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FAQ - "Do I need to strip wash my car before polishing?"


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The next in my series of FAQ threads where I open up a discussion on a common concern or problem people face when detailing.

An area of confusion for many people is the process of "stripping" their car as part of the detailing process. No, this isn't a process where that lovely college co-ed trying to put herself thru medical school comes over and washes your car in the nude.  :D

 

A strip wash, or stripping the finish, is a way to remove all the previously applied waxes, sealants, and/or dressings that have been applied. Removing or weakening these coatings makes for an easier detail in terms of claying and polishing. 

 

 

WHY SHOULD I STRIP WASH?  

When it comes time to do a full detail on your ride, whether its one you've been maintaining for a number of years, or a fresh off the lot car, there will be some layer of buildup on all the exterior surfaces. Waxes, sealants, glazes, dressings, and things like tree sap will have accumulated.

 

Without strip washing these layers are then pulled up by your clay bar and/or your polishing pads. This clogs them up prematurely and, in the case of polishing pads, can lead to reduced performance. 


A clay bar clogged up with wax will be messy to work with and deteriorate quickly. A polishing pad clogged up with wax will be less effective and require frequent cleanings to finish a detail. 

 

 

DO I HAVE TO DO A STRIP WASH? 

No. Its not required, but does result in a dramatically easier detail by helping remove or degrade existing coatings on the car. If you choose not to strip the exterior surfaces of your car simply be prepared to adjust your technique to compensate. 

 

 

WILL STRIP WASHING HURT MY CAR? 

As long as its done in moderation and done using the appropriate chemicals and follow up there really is no concern. Some 'old school' guys will claim things like it will dry out your paint, which is not true. Strip washing is a perfectly safe way to prepare your exterior for detailing, and in all honesty the chemicals used are less harsh than those used in your average drive thru car wash. 

 

 

METHODS FOR STRIPPING YOUR FINISH

There are a number of ways to go about performing a strip wash, each with their own merit and benefits. The various processes are outlined below:

 

A.P.C. + Car Wash Mix - this is the method most often recommended by the team at Adam's Polishes. By adding a few ounces (typically 3-4oz) of APC (acidic) to your wash bucket along with your usual amount of Car Wash Shampoo (neutral) you get a mixture that has a slightly acidic pH. Still plenty safe for washing, but strong enough to weaken and/or remove most waxes or sealants while washing.

 

By using a 2 part mixture, ultimately you get control over how strong or weak the mixture is. Add more APC for a stronger strip wash, less for a mild wash. The 2 products both foam very well so using this application with a foam gun or foam cannon is also great. The suds are very thick and sustain well thru an entire wash. 

 

Perform your wash like usual, the only thing to avoid is allowing the mixture to dry on the finish. Since you are no longer working with a pH neutral bath water spots can occur if allowed to dry. 

 

Dawn Dish Soap - Wait! What? I've been told never to use dish soap! Correct... dish soap is never ideal for washing IF you want to keep your wax intact on your car. For removing waxes and sealants from your finish it great. Simply replace your Adam's Car Wash Shampoo with the same amount of dish soap and wash like usual. 

Use only Original BLUE Dawn dish soap. Other soaps are not going to be as effective and may also contain moisturizers and lotions to prevent 'dish pan hands'. 

 

The drawbacks to dish soap are a lack of sustained suds, it will go flat much faster and doesn't perform nearly as well in a foam gun or foam cannon to produce a thick lather. The lack of sustained suds decreases the dwell time of the soap and ultimately its effectiveness. 

 

Additionally it limits your control over the concentration. Unlike the APC/Car Wash method you can't control or tweak your concentration for different tasks. 

 

Panel by Panel Stripping - Sometimes you may not want or need to strip the entire car. Maybe its perfect, except that one panel where someone accidentally rubbed up against it. In situations like this you can use diluted isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, otherwise known as IPA, to strip a small controlled section for repair. 

IPA is available at almost any grocery or drugstore and is typically sold pre-diluted to 70%. Cutting that at least another 1:1 with water will give you a great panel by panel stripping mixture. 

 

After cleaning the area to be worked on with waterless wash, simply spray the diluted alcohol mixture onto the areas to be striped and wipe clean with a plush microfiber towel. 

 

AFTER THE STRIP...

A couple of final tips to make sure your strip wash is a success and helps make your detail process that much better. 

