Car Paint Cleaning – How & When To Use A Pre Wax Cleaner


If you have been following my detailing guide series you will have now washed and dried your pride and joy in the safest possible, swirl avoiding ways and have completed the initial stage in your paintwork preparation. Your next step is car paint cleaning…

The purpose of this stage is to remove the fine defects from your paintwork in a way that removes as little paint thickness as is humanly possible.

The paint cleaning process, including the previous claying stage is one of the most important steps in detailing, as this will set the level onto which you apply your polish and paint protection.

Car Paint Cleaning vs Polishing

Car paint cleaning is usually achieved with the use of a pre-wax cleaner. The main difference between pre-wax paint cleaners and claybars is that clay bars remove above the surface contaminants and paint cleaners are designed to rectify below surface defects.

Completing both stages leaves a silk smooth and deep clean finish.

The key difference between a paint cleaner and car polish is the cleaner essentially removes the finer defects whereas a polish (next step – if required), uses more abrasive compounds to smooth out the surface of your paintwork and is sometimes combined with specially formulated oils or resins to enhance the shine.

Paint cleaners are mostly made up of a combination of a very fine polishing materials together with cleaning action solvents, where in fact the solvents actually do most of the work.

The two most common types of paint cleaners available are:

1. Pure Car Paint Cleaners

These do not have any kind of added paint protection with them and act purely to deep clean your cars paintwork. Examples include:

2. Cleaners with Protection

These car paint cleaners have a mix of paint both cleaning action and wax or synthetic paint protection in them – these are ideal if time does not allow the application of a separate protectant on your paintwork.

Applying Your Car Paint Cleanser

When cleaning your paintwork, always work in a shaded area, out of direct sunlight as most cleaners do not work well on hot surfaces. Work section by section, of about 2 to 4 square feet at a time.

Most pre-wax cleaners do not need to dry or haze before being wiped off and you can buff off the residues as you go. But always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s written instructions just to make sure.

You can use a foam, terry cloth or microfibre applicator pad to apply your paint cleaner. If your existing paint finish is in like-new condition, we recommend a quality foam applicator. However if your paint is reasonably oxidised, we would recommend the use of a microfiber applicator pad.

A common mistake you will often see if you drive up and down the street on Sunday morning is car owners pouring half a bottle of product directly onto the car or cloth. It may be surprising but you only need to use a small amount of cleaner for each application.

Car Paint Cleaning - Applying Your Car Paint Cleaner

With most pre-wax paint cleaners, a 1-inch-sized spot is enough to clean and polish an area of 2 to 4 square feet. Apply in a back and forward motion and not in a circular motion.

And for best results in buffing off your paint cleaner, we would recommend using a microfiber polishing cloth/towel.

After cleaning, your paintwork should now be clean, smooth, and free of streaks and minor swirls and is now ready for polishing or waxing.

Next time… We will take a close look at the polishing processes and products, followed by specifics on swirl removal, to ensure you can get the best shine you can before “locking in” and protecting all your hard work with a wax or sealant.

Buying Your Paint Cleaner

Many of the products mentioned in this article are available to buy online. For your convenience, the above links will allow you to purchase directly from Amazon. If having clicked on any of these links you decide to make a purchase, we may receive a small commission from Amazon, which enables us to continue hosting and developing even more (hopefully useful) content for the site. Any such support is extremely valued.

Over To You

Have you already used a cleaner wax or pre-wax cleaner on your paintwork? What is your experience with car paint cleaning – has it made the difference you thought it would. I would love to hear your experiences, details of the products you have used and what you thought of them. Please share the details in the comments section below.


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.