Why You Should Never Use a Sponge to Wash Your Car


The vast majority of car owners use sponges to give their cars a good scrub down and remove all the dirt and grime on the paintwork. But most don’t know that they’re actually ruining the paintwork and causing hundreds of scratches every time they put a sponge to the paint.

In this article, I’ll talk about why sponges are a terrible tool for washing your car, and what you should use instead to keep the paint clean and shiny. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Sponges should never be used to wash a car because they are very likely to cause scratches. A car’s paint is quite delicate, and sponges are too abrasive to safely wash it. Sponges also trap dirt and drag it over the paint causing hundreds of tiny scratches.

The Clear Coat is Delicate

To really understand why sponges are such a problem, you need to know a little bit about the structure of your car’s paint. Here’s a quick diagram to demonstrate.

Your car’s finish consists of several layers. The most important two to consider in this context, as the clear coat and the base coat. The base coat, is also known as the colour coat. The clear coat sits on top.

The clear coat has several functions. Firstly, it protects the base coat from UV damage to stop it fading over time and looking dull. It also protects it from things like acid rain, bird mess, tar, tree sap etc.

The clear coat is also what makes your car look shiny. Without it, the finish would be matte. Hence, if you want a glossy looking finish, you should preserve this clear coat.

However, unfortunately, the clear coat is incredibly delicate. This may be a surprise, at least it was to me when I first found out. But the clear coat is highly susceptible to scratches from the mildest forms of friction.

Clear Coat Scratches

So how do these scratches actually occur. Well, of course they can come from direct damage, for example bumps and scrapes. But generally, they come from improper washing. You guessed it, when using sponges.

These clear coat scratches aren’t visible in all lights. However, you can see them very clearly in bright sunlight. They often look like swirls or spiderwebs.

But even when it’s not sunny, these clear coat scratches can be a big problem because they make the finish look much duller. This is because they affect the way light reflects off the surface.

For the finish to look glossy, the clear coat should be completely flat. This allows the light to reflect evenly. However, in reality, the clear coat looks like this after you wash it with a sponge.

The Two Issues with Sponges

So how do sponges cause these clear coat scratches?

Well, there are two main issues with them.

  1. They drag dirt over the surface and grind it into the paint
  2. Sponges are pretty abrasive even when clean

So how does this result in clear coat scratches.

Well, starting with reason number 1. Dirt is abrasive, and is very capable of causing clear coat damage. So whenever you wipe your car, you’re essentially rubbing abbrasive particles over the paintwork and scratching it.

Sponges really highlight this problem. When dirt is on the sponge, it gets trapped in the tiny holes and can’t be rinsed out easily. That means that it drags the dirt over the paintwork.

The other problem with sponges, are that they are pretty aggressive. They’re not smooth and soft in texture, so they’re likely to cause scratches even when there isn’t any dirt to make things worse.

What About Grantia Sponges?

Another question people usually ask at this point, is what about grantia sponges. Are they still unsafe to use on your paintwork.

Grantia sponges trap dirt and are abrasive in the same way that artificial sponges are. They drag dirt across the surface when it because trapped in the tiny gaps in the sponge and essentially scratch the clear coat on your car.

What to Do Instead

Okay, so if sponges are so terrible, how do you actually clean your car safely without scratching it?

Luckily, there is a cheap alternative. The microfiber wash mitt.

Microfiber wash mitts are much safer than sponges because they can be rinsed far more easily between washing dirty panels. This means that if you rinse them regularly, the risks of dragging dirt across the paintwork are very low.

Microfiber wash mitts are also far more effective at lifting dirt off the surface so you will only need to wipe a section once to clean it.

I use what’s called a noodle microfiber wash mitt. It’s very safe to use on the paint and they are also really cheap.

The brand I use is called Kent, their microfiber wash mitts are really durable and cheap. I use a few when I wash my car. Each time I wash a dirty panel, I change wash mitts to reduce the risk of rubbing dirt into the paintwork.

You can check out these Kent Microfiber Wash Mitts on Amazon.

You can also use lamb’s wool wash mitts to clean your car. These are also very safe to use on the paintwork, but they are significantly more expensive than microfiber. Most microfiber wash mitts cost around $10-15 whereas lamb’s wool costs upwards of $25.

What About Brushes?

Some car owners also use brushes to clean their cars, however this is an even worse option than using a sponge.

Brushes have a similar effect to sponges in terms of dragging the dirt across the paintwork and inflicting clear coat damage.

However, they are even more abrasive than sponges. If you use a brush on the paint, then you will scratch it.

Why Does Pretty Much Everyone Use Sponges and Brushes?

Okay, so you may be wondering at this point, if sponges and brushes are so damaging to your car’s paint, then why do so many people still use them.

I can think of a few reasons why this is the case.

Firstly, tradition. Microfiber has only really been around since the 90’s. So before that, you either had to fork out for expensive lamb’s wool mitts, or use sponges and brushes. In think a lot of car owners are still stuck in this tradition and simply don’t know about the more modern options.

Secondly, sponges are still used due to a lack of knowledge. The vast majority of car owners have no idea how much damage they’re causing to their paintwork every time they use a sponge to wash it. If more people knew, I don’t think sponges would be nearly as popular.

Finally, sponges are used because they are super cheap. They cost less than a dollar so a lot of people choose to use them anyway. However, if you want your car to be well protected, and look shiny, then you definitely should pay an extra few dollars for microfiber.

However when you factor in durability, you’ll get more value for money using a microfiber wash mitt because they last far longer.

Without a doubt, one of the most damaging wash techniques, is using a sponge. So if you learn one thing about car washing, ditch the sponge.

Check out this complete guide to washing your car without causing scratches.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog to learn more about making your car look its best.

Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, an MX-5, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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