How to Keep Wildfire Ash from Damaging Your Vehicle’s Paint

We have all seen the devastation of the wildfires in California and Oregon; we hope if you live in those areas- you and your family are safe and healthy. If you have not been significantly impacted by these wildfires (we hope this is the case) but have experienced the inconvenience and repercussions of wildfire ash fallout, we wanted to provide you with a resource which  outlines a process to safely remove ashes from your vehicle.

Why Wildfire Ash Damage’s Your Car’s Paint

Obviously, the best case scenario when dealing with ash fallout from a wildfire is parking your car in the garage but that is often not a choice for many. Of course, if that is not an option, it is good to know how to deal with removing ashes from your car’s exterior so they do not damage the paint or you don’t cause damage while removing them.

Wildfire ash itself is not dangerous to your paint while dry but when it mixes with moisture such as the morning dew, fog, sprinklers, or rain, a chemical reaction occurs. This chemical reaction may cause the potassium and calcium in the ash to activate and etch itself into the paint. Once ash is etched into your paint, a decontamination process, likely followed by paint correction to cut down past etching will be required. However, if you can effectively rinse and wash your  vehicle prior to moisture getting to it and settling, you can likely avoid damage to the paint.

TIP: Do not wipe the ashes off of your vehicle as you will likely scratch the paint.

Wildfire Ash Removal Process


The first step in successfully removing wildfire ashes from your vehicle is to complete a pre-wash. This simply consists of spraying your vehicle from the top down with water followed by foaming the vehicle with a car washing soap (more on this below). This will help loosen and remove some of the wildfire ash fallout on your car’s paint.

We recommend using a pressure washer with a gentle spray nozzle to help loosen the ash from the paint surface. As mentioned, start spraying from the top down (in order- roof, hood, trunk, sides, etc.). If you have a foam cannon, the next step is to foam the entire vehicle using the same process as the initial rinse, going from the top down. Let the foam from the foam cannon sit for a minute or two then rinse once you have foamed the entire vehicle, from the top down. 

If you do not have a pressure washer and foam cannon, use your garden hose with a spray nozzle attached to complete the top-down rinse method mentioned above. Once completed with that, go straight to the two bucket wash method described below

Two Bucket Wash Method

Redline Finish - Microfiber Wash Mitt

The two bucket wash method is one of the safest ways to wash your car or truck to prevent marring/scratching the paint finish. Fill one bucket with clean water and the second bucket with clean water and your preferred car washing soap. You will want to use a car soap with high lubricity to create a nice gliding effect between the wash mitt and paint surface. Be sure to use a ‘car washing soap’ and don’t make the mistake of using dish soap or some other soap. This helps protect your paint and reduces the chances of scratching. We strongly recommend using a microfiber wash mitt to wash the vehicle. They are nice and soft and also have a nap to pick up dirt and grime and safely wipe them away instead of allowing them to be rubbed into the paint surface.

Dunk your microfiber wash mitt into the bucket with the soap solution. Once again, starting from the top down, use a back and forth motion completing one panel at a time and then dunk the microfiber wash mitt in the clean water bucket to clean it. Ring it out each time after rinsing it in the clean water.

Now dunk the mitt back into the soap and water bucket and move on to the next panel of your vehicle. Repeat this process until every panel has been washed. You may need to rinse the panel you just washed prior to moving on to the next one if it is hot and/or sunny outside. Also, pay attention to the color of the water, if it looks dirty (and it will) dump it out, rinse the bucket, and fill it up again with clean water and continue the process.

Final Rinse

Redline Finish - Removing wildfire ash from your vehicle

Using your pressure washer or garden hose with a spray nozzle, rinse the vehicle from the top down again spraying and rinsing each panel individually. We like to go through this final rinse process a few times to ensure we remove all of the soap from the vehicle.


Redline Finish - Wildfire Ash Car Washing Tips

This last step seems pretty simple and self-explanatory, and it is if you dry the vehicle from the top down.

TIP: Dry the windows first then dry the body panels.

We recommend a professional grade microfiber drying towel like like The “ONE” Ultimate Drying Towel.

Final Thoughts

The damage wildfires can cause is devastating and at the end of the day if all you have is wildfire ash on your car- consider yourself lucky. However, if this is the case, you now have a method  to safely remove the wildfire ash from your vehicle which you can use and share with others before it causes damage to your vehicle or theirs.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read others please go to our resources page for additional articles on detailing topics. Stay safe out there!


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