  1. Try to wash out of direct sunlight, in shade, or early in the day before sun is too harsh. Because the strip wash mixture will be slightly acidic it will be easy for the mixture to cause spots if its allowed to dry. 
  2. If your car has severely sun damaged or oxidized trim avoid strip washing as it can accelerate already damaged or trim parts. 
  3. Make sure to rinse very thoroughly when the process is done. Strip wash mixture left pooled in door jambs or other areas can potentially dry out surfaces. 
  4. Rinse your wash media (mits and buckets) out very well before returning to your usual car wash routine to avoid cross contamination. 
  5. Be sure to dress all exterior trim that is exposed to the mix with a quality water based trim dressing like our Super VRT. Restoring moisture to these surfaces will be important after they've been heavily cleaned. 

And there it is... the ins and outs of strip washing as a part of your detail routine. Remember that this process is designed for use just a few times a year, when you intend to do a FULL and complete detail from start to finish. 

 

Stick to just your mixture of Adam's Car Wash Shampoo for your in between washes and upkeep. 

 

By stripping the finish before big details not only will you make the process faster and easier you'll prolong the life of your clay as well as keep your pads working better for longer! 

 

Happy Detailing! 

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Yep, just did my G8 and as always, I used IPA after the wash to strip the AQS and then polished, after polish I did an additional IPA wipe down to cut the oils from the polishing, applied AQS and topped with Patriot.  

 

BLING! 

 

Great explanation Dylan! 

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My truck is a 2013 DD new last November and if I wanted to do a full detail with my PC (Strip, Clay, Fine Machine polish, Machine Super Sealant, Glaze then Americana) on a panel or two at a time could this be done? I was thinking like the hood and two front fenders one time then the four doors and roof another time, then the rear fenders and tailgate. I don't have a garage so I was thinking of borrowing a canopy from my buddy and doing it over a week or so as I get time. So to do my strip I could waterless wash and then an IA wipe then start my clay on just certain panels? Is there anything that I am leaving out?

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My truck is a 2013 DD new last November and if I wanted to do a full detail with my PC (Strip, Clay, Fine Machine polish, Machine Super Sealant, Glaze then Americana) on a panel or two at a time could this be done? I was thinking like the hood and two front fenders one time then the four doors and roof another time, then the rear fenders and tailgate. I don't have a garage so I was thinking of borrowing a canopy from my buddy and doing it over a week or so as I get time. So to do my strip I could waterless wash and then an IA wipe then start my clay on just certain panels? Is there anything that I am leaving out?

THAT would work just fine!  I usually do mine all at once, but just tape off around the area you're doing and have at it!   

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this may sound stupid but, i bought 99% alcohol, if i dilute it to about 30% I should be fine..right?

 

Will a high alcohol harm the car? even if you used say 70%

 

 

I haven't seen 99% IPA in the stores...I have seen 70% and 90%...stick to what Dylan offered above my post.

Edited by Mook@Adams
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WHY SHOULD I STRIP WASH?  

When it comes time to do a full detail on your ride, whether its one you've been maintaining for a number of years, or a fresh off the lot car, there will be some layer of buildup on all the exterior surfaces. Waxes, sealants, glazes, dressings, and things like tree sap will have accumulated.

 

Without strip washing these layers are then pulled up by your clay bar and/or your polishing pads. This clogs them up prematurely and, in the case of polishing pads, can lead to reduced performance. 

A clay bar clogged up with wax will be messy to work with and deteriorate quickly. A polishing pad clogged up with wax will be less effective and require frequent cleanings to finish a detail. 

 

Nice write up. Is there any indication one can get from their finish to definitely determine a strip would be worth while? I know not many here go through automatic car washes (I have in the past) and can only imagine the mixture of chemicals and additives that have been thrown over the vehicle from time to time. Automatic car washes are always advertising their latest and greatest additives of colored soap, spot free rinse, "Rain-X", etc..

 

It is interesting to think automatic car washes resort to extremely aggressive chemicals on the front side followed by nice conditioners and polishes finishing up for good measure with rinse agents and sealants. Doesn't get any better than that.. Haha, is that possible?

Edited by sportruck00
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In my experience I tend to know the lifespan of the LSP I am using so I usually don't get to the "need" to strip wash stage.  However, in my findings unless you are keen to using traditional paste/liquid waxes like Buttery, Americana, Patriot, etc and apply layers often, those can build up.  The polymer based sealants do more chemical bonding than anything, so a strip wash will degrade them some but honestly a wipe down with IPA will do just as well.

 

Automatic car washes give a lot of fluff, the colored soap is supposed to make it look fun, trust me they aren't adding any protection to your paint no more than a coat of big box store Spray wax would.

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Nice write up. Is there any indication one can get from their finish to definitely determine a strip would be worth while?

