Car going through carwash

Should You Dry Your Car After Washing It?

Owning a car is a big responsibility – you need to know how to drive it safely so that you don’t endanger yourself and others; you need to know how to care for and maintain it so that it remains safe to drive; and you need to take good care of it so that it can last you for years to come. One important aspect of car care is keeping it clean, which not only helps to preserve your car, but also allows it to keep looking good, and we all want our cars to look nice.

Many car owners ask whether they should or shouldn’t dry their cars after washing them, and if they should, how to do it best to preserve their paintwork. Despite the fact that there is some debate around the topic, the answer is a clear one.

Do You Need to Dry Your Car After Washing it?

Clean, shiny car after drying

The answer is yes! There may be some question as to how the job should be done, but for a number of reasons, you definitely should dry your car immediately after washing it. Most car owners know that washing your car is a very important part of car maintenance, but many of them leave out the essential step of drying it, because they don’t realize the importance.

Most people know that not drying their car will leave dirty water marks all over their paintwork, dulling the shine and making it look as if they haven’t washed their car at all, but is there more to it than just a lackluster appearance?

Why Should You Dry Your Car

Water marks are not just a matter of a dull and dirty-looking paint job – have you ever wondered what causes water marks? Some people think they are caused by dust settling on the car while it’s still wet, but that’s not the case. Unless it has been finely filtered or distilled, all water contains minerals, such as iron, potassium, zinc, and bicarbonate, and these minerals cannot evaporate with the water.

Water droplets on hood of car

Once the water dries up, these minerals are left behind on your car’s paint job. The obvious disadvantage of this is the appearance, especially on dark paint, but there is more to it than that. Certain minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, are corrosive, and can eat away at your car’s clearcoat, which is what protects the basecoat (color layer) from the effects of sunlight and air, such as fading and oxidation. This corrosive effect is called etching.

Although allowing your car to air dry once or twice is unlikely to cause extreme etching damage to the clearcoat of your car, doing so repeatedly will eventually lead to exposure of the basecoat. This will, in time, lead to missing patches of paint where the metal will rust. Once rust set in, it will spread, damaging the overall appearance, integrity, and safety of your vehicle.

Even if you allow your car to air dry, knowing you will be polishing it soon, you will still be inflicting damage on your paintwork. Those mineral deposits that you see as water marks consist of tiny, hard molecules of various minerals, and when you polish your car while they are on it, you will be scraping those molecules over the surface of your clearcoat and causing microscopic scratches that will eventually lead to the wearing down of the protective layer.

How Should You Dry Your Car?

Now that you know why you should dry your car, you may be wondering what the best way is to go about it. There is a lot of advice out there, and some of it may be as damaging to your car as not drying it at all, if taken to heart.

Many car owners tend to overestimate the toughness of their car’s paintwork. In fact, the paint job of a car is quite a fragile thing, and should be treated as such. You should, at all costs, avoid using anything that could be rough, even on the microscopic level, to dry your car. This includes bath towels, kitchen towels, old T-shirts, and reusable diapers, though you may see some of these mentioned in other articles as safe to use.

Another thing that is often suggested as a safe and effective item for drying cars is a Chamois cloth or Chammy leather, but some sources say even these are risky to use, as they are very absorbent and they pick up dirt and dust easily.

Most sources agree that the best way to dry your car effectively and safely is with a microfiber cloth, as these are soft and gentle, even on the microscopic level. But drying your car with a cloth is not your only option – read on for our suggested methods.

1. Microfiber Cloth

Hand drying car with microfiber cloth

Start by rinsing your car very well to make sure there is no soap residue left on it (this is important, no matter which drying method you use). If you have an air compressor or a soft squeegee, you could blow or scrape the bulk of the water off your car before drying it with the cloth. If not, go straight to drying. Do so from top to bottom, and without using wiping motions. The best way is to dab the car dry to ensure you are not dragging dust or minerals over the surface of your clearcoat.

Be sure to leave all points of contact, such as doors, windows, hood, and trunk, open, and raise your windshield wipers. Water trapped in these areas will be blown out once you start driving, leaving streaks and marks on your freshly-dried paintwork.

2. Compressed Air

Using an air compressor is another way in which some people like to dry their cars, and it is considered safer, since nothing has to touch the car at all. However, it is not the most effective method, as most air compressors do not have sufficient airflow to fully dry a whole car in a short amount of time.

There are also certain risks – for example, your air compressor may be dirty from other jobs you have done with it, and you could end up shooting dirt and grime onto your newly cleaned car. So, if you want to use your air compressor, make sure the tank and pipes are very clean.

Air compressors do have a significant use in the drying of cars, even if they are not the best method for overall drying – they can be used to blow water out of crevices, nooks, and crannies, such as at the points of contact, in the grille, and around the fuel cap.

3. Leaf Blower

Another popular method for drying cars is with a leaf blower. This method also has its caveats, though, such as the strength of the leaf blower. If your leaf blower is too small, you will have the same problem as with an air compressor – not enough airflow to complete the job before some of the water dries, leaving water marks.

Leaf blowers are likely to be cleaner inside, and shouldn’t shoot dirt onto your car, especially if they have an air filter. However, their airflow is less precise, and if you aim a little too low, you could blow all the dust and dirt from the floor onto your car. So if you choose to use this method, be very careful, and be sure to work from top to bottom.

If you already own a leaf blower, this method could be useful to you, but if you do not, and you are considering buying a tool for drying your car, you may be better off buying a device specially designed for the purpose.

Alternative Methods

4. Car Drying Machine

These days, there is machine for everything, and drying your car is no different. As with most things, new machine types that are made for a single, dedicated purpose tend to be more expensive than older, more common tools, and this applies to car drying machines, as well. However, they are designed to do the job quickly, safely, and efficiently.

Car drying machines tend to come with a set of nozzles that allow you to complete the job more effectively, and some machines come with a heating option, so that you can blow dry your car in the smallest amount of time. Always work from the roof down, and be sure to avoid blowing dirt from the ground onto your car.

5. Drying Agent

Water drops running off hydrophobic car paint

You could choose to treat your newly cleaned and dried car with a hydrophobic drying agent, which is usually some form of polish or wax that rejects water, causing it to run off quickly, without leaving any marks. There are many such substances available, and you should consider and research carefully before choosing one, to make sure that it will work with your unique lifestyle and car usage.

A drying agent will minimize maintenance on your car’s paintwork, and should allow you to skip the drying step after future washes, but like any coating, this one will also wear down over time, and you will need to reapply it every now and then, which could become an expensive car care habit.

Conclusion

There are many ways to dry a car – some safe and others damaging, but one thing is certain – you should always dry your car after washing. Be sure to choose a method that is safe and effective, such as a microfiber cloth or a dedicated car drying machine, and if you don’t want to dry your car in future, treat it with a hydro-repellant drying agent that will also act as an extra protective layer for your car’s paintwork.

Caitlin Greyling

Caitlin Greyling is a professional writer and editor with a fine art, design, and photography background — focusing on sustainability, climate change, equality, travel, tech, culture, and societal issues. She’s currently studying journalism with the NCTJ and has written for The Daily Mail, Durability Matters, CNN, PictureCorrect, Pilot Plans, and more.

How to Clean Your Car Windows Like a Pro

How To Clean Your Car Windshield Inside And Out