The Details: Car Show Cleaning

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Written by our fellow member, Thomas Powers.



With Pumpkin Run just around the corner, many of us will be cleaning our cars soon. Whether that is at a car wash or in the driveway, everyone loves showing up to a car meet in a clean car. However, the world is not perfect and schedules don’t always allow a car wash visit or a long detail before the meet. What is a car enthusiast to do?

DON’T do what is a detailer’s worst nightmare: the parking lot wipe-down.


Neither the $6.95 “detail spray” at any given parts store nor the dirty microfiber towel laying in the trunk are enough to clean a car (with the exception of matte-black wheels… maybe). Similarly, the big, fluffly “car duster” thing is not an effective paint cleanser; it is a scratch creator.


These methods of quick-cleaning harm your car’s finish because the dirt that clings to paint is highly abrasive. Most sprays (and certainly grubby dusters) lack the lubricating and encapsulating polymers necessary to remove dirt safely.


Contrary to popular belief, a “clean” surface is not necessarily better than a properly corrected and protected surface. In other words, dirty, polished paint is far more impressive than clean, swirled paint. In the interest of preserving your car in the long term, resist the temptation to wipe it clean for a few fleeting moments of clean at the car show.


Instead, DO wait to clean your car properly and bring adequate supplies to address emergencies (bird droppings and large insects specifically).


Your emergency cleaning kit should consist of (at minimum) a few clean, high-pile microfiber towels and a large bottle of a “waterless wash” product (we at Malibu Autobahn like 3D Waterless Wash). If your car is bird-bombed or hit by a kamikaze bug, these products will safely and conveniently clean your car. You could “wash” the entire car with a waterless product, but the towels and product consumed generally make this method more expensive and tedious than waiting to get a hose and buckets out. Again, the emergency kit is primarily used to prevent damage to paint from corrosive, enzyme-rich guts and/or poo.


Ultimately, it is most important to remember that clear coat is a limited and relatively fragile part of your car. It can only be wiped, scratched, and polished so many times before it will fail and a repaint is necessary.


Preserve your paint by washing it properly. We’ll detail this process in a future article. For now, just skip the car show cleaning. Your car will thank you.

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