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Twelve car cleaning myths

  • Story Highlights
  • Dish detergent actually accelerates the oxidation process on a car's paint
  • Today's modern paint finish actually magnifies scratches, like swirl marks
  • A terrycloth premium microfiber towel is recommended for cleaning
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By J.D. Booth
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(AOL Autos) -- Take a short drive just about anywhere and glance at the car or truck next to you. Chances are you'll get a feel for what the owner of that vehicle sees as "clean" -- underscoring the obvious difference in standards that exist among owners.

In short, when it comes to auto hygiene, clean may be in the eye of the one with the bucket.

Barry Meguiar, who heads the business of the same name, is one who's out to set the record straight, in the process dispelling what his third generation family company says is the "dirty dozen" car care myths.

Myth 1: Dishwashing detergent is safe to use as a car wash.

First among them is the idea that plain, ordinary dishwashing detergent is just fine and dandy for car wash purposes.

Even in the face of other opinion that suggests "go ahead, not a problem" when it comes to squeezing a little into a bucket of hot water and tackling the SUV or four-door sedan, Meguiar nixes the idea altogether.

"Any dishwashing detergent is meant to remove everything from the surface," he says. "That will include stripping the polymers of the paint surface and the last thing you want the paint finish to be is squeaky clean."

Meguiar likens the effect of dishwashing detergent to what it does to someone's hands. "Too much detergent will dry the skin. On the surface of a car, the same thing occurs; dishwashing detergent actually accelerates the oxidation process when you use it on a regular basis."

Myth 2: Washing and cleaning are the same.

A car wash removes loose contaminants; cleaning removes stubborn stains, blemishes and bonded contaminants, explains Meguiar. Bonded contaminants? Think tree sap and, almost as bad, an aerosol spray of tire rubber that no one can escape.

"When you're driving behind someone, the rubber from the tires is landing somewhere -- and that's on your vehicle."

Myth 3: If a car looks shiny, the cleaning process can be skipped.

In this case, seeing is quite definitely not something you want to believe. "Your eyes can't tell you what's going on in the paint finish," says Meguiar, who suggests rubbing the face of your hand over the surface of the vehicle after a car wash.

"It should feel like glass if it's right. Most of the time it's going to feel more like sandpaper. You can feel the contaminants." Products like a clay bar can easily remove bonded contaminants, something that's essential before the application of a polish or wax.

Myth 4: Clay bars should only be used by professionals.

Remember how easy it was to use Silly Putty? Using a clay bar is just as easy, the bar (which comes in a kit) is able to grab and gently remove all bonded contaminants (like the tree sap and road rubber).

Myth 5: Waxing can remove swirl marks.

Barry Meguiar says swirl marks, which are nothing more than scratches in the surface of a vehicle, can only be removed by getting to the bottom of it -- literally.

Today's modern paint finish actually magnifies the scratches, making swirl marks one of the more troubling aspects of maintaining a vehicle's finish. "We get more calls about swirl marks than anything else," says Meguiar.

Getting rid of them will depend on how deep the scratch is, with micro-fine, hairline scratches taken care of with a non-abrasive paint cleaner; moderate ones may require something a little more serious; even deeper swirl marks (caused by improper use of rotary buffers and rubbing compounds) may need professional color sanding and buffing.

Myth 6: There is no difference between polishing and waxing.

Understanding what polishing and waxing are designed to do is key. Polishing creates a brilliant high gloss surface; waxing protects the vehicle's finish by coating it with waxes polymers, resins and silicones. Which means waxing won't make a dull surface shiny.

Myth 7: Machine polishers damage the paint finish.

Speed is the key; a dual action polisher or orbital buffer shouldn't be a problem for even the most inexperienced. Not so with rotary buffers, which operate at much higher RPMs and are best left to the pros.

Myth 8: Diapers, t-shirts and flannel make good cleaning cloths.

A smooth surface is exactly what you don't want to see in a cloth, the reason being those fine particulates that you're trying to capture.

While the cloth diaper or t-shirt may be clean, it's actually scratching the surface; a terrycloth premium microfiber towel is what's recommended, the deep pile surface creating a buffer zone that will pick up the bad stuff, not grind it into the paint finish.

Myth 9: Wax protection can be guaranteed to last up to one year.

A claim may help sell a product, but Barry Meguiar says there are enough variables in place that make any such guarantees suspect.

A better strategy might be to consider those differences -- weather, use of road salt, whether your vehicle is parked outside or garaged -- and maintain accordingly. Meguiar's is taking that idea one step further with a personalized service that gives owners options based on their expectations.

Myth 10: Paste wax offers greater protection than liquid wax.

While Barry Meguiar admits this once was true, times have changed. "In the old days, there was a great reliance on carnauba wax, which was the hardest natural wax available.

Fifty years later we have synthetic waxes, polymers and resins that have far more resilience than carnauba and enhance the gloss. Interestingly, carnauba (which people still want to see in a product) actually grays the surface of a vehicle."

Myth 11: Lighting a hood on fire, without damaging the paint finish, proves the protective qualities of a car wax.

It may be a nice science trick, but that's about it. Even if the paint surface has little or no protection, setting fire to a pool of alcohol will produce nothing more than a barely warm surface when the flame goes out--which it will do in just a few seconds.

Myth 12: Once a car is waxed, regularly protecting the paint finish becomes unnecessary.

Remember that tree sap and tire rubber? It's never-ending, which means so is the need to remove it (and everything else the world might throw at the surface of your vehicle).

The best strategy: remove the contaminants with a mist and wipe product before they have time to bond to the vehicle's paint.

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