How To Clean Your Car

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Britain’s picturesque roads can easily make your motor look like it’s seen better days, so knowing how to clean your car is an essential skill all drivers must have. Regularly cleaning your car helps maintain its condition, keeps it looking good and can even be therapeutic to some.

In this article we run through how to properly clean your car inside and out. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the techniques and equipment needed to clean your particular model.

Exterior

Properly maintaining your car’s exterior not only keeps it looking new and shiny, but it also helps prevent paint loss which could lead to rust. Dirt and grime can wear through the paint over time eventually exposing the surface metal underneath, so it’s vital you know how to clean you car’s exterior.

How often should you clean your car’s exterior?

While this may seem like a common sense question, there’s more to it than just washing your car when you think it’s a bit dirty. Plus, factors such as location and the weather both have an impact on how often you should clean the outside of your car.

In general, experts suggest you should clean you car once every two weeks (steps one and two in the next section) and that you should deep clean and wax your car at least twice a year (steps three to six in the next section). However, there are a few exceptions to this two week rule:

  • You should wash your car less often if you live in a coastal area because sea salt in the air can help speed up rusting.
  • You should wash you car more often in winter because grit salt can damage the paintwork.
  • You can wait longer if you keep car your car in a garage and don’t drive it daily.
  • You should wash off bird poo, dead bugs and tree sap as soon as possible because they are acidic and can eat through the paint job.

If you’re leasing your car, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) recommend cleaning the vehicle for when it’s due to be collected too. This way, the inspection agent who assesses the condition of the vehicle can do their job more easily.

Equipment

Here’s a list of the basics you need to be able to efficiently clean the exterior of your car:

  • A clean bucket filled with clean warm water
  • A clean sponge or wash mitt
  • Some microfibre cloths
  • An ultra-absorbent towel
  • A wheel brush
  • Car wash and wax or shampoo products

And here’s a list of some advanced gear to give your exterior that professional shine:

  • Bucket grit guards
  • Pressure washer
  • Snow Foam
  • A clay bar
  • Iron / fallout removal solution
  • Pre wax solution (non-abrasive)
  • Wax or sealant

The process

Properly cleaning the outside of your car involves following a simple six-step procedure. However, if you’re just looking for a quick wash, then skip the optional advanced steps and jump to step two.

1. Pre-wash (advanced)

The pre-wash is the first step in professionally cleaning your car and removes the majority of surface dirt and grime before you begin scrubbing. Simply cover your car using Snow Foam and leave it on for 5-10 minutes, then wash it off with a pressure washer (you can use a hose if necessary but it won’t have the same effect).

Snow foam

2. Wash

Next up is your standard wash. If you haven’t followed the pre-wash stage above, start with hosing down your vehicle to remove as much surface dirt as possible. Once you car is hosed down, you’ll want to add your cleaning product of choice to your bucket of warm water (follow the instructions on the bottle for measurements).

Dunk your sponge in your water and start scrubbing every inch of your car. Frequently rinse off the soap with a hose and keeping scrubbing till you are happy with the result. Once you’re done, use an ultra-absorbent towel to dry your car to prevent smears and water marks.

Remember: rinse your sponge regularly to keep it clean and get clean water if necessary.

3. Decontamination (advanced)

While cleaning solutions and water is great for getting rid of surface dirt and making your car look clean, it doesn’t completely remove the iron powder that may still be on your car. To do this we need to use a mix of clay bars and iron removal solutions, you can do this in any order you like.

First knead and flatten your clay bar so it’s flat and square. Next gently rub the exterior of your car with the clay bar, while using a hose to keep the clay wet. Frequently knead and fold the clay to create a clean surface and stop using the clay once it’s completely dirty.

