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20 Car Detailing Myths Debunked - The Top Car Cleaning Myths Analysed & Corrected

In our comprehensive car detailing myths debunked guide, we unravel the truths hidden beneath the surface of car detailing myths.

In a world where professional car care of your vehicle is as important as its function, understanding what truly benefits your car versus what could potentially harm it is crucial.

This guide is tailored to debunk common myths and misconceptions, providing you with accurate, actionable information. From the efficacy of products to techniques that promise to preserve your car's sheen - we aim to clarify and guide you, helping you make informed decisions for maintaining your vehicle's pristine condition moving forward.

Table of Contents

1. Washing up Liquid is Good for Washing Cars

Washing up liquid can strip away protective wax coatings, leading to quicker paint damage.

Where did this myth come from?

The misconception that Washing up Liquid / soap is suitable for washing cars most likely comes from car cleaning practices dating all the way back to the 1930s.

Back then, it was common to use the same cleaning products for various purposes - including car washing at service stations; however, this notion needs to be more accurate. We have since learnt and developed cleaning products capable of much more these days.

For instance, to clarify what Washing up Liquid actually does, it is designed to remove grease and heavy stains on dishes - consequently, due to what this is intended to do, it is too harsh for use on car exteriors.

Why should washing up liquid not be used on car interiors?

Washing up liquid can strip protective coatings and waxes from the car's paint, leading to damage and excessive wear and tear, along with less protection, meaning the finish doesn't last as long as it could have.

Specifically, the wax layer on a car, crucial for protecting against dirt and minor abrasions, can be eroded by the grease-cutting chemicals in washing up liquid, exposing the vehicle's clearcoat directly to the elements and thus causing unnecessary harm.

2. Wax Protection Lasts a Year

Wax protection doesn't last a year in most cases, and most waxes need reapplication every few months, not once a year. Here is why:

Wax Longevity Varies

The notion that car wax can last up to a year is overly optimistic. In reality, the lifespan of car wax is influenced by environmental conditions and the car's maintenance routine. It's generally advised to wax your car every few months in line with the change in seasons for consistent protection.

Typical Duration of Car Waxes

The average life of a car wax ranges from 2 - 3 months, with spray waxes lasting about 2 - 4 weeks and liquid or paste waxes up to 3 months. Synthetic waxes, which are more durable, can sometimes last up to a year, depending on your car care routine, how often the car is used, and the environment and climate you live in.

Different Wax Types Gave Different Durations

The lifespans of car wax differ among wax types. Synthetic waxes, for instance, offer you better longevity - potentially lasting 5 months or more. In contrast, spray waxes have the shortest lifespan of about 2-3 weeks, and liquid or paste waxes last around 4 weeks to 4 months, depending on the quality you decide to buy.

Wax Variations

Though good against UV rays, liquid waxes may only last about eight weeks due to their thin coating. This contrasts with liquid polymers, which mimic natural wax properties but are made from synthetic chemicals and last much longer.

Wax Duration

On average, quality car wax should last about 2 - 3 months, though this can vary based on the wax type and environmental exposure.

Wax Protection Overall

In essence, while car wax does provide essential protection, the belief that it lasts a year or longer without reapplication is generally inaccurate. The protection duration highly depends on the wax type, the conditions to which the car is exposed, and how the car is used.

Regular waxing of good quality car wax every few months is recommended for optimal protection.

3. The More Wax, the Better

Too much wax can cause buildup and streaks, not extra protection.

Consequently, the belief that applying more wax to a car provides better protection is misleading. Here's why:

Excess Wax is Counterproductive

Layering on extra wax doesn't improve protection. Instead, it can cause a dull, uneven look. The effectiveness of waxing is about the quality of application, aiming for a thin and even layer, not how much wax is applied.

Thin Layer is Key

Car waxes are most effective when applied thinly. More wax makes the coat uneven and complicates cleaning. A thin layer, buffed with a microfiber towel, is all you need and ideal for appearance and paint protection.

Main Goal of Waxing

The primary purpose of waxing is to protect the car's paint. While waxing enhances your vehicle's look, its main function is to shield the paint from fading and damage.

As a result, cosmetic damage doesn't usually affect car performance, but it can impact its resale value. Regular, moderate waxing is sufficient to provide you with enough protection.

The More Wax, the Better Overall

Consequently, more wax doesn't mean better protection. The focus should be on applying a thin, even layer, as this is adequate for both preserving the car's appearance and protecting your paintwork.

4. Polishing and Waxing are the Same

Polishing and waxing are different. Polishing removes small imperfections in the paintwork while waxing protects your car's paint.

Consequently, Polishing and waxing a car serve distinct purposes, and here is why:

Different Roles

Car polish and wax improve a car's appearance in different ways.

