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  • Writer's pictureSean Gavigan

Waterless Car Cleaning

Old Car Rusting in Desert

For the past few weeks in Northern Ireland the summer weather has been unseasonably hot and dry; to such an extent that the stocks of inflatable garden pools has diminished and the stress of the ensuing water demand has forced the water board to impose the inevitable hose pipe ban. Anyone cleaning their car on the driveway or watering the plants at the front of the house could face a fine if caught by the hose police.

Morally wrong? Well the current ban in Northern Ireland isn’t down to the reservoirs being empty, but a water treatment and pumping demand that has put pressure on the pumping stations. A stranger whispered in my ear recently that they use some common sense and use as little water as they can off peak; late at night or very early and not only do they feel morally better, but there’s less chance of the hose police catching them as well.

So should you go the way of using a waterless cleaning chemical on your vehicle? I would say no, because the current ban only applies to private hose pipe use. Commercial operators are exempt. So if the car really needs cleaned, its better taking it to a quality car valet and getting it done right. Its going to cost you money, however if you’re reading this blog you’re hopefully into your car care, and you appreciate that professional car valeting or detailing is about preserving the appearance, and not introducing micro-marring or scratches from poor wash technique and surely this is worth paying for as opposed to attempting the job with a waterless clean.

Would I ever professionally carry out a waterless clean on a vehicle, absolutely not. There’s just too much risk of marring the paint. But for sake of argument perhaps you would like a little more information on how to clean a car without water, or for whatever reason you just have to clean it and access to water is very limited, like you had the only Ferrari on Mars or something - well then read on.

What is a waterless car cleaner? Well its simply a chemical cleaning solution that’s been formulated to clean dirt from your vehicle in the safest possible way in the absence of water. They’re usually very slippery in feel as they’re designed not just to clean but lubricate the surface in an aid to avoid scratching. But be warned, this isn’t something that you can spray from your pressure washer. They’re too expensive for that. This is something that’s going to require agitation of the cleaner on the surface of the dirty vehicle and if you care for the finish on your vehicle this should already be sounding alarm bells and rightly so.

During this article I will be talking about a waterless cleaner from Autoglym called Rapid Detailer which is widely available in any quality automotive store. An excellent product that I would use on a regular basis for minor spot cleaning and as a lubricant for surface detailing paint with a clay bar (although the professional variant is called Fast Shine & Lube I will refer to the consumer brand that is Rapid Detailer). Other waterless cleaners are available, and large pack quantities are available for commercial users (Autoglym Waterless Cleaner is a similar professional product sold in bulk quantities) but for the remainder of this article I will be referring to Rapid Detailer as opposed to waterless cleaner.

Grey water is better than no water. If your going to use Rapid Detailer or similar to clean your vehicle then think of pre washing the vehicle with grey water first. What is grey water? Well thats water that has already been used for a cleaning task. Like the water that empties from the washing machine, or the bath water. Now if your high on your morals you’ll not be running a bath just to get a couple of hundred litres of grey water; and if your going to try and collect the waste water from a washing machine believe me you’ll need a lot of big buckets, those machines dump a lot of water - I’ve tried and very successfully flooded the floor.

So lets imagine we’re in the middle of a hose pipe ban, and you cannot access a professional valet or car wash and for whatever reason that car has just got to be cleaned. What can we do?

As I mentioned earlier, grey water is better than no water and we need to pre wash the car to get the heavy soiling off. So lets look at good old fashioned car shampooing but with grey water. If your skipping this step and want to get stuck straight into waterless cleaning then read on from paragraph 11.

Ideally you would rinse the car first with the grey water from a hose. You’ll need a low pressure sprayer or garden hose with a water butt pump to get this done. Now lets get that grey water into a bucket and add a good measure of a quality car shampoo. Go by the recommended amount on the label to the amount of water your using but remember that the grey water could already have detergents in it so we don’t want to be over doing it. You’re gonna have to employ an element of common sense. Make sure your wearing suitable gloves to protect your hands. A good quality wash mitt is going to be essential and we need one thats going to hold a good amount of water.

The rule of car shampooing with a wash mitt, start at the top of the car and squeeze out that mitt letting the water run down the side of the panel. This is very important, not only are we lubricating the panel but that shampoo is also penetrating the dirt and traffic film, loosening its bond from the panel and suspending it in the shampoo solution. Get the mitt loaded up again and start cleaning from the top of the panel down. Check the mitt very regularly for dirt and rinse as required, and above all keep that panel wet - and therefore lubricated. We want to remove as much friction between the dirt and the panel as we can - this is whats going to scratch that surface. If you’re short on grey water then you’re going to have to concentrate its use just on the areas of the vehicle with the heaviest soiling.

So now that we’ve tackled the heavy soiling we can move to the waterless cleaning. If you had no grey water available then this is were your starting this process. Your going to need a good quantity of soft clean microfibre cloths, and a quality waterless cleaner like Autoglym Rapid Detailer.

Have a good look all over the car and identify the really dirty bits. Lets say we’ve a couple of really big nasty bird limes on the roof, bug splatter on the front grill and some muck thats been thrown up from the wheels running along the side of the car. Lets tackle these heavy areas first, spray your Rapid Detailer on the bug splatter and also onto the bird limes. We want to leave this on for a couple of minutes to try and penetrate those stubborn stains and loosen them up.

Lets have a look at that muck on the side of the car. Give it a good spray of the Rapid Detailer and using a clean folded microfibre give it a gentle wipe to see if it’ll come off. If its stubborn don’t rub harder, spray more Rapid Detailer on and turn the microfibre to a clean side and repeat. Keep folding the microfibre to get a clean surface and use plenty of Rapid Detailer until you’ve removed the dirt. Once you’ve no more clean folds in the microfibre stop using it and pick up a clean one.

Now that we’ve got the muck off lets return to those bird limes. Give them another squirt of the Rapid Detailer and try wiping them off with a clean folded microfibre, repeat the process as per the muck, turning the microfibre frequently until the bird poo has gone.

Now hopefully the Rapid detailer has penetrated the bug splatter on the front of the car and loosened them up a little. As per the bird poo give it another squirt and wipe gently with a clean folded microfibre to remove, fold and repeat as before. All going well we’ve got the dirt and bugs off with minimal fuss.

Thats the car spot cleaned of the nasty things that might tarnish the finish and hopefully this would be enough to keep the car fit for another couple of weeks. If you need to clean the rest of the car then just repeat the process per panel, checking that microfibre frequently for dirt and turning as necessary. A quality waterless cleaner like Autoglym Rapid Detailer also acts as a liquid wax and will offer good short term protection, normally you would buff the finish to a high shine with a microfibre but under these circumstances I would buff just as much as needed to leave a clean appearance.

The glass of the car can be cleaned pretty much as normal using glass cleaners - glass is more forgiving but use some common sense here and don’t be rubbing grit around as it can scratch.

So the sum it all up, if you care about the finish of your car, just use a good car valet until the ban is lifted. Hope this helps.

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