The iron removal solution speeds up the process of oxidation and removes any left over iron powder that may still be on the car. As the solution comes into contact with ferrous metals and starts breaking them down, it turns purple signifying that the iron has been removed. To use the solution spray the body of the car, the windows and wheels and leave it to set for 3-5 minutes before rinsing it off with a hose. It’s best to work around the car doing a section at a time (top, each side, bonnet and rear) to help reduce the likelihood of the solution drying and staining the paintwork.

Remember: don’t use iron removal solutions on plastic trim as it will oxidise the plastic and don’t let the solution dry as it will stain the paintwork.

4. Polishing (advanced)

Car polish is slightly abrasive and can help smooth out scratches and any defects that may be present on the body of your car. To polish your car all you need is a small amount of polish, a cloth and a microfibre towel.

First apply a small amount of polish to the body of your car and and carefully spread it around. Next use circular motions to work in the polish until it is almost transparent. If necessary leave the polish to cure (check the instructions on your packaging), before finally buffing out the polish to remove any residue with a clean very soft microfibre towel.

Remember: regularly fold your cloth to ensure you’re using a clean surface when buffing.

Car polish

5. Pre-wax (advanced)

The penultimate step in cleaning your exterior is pre-wax preparation. This step ensures your vehicle is as clean as possible before any sealant or wax is supplied. This is because the cleaner your car is, the easier the sealant or wax bonds with the paintwork which makes it more effective and last longer.

Since the car has already been polished, a pre-wax cleanser that contains an abrasive isn’t needed. A light product that will breakdown the oils in the polish is all that’s required. To use the cleanser, apply a small amount of the solution to a microfibre cloth and gently rub the bodywork of the car. It’s best to do this section by section and once you’ve finished wiping a section use a slightly thicker cloth to go back over and absorb any leftover solution.

6. Wax or sealant

The final step is using a finishing wax or sealant to protect the paintwork. Simply take a small amount of your product and gently rub it into the bodywork of your car. Next leave it to set for a few minutes before finally using one microfibre cloth to wipe off any residue and another to buff in the wax.

Remember: always follow the product instructions of your wax or sealant as advice varies from brand to brand.

8 tips for cleaning the outside of your car

Here are some Moneyshake top tips to ensure the exterior of your car is as clean as possible:

  1. When washing your car start from the top and work down as gravity will cause the dirty water to run down your car.
  2. When washing your car use a number of buckets and sponges/mitts. Try using a bucket for rinsing the sponge, a bucket for washing the car and a bucket for the wheels, as well as one sponge/mitt for the wheels and another for the car.
  3. Use the Snow Foam on the iron removal solution before removing it, to breakdown the chemicals and prevent it causing any damage to your paint.
  4. Tape over your plastic trim before using the iron removal solution to prevent any damage to the plastic.
  5. Scrubbing hard with the clay bar can damage the surface, only gentle pressure is required.
  6. Clean your car on a dry overcast day that isn’t too hot or sunny. This helps to ensure that dirty water doesn’t dry before you’ve rinsed it off, helping to avoid unwanted smears and water marks.
  7. Use the pressure washer at a suitable level and from a safe distance as to avoid damaging your paintwork.
  8. Don’t forget to wash your windscreen wipers.

Interior

Most of your joyous memories with your car will be spent inside it, so wouldn’t you want it to be as clean and tidy as possible? Not only does cleaning the interior of your motor make you feel good, but it also helps eliminate any harmful bacteria that can accumulate on the surfaces, which is essential to help stopping the spread of communicable diseases such as the coronavirus.

How often should you clean your car’s interior?

Ideally when it comes to cleaning your car, you would pay just as much attention to doing a good job on the interior as you would with the rest of the vehicle. Experts advise you give your car’s interior a deep clean at least once a month to get rid of bacteria and odours.

However, you shouldn’t wait to wipe up spills and remove rubbish as they can lead to bad smells which are hard to remove. You should also wipe down touched surfaces regularly, especially when either any of the passengers or driver has flu-like symptoms.

