Have you heard the term “drying aid” in regards to detailing your car and wondered what it is? You’re not alone. Although they’re talked about quite often now, they’ve really only been around for a few years.
A drying aid is a spray-on product that is applied to your wet car before you dry it off with a towel. It helps in 2 major ways: adding lubrication to prevent scratches and makes it easier to achieve a streak-free finish.
I was curious to know how many people are currently using drying aids when they wash their cars, so I ran a poll on my Instagram page. The results were surprising – 84% of the people who voted said they don’t use one.
It’s hard to pinpoint what made drying aid products popular but my guess is that it was the creation of Ammo Hydrate. At the time, it was a completely new idea to me and it made a lot of sense.
Like many other Canadians, I never had a chance to try Larry’s product as the cost of shipping it here just wasn’t reasonable. I really liked the concept though, and it opened my mind to what other existing products could be used in this manner.
In my experience, the use of a drying aid is more about the technique than it is about having a specific product. There are plenty of spray waxes, detail sprays, and toppers readily available that you can use for this purpose. More on those later.
What does a drying aid do?
Every time we wash our cars, we risk scratching them. It might surprise you to hear that a big portion of that risk happens while drying our paint off. If you think about it, there’s lots of lubrication present while we’re washing it (lots of water, soap on the paint and the mitt, etc.). Even then, there’s plenty of potential for scratching if you aren’t using the right process.
But now think of the drying process – it often consists of only a dry microfiber towel and whatever water might be left on the surface that hasn’t run off. There’s much more friction at this point and while it’s clean and free of contaminants, the rubbing motion itself can cause swirl marks and scratches.
That’s where a drying aid comes in. It adds lubrication to the drying process and allows your drying towel to be slicker while gliding across the surface. This breaks the surface tension and reduces the risk of scratches.
The other thing that a drying aid will do is make it easier to achieve a streak-free finish. Sometimes the remaining water just wants to be pushed around rather than be pulled off the surface and that can result in water spots after it dries. A drying aid tends to have its streaks evaporate after a few seconds and is easier to buff to a proper finish.
It also doesn’t hurt to be adding a tiny bit of protection to your paint either. Would otherwise bare paint be considered “protected” after simply using a drying aid? Not at all. The amount it adds is very small.
But what matters is that even if it’s a tiny difference, you’re still adding protection rather than slowly degrading it (which is what you’re doing every time you wash your car). Using a drying aid regularly can certainly increase the lifespan of your wax, sealant, or ceramic coating.
How to use a drying aid
Using a drying aid is very simple. It’s just a matter of adding a quick extra step to your washing process. Before drying your paint off, stop and spray the wet panel with your product of choice. Now you can continue with towel drying like you normally would.
It might take a little while to consistently remember to spray the panel before drying it. It’s actually easier to forget than you might think. Sometimes it helps to keep the bottle with you whether it’s hooked into your back pocket or even lying on the ground where you’ll trip over it if you attempt to continue drying the vehicle without it.
Remembering to use a drying aid is really the hardest part. Once you use one for a few washes though, it’ll feel natural and become part of your routine.
There’s no need to use too much product. In most cases, 1 or 2 sprays per panel and possibly an extra directly into the towel is all you need. Using too much product can actually create issues with streaking rather than help them.
This is even more apparent on window glass – it’s better to avoid spraying them and just use the residual product that might still be caught in your towel when using some products. You might need to adjust the amount you use depending on the product and conditions. High humidity is one example where you’ll have more trouble with streaking so it’s best to use it lightly.
Can you use a quick detailer as a drying aid?
Of course, the detailing industry is going to want to sell you a separate product for every task. Does that mean you need to use something that is specifically meant to be used as a drying aid? Nope.
Quick detailers, spray waxes, SI02 toppers, etc. can all be used for the purpose of drying your car. Some products will do the job better than others though. Remember, the whole purpose is to a) add lubrication and b) give the existing protection a little boost.
As long as your product of choice doesn’t mind being sprayed onto a wet surface, you’ll be fine. You might need to experiment a little because some products tend to leave more streaks behind than others when used this way. But they’re safe to use – and the streaks will always wash off next time if you get it wrong.
Best drying aids for 2021
Once again, you don’t need to go out and buy a product specifically to use as a drying aid. If you don’t already have something though, these will do the job and can be used for other purposes as well:
Lithium Color Crush
Lithium is a company that has been sending me products to test lately and I have to say that I’m pleased overall. Color Crush is their ceramic quick detailer and has quickly become the bottle that I grab most often when drying a car.
Lithium states themselves that this product can be used as a drying aid. I find that it performs better than others when used this way. You can actually see and feel the difference in surface tension when you spray it on a wet panel. I’ve found that it’s the easiest product that I’ve used in terms of achieving a streak-free finish. They’ve done a great job with this formula.
P&S Bead Maker
P&S Bead Maker really took the detailing world by storm when it was released a few years ago. It was one of the first products that were advertised as being safe for both wax and ceramic coatings. Before Bead Maker, it was widely accepted that you needed a different product depending on what type of protection your paint was wearing.
Bead Maker works great as a drying aid. It leaves behind a decent amount of protection, even on bare paint. It can be a bit finicky to use at times though depending on the conditions.
They used to recommend applying a heavy coat the first time you use it but many people had trouble with streaking. I’ve personally found that using a minimal amount seems to work better. I don’t rely on these products for protection so to me, less is more.
Meguiar’s Xpress Spray Wax
Xpress Spray Wax was a really popular product before all of these fancy new detail sprays and toppers came out. One way that it stands out is that it’s only sold by the gallon. It might seem expensive comparatively at first but that gallon will fill up quite a few 16 oz bottles.
This is a very versatile product. I’ve used it as a spray wax, drying aid, window coating, interior detailer, and even on leather seats. It still gets high marks from me because it can be used in so many ways. The hype has died down on this one which makes it a hidden gem in the detailing world.
Optimum No Rinse – QD dilution
Optimum No Rinse is a rinseless wash product that has many other uses. You can use it as a mild interior cleaner, a glass cleaner, and most importantly here, a quick detailer.
If you aren’t familiar, ONR is a concentrated product that you mix up depending on your usage. The quick detailer dilution ratio is 1:16. Mixing that up in a spray bottle creates your own drying aid.
What this option lacks in protection (it leaves next to nothing behind) it makes up for in ease of use and being streak-free. Many people use it as a window cleaner because of this which proves just how easy it is to avoid water spots.
As you can see, it really doesn’t matter what you use as a drying aid, as long as you use something. Some of us (depending on how hydrophobic the wax or coating is) prefer to dry a car off with compressed air instead of touching it. Even then, it makes sense to follow up with one of these products to get rid of any remaining water because there’s always something left behind.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: