Implements of Mass Beautification

Now that the holiday season is past and Porsche enthusiast’s thoughts are turning to warm weather activities, it is time to once again consider the proper way to care for and clean your prized vehicle. At past concours workshops Craig and I, as well as our guest presenters, talked much about preferred products and the proper methods of application. The best products and intentions, however, can go awry without the proper tools to apply and remove those products. This article will highlight some of those critical and labor-saving tools used in each step of general cleaning or prepping for a concours event. The first step in the general cleaning and prepping process is usually washing the vehicle. Unless you intentionally want to punish your Porsche for misbehaving over the winter by taking it to an automatic car wash, most enthusiasts prefer to hand wash their beloved ride. In addition to clean water, preferably demineralized or softened, and a quality car wash detergent; some type of bucket and washing implements are also required. Now what can be so complicated about a simple bucket and a sponge, you might ask? Not much when it comes to the bucket, as long as it is a clean bucket that has not been previously used to haul dirt and rocks from the garden.

But when it comes to the washing implements, there are big differences. You should never, never use a sponge to wash any car you care about. A sponge captures and retains dirt and grit on the surface which can subsequently cause scratches. Much preferred is a cotton chenille wash pad or mitt, a natural sheep skin mitt, or a quality microfiber wash pad or mitt. Just make sure to rinse the pad or mitt frequently as you proceed. Let us not forget the hose and nozzle used to wet down the vehicle initially and rinse off the detergent.

Most important is to use a protective nozzle that supplies lots of volume at moderate pressure. A nozzle with a soft rubber surround or an entirely rubber nozzle is good insurance against scratching the paint should you inadvertently bump the vehicle with the nozzle.

As we have discussed in the past, the first step in washing your vehicle should be to wash the wheels. For more than two decades all Porsches have had painted wheels that require the same care as the body paint. I prefer to use a cotton chenille wash mitt, distinct from the one used to wash the body surfaces, to clean the wheels with traditional car wash detergent since my wheels are usually pretty clean to begin with. Never use a wheel brush with polyester bristles on painted wheels; the bristles are too hard and will inflict scratches. You would not use this type of brush to wash your other painted surfaces so why would you use it to wash your wheels? If the wheels are really covered in brake dust you can use a quality wheel cleaner from P21S or Sonax in combination with the wash mitt.

After the vehicle has been washed and rinsed, the next step is to dry the vehicle. The most common method of doing this is with a drying towel. I have found that nothing is quicker or more absorbent than using a soft 100% cotton bath towels for this task. Although waffle-weave microfiber drying towels are available, I have never found them to be as absorbent as a good quality cotton bath towel – just ensure that it is 100% cotton and not a polyester blend.

Chamois seems to have fallen out of favor for vehicle drying; probably because they require so much effort to repeatedly ring dry. They also pose a greater risk of leaving scratches if they are not perfectly clean. You may have read on the web, in some of the detailing forums, about the use of a leaf blower to dry the vehicle to avoid scratching the paint with a rough towel or chamois. I tried this once and found it to be more difficult than it would seem with inherent risks of its own. High speed hand-held electric leaf blowers have a gyroscopic effect which makes them a little difficult to accurately control. Additionally should they ever have the misfortune of dislodging an imbedded stone or bit of debris from within the machine, that missile can do significant damage to your paint or glass. Consider the risks carefully.

However, one place where the benefit of the leaf blower may warrant the risk is in extricating the trapped water from within your drilled and ventilated brake rotors. It seems that no matter how well you hand dry your wheels, there is no convenient or practical way to dry the interior of the brake rotors. Regardless if the vehicle sits or is immediately driven after being washed, the dirty water drips out of the rotor slots and holes and runs all over the wheels creating the need to clean the wheels a second time. The leaf blower can effectively force the residual water out of the rotors avoiding the need for the second cleaning. Just be cautious to not raise dust from the driveway surface or bump the wheels in the process.

