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How to clean your car

16 November 2020

Despite it being rather trivial on the grand scale of things, the increased prevalence of dirty cars sat on the side of the road these days is undeniable.

That’s right – while many of us are tucked up inside working from home or stranded indoors amid the pandemic, our cars are sat dormant outside exposed to all sorts of grub, from nasty tree sap and bird poo concoctions to some good old fashioned winter dirt. If your car is one of the many unfortunate, neglected victims, it’s time to do something about it.

Our car cleaning guide will tell you everything, from how to clean a car inside and out mistake-free, to why it’s important to do so in the first place.

Why should you wash your car?

If you’ve taken the “why bother?” approach to car cleaning during this period, then you’re certainly not alone. It’s a fair argument – you’re not using the car right now, or trying to impress anyone, plus you’d just be cleaning it to stick it back on the side of the road and get the same dirt on it all over again.

That all makes sense to some degree, but there are actually a number of key reasons why you should be washing your car right now:

  • Protect your paint: The aforementioned grub, particularly that acidic bird poo, can be extremely damaging to your paint work if given a chance to settle. The same goes for grit and dirt, the minerals of which can damage and scratch your paint over time.
  • Improve safety: If your mirrors and windows are covered in dirt and debris, you won’t be able to see as well as you should. Sure, you’ve got the windscreen washer, but leave the dirt long enough and it can really get stuck on, which can seriously impair your vision when on the roads.
  • An investment for the future: Planning to sell or part exchange your car in the future? Then don’t rue the time you let your paintwork get all rusted up because you didn’t wash it enough.
  • For you: Whether it’s an opportunity to get out the house and do something productive, keep your hands clean when opening the boot or just saving you from any embarrassment when pulling an impressively dirty car into a public car park, washing your car regularly makes sense for you as much as anything else.

How often should you wash your car?

You should be washing your car every two weeks to effectively keep on top of the grime, however the keener ones amongst us might want to get the hose out more regularly. More importantly, “irregular dirt” such as bugs, salt and bird poo should be tended to immediately to avoid any damage.

Mistakes to avoid when cleaning your car

Before you jump into the cleaning brimmed with a fresh sense of motivation, it’s worth going over the mistakes to avoid when cleaning your car, which can lead you to doing more harm than good if you’re not careful:

  • Washing in the wrong order: As the grubbiest area of the car, you should always start with the wheels. After that, work from the top down so the water does too.
  • Washing in direct sunlight: Despite sunny days being considered perfect for car cleaning, the sun can cause water to evaporate quickly, leaving unsightly water marks as well as drying out the soap on your car before you’ve had a proper chance to use it.
  • Using the wrong cleaning treatments: Put the Fairy Liquid down! If you thought washing up liquid was a cheap but cheerful answer to your washing woes, think again. In fact, using any treatments not directly suited to your car will help strip the topcoat of your paint off. Stay away from abrasive sponges, too.
  • Taking it to the car wash: Why do the job yourself when you can pay peanuts to have it done for you? Well, car washes, automatic or manual, tend to do a surface level job. Automatic car washes can carry the dirt and grime of every car that’s gone before you that day, which can cause fine scratches and swirl marks in your paint.
  • Scraping off the bird poo: While you might be desperate to get nasty acidic bird poo off your car, using sharp scraper tools to get it ca be just as damaging to the paintwork. Instead, use hot water to soften any stains and remove with ease.
  • Using dirty equipment: if you haven’t quite rinsed the bucket or sponge out properly from last time, that grime and grit is going straight back on your car, which is never a good thing.
How to clean your car

How to clean a car properly

You know why, and you know what to avoid. Now that’s out of the way, here’s how to clean your car to best effect.

What kit do I need?

The basics:

  • Sponges and towels: Use soft, non-abrasive sponges and microfibre towels to finish, or leather chamois cloths to take things to the next level.
  • Hose: Most will use a typical garden hose, but you can get specialist car detailing hoses that manage water pressure.
  • Car pre-cleaner/snow foam
  • Car shampoo
  • Car wax/sealant
  • Car polish
  • Wheel cleaner
  • Brushes for wheels, exterior and interior
  • Vacuum cleaner: You can also get specialist car vacuums but for most a normal one will do.

How to clean your car exterior

  • Start with the wheels: As mentioned before, always start with the wheels. The dirtiest part of your car needs the most work, so be prepared to pre-soak the wheel before attacking them with the wheel cleaner and a brush.
  • Apply your pre-cleaner and snow foam: Pre-cleaner and snow foam are both designed to soften up and lift stubborn dirt from your car. Removing as much dirt as possible before taking the sponge to the car will reduce the risk of any swirling.
  • Take a two-bucket approach to washing: Take one bucket filled with your wash solution, which is to be applied directly to the car, and another filled with cold water, which is to be used to wash your mitt/sponge before you dunk it back in the solution. This will ensure no pollution of the solution. Start from the top down on your panelling.
  • Drying off: Once you’re happy with your wash, take a towel to the car and work panel by panel to get it fully dried off, removing any water spots in the process
  • Apply the polish: Unless you’re an expert who knows how to use a machine polisher, it’s best to use a hand polish approach here – be careful not to apply too much polish and damage your paintwork.
  • Apply the wax/sealant: Waxing or sealing your car will protect all the hard work you have done up until this point. Make sure to use a suitable wax/sealant for your paint.
  • Clean the tyres: An often-forgotten part of the job, make sure the outers of your tyres have had a glow up. You can even buy specialist dressings for the rubber.
  • Clean the glass: Last but certainly not least, take a quality cloth to your glass to apply the finishing sheen to your exterior. Take a look at this link on how to clean your car windows.
  • Finishing touches: Once you’ve finished, it’s worth going back over your handiwork to check for any little bits you might have missed, including any hidden residue or fingerprints.

How do you clean interior of a car?

If you’ve not run out of energy after the external clean, you’ll no doubt want to know how to clean your car interior as well as the dash and general interior. Take a look at this thorough guide, which will walk you through:

  • Decluttering and clearing your car
  • Cleaning the central console
  • Cleaning the interior glass
  • How to clean your car upholstery

Cleaning the inside of your car can be tricky when trying to get in all the nooks and corners of the vehicle, but once you’ve finished, you’ll feel like you’ve just bought a brand-new car.

When it comes to how to clean a car, the process can be anything from a simple sponge and bucket job to a full VIP treatment. While you almost certainly won’t want to carry out the deluxe clean described above every fortnight, it’s essential you maintain your vehicle’s aesthetic to some extent through the lockdown period to avoid any unnecessary damage to the paintwork.

Now you’ve got your car looking spick and span, make sure the rest of it is looked after with a service and MOT from our experts Robins & Day, or use it as a part exchange option against one of our excellent range of new and used cars.

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