How to Strip Wash Paint

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 All Purpose Cleaner (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 All Purpose Cleaner 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 All Purpose Cleaner/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 Isopropyl Alcohol, to strip a small controlled section for repair.

Isopropyl Alcohol 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.


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!

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