Car Cleaning Myths

Take a short drive just about anywhere and glance at the car or truck next to you. Chances are you'll get a feel for what the owner of that vehicle sees as "clean" --underscoring the obvious difference in standards that exist among owners.

Car Cleaning Myths

In short, when it comes to auto hygiene, clean may be in the eye of the one with the bucket.

Barry Meguiar, who heads the business of the same name (Meguiar's), is out to set the record straight, in the process dispelling what his third-generation family company says are the "dirty dozen" car care myths.

Myth #1: Dishwashing detergent is safe to use to wash your car.

First among them is the idea that plain, ordinary dishwashing detergent is just fine and dandy for car wash purposes.

In the face of opinions that suggest, "go ahead, not a problem," when it comes to squeezing a little into a bucket of hot water and tackling the SUV or four-door sedan, Meguiar nixes the idea altogether.

Myth #1: Dishwashing detergent is safe to use to wash your car.

"Dishwashing detergent is meant to remove everything from the surface. That includes stripping the polymers off the paint surface... The effect is similar to what dishwashing soap does to your hands. Too much will dry the skin. On the surface of a car, the same thing occurs; dishwashing soap actually accelerates the oxidation process when used regularly."

Myth 2: Washing and cleaning are the same.

A car wash removes loose contaminants; cleaning removes stubborn stains, blemishes and bonded contaminants, explains Meguiar. Bonded contaminants? Think tree sap and, almost as bad, a spray of tire rubber that no one can escape. "When you're driving behind someone, the rubber from the tires is landing somewhere -- and that's on your vehicle."

Myth #3: A shiny car is clean.

In this case, seeing is not believing. "Your eyes can't tell you what's happening in the paint finish," says Meguiar, who suggests rubbing the face of your hand over the surface of the car after washing it. "It should feel like glass if it's right. Most of the time it's going to feel more like sandpaper. You can feel the contaminants." Products like a clay bar can easily remove bonded contaminants, something that's essential before applying polish or wax.

Myth #4: Clay bars should only be used by professionals.

Remember how easy it was to use Silly Putty? Using a clay bar (like this one from Meguiar's) is just as easy. The bar (which comes in a kit) is able to grab and gently remove all bonded contaminants (like tree sap and road rubber).

Myth #5: Waxing removes swirl marks.

Meguiar says swirl marks (scratches on the paint surface) can only be removed by getting to the bottom of them. Modern paint finishes magnify the scratches, making swirl marks a troubling aspects of car care. Fixing them depends on how deep the scratch is. Micro-fine scratches can be fixed with a non-abrasive paint cleaner; moderate ones may require something more serious; deeper swirl marks may need professional help.

Myth #6: There is no difference between polishing and waxing.

Understanding what polishing and waxing are designed to do is key. Polishing creates a brilliant high-gloss surface; waxing protects the vehicle's finish by coating it with wax polymers, resins and silicones (which means waxing won't make a dull surface shiny).

Myth #7: Machine polishers damage the paint finish.

Speed is the key; a dual-action polisher or orbital buffer shouldn't be a problem for even the most inexperienced. Not so with rotary buffers, which operate at much higher RPMs and are best left to the pros.

Myth #8: Diapers, t-shirts and flannel make good cleaning cloths.

A smooth surface is exactly what you don't want to see in a cloth, the reason being those fine particulates that you're trying to capture. While cloth diapers or t-shirts may be clean, they're actually scratching the surface; a premium terrycloth microfiber towel is what's recommended -- the deep-pile surface creates a buffer zone that will pick up the bad stuff, not grind it into the paint finish.

Myth #9: Wax protection can be guaranteed to last one year.

A claim may help sell a product, but Barry Meguiar says there are enough variables in place that make such guarantees suspect. A better strategy might be to consider those differences -- weather, use of road salt, whether your vehicle is parked outside or garaged -- and maintain accordingly. Meguiar's is taking that idea a step further with personalized service that gives owners options based on expectations.

Myth #10: Paste wax offers greater protection than liquid wax.

While Barry Meguiar admits this once was true, times have changed. "In the old days, there was a great reliance on carnauba wax, which was the hardest natural wax available. Fifty years later we have synthetic waxes, polymers and resins that have far more resilience than carnauba and enhance the gloss. Interestingly, carnauba (which people still want to see in a product) actually grays the surface of a vehicle."

Myth #11: Lighting a hood on fire, without damaging the paint finish, proves the protective qualities of a car wax.

It may be a nice science trick, but that's about it. Even if the paint surface has little or no protection, setting fire to a pool of alcohol will produce nothing more than a barely warm surface when the flame goes out--which it will do in just a few seconds.

Myth #12: Once a car is waxed, regularly protecting the paint finish becomes unnecessary.

Remember that tree sap and tire rubber? It's never-ending, which means so is the need to remove it (and everything else the world might throw at the surface of your vehicle). The best strategy: Remove the contaminants with a mist-and-wipe product before they have time to bond to the vehicle's paint.
Share This Photo X