Skip to Content

15 Reasons Why Your Car Looks Dirty After Washing It

I’ve been struggling with this puzzling problem– my car still looks dirty even after washing it. Although I haven’t found one answer to fit all, I have found a few reasons. So why does a car look dirty even after a thorough wash?

Washing a car

Here are 15 reasons why your car still looks dirty after washing it:

  1. Using a pressure washer only.
  2. Blasting the water too hard.
  3. Soap and chemicals drying on your car’s paint.
  4. Using hard water.
  5. Using contaminated brushes.
  6. Not enough soap.
  7. Low-quality and wrong shampoos.
  8. Washing your car in the rain.
  9. Washing your car in direct sunlight.
  10. Drying your car improperly after washing it.
  11. Letting your car dry naturally.
  12. Forgetting to clean under the wheel arches.
  13. Using washing-up liquid or abrasive towels or sponges.
  14. Waxing and polishing your car improperly.
  15. Washing your car at a self-service car wash.

Car washing is one way car owners damage their car’s paint if done improperly. This article will elaborate on why your car looks dirty after washing and suggest possible fixes. Read on.

1. Using a Pressure Washer Only

Washing your car with plain water is a big mistake. You might think a pressure washer will lift dirt from your car, but it won’t. Water alone doesn’t have the cleaning agents needed to remove stubborn dirt off your car’s body.

Also, a pressure washer might create scratch or swirl marks on your paint since there is no lubrication. Shampoos lubricate the car’s surface, ensuring water particles (from pressure sources) glide smoothly without friction.

However, it’s essential you pre-rinse your car with pressure water before applying snow foam or other cleaning agents. Do not go straight to using a towel to wipe off the dirt, as you’ll most likely scratch the surface. Soften the surface with water first, but make sure the pressure isn’t too high.

2. Blasting the Water Too Hard

Blasting car with too much water

You might be tempted to increase the water pressure to remove heavy dirt and get the job done quickly, but you’ll be working against yourself.

A high-pressure water stream from the washer can get under exposed paint and force more up. Consider this to be like the power wash of your sidewalk. It will blast off paint instead of dirt.

A 1200 and 1900 PSI (8270-13100 kPa) range is enough to give your car a clean wash. Anything above this will most probably damage your paint.

3. Soap and Chemicals Drying on Your Car’s Paint

As a good rule of thumb, you should apply foams or other cleaning agents, give it a rub, and rinse immediately.

If you wait too long, the chemicals will dry off, and the surface won’t give a sparkle even after rinsing. You can attest to this if you have made this mistake before. It takes another rub with a cleaning agent and a proper rinse to fix it.

4. Using Hard Water

Using hard water in cleaning the car

When water flows over rocks or percolates through the ground, it dissolves minerals like magnesium, bicarbonates, and sulfates. The quantities of these minerals dictate how hard or soft water is.

Therefore, hard water contains high mineral content while soft water contains less.

Unfortunately, it’s these minerals that stain your car even after a thorough wash. They crystallize out as the water evaporates from your car’s paint, leaving behind powdery-white stains.

Hard water stains aren’t always easy to remove, and this is why you should consider using a drier or a towel to wink out water beads off the paint before they dry.

How To Get Hard Water Spots off Car’s Paint

Hard water stains are stubborn and difficult to remove, especially if left unchecked for a long time. The best thing is to avoid hard water altogether. But what do you do if they are already on your car’s paint? Don’t worry; I have a solution for you.

  1. Mix one unit of white vinegar with one unit of soft water or distilled water. Please avoid using regular tap water as it contains minerals.
  2. Apply the solution with a spray bottle to the affected areas, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Vinegar will dissolve the hard water minerals.
  3. Wash and dry the surface after 10 minutes to remove the solution and the dissolved minerals.
  4. Repeat the process if you still notice stain rings on the periphery of the affected areas.

5. Using Contaminated Brushes

Using dirty wash mitts and brushes is another mistake you should avoid, at least if you want your car looking spik and span after a wash.

Contaminating your washing mitts and brushes is as simple as dipping your wheel brush in the wash bucket or not rinsing the mitts after washing your car.

All this will contaminate the water that should clean your car– one big mistake. And since the car is already dirty, the water should be as clean as possible.

6. Not Enough Soap

Washing car without enough soap

Soaps contain cleaning chemicals that soften dirt for easy removal.

You might find yourself struggling to get enough suds on your washing mitts at the end of the wash. This could be because the water in the bucket is already dirty. The dirt eats suds at the bottom of the bucket, making it hard to create new suds.

Also, some of this dirt will attach to the bucket, so it’s necessary you clean it from time to time. If you aren’t careful, this dirt will end up on your car’s paint.

7. Using Low-Quality and Wrong Shampoos

Cheap and low-quality shampoos don’t have enough cleaning power and lubrication. As a result, you’ll find it challenging to get the dirt off your car, and even worse, it won’t look clean after the wash.

Also, you might use extra force to scrub your car clean, which can scratch the paint or reduce its gloss.

Either way, it doesn’t mean expensive products are always the best. The secret is getting the correct type of shampoo. Read online reviews to learn which shampoos work for your car paint. Avoid powerful detergents that may bleach your car’s interior fabric or paint.

I found one such shampoo on that should work with most cars. You can try Ethos Cleanse Graphene Car Shampoo, infused with graphene coating protection. Besides boasting a high lubricity formula, the shampoo is also ideal for coating maintenance.

