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What to know about wildfire ash falling on your car

KIRO Radio's Candy Harper found wildfire ash from smoke on her car before she went to work Aug.21, 2018. (Candy Harper, KIRO Radio)

Along with wildfire smoke comes wildfire ash, and that can have consequences for vehicles like cars and trucks.

PHOTOS: Western Washington wildfire haze 2018

“Ash residue will not harm automotive paint finishes as long as it remains dry,” said Mike Rafael with Seattle’s Mr. Detail, an auto detailing shop.

Wildfire ash is made up of phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. While all that sounds like a great vitamin supplement, get ash wet and you have a “a serious risk of chemical etching” on your car’s paint job, Rafael said.

Keep in mind that cooler air, clouds, and a possibility of rain is expected by the end of the week and into the weekend. Some weather forecasts have moisture moving into the area on Thursday. By Sunday, the chance of rain increases. Rain is also possible the following week. Mixing that moisture with any wildfire ash can be a bad combination.

But Rafael said even fog can mix with ash left on a car. That can turn into calcium carbonate or potassium hydroxide. In short, ash mixed with water and left on your car is a bad combo.

“Which can have the same corrosive characteristics as drain cleaner,” Rafael said.

The auto detail expert recommends these tips when dealing with ash and cars:

  • Treat your car like you should be treating your body during this time — keep it inside. Park in a garage while the smoke lingers, avoiding any ash. Keep windows closed. No garage? Use a car cover and anything that keeps ash off the vehicle’s painted surfaces and its wheels.
  • The next best option is to carefully wash the car every day ash is falling on it. Wash the ash away. Carefully rinse that material off. And make sure you dry it afterward; don’t let any ash/water mixture remain on your car.
  • After the smoke days pass, return to the car for a thorough wash. There are products designed for vehicles in ashy situations.


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