.

Most household glass cleaners contain ammonia.

Ammonia not only stinks, but it can be damaging to upholstery and dashboard surfaces if spilled or dripped. Use an ammonia-free glass cleaner instead.


8. Treating stained upholstery areas only.

When you’ve got a nasty, dirty stain on your vehicle’s carpet, it’s only natural to focus time and energy on that one spot. But unless your vehicle is almost brand new, the entire upholstery is probably dirtier than you think. By cleaning just the individual dirty spots, you could wind up with a few very clean areas and the rest suddenly looking dirty.

That’s why it’s important to give attention to your entire interior instead of just particularly bad spots. Apply upholstery cleaner evenly to the entire area of your upholstery.


9. Treating all plastics the same.

Not all plastics are the same.

So don’t treat all your plastic surfaces the same. Mothers recommends using a penetrating protectant on soft plastics and dedicated plastic polish on harder surfaces like gauge cluster lenses.


10. Overwaxing.

Can you have overkill when waxing? Yes.

In most cases, two coats of wax will do the trick. The initial coat provides the foundation, and the second coat will cover any areas the first go-around may have missed. Any further coats will likely not adhere and will simply be wiped off with buffing.



Meguiars Microfiber Towels.

11. Using a chamois for drying.

Please use a microfiber towel.

Microfiber towels will dry the surface while babying the finish. Chamois were once the go-to drying tool, but they contain very little nap to absorb left-over particles on the surface. The smoothness of the chamois will instead grind these particles back into the surface and create swirl marks.

It’s the same reason you shouldn’t use an old T-shirt to dry your precious vehicle.



12. Improper car towel cleaning.

Whether you use microfiber towels or simple, soft cotton towels, you’ll want to clean them properly after use. Don’t use a fabric softener—it can leave chemicals in the towels that are detrimental to your wax.

Share this Article
Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.