Transport & Car Blog

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Cleaning Your Car – the complete guide to getting a sparkling clean vehicle, part one

  Friday, 4 November 2016

In a number of previous posts, we’ve covered replacing most of your car’s interior.  Now, though, we get to delve into the really fun stuff: the flash, show-off bits that are the reason you bought the car in the first place.

There are a number of different things you’ll need to look at to get your motor looking its best, and we’re going to cover all of them in this monster, two-part guide.

Washing your car’s body

Though there’s nothing wrong with treating your car to a professional wash here and there, you’re missing out if you don’t learn to give it a perfect scrub yourself. 

Before we get started, a quick warning: if you treat this particular job in a slap-dash way, you’ll risk scratching the finish and the job will take a lot longer.  So take a professional approach.

What NOT to do:

  • Don’t use a dry cloth to wipe or dust the body. Though those cloths might not seem like much, they pick up bits of dust and grit and you can end up accidentally roughing up your paintwork if you’re not careful.
  • Don’t wash your vehicle when it’s too toasty.  When the cool water meets the hot finish it can cause the paint to contract, which means cracks in the surface.
  • Don’t leave your windows or sunroof open whilst washing the car.
  • Don’t forget to hose down the vehicle after you’ve finished.  Even if it’s just a light spray across the areas where the dirt gathers: windows, sunroof, the rear deck lid, etc.  This will get rid of any surface dust.
  • Don’t give your car a bath: give it a shower.  Though there’s something gloriously ‘throwback’ about the old bucket and sponge, it’s not the most efficient way to clean.  Whenever you rinse your sponge or rag, the dirt is transferred and you end up washing your car with dirty water.  Use a spray or a traditional hose.
  • Don’t wash in circles. It’s important to always follow the contours of the surface when washing, otherwise you run the risk of those horrible cobweb-like scratches.  Treat it like shaving: go with the grain.
  • Don’t use any kind of rough cleanser. Commercial car-washing products are the only way to go in 2016.  Though things like traditional dish soap and detergent can be cheaper, they can also remove the wax and any other protective finishes from the body.  (Where possible, you should also use biodegradable products: it never hurts to help the environment.)

Does it matter which order I wash the different parts of the car?

Good question! The answer’s a resounding ‘yes’: it can make a big difference.  Here are the main things to consider:

  • Go top down, starting from the roof.  Needless to say, water runs downward: you don’t want the grimy soap scum and sludge messing up the areas you’ve just washed.
  • Don’t forget the corners and the underbody.  Dirt can easily collect in little places you don’t expect: be thorough.
  • Take one section at a time.  Rather than doing all the hosing, all the soaping and then all the rinsing, try cleaning a section at a time and then giving the whole car one whole rinse at the end.
  • Add your chosen wax or sealer.  A really good sealant is never a bad idea, as it binds with the paint and gives your finish that extra level of protection.

Mirrors, windows and chrome

Time for the shiny stuff. Nothing will make your car look quite as flashy as having sparkly-clean mirrors and chrome.  The cool thing is that it isn’t quite as hard to achieve this look as you might think.  All you need are some good cleaning materials and some elbow grease: you’ll get results.

Cleaning the glass

  • Don’t use the same cleaning materials as you did for the rest of the car.  Instead, use your chosen household glass cleaner: these products will spray on and wipe off easily AND they’ll give you a much better shine.
  • Only use lint-free soft rags or sturdy paper towels, otherwise you could scratch the finish.  If you’ve got one - and it’s 2016, so we wouldn’t blame you if you don’t - a newspaper can work really well, too.
  • Wipe one way for the inside and one way for the outside.  Seems weird, right? Well, this little technique will come in useful at the end: you’ll be able to tell which side any streaks are on.
  • Don’t forget to clean the wipers themselves.  Whilst we’re assuming you’ll know to lift the wipers away from the windows to clean them, make sure you give the wipers themselves a quick clean.  If the blades remain dirty, they can scratch the glass or leave streaks on it, ruining all your hard work.  (Obviously be gentle when moving the wipers, as they can be deceptively easy to break).

Cleaning the trim and chrome

  • Don’t get the polish everywhere. That chrome polish can really discolour the paint on the body, so make sure you’re careful when using it.
  • Clean the insides of the bumpers.  Though they might be tricky to reach, it’s worth it: dirt can really build up in these areas.  It’s also worth looking at the metal frames around the lights and the side mirrors.
  • You may need a special glaze.  For blacked-out trim or metal framing – often found around the windows or the bumpers – there’s a special liquid glaze that’ll give the blackness a real shine and depth.  Again, you don’t have to do this – but it’s worth it if you want to really get your car back to its brand-new best.
  • Again, don’t forget to wax.  On the metal and chrome, the wax will help to prevent rust.  Again, you should be looking at a specialist wax for this task, as the more general versions may prevent the chrome from keeping its shine in the long-term.

A word on waxes

If you’ve never used car wax before, you might be surprised to find yourself confronted with a LOT of different containers.  Well, worry not: here’s our quick guide to the different types.

  • Liquid waxes.  These are probably the easiest type of wax to use and are ideal for a quick touch-up in between professional cleans.  However, they don’t last quite as long as the other versions.
  • Soft waxes.  Again, these are very easy to apply and remove and can easily be applied using a soft terry cloth rag or the applicator pads that are usually provided. Some waxes will claim to be mixed with a light cleaner, but as a general rule you should always give the car a clean on its own: mixed cleaners often mean mixed results.
  • Hard and paste waxes.  These offer the most protection and are ideal if you only wax a couple of times a year.  However, be sure to follow the instructions thoroughly!

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