Essentials List

Here’s a list of the basics you need to be able to efficiently clean the interior of your car:

  • Microfibre cloths
  • Car cleaning wipes / antibacterial wipes
  • Toothbrush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Window cleaner
  • Upholstery/leather cleaner
  • Stain remover
  • Air freshener

The process

Cleaning the inside of your car isn’t as complicated as cleaning the outside, but again there are six helpful steps you can follow to achieve the best result.

1. Declutter

Before you can even start cleaning the interior of your car, you should begin by removing everything from inside. Clear any bins and empty any waste, but also remove any belongings that may have been left in the car such as gym equipment, work bags, children’s toys, pet items, etc.

2. Surfaces

Once the car has been decluttered, you can start to work on the interior surfaces. Begin with using car cleaning wipes or standard antibacterial wipes and scrub down the centre console, dashboard, steering wheel, gear stick, door panels, armrests and any other touched surface. Use a toothbrush to clean the grooves between panels and hard to clean spots like around buttons.

Remember: touched surfaces may accumulate harmful bacteria and should be cleaned regularly.

Interior surfaces

3. Windows

After you’ve cleaned the surfaces, it’s time to clean the windows. Spray a small amount of window cleaner onto a microfibre cloth and wipe down the windows in a circular motion. Once you’ve wiped a window, use the dry side or another cloth to dry the windows and prevent smears.

Remember: if you have tinted windows make sure to choose an appropriate window cleaner.

4. Carpets, seats and upholstery

Before getting the vacuum, take out your floor mats and set them aside. If your mats are plastic they can be hosed down, cleaned and left to dry and if they are carpeted they can be vacuumed.

With the mats out the way, it’s time to vacuum the interior of your car. Using the necessary attachments as appropriate, vacuum the entire interior including the ceiling, boot, carpet and seating.

When dealing with leather seats, they must be cleaned and conditioned to prevent them from drying out and cracking. Use a brush and suitable cleaner to wipe down your seats before using a clean dry cloth to absorb any leftover residue. Once the seats are clean, apply a suitable conditioner following the product instructions.

For vinyl seating cleaning is quick and easy. Use a suitable cleaner and spray and wipe down the seats. Be sure to wipe the seats with a clean dry cloth afterwards to absorb any residue.

If you have fabric seats, use an appropriate upholstery cleaner to clean your seats. Usually carpet and upholstery cleaning products require a vacuum once clean to the seating again to remove any residue.

When you’ve finished, you may notice staining that wasn’t removed through cleaning. Use a stain remover and a clean cloth to wipe down affected areas, but bear in mind not all stains can be removed by hand and a professional clean may be necessary.

Remember: check the car’s manual to see if there is a list of approved cleaning supplies.

Seating

5. Air out

Since cleaning products have been used we recommend that you air out your car to remove any fumes. Open all the doors and the boot and let fresh air circulate your car. For a final touch spray or add an air freshener.

6. Finishing up

Now that your car is clean it’s time to put everything back into place. Start with brushing down and reinserting your floor mats, before adding in any items you took out prior to cleaning like gym bags and children’s toys.

Six tips for cleaning the inside of your car

The inside of a car is typically a smaller space to clean than the outside, and as such we have 6 Moneyshake top tips to ensure the interior of your car is as clean as possible:

  1. Use a foam brush, paintbrush or cotton bud to dust between the air conditioning vents.
  2. Use a wet squeegee on the seating, carpets and boot to get rid of any stubborn pet hairs.
  3. Slide seats forwards and backwards to give you access to the entire flooring.
  4. Use steam cleaning on the carpets for optimum results.
  5. Don’t use too much cleaning product on fabric seating as they will absorb the moisture. If they become too damp they won’t dry completely and could leave your car smelling musty and damp.
  6. Lower the windows slightly when cleaning to access the top of the window that’s usually hidden by the seal.

If making your existing motor look new again sounds too much like hard work, then enter your monthly budget into our simple search tool and you’ll be driving a brand new car in no time.

For more car news and entertainment, check out the Moneyshake blog.