With great excitement, you just got a ceramic coating applied to your new toy by a professional installer. You’re wondering if maintaining it is something you can tackle by yourself or if you should get your installer to maintain your vehicle. If you want the convenience of dropping off your vehicle and coming back to it spotless again, there’s no judgment here.
However, I’m confident with a few pointers you will have no issue conquering this task yourself without breaking the bank or causing damage to your vehicle. It just comes down to understanding what your ceramic coating is doing for your car and how to assist your coating with its task.
Washing a ceramic coated car requires extra care due to the high price of replacing the coating should something go wrong. You need to use detailing products that won’t override the coating’s properties and despite what some say, you still need to be careful not to cause scratches.
Why you need to be careful when washing a ceramic coated car
A common misconception among the general population is that a ceramic coating is a silver bullet. I can’t say I blame the consumer for this one, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen an ad online bragging about how unrealistically strong their new ceramic or graphene coating is.
They take brass brushes to the surface and show how it’s indestructible and can’t be scratched. Or they set fire to the hood as if one day you’ll be driving down the road and come face to face with a psychopath wielding a flame thrower. What good does any of this do for the consumer trying to make an educated purchase?
The reality is that while ceramic coatings are harder than clear coat, they’re not diamond level hard and it is still rather easy to scratch. Although, they produce a hydrophobic surface you’ll be left with water spots that will require polishing to remove if you allow your car to dry after the wash.
You don’t want to have to spend hours to re-do all that work or worse yet, have a hefty bill when you ask a professional to fix it. Paying for quality work once is one thing, paying for it twice is a completely different story.
You can read more about ceramic coated cars being scratched in this article:
Tips for the first wash after ceramic coating
When tackling the first wash there are a few things to remember. Always make sure you use products that are safe and compatible with a ceramic coating. You may not have to use the company’s specific products but there are products to stay away from – more on this later.
Your car’s paintwork can be damaged if dirt is introduced to the wash mitt or towel you’re using as you slide it over the paint’s surface. When washing the vehicle be sure to wash it out of direct sunlight and at a bare minimum, you’ll want to use a grit guard and the two bucket method.
The grit guard will allow any dirt to fall to the bottom of the bucket without being picked up to minimize the chances of your paint getting scratched. One of the buckets will have your fresh water with the car shampoo added and the second will have fresh water to rinse the mitt off after completing a few passes on the paint.
For more info on the 2 bucket wash method, head over to this article:
An even safer way to wash the vehicle involves a bucket of water and shampoo with three or four high-quality microfibre towels. With this method, you completely eliminate the chance of any dirt being reintroduced to the paint.
Simply grab a towel out of the bucket and fold it in half twice, then make a few passes and flip to an unused section of the towel. When you’ve used all sides of the towel, toss it into the dirty microfibre laundry.
With either method it is important to start at the top of the vehicle and work your way down, avoiding circular movements and doing your best to move in the direction wind will travel across the car’s surface. This will ensure you don’t install any unsightly swirl marks into the paint.
After the car has been rinsed it is important to dry the vehicle thoroughly and safely to ensure the water doesn’t leave behind any minerals to etch into the paint. The less you touch your paint in this step the better.
I recommend compressed air or a leaf blower to assist in this step to get all the water out of the cracks and prevent water running out of trim, door handles, and mirrors. If you don’t have access to a leaf blower or compressed air you can substitute them with a quick drive around the block.
Then grab a dedicated drying towel and dry the vehicle off in straight lines, again to avoid creating swirl marks. At this point in the process you’re nearly done, just wipe your windows down and apply your favorite tire dressing, or leave them naked for that matte tire look.
It is also beneficial to the longevity of your ceramic coating to apply a coating maintenance product or a lite version of the coating your vehicle is protected with. This doesn’t have to be done every wash, although it is beneficial. I’d recommend applying a maintenance spray at least once every two to three months after the wash.
Coating maintenance products – soaps, drying aids, maintenance sprays, etc.
When choosing a car shampoo to use you may hear a lot of people say you have to stick with the soap from the company that provided the ceramic coating. Although this is one sure-fire way to make sure your soap and coating are compatible, it is not always required.
You may like a coating from company A but prefer the shampoo of company B. Remember that as long as the shampoo you are using is pH neutral and doesn’t contain extra wax, it shouldn’t be a problem.
There are a few easy to find soaps that are ceramic coating friendly here:
As stated previously, it’s important to completely dry the vehicle, then spray your chosen product on a clean microfibre towel and wipe the car one panel at a time. The bonus of using an SiO2 (silicon dioxide) maintenance spray is double duty – it not only enhances your coating allowing it to last longer but also acts as a drying aid leaving a clean, streak-free surface behind.
When shopping around for a ceramic coating maintenance product be sure to avoid traditional spray waxes and the like. Why go through all the trouble of getting your vehicle ceramic coated only to top it with an inferior product? The vehicle essentially becomes a waxed vehicle since that is the product that the environment comes into contact with first.
Can you pressure wash a ceramic coated car?
A pressure washer isn’t just safe to use on a ceramic coated car – it’s actually preferred. A pressure washer allows you to take advantage of the coating’s self-cleaning ability by removing the majority of contaminants off the surface without having to touch it (and risk scratches).
The ability to use a foam cannon when you have a pressure washer is also a major bonus for two reasons. You add more soap to the vehicle increasing the lubricity of the surface and decreasing the chances of scratching the surface. It can also be used as a pre-wash where the vehicle is covered in a thick foam that emulsifies dirt and lifts it off the paint before anything physically touches the paint.
Can I take my ceramic coated car through a touchless car wash?
The majority of the population knows what damage can be done when going through a traditional automatic car wash. The brushes smack against the paint, grinding dirt into the clear coat and possibly breaking exterior mirrors along the way.
But what about a touchless car wash? That has to be safe right? Think again. While the touchless car wash may not pummel your vehicle with its combat-ready spin attacks, it is far from gentle on your paintwork for three reasons.
A touchless car wash won’t scratch your car, but it can certainly wear your ceramic coating out. Heavy duty cleaners, degreasers, and even acids can be found in these automatic car washes – all of which can affect the performance and lifespan of your expensive coating.
Since the machine doesn’t physically touch your vehicle, the water pressure has to be drastically increased to achieve a similar level of cleaning. Pressurized water isn’t bad in and of itself but at these levels, you might want to think twice before taking the easy way out.
The second reason comes down to the soap and harsh degreasers the touchless wash uses. Since we’re not touching the paint, the power of the soaps and cleaners used must be turned up to eleven, (so much for picking a pH neutral car shampoo that won’t strip the ceramic coating from your vehicle)!
Reason number three to avoid a touchless car wash comes down to the water used in these systems. In order to soften the water to allow the machine to run trouble-free, salt is often added to break down some of the larger minerals. I live in an area where salt is spread on roads during the winter to keep the roads free of ice. I see firsthand what salt does to a two year old vehicle when I do any suspension work or alignments.
Even if this was a safe alternative to a thorough hand wash, the final product will never even come close. I have yet to see a vehicle come out of a touchless car wash where the machine doesn’t miss a large strip of dirt down the side of the vehicle, not to mention the timer for the blow dryer is never long enough to dry the vehicle completely.
Jeremy got his start in the automotive industry in 2012 as a detailer. He also tried sales and a role in the service department at a Chrysler dealership before deciding to become an automotive technician for Volkswagen. Read more about Jeremy: