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How to Dry a Car After Washing: Best Methods Explained

Most people who like a clean vehicle find themselves at the car wash quite frequently. A pretty typical wash usually involves going to the nearest automated wash or taking a hose and bucket out back, depending on time constraints. 

Choosing the deluxe package at the automated wash might tread your vehicle to a drying session with the blowers on your way out, but so many people do not even bother to pay the extra for the blowers or hand dry their vehicles after an at-home wash. This is arguably the most important part of a car wash, seeing as how streaking and water stains can undo everything that was just washed.

Drying after a car wash is both an art and a science, and its importance cannot be understated. Doing it properly and with the correct materials will save your vehicle’s paint, and doing it all will ensure that your vehicle looks great and your money is not wasted on washing materials. 

Utilizing the Correct Drying Techniques

car drying techniques

Drying a car after a wash might seem to be as simple as taking a towel and running it over the exterior. Using the wrong drying technique is not only important for actually getting the vehicle dry, but it could also negatively impact your washing efforts.

Rinsing

It might seem counterintuitive to dry your car by rinsing it, but by rinsing with light pressure at the end of your wash, you create a cascading effect that helps carry beads of water off the paint surface. Using a good car wash soap or having a ceramic coating on your vehicle helps with additional beading.

Drip-Dry First

Something that many people do without thinking about it is let the car drip-dry for a few minutes before proceeding with whatever drying method you choose. Taking a second to let the car sit will also allow you to get things together or put things away before getting out your drying tools. Drip-drying for a minute or two also allows extra water to naturally run off before proceeding.

From the Top Down

Whenever you dry your vehicle, you should start at the top of the car and work your way down to the bottom. This will prevent any water that is higher than your drying area to drip down to where you previously dried.

Dry Your Drying Method

Another important thing that many people forget is to make sure that your drying tools do not become saturated, even if your other techniques and tools are correct. Using an increasingly damp drying cloth will eventually re-deposit water onto your car. Depending on the type of cloth or towel you use, you need to remember to shake it out, turn it, or change it frequently.

Remember the Cracks and Crevices

After you work your way from the top down, it is also important to dry the cracks and contours of the vehicle where water tends to hide. Opening doors and drying the sills is an especially forgotten drying task. Drying these areas will ensure that a thorough job is complete and will prevent any extra dripping as you drive down the road. 

The Wheel Difference

Drying your wheels and tires should be included in your final detailing phase, but they should be tackled last since they are one of the lowest points on the car. Additionally, they should be dried with a separate microfiber cloth than those used on the paint. 

Wheels and tires can often remain slightly dirty after a wash since rubber holds more dirt than paint, and using a separate towel will not allow any transfer of residual dirt to the paint.

Learn More: The Best Wheel Cleaners

Changing Your Drying Ideology

It is very easy to take any towel that you have lying around the house and dry your vehicle with it. You may not see immediate results, but using equipment that is not designed to be used on car paint can do more harm than good. Buying a good set of microfiber towels can actually save money over the long term.

Drying Methods Explained

It is important to understand that your vehicle’s paint is more fragile than dinner plates, your kitchen floor, or even your skin after a shower. There are plenty of drying methods available that are specifically designed to work on your vehicle; Each method generally also comes with its own technique.

Microfiber Towel

microfiber towel

Microfiber towels are the most popular drying method, and they can be bought at just about any location, automotive-specific or not. They are also relatively cheap, they are washable, and they are easy to use. Best of all, they can be used on car paint because of their design.

They are usually made from a combination of polyester and nylon, but as their name implies, they are much denser than regular towels because of their microscopic fibers. This allows more fibers to be present in any one location on the towel, making it softer, more absorbent, and more resistant to wrinkling than regular towels or shirts. 

Blowing Air

air drying car

Using moving air to dry your vehicle is arguably one of the better ways to do it considering that you need not make any contact with the paint surface. This is the idea behind the big air driers are automated washes, but compressed air works just as well. Some suggest that a leaf blower could also be used, but using one could also kick up unwanted materials from the ground. 

There are dedicated vehicle driers available, but regardless of what method of blowing air you choose, drying should be completed from the roof down to keep water moving toward the ground.

Water Blade

water blade

A water blade is used as a paintbrush, but the opposite way. Instead of applying a material to a surface, a water blade removes water as you drag it across the paint. Typical water blades are made with a flexible silicone tip to avoid scratching the paint. The largest advantage they have over other drying methods is speed.

But, even though they are fast, they should always be followed with a more conventional drying method since they do not absorb water like a microfiber cloth. Rather, they simply move it from one place to another. The other big disadvantage they have is that residual dirt can get stuck and dragged by the tip of the blade, so a thorough wash and rinse must be conducted before the use of a blade.

Synthetic Chamois

A chamois, or shammy, is a drying method that is made of synthetic rubber or leather. They are super absorbent, can be wrung out when wet, and can cover a huge area because they are usually quite large. They almost feel like a slightly damp shirt that is very soft and a little sticky. You use one by “throwing” it flat onto a surface to be dried, then pulling it back to you.

Even though they work well, they tend to be more expensive than microfiber cloths, and they are harder to keep nice since they hold so much water for so long. They also tend to pick up more residual dirt than any other type of drying method. 

Cloth Diapers

cloth diapers

A less conventional drying method, lint-free cloth diapers are also a viable drying method if nothing else is available. Similar to the water blade, it usually takes two diapers used in both hands to completely dry an area, but they are easy to wash, retain a good amount of water, and are gentle enough on your paint to suffice in a pinch. 

Final Thoughts

Drying is an oft-overlooked part of totally detailing a car, but it is crucial in adding the finishing touch to a complete car wash. It is also important that you do not damage your vehicle’s paint in the process. Using conventional towels or old shirts can damage your vehicle. Methods like microfiber towels, “shammies,” or a vehicle blower can help you dry your car without causing the damage associate with using methods not specifically engineered for your car. 

Richard Reed
I've been a General Manager of a moving company and I've also been a Professional Mover for over 30 years. I've driven flat beds, reefers, dropdecks, moving vans, heavy machinery, etc. In my time as a Mover I've driven over 1,000,000 safe miles. My days of moving and driving truck are past me but The Vehicle Lab allows me to share the knowledge I've gained over the past 40 years.
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