Best Way to Dry a Car After Washing (No Scratches)


How to dry your car after washing

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One Saturday morning I noticed my neighbor drying his car with a water squeegee.  I did some research and was shocked to discover that these are a bad idea.  Here are some things I learned while researching the best and safest ways to dry a car without scratching it.

  1. Don’t let the car dry naturally. 
  2. Don’t use a bathroom towel.
  3. Don’t use a water squeegee.
  4. Don’t use a water blade.
  5. Don’t use a chamois towel.
  6. Do use microfiber towels.
  7. Do use a leaf blower.
  8. Do use a drying aid spray.

What’s the best way to dry a just-washed car?

Using a large microfiber drying towel is the best way to dry a washed car for most people.  These towels are super soft to avoid scratching and they soak up loads of water.  I like to pat dry my car using one or two two of these.  Read a review of my favorite towel for drying cars!

You can also add shine and protection while you dry your car using a drying aid/detail spray like the fantastic Bead Maker Paint Protectant.  It’s as good was waxing except that its much much quicker.  And that shine is unbelievable. It has the bonus of making your car easier to wash next time.

Fastest way to dry a car

Use an Air Dryer like the brilliant Adam’s Air Cannon Car Dryer.  Its not cheap but its probably the fastest and safest way to wash your car.  To avoid blowing dust all over your car you should wet the ground around the car first.

Another option is to skip the drying stage and wash your car with deionized water (see below).

Don’t be tempted to get into your car and take off down the road at 90 miles an hour to dry your car.  This will only cause dust to stick to any areas of the car that are still wet. Also, you will probably get a ticket.  

Read more about the Fastest Way to Wash Your Car.

Why should I dry my car after washing?

Water spots are a problem on all cars.  They are caused by water drying on the car and leaving behind dust and water minerals.  They are especially noticeable on dark cars and double noticeable on black cars.  They can cause a permanent stain on the paint that can only be removed with a polish of some kind. But prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure.  

Dust is also attracted to a wet car.

Learning how to dry your car properly will make a big difference to how long your car keeps it’s shine.

Options for drying your car without scratching it.

Hopefully, you won’t have washed your car in direct sunlight.  This causes the car to dry too quickly and you will end up with water spots.  Wash in the shade and preferably with the paint has cooled. Also if it’s a windy day you might end up with dust sticking to your wet car which is not ideal.  

In a dream world you would park your car in a garage and avoid all of these problems. If you are doing a major detail to your car and you don’t have a garage that you can shut the door on it might be a good idea to borrow a friends garage.

You can damage your paint if you don’t dry it properly.  But how to dry your car properly depends on how clean the paint is.  If you have just fully washed your car then you can use a microfiber towel and gently wipe or pat the surface as you go.  

As the surface is clean you can probably use just one microfiber towel. To get water out of difficult-to-reach areas such as door mirrors a small car blower is very useful.

If your car was only slightly dusty and you hosed it down but didn’t feel a full wash was necessary you need to be extra careful during the drying stage.  You are using the drying stage to give your car an extra clean and to possibly top up your wax or sealant at the same time.

For each wipe, you should use a clean part of a microfiber towel.  Try to roll the towel as you move it as this will move the dirty part of the towel away from the paint as much as possible. This could mean you go through a number of towels as you dry your car.  For black car owners you should probably always play is safe and use this multi towel method every time.

If you don’t have or don’t plan to use a drying aid spray then the best way is to pat dry the car using a large microfiber towel.  This will guarantee that you won’t scratch your paint. This is one of the best options when you don’t have a lot of time. Also read below about using a car dryer.

Use a drying aid spray

A drying aid is lubricant spray that you can use to dispel water and prevent damage to your paint as you dry your car.  They are also a way to add shine to your paint so it saves you having to apply sealant or wax. Usually I will use a drying aid from the same manufacturer that made the sealant or wax that is already on my car.  

Drying aids are super slick which means the fine particles are trapped in them and that will keep it away from the paint and it will instead get trapped in the microfiber towel.  The liquid also causes water to bead which makes it easier to dry.

There is usually no need to buff after applying a drying aid once you don’t let it dry on the surface.  Some products are difficult to buff it they are left to dry so you might need to work fast. Doing one panel at a time will also help.  The important thing is that you read the instructions. Some products might need to be diluted when used on black car. Also make sure you shake it for 30 seconds before use.

