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Car Cleaning Tips

  Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Cleaning Your Car: the complete guide to getting a sparkling clean vehicle

Motorist cleaning their car

This is the really fun stuff: the flash, show-off bits that are the reason you bought the car in the first place, so you should keep them clean.

There are a few 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 guide. Follow all the steps and you’ll be left with a car that looks as good as the day it came off the show floor.

What NOT to do:

We thought we’d start off with some basic don’ts — to avoid any mishaps!

  • 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 hot outside. 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.
  • Commercial car-washing products are the only way to go*. 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.)

What tools should I use to clean my car?

There are plenty of tools out there to clean your car, including a lot of over-hyped gadgets. Ultimately, you could end up spending a lot of money on things you don’t necessarily need. Here are the basics that will see you through:

  • Brushes. Look for one that has feathered bristles, this will help to prevent scratching the finish. It’s important to remember that tyres require their own special brush, with models available that have extra bristles in order to access all the dust typically found in the tyre’s sidewalls.
  • Microfibre cloths. As we mentioned, a sponge in a bucket can transfer dirt and scratch the paintwork. Use a microfibre cloth and always rinse it thoroughly between washes to remove any grit or grime.
  • Lint-free cloths. Especially great on glass, these won’t build up lots of fluff and mess while you’re using them.
  • Natural chamois leather cloth. Use these to dry your car after washing. They are super-absorbent and have almost no abrasive qualities. They work best when damp, but not soaking wet.

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. Keeping the body of your car clean will keep it looking smart and help the paintwork to last longer. A quick warning: if you treat this job in a slap-dash way, you’ll risk scratching the finish and it will take a lot longer. Take a professional approach.

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

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. 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, then all the rinsing, try cleaning a section at a time. Give the whole car one whole rinse at the end.
  • Add your chosen wax or sealer. A 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 as you might think. All you need are some good cleaning materials and some elbow grease: you’ll get results.

Cleaning your car windows

  • 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, or you could scratch the finish. If you’ve got one a newspaper can work 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. We’re assuming you’ll know to lift the wipers away from the windows to clean them, but 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. Be gentle when moving the wipers, they can be deceptively easy to break.

Cleaning the trim and chrome

  • Don’t get the polish everywhere. Chrome polish can really discolour the paint on the body.
  • Clean the insides of the bumpers. Though 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 bumpers, there’s a special liquid glaze that gives the blackness a real shine and depth. 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.
  • Don’t forget to wax. On the metal and chrome, wax will help to prevent rust. You should be looking at a specialist wax for this task, as the more general versions may prevent the chrome from keeping its shine 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. Worry not: here’s our quick guide to the different types.

  • Liquid waxes. Probably the easiest type of wax to use and ideal for a quick touch-up in between professional cleans. However, they don’t last quite as long as the other versions.
  • Soft waxes. These are very easy to apply and remove and can easily be applied using a soft terry cloth rag or the applicator pads (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. Ideal if you only wax a couple of times a year, as they offer the most protection. However, be sure to follow the instructions thoroughly!

Cleaning the wheels and tyres of your car

Wheels are a funny thing: they’re like a belt on a good suit. Get them right and they’ll blend into the ensemble: get them wrong and can really ruin the look. Here’s how to get your tyres and wheels into perfect nick:

What is brake dust?

Filthiness, thy name is brake dust. This is one factor that you’ll need to fight to keep your wheels looking great. Unless you want a car that can’t stop (we’re assuming you don’t), brake dust must be tamed. However, there are a few things you can do to stop it doing too much damage. Brake dust appears when the brake pads press against the rotor when your car’s stopping. Over time, the pad wears down under the heat and the pressure and the small filings and worn rubber fly off. Unfortunately, rather than flying off into the road, they stick to your wheels. If you leave them there, they’ll corrode and could potentially damage your wheels by corroding the surface.

