If you’ve been checking your calendar, then you know spring is almost here. This means flowers in bloom, chirping birds, and, yes, time for spring cleaning. The traditional scouring of spring usually focuses on the home, but after a hard winter your car needs scrubbing just as badly. In case your dad never lectured you about this, salt, road grime, and brake dust can damage your car’s exterior, while sunlight and spills attack the interior. Follow these tips to take some hooptie out of your rig.
1. Wash, Rinse, Repeat
First thing’s first: wash the beast. Start with the exterior because it’s easier to wash all that sheet metal while you’re fresh and there’s plenty of light. Be sure to start the exterior off with an simple hose-down to get the largest particles off. You don’t want to scratch the finish when a well-intentioned wipe traps a bit of gravel against your paint. From there wash, rinse, and dry each panel of the car separately with a mixture of warm soap and water; do this out of direct sunlight or it will air dry and spot. I strongly recommend starting with the roof of the car and going down and out, thus ending with the dirtiest part, the bumpers.
2. Gear Up
If you have the coin, special car-wash chemicals and equipment can make the job easier and improve results, but they are not a necessity. One exception: soap with detergent (like dish soap) strips the paint of protective polymers, and can actually age your paint faster. If you don’t spring for car soap, then make sure you’re using a non-detergent soap (good luck with that). Drying is a little tricky, so invest in a specialty chamois or natural-fiber drying cloth to minimize streaks and residue.
3. A Little Rusty
During this time you might encounter some ugly chips and scratches. Invest in touch-up paint and a tiny brush (one that doesn’t say “Colgate” on the handle). Larger, deeper scratches might require primer first.Touching up is more than cosmetic, paint is also a car’s first line of defense against rust, and all it takes is a single breach to start a nasty rust spot.
4. Wax On, Wax Off
Either way, if you’re a fan of the way your car looks washed then invest in a good wax. While waxing is an upper body workout, a good wax coat acts as an extra layer over the car’s own finish. Regular waxing can keep a car looking pretty much new. Follow the directions on the wax bottle and, as always, don’t wax in direct sunlight.
5. Throw Some D’s
Tires and wheels can be cleaned the same way as the body, but there are many products you can use to give your tires a glossy sheen. Whatever you use, make sure you keep chemicals off your wheels, and wipe off any residue because alloy wheels are coated in their own protective finish, which can be damaged by chemicals. Usually a wet wipe-down is enough to reveal the sheen of those ballin’ 14’s, no soap needed.
6. Bar Hopping
Adventurous sorts interested in automotive perfection should use a clay bar to remove surface impurities after washing but before waxing. Once the exclusive tool of auto-detailers, the clay bar is exactly what it sounds like, although this clay is specially formulated for auto use. Don’t try to cheat with old Play-Doh.
7. Inner Beauty
While the exterior will have your reaching, squatting, and bending like a soapy Jazzercise class, cleaning the interior is more akin to yoga. Be prepared to contort yourself in all manner of shapes and angles to clean the many crevasses and creases that line the average car cabin.
8. Taking Out The Trash
Be sure to empty out your car of anything you don’t want wet or inside your vacuum. Three trash bags solve this problem neatly. One is for stuff you want to throw away, one for stuff that doesn’t need to be in the car, and one for stuff that belongs in your car, like chargers and umbrellas.
9. Cleaning Sucks
Vacuuming comes next. Be sure to find that dagger-like attachment that turns your vacuum nozzle into a righteous blade of seam-sucking, able to go almost anywhere into your car cabin. Make ample use of your car’s adjustable seats to get where the sun don’t shine. Although they may not look dirty, run the vacuum over every inch of your upholstery to suck up dust and nasty skin particles.
10. Wet and Wild
From there, use mild soap, water, and a microfiber cloth to wipe down the non-cloth, non-electronic parts of your car (you might not even need soap for most of it). Use a tooth brush dipped in your cleaning solution around the sensitive electronic controls, shake off excess moisture, and try to avoid dripping. Use your favorite carpet stain remover on unsightly stains, and feel free to take out your floor mats and scrub, hose, and wash the heck out of them outside your car - that’s why they are there!
11. Details, Details
Now it’s time for a little OCD. Use that tooth brush and a plastic knife wrapped in a cloth to clean in all the annoying seams that collect crud. Prepare to be disgusted!