With its abrasive ingredients, Polish removes minor surface flaws like oxidation and swirl marks. Wax, on the other hand, offers fewer abrasives and forms a protective barrier against environmental damage as well as the Sun's UV rays.

While polishing may slightly reduce the clearcoat and is recommended sparingly (not more than once a year), waxing replenishes the surface and can be done more frequently, every few weeks, for instance.

What is Polish made up of?

Car polish is a mildly abrasive compound used to clean and smooth car paint imperfections.

It's particularly effective in eliminating minor scratches and surface irregularities that can accumulate over time due to oxidation or car scratches - helping you restore your paint's original shine.

Purpose of Waxing

Waxing aims to polish your car’s body while adding a protective coating. This layer enhances your vehicle's shine and shields the paint from external elements simultaneously.

In contrast, polish leverages its abrasive nature to eliminate surface imperfections like swirls and minor scratches.

Individual uses cases

Polish is designed to address fine swirls and scratches - improving your car’s surface finish. Conversely, wax protects the car's finish, maintains its shine, and enhances the paint's longevity.

So, polishing is mainly about correction, whereas waxing focuses on protection.

Polishing and Waxing are the Same Overall

While polishing and waxing contribute to a car's aesthetic, their roles are distinct. Consequently, it is essential to use both side-by-side for comprehensive car care.

5. Detailing Clay is Only for Professionals

While it does require skills that professional car detailers process, detailing clay can be used by anyone willing to learn the proper technique. However, this technique may only suit some, as it can damage paint if misused. Leaving this to professionals may be the better option if you are not confident.

However, if you are confident in your abilities in this area, then some points to consider include:

Accessible for DIY Use

While detailing clay is a staple in professional detailers' toolkits like ours, it can also be suitable for high-end, competent DIY car enthusiasts.

Home users can use detailing clay effectively with essential guidance and careful application. The key is to follow instructions and use the product correctly to avoid paint damage to your car.

Awareness of Risks

When using detailing clay, there's a risk of scratching the paint if debris gets trapped between the clay and the car. This risk is a common issue, especially for beginners, so caution and proper technique are essential.

Complementing with Polishing

Polishing is a separate, important detailing step. Professional detailers like us offer a combined wash, clay, and wax service. Polishing should also be included for thorough maintenance, typically during an annual deep-detailing session.

Detailing Clay is Only for Professionals Overall

In summary, non-professionals can use detailing clay, provided you approach it with the necessary caution, understand the process, and are confident in your abilities before you start.

6. You Can Use Any Cloth for Drying

Using the wrong type of cloth, like household towels, can easily scratch your car's surface.

As a result, it is not advisable to use just any cloth for drying cars. For instance, certain things to be aware of consist of:

Selecting the Right Cloth

A clean, soft cloth is essential to avoid scratching the paint. Cotton or microfiber cloths, for instance, are ideal due to their softness and absorbency.

Technique Matters

To avoid damage when drying a car, use a gentle patting motion with a microfiber cloth or chamois.

Avoiding Regular Towels is a Must

You want to avoid using regular towels to dry your car where possible, as this can easily scratch the car's surface and is often less absorbent, meaning the same area has to be worked several times, leading to a higher chance of scratches.

Automotive towels are designed for adequate drying and preventing water spots in the quickest time possible while leading to a much-reduced chance of causing a scratch to occur.

Microfiber Cloths

These are some of the most absorbent and softest cloths you can use and are ideal for preventing water spots and paint damage from occurring simultaneously.

You Can Use Any Cloth for Drying Overall

In short, using the correct type of cloth and technique is crucial for safely drying a car without damaging the paint.

7. Automatic Car Washes are Just as Good as Hand Washing

Automatic washes can be abrasive and miss many spots, whereas hand washing provides a more thorough clean.

Automatic car washes miss areas

While automatic car washes offer convenience and speed, they often fail to match the thoroughness and care of hand washing.

Hand washing, for instance, allows for detailed attention to every part of your vehicle - ensuring that hard-to-reach areas are cleaned and that the vehicle receives a more comprehensive wash than those you can get at an automated car wash.

Difference of Car Detailing

This level of attention is fundamental in car detailing, where the goal is not just essential cleanliness but the maintenance and enhancement of the car's appearance over just cleaning it.

Reduced chance of damage occurring

Moreover, hand washing significantly reduces the risk of scratches and damage often associated with the brushes and equipment used in automatic car washes.

Automated washes can leave swirl marks and scratches on your paintwork - especially if any debris is caught in the brushes and the machine rubs this over your car paintwork without stopping.

Additionally, automatic car washes may not clean certain areas effectively, such as rims, tyres, and the undercarriage - which are all crucial in a thorough detailing job.

