• Sean Lanham

Pre-Wash vs Foam Wash vs Contact Wash

When we detail a car for all services, we start with a 3 step wash at a minimum. The pre-wash, foam wash, and contact wash. Each of these have a very important function that helps preserve and protect your vehicles finish.


The pre-wash is meant to loosen and remove heavy contaminants like bugs, caked on dirt, and easily visible road grime without any physical contact. Depending on the vehicle, we use a simple pre-wash solution that will allow us to remove that grime by spraying it off after it has set in. If there are heavy bug or dirt contaminants, we may use a pre-wash solution with a lubricant that will allow us to safely scrub that grime off without damage. For vehicles with more industrial contamination like road salts, oil, and construction debris, we use an iron remover that quickly and easily identifies and removes industrial fallout.

The Pre-wash should be applied to the entire exterior of the vehicle including the wheels. We start with the wheels as they are the dirtiest and will spread more grime around as we clean it so we want to eliminate that problem first. Most modern vehicles have wheels that have been coated in some form so they can be scrubbed with less worry than your cars paint but still may be impacted by high ph chemicals.

Foam Wash

After we remove the obvious grime from the exterior of the vehicle, we move on to the foam wash. The foam wash will lift and separate dirt and grime from the finish by combining the soap solution with aerated action. This also applies addition lubrication to the finish so as the dirt loses and runs down the vehicle, it will not accumulate or scratch the finish. For well maintained vehicles, this step is enough to finish a vehicle.

This is how the touchless car washes at gas station function. The difference is, those touchless washes use a much more acidic chemical to achieve a quicker and better clean. The higher acidity isn't harmful to your finish IF you are applying protection afterwards. These chemicals will stip the protection from your finish along with the dirt and grime.

We use ph neutral chemicals unless we are specifically stopping down old layers of protection to apply new layers like a ceramic coating. We have a foam wash solution for both situations. Once we remove the surface layer of dirt and grime, we are now ready for contact.

Contact Wash

The contact portion of a wash is the main contributor to paint defects. Every time we physically touch our vehicles, we are potentially scratching the finish. By ensuring we remove as much dirt as possible before the contact wash, we remove as much risk of adding swirls and blemishes.

We use the 3 bucket method. I know the 2 bucket method is something you hear often but you may be asking why 3 buckets. We have our rinse bucket, a soap bucket, and a wheel bucket. The top of the car will have less dirt than the bottom near the road so before we refinish the wheels we may also use the wheel bucket for side skirts and bottom of bumpers. By following this method, weensure we eliminate as much dirt mixing as possible.

With these 3 steps, we achieve a level of clean that is unmatched while minimizing as much blemishing as possible. It may be more steps than completely required but this is how we prep and wash all of our car while detailing them and time after time we consistently get the same stunning results. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it....revolutionize it".

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