After I wash and towel dry my new car, it gets covered with a film of bright yellow dust within minutes -- whether it's in the driveway, in my garage or on the road. I've been washing it daily and you can't tell. In between washes, I've been dusting it off a few times a day with whatever I have handy (my hand, a Swiffer, my gym shorts). Makes no difference. Before this year, I'd never noticed this stuff. What is it? I'm hoping it's pollen and not alien spores or some poisonous byproduct of the local refineries. Will this stuff hurt my car? How the heck do I keep it off for good?
-- Jay, Spruce Grove, AlbertaThat seed of your discontent is pollen – and it's coating cars all over your neck of the woods this year, says a tree expert.
"It's most likely coming from conifers and evergreen," says Sherrie Benson, a senior horticulturist with the University of Alberta's Devonian Garden. "This doesn't happen every year with conifers, but conditions this year are perfect for the trees to produce offspring, so they're producing a lot of seed and pollen."
So spring is in the air and it's landing on your car. Apart from maybe parking inside a Ziploc bag, there's not much you can do to keep it off between washes. It looks lousy, but it shouldn't hurt your car.
"Pollen won't damage car paint – it's just a fine dust," Benson says in an email. "Put a coat of protectant like car wax on the vehicle early in the spring before pollen is out, so it's easier to wash it off."
But it's a bad idea to wipe it off with a cloth or a duster between washes, says Calvin Feist, automotive instructor at NAIT in Edmonton.
"It is dust and I would worry it would scratch," Feist says. "It may be a pain, but quick trips to the car wash is the safest bet."
A quick rinse, without a wash, is okay as a stopgap to keep down those spores, but if you're just rinsing, don't dry with a towel. It may look clean, but there could still be dust and pollen on the car. A towel will just grind it in.
"Hand drying after you wash is okay as long as there's no dirt or dust on either the cloth or the vehicle," Feist says.
If there's not much pollen on your car, Paulo Santos, automotive instructor at Centennial College in Toronto, suggests using a detailing spray and a soft cloth. Santos recommends Mothers California Gold Show Time and a cloth diaper.
Expect to keep up the regime until pollen season ends in a few weeks.
Pollen isn't Mother Nature's only weapon against your car's shine. Bird poop and tree sap need to be washed off too. And it's best to use soap meant for cars, Santos says.
"Pollen, sap and bird droppings are best cleaned with water and car wash soap, and not dish washing soap," Santos says. "Dish soap contains harsh chemicals like degreasers that will remove any waxes applied to the vehicle."
While pollen doesn't cause permanent damage if it's left to sit there, bird droppings should be cleaned off as soon as you can, Santos says.
"They contain an acid that penetrates into the finish, leaving a stain," Santos says. "It's most visible on dark paint finishes."
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