 

A strip wash is really only necessary if you intend to 'start over' - clay and polish, or even if you're just going to start with a fresh base coat of protection. So, its not so much an 'indication' as a 'when-you-plan-to-start-over'.

 

I know not many here go through automatic car washes (I have in the past) and can only imagine the mixture of chemicals and additives that have been thrown over the vehicle from time to time. Automatic car washes are always advertising their latest and greatest additives of colored soap, spot free rinse, "Rain-X", etc..

 

I've actually had a much closer look recently at the products used in touchless washes as 'sealants' or 'wax' - interesting stuff. Its a fast crashing foam that leaves an oily film behind more than anything else. So the car looks nice for the day or 2 after, but it wears quickly. On the business side of things, tunnel washes aren't going to provide you lasting protection, its against their best interest as they want you back as frequently as possible.

 

In terms of the cleaning technology used and the 'tri-color-foam' stuff... it really isn't all that chemically different from what has been used for the past decade, just with cool colors.

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I've actually had a much closer look recently at the products used in touchless washes as 'sealants' or 'wax' - interesting stuff. Its a fast crashing foam that leaves an oily film behind more than anything else. So the car looks nice for the day or 2 after, but it wears quickly. On the business side of things, tunnel washes aren't going to provide you lasting protection, its against their best interest as they want you back as frequently as possible.

 

 

 

I talked to a car wash owner at one point, picking his brain about their products. Didn't seem the guy I was talking to cared a bit about what was being used. In return as you have, I looked into tunnel wash products. Interesting to see that most all of the chemicals are offered dilution based, also each all very high in pH. Some products offered in low pH also..

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Someone on another post suggested that I could make a waterless wax stripper by "using 50% APC and 50% Waterless Wash (mixed from Rinseless Wash with distilled water or RTU) to make sure you have some lubrication." (Not sure what RTU is). 

 

I only ask because I missed the sealant step between polishing and waxing (followed by DS, Brilliant Glaze then Spray Wax over the course of a month or so of car shows, etc.). I'd like to strip everything, apply the paint sealant, then hit it again with Patriot Wax. 

 

Thoughts? Suggestions? 

Edited by Kraterer
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18 hours ago, Kraterer said:

Someone on another post suggested that I could make a waterless wax stripper by "using 50% APC and 50% Waterless Wash (mixed from Rinseless Wash with distilled water or RTU) to make sure you have some lubrication." (Not sure what RTU is). 

 

I only ask because I missed the sealant step between polishing and waxing (followed by DS, Brilliant Glaze then Spray Wax over the course of a month or so of car shows, etc.). I'd like to strip everything, apply the paint sealant, then hit it again with Patriot Wax. 

 

Thoughts? Suggestions? 

 

Do not use APC as a waterless strip product.  This is a strong degreaser and the product instructions state to not allow it to dry on the paint, as it can etch some finishes.

 

Use Surface Prep, the older Coating Prep, or make you own solution of 50% Isopropyl Alcohol with 50% distilled water, to strip clean paint.

 

Trying to combine cleaning and stripping into one step is not advisable.  For waterless cleaning, you need the lubrication in Waterless Wash or Rinsless Wash, but this lubrication is provided by polymers, which is going to remain on the paint.  The follow-up step would be to use Prep or IPA solution to remove these lubricants and any old wax or sealant.

 

Trying to do both at once and the two products are working against each other. The Prep or IPA will immediately dilute and break down the polymers making it less safe to clean (ie reduced lubrication), and the polymers will still be left on the paint, so the surface is not truly stripped.

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, TheWolf said:

 

Do not use APC as a waterless strip product.  This is a strong degreaser and the product instructions state to not allow it to dry on the paint, as it can etch some finishes.

 

Use Surface Prep, the older Coating Prep, or make you own solution of 50% Isopropyl Alcohol with 50% distilled water, to strip clean paint.

 

Trying to combine cleaning and stripping into one step is not advisable.  For waterless cleaning, you need the lubrication in Waterless Wash or Rinsless Wash, but this lubrication is provided by polymers, which is going to remain on the paint.  The follow-up step would be to use Prep or IPA solution to remove these lubricants and any old wax or sealant.

 

Trying to do both at once and the two products are working against each other. The Prep or IPA will immediately dilute and break down the polymers making it less safe to clean (ie reduced lubrication), and the polymers will still be left on the paint, so the surface is not truly stripped.

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much Dan. I had a feeling... and now there's a bottle of Surface Prep in my cart, along with a few other things. 😋

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