Automatic Car Washes are Just as Good as Hand Washing Overall

In summary, while automatic car washes are a quick solution for basic cleanliness, they need more precision, care, and thoroughness for high-quality car detailing.

Hand washing, on the other hand, provides a meticulous approach that preserves and enhances your vehicle's paint and overall condition, making it the preferred choice for car enthusiasts and professionals alike.

8. Leather Requires No Maintenance

Another myth is that leather needs no maintenance; however, this is not true, and it does require regular cleaning and conditioning to prevent cracking and drying out. Otherwise, over time, leather can crack and rip if it isn't properly looked after.

Consequently, contrary to popular belief, leather in cars is not maintenance-free. Regular care is essential to preserve its look, feel, and durability.

Leather is a natural material that can dry out, crack, and fade if not properly maintained. This maintenance requires cleaning to remove accumulated dirt and oils and conditioning to restore moisture and protect it against ageing.

Leather Requires No Maintenance Overall

Neglecting leather care can lead to premature wear and tear, diminishing the aesthetic and comfort of your vehicle's interior. Thus, regular maintenance is crucial for keeping leather interiors in top condition, enhancing the vehicle's overall appeal and value.

9. Air Drying is Best for Cars

Air drying can leave water spots; using a microfiber towel is preferable.

As a result, there are better methods for drying cars after washing for several reasons. Some of these include:

Water Spots

Allowing a car to air dry can easily lead to water spots on your paintwork that need to be worked out. These spots are caused by minerals in the water that remain on the surface after the water evaporates, which need to be removed from the paint.

Uneven Drying

Air drying often results in an uneven finish, as some areas may dry faster than others, leading to streaks and spots.

Potential for Dirt Attraction

As the car dries, it may attract dust and dirt from the air - which can adhere to the wet surface, counteracting the cleaning process.

Lack of Thoroughness

Because Air drying doesn't provide you with the opportunity to remove the last bits of dirt and grime that a towel or microfiber cloth might catch, it can leave unsightly marks on the finish.

Air Drying is Best for Cars Overall

For these reasons, using a soft, clean microfiber cloth - or chamois - is generally recommended for drying cars to achieve a spot-free, even finish and to avoid the downsides of air drying.

10. A Shiny Car is a Clean Car

Shine doesn't always mean clean. Contaminants can still be on the paint, invisible to the naked eye.

This can be the case for several reasons, such as:

Surface Contaminants

A car's surface can hold contaminants like tar, sap, and pollutants that aren't visible. These contaminants can give a shiny appearance but actually harm the paint over time.

Wax and Sealants

Shiny finishes are often due to wax or sealants, which can mask dirt and grime. While they enhance the shine of your car, they don't equate to cleanliness.

Microscopic Dirt

A car might look shiny at a glance, but microscopic dirt and grime can still be present on the surface.

Therefore, more than a shiny appearance is required to guarantee a car is truly clean at a detailed level.

11. Sunlight is Good for Drying the Car

Sunlight is not good for drying cars, as it can cause water spots and uneven drying to occur. It's best to dry your car in the shade and by hand to avoid this and help get the perfect finish.

Sunlight is also not recommended for drying cars post-wash due to several reasons:

Rapid Drying Leads to Water Spots

Sunlight causes the water to evaporate quickly from the car's surface, forming water spots. These spots occur due to minerals in the water left behind when they disappear, leaving marks on the paintwork.

Uneven Drying

Sunlight can cause uneven drying, resulting in streaks and spots on your car's paint.

Heat Damage

Prolonged exposure to sunlight can heat the car's surface, potentially damaging the paint. This heat can also cause soaps and cleansers to dry prematurely - making them harder to rinse off thoroughly.

12. All Car Cleaning Products are the Same

All Car Cleaning Products are not the same. Quality and formulation vary greatly, and choosing the right products for your car’s needs is essential.

Formulated for different purposes and surfaces

They are formulated for different purposes and surfaces. Consequently, each type of cleaner has specific ingredients designed to target certain types of dirt, grime, or contaminants.

For example, products designed for cleaning wheels may contain elements that effectively break down brake dust and road grime, which might be too harsh for paint surfaces.

On the other hand, car shampoos are milder and designed to clean without stripping protective waxes or sealants.

Additionally, interior cleaners are formulated to clean upholstery, leather, or plastic safely without causing damage.

Therefore, using the right cleaning product for each specific cleaning task is crucial for effective, safe car maintenance and getting the perfect finish.

13. You Don't Need to Clean the Undercarriage

It is a total myth that you do not need to clean the undercarriage, as the undercarriage can collect harmful chemicals and debris, so it’s important to clean it regularly.

