Wash Wildfire Ash Off Your Car...Or It'll Eat Your Paint!

September 2, 2009
CA wildfire, by Flickr user modenadude

CA wildfire, by Flickr user modenadude

Wildfires have become a seasonal fact of life in parts of California, and throughout the Western U.S. in the dry season. But given the widespread fires affecting Southern California over the past several days, it’s likely that many more people will be affected by the fires in ways they didn’t think of—like their cars.

All over Southern California in the coming days, motorists might see a light ash residue on their cars—even if they were quite far from the actual flames and smoke.

While it might just seem like a little dust on your sparkling clearcoat, owners should be quick to remove the deposits, or take measures to keep the ash off in the first place. And if you're trying to wash it off, you should do better than a quick touch-up with a wet cloth.

According to CEO Barry Meguiar, of Meguiar’s Inc., a maker of car-care products, the ash is okay until the next time the car gets wet. But the moment the elements in wood ash are mixed with water they can become highly corrosive. For example, potassium in the ash, when mixed with water, will form potassium hydroxide, which has a similar corrosive effect as drain cleaner.

Adding moisture, without completely removing the ash residue, is where the trouble starts. “Leaving an ash-covered car outside on wet nights or foggy mornings may very well result in chemical etching and, in some cases, serious damage to a vehicle’s painted surfaces,” says Meguiar in a release.

The car-care company has some useful pointers:

  • Keep all vehicles in a secure garage when not in use and be sure vehicle windows and sunroofs are closed to minimize any residual exposure to the ash.
  • If a garage is not available, the next best option is a fitted car cover to protect vehicle surfaces and keep excessive ash residue off of painted surfaces, wheels, and tires as much as possible.
  • If a vehicle must be left outside in an exposed area during the fires, owners can minimize or eliminate the threat of paint damage by carefully washing and then thoroughly drying their vehicles each day until the ash threat subsides.
  • Once the fires subside, owners should give each vehicle a comprehensive cleaning, first washing away any remaining ash residue with a product specifically designed for autos.


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