Ultimate car cleaning guide

Written by AMT Team

2 September, 2019

Whatever the British weather, on any weekend you’ll find car owners giving their beloved cars a thorough clean inside and out. If you’re using your car on a regular basis, dirt and pollutants can build quickly even in dry conditions. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your car looking its best, and maintaining the exterior finish will help prevent rust and gives you the chance to check for any loose parts or chips that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

There’s much more to cleaning a car than warm water and soap, and while you may be tempted to take it to a professional car wash, it’s easy to save some money and do a complete clean at home if you follow the right steps. Read this guide for step-by-step instructions on the best way to clean your car, a list of recommended cleaning products and other essential tips to keep your car in top condition. 

How to clean your car exterior

It may seem obvious, but one of the most crucial steps when cleaning your car is picking the right time to do it. This is particularly important in locations with particularly changeable weather, as heat, sunlight, weather and pollen levels can make it harder to effectively wash a car. While many drivers opt to clean their car in the sun, cloudy days are best as the heat will dry out the vehicle too quickly and could leave water marks on the body. Ideally, it’s recommended to clean a car in a shaded area in either the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are more stable.

You’ll need the following items to leave your car exterior looking spick and span:

  • Pressure washer or hose
  • Pre-cleaning product (snow foam, oil-based cleaner)
  • Warm water mixed with car shampoo
  • Clean, new sponges and lint-free soft cloths
  • Chamois leather cloth
  • Soft bristle toothbrush
  • Wax and buffer
  • Glass cleaner

Wash away dirt

Before you can introduce cleaning products, you need to rinse any grit off the car. Ideally you should use a pressure washer but a hose with a nozzle attachment will also work. If you do use a pressure jet, be careful to opt for medium power to avoid damaging paintwork. You may find it beneficial to use a pre-cleaning product at this stage such as snow form or diluted all-purpose cleaner, which is sprayed on, left and washed off. This makes it easier to remove as much build-up as possible before moving onto shampoo.

If there’s stubborn dirt on the car, such as dried-on bugs or caked bird mess, you’ll need to use a tougher oil-based cleaner at this stage. You can either use branded remover spray or WD-40, but it’s essential to thoroughly clean and polish the affected area of the bodywork after treatment.

Shampoo and dry

After rinsing, start scrubbing your car using a dedicated car shampoo mixed with warm water and a clean sponge. It’s important to only use an approved car shampoo and never substitute with other products like washing-up liquid as this may damage the paintwork. While most grit will have been removed with the pressure washer or hose, you may find small particles of dirt while sponging. Work top to bottom to avoid spreading dirt, regularly change the water and replace the sponge if you notice a substantial amount of grit.

There’s some debate as to whether microfibre cloths, towels or chamois leather are best to dry a car, but a chamois cloth is generally considered to dry the most effectively while avoiding hidden marks.

Deep clean the details

To clean hard-to-reach areas such as the wheel trims and headlights, you can use a damp soft bristle toothbrush to get into the cracks, before rinsing them down. Once cleaned, you can wax the wheels and bodywork to prevent dust from collecting in the first place, which is best applied with a fine sponge and then buffed with a soft cloth until it shines. Only when the rest of the exterior is clean should you turn to the windows, otherwise any running water or rogue spray products will undo your hard work.

You can either use a dedicated car glass cleaner or a domestic glass cleaner applied with a lint-free cloth, as long as it’s vinegar-based to ensure a streak-free finish. Make sure to clean both the inside and outside of the windows, as well as also washing your wing mirrors.

How to clean your car interior

Now that the outside of the car is gleaming, it’s time to get the interior in top condition. Before starting, dispose of any rubbish or miscellaneous items on the seats, in the footwells, in the door pockets and in the boot. Then you should take out the car mats, shake them and give them a thorough hoover. Ideally you need a powerful handheld vacuum cleaner with various attachments to make sure you can get into every crevice, and you should slide the seats back and forth to get rid of hidden dirt.

You’ll need the following items to effectively clean the interior:

  • Bin liners (to dispose of any rubbish)
  • Handheld vacuum
  • Car interior wipes
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Soft cloths or brush
  • Silicone-based spray
  • Grease
  • Air freshener

Clean the upholstery and dashboard

When cleaning the upholstery be sure to do a thorough run with the vacuum, including the cracks between the seats, using a narrow and long attachment. For plastic on the dashboard or the car doors, use a brush attachment to push the dust onto the floor before hoovering the footwells. For the dashboard, it’s best to use devoted wipes or trim cleaner that can either leave a matte or gloss finish depending on your preference.

Clean the seats and surrounding area with an upholstery cleaner that’s compatible with the seat material to avoid bleaching or water marks. There are a variety of cleaners on the market so it’s important to do your research; those that are water-based are best for soft fabrics, while foams and gels work best on tough stains. If you’re not sure whether a cleaner will change the fabric’s colour or texture, test it on an inconspicuous area before use. Once your interior is sparkling, you may want to pop in a new air freshener for a finishing touch.

Give the engine some TLC

While you’re giving your car a new lease of life you may as well clean under the bonnet. Make sure that the engine is cold before starting and cover the vulnerable parts of the engine, including the air intake, alternator, electrical connections and distributor cap. Remove the filters from the engine compartment to avoid damage and take out the battery cables for safety. Use a silicone-based spray sparingly on rubber-coated cables and apply a touch of grease to metal components for added shine.

How often should you clean your car?

How often you should wash your car depends on your level of use, location and where you keep your car. If you spend several hours on the road each day, then you’ll need to regularly rinse and spot-clean your car to remove dust, bugs and bird mess that can impact the finish. Those that drive in the city may notice a faster build-up of grit due to pollution, while rural drivers may notice more frequent bird droppings, leaves and fallen twigs. If you park your car in a garage overnight then your car will be more protected from changeable weather and grit, while those that park on the street will experience a faster dirt accumulation.

 

At the end of the day it’s up to you how often you clean your car, but it’s recommended to wash it once a week if it’s exposed to long drives, high levels of air pollution and excessive rain. If none of these conditions impact your car, a once- or twice-monthly wash should suffice.

In summary…

A well-maintained car can make you a more conscious driver and helps to prevent any damage that could incur penalties at the end of a lease contract. While it’s up to you when and how you clean your car, it’s fair to say that there’s no greater feeling than driving a freshly cleaned car.

At AMT, we’re committed to providing a quality service that’s tailored to you. If you’re looking for a new lease car or want to know more about vehicle maintenance, contact our dedicated team today to discuss your requirements on 0113 387 4241.

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