Cleaning the undercarriage of a car is important for several reasons, which can include:

Removing Harmful Elements

The undercarriage is exposed to various elements like road salt, mud, and grime, which can easily cause rust and corrosion over time, requiring more expensive repairs down the line.

Preventing Damage

Accumulated dirt and debris can lead to premature wear and tear on components like your brake lines and exhaust systems, again requiring expensive repairs down the line.

Maintains Your Vehicle Integrity

Regular cleaning helps maintain the structural integrity of your vehicle - ensuring safe and efficient operation for years to come.

14. Washing and cleaning are the Same

These are not the same as washing removes surface dirt; cleaning involves removing deeper contaminants.


Typically, it involves removing surface dirt and grime from the car's exterior using water, soap, and sponges or cloths. It's primarily about maintaining the car's appearance.


Encompasses a more thorough process, often including the interior of the car. As a result, it involves detailing tasks like vacuuming the interior, cleaning the upholstery, wiping down surfaces, and even functions like polishing and waxing the exterior to remove / protect against contaminants building up on the paintwork.

Washing and Cleaning are the Same Overall

While washing is a superficial, mostly exterior process, cleaning is more comprehensive and includes interior and exterior detailing.

15. Window Cleaner is Safe for Tinted Windows

Window cleaning solutions tend to be unsafe for use on tinted windows as many window cleaners contain ammonia, which can damage tinted windows.

Ammonia can then degrade the tint film, leading to discolouration, bubbling, and even peeling.

Consequently, it is essential to use a window cleaner formulated explicitly for tinted windows to avoid damaging the tint.

16. Tyre Dressings are Purely Cosmetic

Tyre dressings are not purely cosmetic because they also protect the tyres. These dressings often contain UV protectants and conditioners that help prevent the rubber from drying out, cracking, or fading due to sun exposure and age.

While they do enhance the appearance of the tyres by adding shine and restoring blackness, their protective qualities help you to extend the life of your tyres - preserving their integrity and safety.

17. Detailing Doesn't Affect Resale Value

The myth that detailing doesn't affect resale value is incorrect. Regular detailing can significantly impact a car's resale value.

This impact is due to the fact that detailing maintains your vehicle's interior and exterior condition - making it more appealing to potential buyers.

A well-maintained car often suggests to buyers that the vehicle has been taken care of, leading to higher offers and a quicker sale.

Detailing can also address minor issues like scratches, dings, and interior stains, which can detract from the vehicle's value if addressed.

Therefore, investing in regular detailing can be beneficial in preserving and even increasing a car's resale value.

A well-maintained car can have a significantly higher resale value.

18. All Scratches Can Be Removed by Polishing

The belief that all scratches can be removed by polishing is 100% a Myth.

Polishing can remove or lessen the appearance of minor surface scratches that haven't penetrated the clear coat of the paint. However, polishing alone cannot fix deeper scratches that reach the paint layer or primer.

These deeper scratches often require more extensive treatments like paint touch-ups - or professional SMART repair techniques - to properly restore the vehicle's surface.

19. Engine Cleaning is Unnecessary

Engine cleaning not being necessary is another myth; it's an important aspect of vehicle maintenance. A clean engine can run cooler and more efficiently.

Consequently, it also makes it easier to spot leaks, cracks, and other issues requiring quicker attention.

Regular engine cleaning can also prevent the buildup of grease, dirt, and debris, leading to corrosion and damage over time.

Additionally, a clean engine can improve a vehicle's resale value, suggesting well-rounded maintenance and care.

However, one thing to note is that engine cleaning should be done carefully to avoid damaging sensitive components.

20. Bird Droppings Can Be Left Until the Next Wash

Leaving bird droppings on a car until the next wash is not 100% not advisable.

Bird droppings are acidic and can quickly etch into the car's paint - causing permanent damage if not cleaned promptly.

As a result, the longer they remain, the more they can degrade the protective coating and paint, leading to discolouration and potential paint damage.

It's best to clean bird droppings as soon as possible to protect the car's finish.

Car Cleaning Myths Final Thoughts

In the world of car detailing, myths and misconceptions are widespread - in fact, everybody has their own opinion based on things they have heard.

However, it is crucial to distinguish fact from fiction to ensure the best care for your vehicle.

Regular maintenance and informed choices are key to preserving your car's appearance and value.

By debunking common myths, we hope to empower you with the knowledge to make informed decisions about your car's future care. If actually you are happy to leave this to the professionals who understand the right chemicals to use on your alloys over your paint, how to use detailing clay correctly, and have the equipment and skill sets to clean your car's undercarriage while giving you close to a showroom ready finish every time, please get in touch with our professional car detailers