8. Washing Your Car in the Rain

Washing car in the rain

Washing your car in the rain isn’t a good idea. Rainwater will quickly wash down the shampoo leaving out tough stains. You might think the rain will help you clean your car, but it won’t look clean.

Rainwater isn’t as pristine as it was in the 80s. It’s rigged with dust and dirt particles because of smog and pollution. So, letting the rain rinse your car isn’t going to make it look clean as you’d rinse it yourself.

9. Washing Your Car in Direct Sunlight

Don’t be tempted to make the most of a bright summer day by washing your can when the sun is at its peak. Water on your car’s paint will evaporate faster than you can dry it, leaving ugly stains.

CarCareReport dot com is owner of this article and was first posted on Sep 22, 2022 and was updated on ..

Also, soap or shampoo will dry out faster than you can rinse it, worsening the already stubborn stains. And they’ll become much harder to remove!

Please park your car out of direct sunlight when washing it, or consider doing it in the morning or evening.

If you have to wash your car in direct sunlight, it would be best to look for a helper to quickly rinse the shampoo as soon as you apply and dry off water beads to avoid unsightly spots.

10. Drying Your Car Improperly After Washing It

Not drying the car properly

Improper drying is another reason your car may still look dirty even after a wash. I have already elaborated on what happens if you let shampoo or other cleaning chemicals and water dry on your car’s surface.

But how do you dry your car after a wash without scratching the paint?

  • Use an air blower.
  • Use a microfiber towel.

Using a drying microfiber towel is pretty straightforward. Gently rub the microfiber towel on the wet surfaces until they dry out.

If you’re going to use an air blower, you better not use it for any other purpose. Don’t use one for blowing the dust off your engine or furniture at home. Buy one only for drying your car after a wash.

11. Letting Your Car Dry Naturally

Letting a car dry on its own is another blunder I’ve seen several times, although mostly with amateurs. This takes us back to the issue of letting water and cleaning chemicals dry on your car’s paint.

But letting your car dry naturally, thinking that you’re saving time, is wrong. It will cost you even more time to remove the spots, which sometimes won’t come off quickly. And what about the sparkle of your beloved car? Isn’t it worth your time?

12. Forgetting To Clean Under the Wheel Arches

Dirty wheel arches

Do you forget to clean under wheel arches, or do you deliberately leave them out? Again, is it that you have something else important to do?

Wheel arches are the shaped parts of your car’s bodywork that allow access to the wheels. For the case of the front wheels, arches let you steer the wheels in different directions. They are typically made of light foam, foam, or polyester waddings.

Cleaning a car is more than only cleaning the parts you can see. Mud often builds up under the wheel arches, so it’s essential to clean them thoroughly (and regularly).

Don’t go for days without checking and cleaning any mud build-up under the arches. If unchecked, mud can cause rusting, and I’m sure that’s the last thing you’d want to see on your car.

Maybe you wouldn’t mind checking this educational YouTube video on how to clean and protect your wheel arches.

13. Using Washing-Up Liquid or Abrasive Towels or Sponges

Several factors can cause a car’s paint to fade, including heat from UV rays. Abrasive spinning car washing brushes can also damage your car’s paint and make it appear dull.

It would help if you didn’t also use abrasive dish sponges, at least if you don’t want to ruin your car’s paint quickly.

Car cleaning gear shouldn’t cost a fortune. All you need is to invest in the right products to make your car cleaning more manageable and effective.

There’s a myth that has been going around that a wash-up liquid is acceptable for your car, and there’s no need to buy a proper car detergent. I will debunk this for you.

A wash-up liquid is designed to strip away wax or shift baked-on grease from your car. Most brands have powerful and abrasive cleaning agents, and although your car will look clean and shiny, repeated use of wash-up liquids will damage your paint’s protective clear coat.

They’ll also open up little scratches on your car’s body, leaving it to the mercy of the elements. They also contain salt that will speed up rusting. Wash-up liquids will only serve to accelerate your car paint’s aging, rendering it vulnerable to rusting and damage.

First published on Sep 22, 2022 by

14. Waxing and Polishing Your Car Improperly

Polishing the car

Waxing and polishing your car is an excellent way to make it shine after a wash. Don’t rush the job; otherwise, you won’t get the desired results. Avoid using a mechanical buffer unless you know what you’re doing, as it might be a fast ticket to damaging the paint.

Polish your car before waxing. Polishing removes your car’s paint top thin layer finely and removes minor scratches and blemishes. Waxing then adds a protective layer giving the paint a shiny finish.

It’s easy to polish and wax your car. But to get noticeable results, you’ll need patience and consistency.

15. Washing Your Car at a Self-Service Car Wash

Automatic washers are increasingly becoming popular, but I honestly won’t recommend them if you want your car to look neat and presentable.

The fast-spinning rollers of an automatic car washer collect grit and dirt from the cars before you, which can cause scratches and swirl marks on your car’s paint. The effect is noticeable on dark-colored cars, but all other cars are victims.

If you’d like your car to look great, you better wash it yourself. Equip yourself with a dirt-free bucket and a pressure washer, and forget the pain of dull paint caused by automatic washers.

Related Articles

How To Clean a Car Interior With Household Products

How To Hand Wash a Car Faster (Tips and Tricks)

How To Detail a Car That Has Ceramic Coating

Shampoo vs. Steam Clean: Which is Better for a Car?

CarCareReport dot com first published this article on Sep 22, 2022..

How To Use a Rubbing Compound on Clear Coat