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Top 10 Tips on How to Wash Your Vehicle Wraps

If you have invested in a vehicle wrap for your work car, truck or van then you obviously want to keep it in tip-top shape. That includes making sure it is always clean and legible. No one wants their brand associated with a soiled, spotty or unsightly mess. From road salt in wintertime to mud in the spring, dust in summer or leaves in fall, it is important to ensure your valuable truck wrap maintains its immaculate mint condition for as long as possible. In this blog, we will offer up how to clean your wrapped vehicle without damaging or unraveling the all-important advertising graphics.

Learn How to Wash Your Vehicle Wraps and Keep It Looking Great:

Wash Early and Often

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining your wrap in mint condition. Various chemicals, pollutants and abrasive particles present in dust, dirt and grime can all damage your vinyl wrap when left alone or carelessly removed. Plus, the longer these contaminants remain the more difficult they can be to safely remove. Just like you must wash your hands and bathe regularly to maintain your appearance — as well as your health — both the curb appeal and well-being of your vehicle wrap is highly dependent on getting it clean sooner rather than later.

A Little Water Goes a Long Way

For the time in between full washings, a quick rinse with a regular garden home will go along way to keep your vehicle wrap looking good, as well as make a more thorough cleaning easier when the time comes. Vinyl material manufacturers such as 3M, Avery and Oracal recommend rinsing off all visible dust and grim as soon as your vehicle appears dirty. If your van drives on gravel roads or spends time on construction sites, then a quick spritz with a garden hose at the end of the workday makes sense.

Beware of “Difficult Contaminants”

Leading vinyl makers also outline certain substances known as “difficult contaminants” which can wreak havoc on your vehicle wrap, as well as its normal finish, if left alone for too long or not carefully removed. In addition to synthetic materials, this category also includes naturally occurring items such as bug splatter, bird droppings and tree sap. In most cases, simply soaking these natural annoyances for a few minutes with hot soapy water will degrade them enough to be taken off with a normal car wash.

For petrochemical additives such as those found in gasoline, wiping immediately with a soft, clean cloth will help to avoid staining later.
There are also products made to remove specific substances such as Meguiar’s Gold Class Bug and Tar Remover or 3M Citrus Base Cleaner. Isopropyl alcohol consisting of 1/3 water, as well as denatured alcohol may also help. It is important not to use a metal paint scraper or any sharp object to remove stubborn or sticky spots. This will only ruin your wrap.

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Use the Right Vehicle Cleaner

You should always use a non-abrasive detergent with a soft, clean cloth or a sponge made specifically for washing vehicle surfaces. There are even cleaning products that are either made specifically for vinyl wraps or are rated for use with them. These include 3M Car Wash Soap 39000, Meguiar’s NXT Generation Car Wash and Deep Crystal Car Wash. Most car detergents will state on the label whether they can safely be used with wraps. Beware of multi-purpose soaps and cleaners not tested for use with wraps, as they can leave an unsightly film or even damage the vinyl.

Rinse (and dry) Your Wrap Right Away

If washing by hand, you will need to rinse off your truck, van or sedan immediately with clean water — as well as wipe away the water immediately with a silicone squeegee. Finish by drying off your vehicle surface thoroughly with a clean microfiber cloth.

Hold the Wax

Most wrap manufacturers and installers discourage the use of any type of wax, coating or vehicle polish on wrapped vehicles. Vinyl film comes pre-finished and/or laminated with the desired amount of gloss or flatness, depending on the job specifications. Trying to add on more sheen will just result in unsightly streaks, residue and/or clarity issues in different lighting conditions. Just as you would not polish a sticker or decal to make it shinier, vehicle wraps should similarly be left alone when it comes to these types of products.

Brushless Car Washes are Okay

If you are thinking of bringing your wrapped vehicle down to the local automated car wash, you should be okay — if it is a brushless car wash. For automated brush washes, it will depend on the frequency and quality of the brush. As a rule of thumb, it is probably best to stick to brushless car washes in order to prevent dulling, scratching or the inadvertent lifting of the vinyl edges. For more specific details about graphics care, you can refer to this instruction bulletin put out by 3M.

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Pressure Washing Protocols

While pressure washing can be a good way to clean your vehicle, the pressure cannot be so high nor the water so hot that it damages your wrap. You will want to make sure the water pressure is below 2,000 PSI or 14 MPa. Likewise, the water temperature should stay below 180 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius) to avoid melting the vinyl or softening the adhesive below.

Your spray nozzle should use a 40-degree angle spray pattern and be kept at least 1 foot (300 mm) away from the vehicle wrap. Remember to hold it at a perpendicular (90-degree angle) to avoid damaging to the graphic it by spraying straight on.

Protect Your Vehicle Between Washings

You should try to avoid unnecessary exposure to things that can shorten the life of your vehicle wrap. That includes not only dust and dirt but also UV sunlight, which can fade your vinyl film’s finish. Investing in indoor, off-street parking such as a garage — or even a car port covered by an awning — will go a long way. It will help protect your truck from the elements, as well as the scratches, scrapes and vandalism that can occur from leaving it sitting on the street.

Things to Avoid While Washing Your Vehicle Wraps

The following products should be avoided at all costs when caring for your vinyl film vehicle wrap.

  • Any type of multi-purpose cleaner meant for the home
  • Harsh, industrial-grade solvents such as acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, n-Propyl Bromide (nPB) and trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Heavy duty cleaners meant for metal appliances such as oven cleaners
  • Car Wax
  • Orange Oil (Except for certain citrus cleaners rated for use with wraps that may contain a small amount of orange oil)
  • Engine Degreaser or other engine oil solvents

To learn more about how to keep your wrap looking brand spanking new, feel free to reach out to the Pixel Wrap team anytime. We are always happy to offer tips on how to extend your vehicle graphic’s service life.

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