If washing the vehicle is the extent of the current cleaning process then at least the exterior glass should be gone over one more time to remove any remaining water marks or hard water spots. Although microfiber glass cleaning cloths do an exceptionally good job at their intended task, they tend to “stick” to the glass and can be difficult to hold and control. As an alternative consider using 100% cotton baby diapers if you are fortunate to still have any available, an old cotton tee shirt, or non-woven, lint-free, glass cleaning towels available from many of the on-line detail supply companies. Use a quality automotive glass cleaning product along with any of these towels.

If the intent is to do a thorough cleaning and prep, then the next step is usually to polish and wax the exterior painted surfaces. There are two principal ways to do this – by hand, or with a buffing machine, preferably a random orbit machine. If we consider the manual process first, there are a number of options available to apply and remove the products. Polish can be efficiently applied with a small piece of soft cotton terry towel folded to make a pad. As the pad accumulates debris it should be refolded to expose a new surface. The traditional round terrycloth covered foam applicator pads are also viable for applying polish as well as the current technology equivalent, the microfiber covered foam pad. Both do a good job with polish.

Removing the polish or paint cleaner offers just as many options. The rage today is microfiber, but this may not always be the best initial choice. Depending on the polish or paint cleaner, some go on heavy and come off heavy, especially the coarser polishes. These load up the polish removal cloth very quickly requiring frequent turning or refolding or the need for multiple cloths. Even the very fine P21S Paint Cleaner will require more than one microfiber cloth to do an entire vehicle. Rather than use a microfiber cloth for the initial removal of the polish, I prefer to use a soft cotton tee shirt or an old porous cotton furniture polishing cloth for the first pass. Not cheese cloth; it is too rough. I then use the microfiber for the final buffing process where the microfiber appears to have more bite and produces a cleaner, shinier surface. This saves using up all my microfiber cloths for the polishing step and leaves some for the waxing process.

If you choose to employ a random orbit buffer to apply the polish, both machine and pad selection are important to achieving a quality result. Two machines seem to be the most popular and cost effective among detail enthusiasts, the Porter-Cable and the Griot’s Garage random orbit buffers. Both machines use a six inch “hook and loop” foam pad and are speed adjustable. The Porter-Cable has a handle that can be switched to either side to accommodate right and left hand use. The Griot’s machine has a loop handle that may be more convenient because it allows for various hand positions while using the machine. Although it is almost impossible to damage your paint with a random orbit buffer, a little practice is required to become proficient.

Pad selection has a significant effect on the quality of the results with these machines. Pads come in different densities. The softer pads are obviously gentler on your paint, but are not as effective as a harder pad at removing swirl marks and scratches. It is always best to start with the softer pad and progress to the harder pad as required. Be sure to use a polish that is intended for machine application; these polishes are specifically designed to withstand the increased heat generated by the pad friction. Removing the polish can be accomplished using the same towels as in the hand application of polish discussed above. The final step in the polishing process is to go around all of the seams, gaps, and lamp housing with a very soft child’s toothbrush or preferably a two inch wide, natural bristle, paint brush with shortened bristles to remove any polish caught in the cracks. The next step in the detailing process following the polishing step is to apply at least one coat of a paint sealant or wax to the surfaces.

Sealants are usually liquid with a consistency similar to polish so that all of the same applicators and removal tools apply here as well. Wax is a different product entirely with its own requirements for application and removal. Opinions differ, as you might expect, regarding the most effective means to apply and remove wax. A number of enthusiasts recommend applying wax with your fingertips so that you can feel the cleanliness of the surface as you move your fingers over the paint. This may be great for infusing essential emollients into your fingers, but I found that this method is too time consuming and my fingers quickly get fatigued. The most effective tool that I found to apply a smooth, even coat of wax is a small soft foam sponge such as the applicator that comes in every container of P21S Carnauba Wax. I have never had a case where this type of applicator has scratched the paint or left swirl marks even on a dark car. I also found that some soft packing foam, if cut into small circular pads, works quite well. As a fall back, I have used a small piece of soft cotton terrycloth toweling.