The three main things to look at for controlling brake dust:

  • Low dust brake pads are an option if you’re OK with using aftermarket products on your car. Pads that are either Kevlar based or have higher metal content can both work well.
  • Dust shields are another option. These are available for almost every type of car and sit between the rim and the hub, shielding the latter from the calliper assembly.
  • Option number three is the cheapest: clean your wheels regularly. Regularly washing your wheels, and by regular, we mean once a week or so, is the best way to combat brake dust in the future. Be proactive not reactive.

What should you look for in wheel cleaning materials?

Your chosen wheel cleaner should be appropriate for the metal used on your wheels. For example, roughcast aluminium and chrome are more resistant than coated or painted wheels and can take a stronger cleaner as a result.

Fortunately, cleaners will specify which type of metal they’re suitable for on the label and a quick web search will tell you what your wheels are made of (if you’re unsure). Still not sure? Find a cleaner that’s suitable for all types of wheels.

Important things to remember about cleaning your tyres and wheels:

Clean them one set at a time. This will prevent the cleaner from drying. Wash and fully rinse each set using a strong water jet before moving on to the next one.

Remember to dry your wheels. A good towelling down is essential, as it helps to prevent water spots and remove any remaining brake dust. Remember to use a towel you’re not planning to use again, though.

Car interior cleaning tips

Finally, we come to the interior itself. All that lovely upholstery that looked sleek and stylish when you got the car, but now looks a bit tired and dusty. Here are the key techniques for giving that material back its mojo.

Vacuuming your car

Never, ever underestimate the value of a good car vacuuming. An effective vacuum will do as much for your car as it does for your front room. Here are the things to bear in mind:

  • You’ll need a number of attachments. All those adaptors you never use for the living room? You’ll need them here. Your car will have plenty of fiddly areas, so a vacuum that’s got attachments that’ll reach all corners of your car’s interior is essential.
  • The smaller the vacuum cleaner, the better. You don’t want to be lugging a 10kg Dyson in and out of the garage.
  • Cordless is nearly always easier. It’s very easy to get tangled up in the lead when moving it and out of the car.
  • Get rid of all the extra bits. Whether it’s an empty can of drink or your floor mat, get everything out of the way before you start vacuuming. The barer the surface the better, as it’ll mean you don’t have to deal with missed bits at the end.
  • Clean the detachable carpets and mats before you put them back in. The last thing you want is a dirty mat on a clean floor: it’ll only make it look worse!
  • Don’t forget the boot. If you’re making the effort to vacuum, do everything. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Cleaning car leather

Leather never looks any less stylish. However, if it’s the real deal then it needs maintaining: leather is a breathing material and it can really wear down if it’s not looked after. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • You’ll need a genuine leather cleaner. Leather’s one material you can’t cut corners on cleaning. Use the wrong product and it can quickly get sticky or tacky.
  • Use a soft, clean cotton towel for the cleaning. Though leather’s a very durable material, it can actually scratch quite easily, so steer clear of paper towels.
  • Be careful when cleaning the wheels and shifters. You don’t want them to become slippery, especially when you’re driving. It might be worth giving them a miss in terms of the cleaning products and simply using a good moist cotton towel.
  • If you’re vacuuming, use a soft leather brush attachment and do it carefully: the vacuum hose can easily scratch the leather.

Removing stains from your car’s interior

Stains in your car will happen. Fortunately, cleaning them is a fairly simple process, whether you need to clean your car seats, carpets or floor mats.

Car upholstery products are widely available: it’s possible to use standard ones as well. Simply spray the cleaner evenly on the material and give it a good scrub. Once you’ve got the stain out, give the area a dry with a soft cloth.

Get in touch

Interested in sourcing new parts for your car? Check out the ASM Auto Recycling parts store. We sell a range of parts in great condition, for excellent prices.

For general enquiries, tyre sales, online auctions and a whole host of other services contact us here.

Return to our blog for more posts on everything from Gap insurance to Buying a Write-Off Car: Pros and Cons.

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