A good washing will do wonders for your car.

It removes dirt and grit that could potentially harm the finish. And a clean car just looks good.

But there's more to it than just a bucket of suds and a hose. There is preparation. There is a strategy. It's worth the effort.

"In the Midwest, with salt, road debris and bugs, I try to wash it once a week," says Dan Katich, a service training specialist for Toyota.

So put on your crummiest clothes, gather your materials and let's get going. Don't forget to roll up the windows.

Materials: You will need at least two buckets, possibly three — one for washing, one for rinsing and the third to rinse a chamois for drying. You'll also need a hose, sponges and mitts made for the job (old bath towels and dense sponges won't do as good a job of protecting the car's surface).

Don't use a household cleaning product. They're great for what their purpose in life is, but they are not made for cleaning the surface of your vehicle. Spend the extra money to get a soap designed specifically for washing a car's surface. Katich, though, usually eschews soap for a water-vinegar solution (about a cup of vinegar in a 2-gallon bucket of water) to cut down on streaks.

Dedicate a separate nonabrasive cloth for each part of your task; it will pick up crud you don't want to wipe across the car's surface. Similarly, you should have a separate cloth or rag for the wheels.

For drying, use a microfiber towel or chamois. The latter can need replacement because, Katich said, "sometimes if you use them over and over you end up with some dirt in them."

Set it up: Don't park in the sun, and don't wash the car right after driving. A hot surface will dry the soap and water before you can rinse it off. A shady spot will let you work at a more leisurely pace.

Turn on some music. It won't make the car any cleaner, but it can make the experience more enjoyable, perhaps even therapeutic.

Washing protocol: Start with the tires. When all four are clean and rinsed, pour out the water, ditch the cloth/sponge you used and refill the bucket with the soap you'll use on the car body.

Give the car a good rinsing with a hose to remove loose dirt and dust, then begin to wash it, starting at the top and working downward. As you wash a section of the car, give your sponge/glove a good rinse to keep dirt out of your soapy water. Once it's rinsed, go back to bucket No. 1 and reload with soapy water.

To rinse soap off the car, use a nozzle that adjusts to a soft flow, or you can go nozzle-less, which works better than a blast.

Drying: Blot dry; don't drag the towel across the car. Top it all off with a quality wax or polish; follow label directions.