With a hosepipe ban looming, a swift £1,000 fine may shortly face any water-wastrels caught aiming their nozzle before water networks recover from the baking heat of the past few months.
Using a hosepipe is one of the most wasteful uses of water - a standard one will spray out 1,000 litres in an hour.
But it is perfectly possible to wash one's vehicle without having to resort to such measures. I took an expert crash course from professional valets, and a friend loaned me his car - last washed six months ago - to test my skills.
Step one: Loosen the dirt
The first step, if you have the kit, is to give the car a rinse with a pressure washer before you start, just as you would rinse a plate before putting it into the dishwasher, advises Tristan Green of Max Wax Car Valeting, with all the authority of 20 years of automotive cleansing. Hold on - how does that save water? “You can store water and fill up buckets and run a pressure washer from those without using a hosepipe,” he says. “A simple, cheap pressure washer will rinse a car with 20L of water.”
Back to basics, though. If a pressure washer isn’t available (it wasn’t for me), start by pouring a large bucket of cold water over the car to help loosen the dirt. While this did feel counterintuitive to my aims of washing a car with less water, I consoled myself with the knowledge that the bucket and sponge method uses around 30-40L of water in total, less than a tenth of the volume from 30 minutes with a hose.
Step two: The two bucket method
After the dirt-loosening rinse, knuckle down to the classic "two bucket method". Fill one bucket with water mixed with car shampoo and another with clean water to rinse your microfibre wash mitt or specialist sponge after each wiping. Don’t use a standard, bath-style-sponge as this will drag dirt granules over the paintwork. “Any time you’re moving backwards and forwards with a sponge you’re putting abrasions on the car,” says Green. For the same reason, rinse the mitt frequently.
“Use a bucket with a grit guard for your ‘rinsing bucket’,” says Green. “This is a special bucket where the grit sinks to the bottom and gets trapped, so the water remains clean.”
Car-shampoo-lathered mitt ready to go, I start from the roof and work downwards. Cars are generally dirtier at the bottom so the grains of dirt down there are bigger. You risk fewer scratches if you start by washing off the less heavy dirt higher up on the vehicle, while the water dripping down while you do this will also help to loosen dirt lower down.
Step three: Break out the watering can
Once I have soapy-sponged the entire car - and inevitably, much of myself - it’s time to break out the watering can. “Try using a watering can - with nozzle attachment - full of cold water to rinse the body panels down after soaping,” says car maintenance expert Ollie Green of Collect Service Go. “One full watering can should be sufficient to rinse away any soap after the cleaning process.” Finally, go over the car with a microfibre cloth to avoid unsightly watermarks.
Job done. But while this labour intensive process uses less water than washing with a hose, there's no denying that a certain amount of water is necessary.
If all else fails: Nano waterless car washes
If the drought persists, though, there’s another option: nano waterless car washes. This method employs chemical solutions which bind the dirt together, making it easy to wipe away without damaging the paintwork. They won’t help with caked-on muck, but if your car is just dusty from sitting on the driveway or street, they’ll do the trick.
“Start by applying the nano waterless solution to your car and make sure you get an even spray across the car’s surface. Leave the solution to work for 30 seconds,” says Catherine Staunton-Lambert, a car wash expert at Dropless, a mobile car-washing firm which specialises in these waterless solutions. “This gives it time to liquefy the dirt and lift it from the surface. Spray the car section by section, to avoid missing any areas.”
Staunton-Lambert recommends products such as King of Sheen and Greased Lightning because they also contain carnauba wax, a natural wax which will protect the paintwork from dirt in future.
Once you’ve waited for 30 seconds, “remove the dirt with clean microfibre cloths,” says Staunton-Lambert. “Fold the cloth or towel and roll your hand back and forth as you remove the dirt from the car. This helps stop the dirt particles from leaving any marks. Move the cloth in straight lines rather than circles, as this can cause swirl marks. Reapply the spray to any areas where further cleaning is needed and repeat.” Finally, buff the car with another clean microfibre cloth.
There. Done. Sparkling clean, and not a hosepipe to be seen.