Do You Know How To Properly Clean Your 4WD After Beach Driving?

You decided to take your 4WD onto a beach and had an awesome time. Let’s get into what you can do to ensure your 4WD is well looked after so you can do this again and again without the concerns of damaging your vehicle to rust and corrosion.

Michael Ellem from Offroad Images
Michael Ellem
Feb 29 2024

You decided to take your 4WD onto a beach and had an awesome time. Let’s get into what you can do to ensure your 4WD is well looked after so you can do this again and again without the concerns of damaging your vehicle to rust and corrosion.

The biggest problem with taking a 4WD, caravan, camper trailer (any vehicle really) onto a beach or near the coast, is in the air, the beach sand, and of course, sea salt. Salt causes corrosion, and this can attach itself to your 4WD after floating in the air on the coast, through sand ingress when you drive on the beach, or by flicking up from the tires as either wet sand or directly from saltwater.

I think we can all agree that salt is not great for any 4WD.

We put together an article which identifies that there is as much salt in the sand on a beach as there is in the actual seawater, so if you haven’t read this (click here).

The first thing you need to do after spending time on the coast is to spend some time washing the salt residue off your vehicle. You can do this utilizing many systems and products, or you might simply want to just use a garden hose. The most important thing is that you spend time getting into all those hard-to-get-at places and give it a good clean.

We photograph 4WDs for a living and spend a significant portion of every year on the beach chasing shots. We also dedicate many hours to cleaning the vehicle until it is spotless to ensure it stays in great condition.

Many years ago, before Maguires Waterless Cleaner was invented, we would prep the exterior of a 4WD being photographed while in the middle of nowhere. After driving on dusty or even muddy tracks, we would detail it with a ration of 2 litres of water. A 20-litre water drum would allow us to detail a vehicle 10 times. The development and availability of amazing products on the market mean that we can travel with less gear and do a much better job of cleaning the vehicle. No, I am not a professional detailer, but with the help of our crew, we have cleaned hundreds of 4Bs in the middle of nowhere. When we arrive back, we detail them before their return. During this time, I have figured out what works for us and what doesn’t.

Let’s delve into cleaning your vehicle. Hosing your fourby down and using a sprinkler with clean, fresh water will help, but you will spend more time and use much more water than if you used a product designed to lift away and dissolve salt on contact. Dissolving this salt and shifting it off the vehicle is really the key.

There are many products you can use to wash your 4WD, some good and some not so good. Did you know that some car cleaning products have salt in them? They use the salt as a thickening agent. Some products in the detergents may do your vehicle harm and could be considered as bad for the environment. If you research the specific details of the product you are using, you might be surprised.

I must admit, I have used some of these products without completely understanding how bad they really are. They are advertised as products that do the job well, and on face value, they clean the grease and grime sensationally. But they are potentially bad for your vehicle, the environment, and probably your skin.

Our favourite product of choice is Salt Shift.

We have been using it for quite some time now and love it. These products are scientifically developed and made in Australia. It clearly states on their information sheet, "The product is biodegradable and does not consist of the use of harmful phosphates, nitrates, or salt thickeners that cause damage to paintwork, metal, or most importantly the environment."

Now, I am sure there are many similar products, but look for yourself at the labels and product information to see whether you really want to spray the product all over your vehicle.

Remember, your undercarriage will have exposed metal from stone chips and other abrasions, so the right formula with the right pH level will reduce corrosion in these areas.

Now, to get into the finer details, we have a strict routine we follow which cleans the undercarriage, chassis, and then the overall vehicle.

I start with the chassis cleaner attachment on the end of the garden hose and work my way from front to back, inserting it into chassis holes and leaving it running for a short time while the chassis fills with water, pushing sand and salt out through other holes in the chassis.

The next stage is to prepare the foam cannon, with Salt Shift 4WD cleaner mixed at 20 parts water and 1 part cleaner. With the spray set to a wide fan, I literally spray foam under the vehicle, covering every possible surface. I'll let it sit like this for a minute or so while it soaks in, and then mix up another batch, then repeat the process. Ensuring not to let the foam dry, let the product sit for a minute before rinsing off.

There are two ways to rinse off, but my preference is to rinse using the high-pressure cleaner with a 90-degree nozzle, which will get into those hard-to-reach places, with the high pressure removing all unwanted dirt, grime, and sand from the vehicle components. After a thorough clean, which usually has me laying under the vehicle looking for mud, dirt, and sand, spraying literally everything, I will get out the underbody sprayer and perform a final rinse off. If you don’t like the concept of laying under your vehicle in the wet conditions to rinse off your 4B, use this sprayer instead. It does an amazing job at cleaning the entire underbody with an articulating extension arm allowing you to get around corners and into difficult places.

The next stage is the exterior of the vehicle. With the same product and in the shade, apply the foam to the entire vehicle, allow it to soak in for a minute but don’t let it dry, and then rinse off with high-pressure rinse.

Use a good quality microfiber towel to remove all water and any remaining grime, and you will find yourself developing a smile as you see your vehicle getting that fresh look back again.

After vacuuming the inside, I then open the doors and clean all the door jams and rubbers with a dedicated microfiber cloth, as these door rubbers should never be allowed to get grubby. You might be relying on these in your next deep water crossing to provide a waterproof seal. I will then go over the complete interior and inside windows to remove all salt residues from these surfaces.

The final stage is to coat the exterior with whatever you use depending on your personal preference. A good quality wax or hybrid ceramic will keep your vehicle looking amazing and will reduce the ability for particulates to stick to the vehicle surfaces.

If you are going to clean the engine bay, do this at the same time as cleaning the underbody, but if you don’t know what you are doing, don’t use a high-pressure cleaner and be extremely careful of fuse boxes, air intakes, and the like. Just use common sense and don’t go crazy. I also like to run the engine when cleaning the engine bay but be careful of all moving parts. If you are not sure, probably leave this area for someone else to address for you.

One tip: ensure the underbody of your vehicle is free from clumps of mud before you head to the beach. It probably doesn’t make sense to clean your fourby before you head to the beach, but this will stop the salt from penetrating into the already stressed paint surfaces and vehicle components.

So, if you want to put a smile on your dial and ensure your fourby is always looking awesome, follow this method and please let us know how you go.

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“Cheers”

Michael Ellem | Offroad Images

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Michael Ellem from Offroad Images
Michael Ellem
Michael Ellem is a long term friend of the Club 4X4 Insurance and voice of The Campfire. He is also an expert adventure, 4X4 photographer from the renowned Offroad Images and has over 20 years experience in the industry.