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How to wash your car in the winter

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Winter is the season in the year that makes cleaning cars more difficult, and more important. The amount of dirt you accumulate will increase greatly, but cleaning it off will become more difficult. This article aims at giving you the pointers, tips and tricks to make it easier for you.

Why washing in the winter

The dirt and grime

When it is winter, the roads will more often be covered in moisture. This is either (half) frozen into ice or snow, or it is melted into puddles of water. This means the roads are very often wet, and moisture mixes well with the dirt and grime that covers the roads. The car in front of you either splashes the dirty water up, or throws the snow up at you. Covering your car in dirty and muddy moisture. When the temperature drop, this dirty moisture freezes, increasing the time the contaminants cover your paintwork. The longer these contaminants are in contact with your paintwork, the greater the chance they get stuck on the paintwork. Ice or snow that melts also has the tendency to slide off the car, moving all the accumulated dirt over your paintwork while sliding.

The protection

When the temperature drops, certain products start to fail. Wax becomes brittle at a very low temperature, having a negative effect on the resistance it offers. Some sealants also start to fail if the temperature goes to low. Precisely at the moment you need your protection to work its hardest, it is failing. For this reason, certain manufacturers decided to formulate special products that can cope with the low temperatures. These products are more likely to withstand the cold and to keep fighting off the grime and dirt.

Tips, tricks and pointers

When washing your car in the winter, certain factors come into play that normally don’t matter too much. For example: water can freeze, which can cause problems in certain areas.


  • Dry your vehicle as good as possible, consider using air to blow dry crevices and small area’s
  • Using water that is slightly warmer then the body panels, will help to heat up the panels a bit. This will make it less likely that any moisture will re-freeze
  • If at all possible, wait for a moment later in the day, when it is more warm. Maybe even consider washing it on another day
  • Dress yourself up. Hypothermia is a very serious problem you should avoid at all times
  • Doing a full detail before the cold sets in, will help to get your car through winter. You only need to wash the car during this period, and not apply any form of protection
  • If you are not going to wash the car properly, consider rinsing it clean at the Do-It-Yourself carwash. Do not use the brush, but just use the lance to rinse off the biggest dirt from the vehicle. This will prevent the toughest dirt from getting stuck in the paintwork
  • Rinseless or waterless washes can be used, just remember that these are not suitable for heavy contaminated surfaces. A pre-wash might be better
  • If at all possible, try to rinse the underside of the vehicle. This will be covered in road salt which can sometimes lead to corrosion and rust
  • When doing a pre-winter or after-winter wash, pay attention to the wheelarches. These will get a lot of punishment through the winter and need to be properly protected or properly cleaned
  • Warm water will increase the effectiveness of your shampoo, and make it easier to clean with. Just don’t make it to hot


  • Never wash your car with very hot water. The temperature difference can crack the glass. Don’t let the temperature difference between the water and the surface got greater then 30 degrees Celsius
  • Don’t apply a liquid sealant/wax/coating on a panel that is cold enough to make the liquid freeze
  • If any moisture freezes, don’t start to rub it with pressure and excessive movement. This will increase the risk of marring and swirls
  • Don’t apply snowfoam on top of snow, this won’t do anything and there is a risk that the snowfoam freezes
  • Don’t make your bucket with water too warm. It can crack glass if the temperature difference is to big
  • If you don’t have a choice and its freezing outside. Drive around for while with the heater on warm. The warmed up engine and interior will prevent a large part of the water from freezing while washing

General things to keep in mind

  • Dry the vehicle as good as possible
  • Be careful with a hot air blaster, if the air is too hot, it can crack the glass
  • Be careful with using hot liquids, when it cools down again it can cause condensation
  • The temperature of your body panels will be lower then the temperature of the air. Moisture can freeze even if the air itself is above 0 degrees Celsius
  • Be very careful to prevent moisture from freezing, this will make it much more difficult to wash the car. It will also make it much more difficult to apply a protective product
  • Many manufacturers of protective products advise to NOT use the product under a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius
  • Cleaning does not only have to be aesthetically important, having a clean vehicle means you can look through your window properly. Something that is essential in dangerous weather conditions
  • Taking care of your car now, means it will last longer and holds it value for longer
  • Be very careful around doorshuts and keyholes. Water can freeze and make them difficult to open
  • For obvious reasons, it would be a major help if the car can be stored indoors. Either for parking or for cleaning the car

Tools to help you wash the car in winter

Although washing your car can be uncomfortable in winter, it does not have to be very difficult. Adjusting the way you normally wash the car can already make a big difference. A device that lets you use compressed air, or blows air will help to get moisture out of small crevices and difficut areas. A pressure washer can help to clean of a lot of the biggest dirt and any snow/ice still on the vehicle. A undercarriage attachment can help to clean the underside, preventing any damage for roadsalt.

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