Tips For Protecting Your Car From Wildfire Ash

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Screenshot: Dante’s Peak

A sad reality for many people parked around the United States right now is that their cars are being blanketed with ash from the western wildfires. Obviously the physical threat to humans and animals is more urgent, but if you’re being affected by fire and have the mental bandwidth to care about your car’s paint, you may appreciate some tips that could make life easier.

Ideally, you would keep your car garaged when it’s ashy outside, but that’s not always possible. The second-best preventive measure would be a cover or at least a nice wax job. But sometimes your car just has to plow through wildfire air and needs to be cleaned afterward.

If you’re short on time, the quickest solution is to rinse the car often with a lot of water. Scrubbing is dangerous because you can end up rubbing sharp things into your paint. Rinse, rinse, rinse. Wipe gently. Wax will protect your paint, but you should apply it only if you’re absolutely sure the car is really clean.


After reading about how important a good rinse is, you might be wondering, “Am I in danger of wasting water needed for fire suppression?” That’s a good question. I can’t say I know how finite the water supply is where you are reading this, but it’d be worth taking a little time to look that up for yourself before you spend ages hosing off your vehicle.

This Instagram post mentions that, and I have to shoutout @4x4ward here for inspiring me to write this blog! (Also, I just bought a bunch of stickers from its store. They’re cool.)


If you want to get a little deeper, car cleaning pros at the Chemical Guys have put out a couple of videos on the subject of de-ashing cars.


Here’s an older clip that essentially explains how a coat of wax helps. Of course, don’t forget that you need to wax your machine before it gets ash’d on.

And here’s another Chemical Guys vid about removing ash. And while this clip is mainly designed to sell the company’s cleaning wares, one important takeaway is to clean your cleaning equipment often while you’re washing an ashy car.

AAA’s advice echos what you’ve already seen: Do a lot of thorough rinsing. AAA also recommends replacing your cabin air filter and engine intake air filter if you drive around in smoky air for any extended period of time. That’s a good idea, but maybe just inspect them before outright replacing.


Checking an air filter isn’t rocket surgery. If it looks dirty, drop a new one in. You might want to think about replacing your windshield wipers, too – if ash piles up and gets smeared across your windshield, the wipers could wear quickly.

There are dozens of other posts around the internet from various sites and local news outlets on the topic of car cleaning, and they all pretty much concur that the best way to clean a car covered in ash is to rinse the hell out of it, rinse it again and exercise extreme caution with any kind of scrubbery business.


If you’d like to dig into more car cleaning tips, check out Kristen Lee’s detail program or my post about coin-op car washing.