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In this guide:

  • Learn the key steps that can be taken to avoid swirl marks in the wash stage.
  • See the essential products to keep in your kit for every wash.
  • Master the tips to make your detail safer by avoiding awkward mistakes that need to be rectified later.

Why is avoiding swirl marks a good idea?

  • Swirl marks and defects can only be corrected through polishing, which isn't always practical during routine maintenance.
  • After any paint correction, protective layers will have to be re-applied.
  • With the right tips it's easier than you may think to perform a true swirl-free wash.

Changing the way you wash, and the products you use, is the easiest way to dramatically cut down on swirls…

Inflicting light scratches and swirl marks on paintwork is all-too-common when it comes to cleaning cars, but the good news is that it’s easy to eradicate this problem simply by using the correct products and procedures. In fact, washing your car the correct way, and utilising the correct products in the correct order, will substantially cut down on damage inflicted at the wash stage where the paintwork is most vulnerable, along with the time needed to rectify problems later. And what’s more, the simple steps you can take here are far easier to master than you might think.
So, here’s the top tips to follow for a devastatingly effective, swirl-free wash…

Clean Your Wheels and Tyres First

You may be asking what cleaning the four corners of your car can possibly have to do with cutting down on swirl-marks in paintwork, but any true detailer will tell you that cleaning your wheels and tyres is the only way to commence every detail.

In the vast majority of cases, the wheels and tyres will be the most contaminated part of any vehicle, and the reason we clean them first is simply to stop this heavy contamination from spreading to the bodywork - most notably at the wrong moment - after washing the paintwork. It’s an easy mistake to make but, by fully cleansing this area first, you can stop the spread of the most harmful contaminants… or at the very least, manage any contaminant transfer at an early stage where it can be cleaned away effectively during pre-washing. Even if your wheels or tyres don’t appear to be heavily soiled, there could still be plenty of contaminants present that are harmful to paintwork, so always make sure you start every detail here.

For the full rundown, covering cleaning every type of wheel, check out our Definitive Guide To Cleaning Alloy Wheels here.

Always Perform The Most Thorough Pre-wash That You Can

Pre-washing is actually one of the most important stages in detailing, even though it’s the step that’s most commonly missed. A thorough pre-wash is essentially cleaning the worst contaminants from your vehicle before you physically touch it, and the procedure is extremely simple.

The idea here is to avoid dragging any heavy soiling across your paintwork when you use your wash mitt and car shampoo during the contact wash stage. Removing grit and dirt before making any physical contact will hugely cut down on the risk of inflicting swirl marks, possibly more than any other process. So, first of all it’s vital to rinse thoroughly with a pressure washer to free the bodywork of any loose contaminants, being sure to flush out any panel gaps, filler flaps and along window rubbers as you go.

Utilising a suitable pre-wash cleaner next, such as our Citrus Power Bug & Grime Remover, is also essential to rapidly break down and lift heavy particles - like dirt, bugs and road films - that could cause scratching and swirls. Citrus Power rapidly dissolves these contaminants and suspends them in the solution, meaning they can be safely rinsed away without the grime touching the surface of the paintwork.

Simply spray over the whole vehicle, starting on to the most contaminated areas which will need the most amount time with the product in contact, leave to dwell for a few minutes while it gets to work, and then rinse away the worst of the grime with your pressure washer. Citrus Power is even wax and sealant friendly, so it won't degrade any previously-applied protection.

Utilise Avalanche Snow Foam on Every Wash

Snow foam is one of the greatest tools in the modern detailer’s arsenal. Again, our Avalanche Snow Foam is a product used in the pre-wash stage, and what it provides is a thick, rich lather designed to dissolve, loosen and lubricate heavy soiling, allowing it to be rinsed away without you making contact with the vehicle.

Using Avalanche is also an essential step because it’s able to work its way into panel gaps, cleaning away the dirt and dust you may not be able to see. If left unchecked, at best these kind of contaminants could be blown out and interfere with other detailing stages, like drying, polishing or finishing. At their worst they can cause even more damage to paintwork.

This citrus-infused cleaner is also friendly to previously-applied waxes, sealants and coatings, and is best applied with a dedicated Foam Lance attached to your pressure washer. What a professional Foam Lance does is whip up the product, effectively activating the cleaning agents and giving the foam-like constancy, that will linger on the vehicle breaking down contaminants for the maximum amount of time.

Simply spray over the entire vehicle from the top down, leave for a few minutes to dwell, and then rinse the grime away.

Get Two Buckets, Not Just The One

When it comes to the contact wash, many don't realise that the method you use is just as important as choosing the right product. Always use two Detailing Buckets when you wash any vehicle, as this is another crucial way to cut down on the risk of inflicting swirl marks.

One bucket should be used for your shampoo solution, and the other is what we refer to as a ‘rinse bucket’, which is simply filled with plain, clean water.
As you contact wash, load up your wash mitt with fresh shampoo solution, apply to the vehicle and then thoroughly rinse out your mitt in the rinse bucket before going back to your shampoo. This will avoid contaminating your shampoo solution with any dirt or grit that has already been cleaned off of the car.

Of course the product you use as a cleaning agent is also vital here, and for a gentle but powerful cleaner always Lather Car Shampoo. This has been engineered as a pH neutral blend of special surfactants and concentrated lubricants designed to lift and lubricate contaminants enough to allow them to slip across and off of surfaces without inflicting swirl marks during contact washing or rinsing.

Take The Correct Path Around The Vehicle

To avoid dragging any remaining grime to cleaner areas, it’s always important to wash the least contaminated areas first during the contact wash stage.

Generally speaking, the best way is to start on your roof, followed by the windscreen, bonnet, upper sides, front bumper, rear end and lower sides. When possible (subject to a thorough inspection first) keeping to this order will hugely decrease the risk to your paintwork.

As you wash, always move your mitt in straight lines avoiding circular motions, this will also go a long way to help cut down on those dreaded swirl marks.