Using a leaf blower to dry a car

I watched a YouTube video of a guy doing this and I couldn’t believe the amount of negative comments people wrote.  They said stones and grit would shoot out of the leaf blower and hit the car causing scratches and paint chips. I don’t think this is can really happen.  It’s obviously better if the leaf blower is clean and maybe you should clean the air intake filter if it has one.

I think this is a great way to dry your car.  What else are you going to do with your leaf blower during the summer months.  Gas powered blowers are more powerful and work really well. I just wish they weren’t so noisy.

If you are using a drying aid to top up your sealant or glaze then you will need to use a microfiber towel instead of a dryer.

Using a car dryer to dry a car

Car blowers or car dryers are available from a number of the big car detailing firms.  These can be used on the inside of the car to blow away dust from hard to reach spots. These mini air compressors can also be used to blow water away from all the different hard to reach places around your car.  

The slight problem with these is that you need one hand to hold the blower and one hand to hold and spray detailing spray and a third hand the hold the microfiber towel.  That’s a first world problem I guess. Having said that they are super useful both inside and outside the car. The are much lighter and smaller than a leaf blower so they can be held in one hand, and are electrical powered.  

Car dryers are also MUCH quieter than gas powered leaf blowers.  For me this is enough reason alone to buy one. They are also surprisingly powerful with some claiming that the air travels at almost 100mph.

If your car has very light dust, maybe you don’t need to wash it at all.  Try using the dryer to blow the dust off.

Water squeegee or water blade.

Don’t use a water blade to dry your car.  They still seem to sell quite well on Amazon and they also seem to have good reviews.  Bet they are definitely not suitable for drying car paint.  Sure, they will prevent water spots but at a very high price.  

They cause an unbelievable amount of damage to paint because one tiny piece of grid will get dragged along the paint.  Over time the paint will fade and your car will look old before it should. You will save a lot of money in the long run if you use the scratch prevention methods outlined above.

Using a chamois towel.

This is also a major mistake.  They soak up water well but they don’t lift grit away form the paint.  Lots of scratches and faded paint are the result.

Water deionizer

Microfiber towels are great and everything but washing your car with deionized water is another way to prevent water spots forming on your paint.  These systems remove chlorine, copper, iron and other salts and minerals from your water so that when this dries on your paint it doesn’t leave a water spot.  

These are a good idea if you have the budget because anything that reduces the amount of time you have to spend touching your car means you will have fewer scratches in the long run.  

I have seen small systems advertised for about $250.  But you also need to replace the resin regularly so that will add to the cost.  It’s probably a lot cheaper to blow dry your in the long run but if you live in a hard water area and you are having problem with water spots then you should consider a water deionizer.  

The system can also be used for washing windows and solar panels. An example product on Amazon is the CR Spotless Deionized Water System

Best towel to dry car.

Don’t use a bathroom towel.  The fibers probably won’t keep dirt away from the car paint and you will end up fading the paint and adding tiny scratches that will cause noticeable damage over time.  

I believe the dreaded swirl marks that black car owners hate are caused by using and old bathroom towel and using it to dry the car. Polyester is the cause of scratches too as it’s very hard.

A microfibre towel will trap dirt in it and help keep it away from the paint.  A microfiber towel needs to be slightly damp to to dry the car properly. Don’t put any pressure on the towel, it doesn’t need it.  The microfibers will work their magic with the slightest amount of pressure.

A waffle weave microfiber towel has even more water soakage ability but costs a little more. Totally worth it though.  Simply lay the towel flat on the car and wring it out and move on to the next section. The best waffle weave towels use silk around the edges while cheaper ones have nylon which can be a little hard on black paint.

How to wash your towels

Microfiber towels collect lint from other clothes to it’s better to wash all your microfiber items in a separate wash.  Use a liquid washing soap because powder does sometimes gets trapped in the microfibers and doesn’t dissolve properly.

Don’t use a fabric softener.  Also don’t dry the towels in a high heat because this can damage the microfibers and they won’t be as effective and keeping your car clean and dry and might even scratch the paint.

Next steps

Once your car is dry what should you do next?  If you haven’t used a drying aid spray or a detailing spray while drying your car you could now apply a sealant or liquid wax are easy ways to get a great shine.  Please read my blog posts on these subjects.  Also I have a post on how to apply sealant or wax.  Happy detailing.


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