Removing the wax presents its own choices, again. Obviously, the harder the wax, the more effort it takes to both apply and take off, requiring different removal and buffing towels. Hard waxes, requiring more effort to exorcise, are usually best addressed with a soft cotton tee shirt because the wax tends to quickly load up a microfiber cloth. There is nothing wrong, however, with using microfiber with a hard wax, jut recognize that you will be going through a lot of microfiber cloths in the process. Remember to use the soft toothbrush or paint brush to remove any wax hiding in the seams or around the lamp fixtures.

Now that the vehicle has been washed, polished, and waxed there are three areas that remain to be addressed – the wheels and tires, the rubber and plastic trim, and the bright-work. Most wheels on modern Porsches are painted silver and can be cleaned using similar applicators and removal towels as you used on the vehicle’s other painted surfaces. Obviously, the use of a random orbit buffer on the wheels would pose a logistical issue and hand application of the product is the prudent choice in this case. Finish the wheel and tire combos by applying a coat of a high-quality, low-gloss, vinyl and rubber dressing to the tires.

Although many of these dressings come with a spray applicator, in my experience it is difficult to control the coverage area and quantity of the spray and there is no benefit in getting the product on your recently polished and waxed painted surfaces. I have found that using a soft piece of packing foam, similar to that that was used to apply the wax, works very effectively at applying the dressing exactly where you want it. Just spray the foam pad rather than the tire, and then rub the foam pad around the tire.

Porsches employ a lot of “rubber” molding around all of the windows, plastic trim in the cowl area, and polyurethane for the spoilers and mirror surrounds. All of these should receive a coating of quality vinyl and rubber dressing. For the larger surfaces such as a spoiler, the same type of foam pad can be used to apply and spread the product. However, using a large foam pad around the window molding inevitably applies dressing on the glass and painted surfaces, as well, necessitating re-cleaning these surfaces. A one inch wide foam paint brush is the perfect tool to apply this dressing to the window molding, and if you are careful and have a steady hand you can completely avoid getting the dressing on the adjacent glass and paint. Obviously you apply the dressing to the brush first then apply the brush to the molding.

Chrome and bright trim on the vehicle can be cleaned with regular paint polish and given a coat of wax or sealant using the same applicators and removal towels as the paint. Stainless steel exhaust tips usually require a more aggressive metal polish to remove the exhaust stains and carbon buildup. Use a small piece of terrycloth toweling to apply the metal polish; it is sturdier than a cotton tee shirt and holds up better to all the rubbing. Remember to go around all the trim with the toothbrush or paint brush to remove any remaining polish or wax.

Interior cleaning has its own kit of special applicators and tools to efficiently address the various tasks. The next article in this series will discuss some of the most useful and labor-saving interior cleaning tools.

This year’s concours season starts early with our first workshop scheduled for February 23 from 10am to noon at Flemington Porsche. The “Dent Man”, Bill Rochford will return to ply his magic, in full view, to the dented and dinged panels of your Porsches and daily drivers. This workshop is open to all club members and is a great opportunity to have those little track or autocross indiscretions skillfully exorcised at a very reasonable cost. Flemington Porsche will generously provide brunch. If you are interested in having work done on your vehicle, please contact so we can plan the day’s activities.

For further details, see the ad in this issue of Porscheforus. And do not forget our traditional Gathering of the Faithful to be held again at High Marques in Morristown on Sunday, March 24 starting at 9am. If you attended lasts year’s GOTF, you know what a great time we all had perusing the outstanding cars in the showroom and dining on some fantastic breakfast treats. This year, our host John Vogt of High Marques promises to go above and beyond. You will have to join us to see exactly what he has in store. Additional details are also in this issue of Porscheforus. Please check the NNJR website for any last minute program updates in the event of inclement weather.