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Tips on Car Washing
Most of us have been helping to wash the car since we were kids, so while some of these tips are going to be well known, you may find some details here that are missing from your weekend car buff and shine.
Prep work: First remove your Car Bra, lower antennas, and get anything else off the vehicle that might collect wax bits or make it harder to do a complete job.
What we need:
All wheel safe cleaner
Start with a rinse first. While it is tempting to splash on the soap water and start in with the scrubbing, rinsing removes the dust and road grime first, so that we don't sandpaper our paint job.
Stick with the method of starting at the top and working down the car with the hose, this way you save water and time. Spray off the obvious collection areas. Power washers are fine, but don't set them too high, or get too close to your car with the nozzle.
Once you have completed the rinse, start with the wheels first. Use an 'all wheel safe cleaner' and brush them down with a good wheel brush. Soap brush and rinse each wheel, before moving to the next.
TIP: Check the valve stem for each wheel as you go, to insure the cap is on. Lost stem caps can result in air loss and even flat tires as dirt gets lodged into them.
At this time we are ready to soap the vehicle. Start as always on the roof and apply the soap and lightly scrub the vehicle surface in a clock wise rotation moving down to the quarter panel and around to the trunk.
Once you have completely soaped the vehicle it is time to rinse, again start at the top and work you way down and around the vehicle.
Drying the vehicle
Now we will dry the car with a chamois. Take one lap quickly around the car to get excess water off the vehicle. Wring the chamois out completely and start on the roof and work your way around until the entire vehicle is dry.
What we need:
Portable Vacuum with attachments
Clean hand towels or paper towels
Plastic or vinyl cleaner
Foaming upholstery cleaner
Leather Conditioner (optional)
First remove your car floor mats, dash mats and rubber cargo liners (or other cargo liners) from the car. Organizers, and clothes bars as well.
Start with top-down vacuuming. Begin with the head rests for the seats, and work your way down through all of the crevices to the carpet.
TIP: If you have car odor you are trying to control, spread out baking soda throughout the car before starting to vacuum. This will help pickup odors and gives you a visual guide to insure that you vacuum every area.
TIP: If you have a great deal of pet hair, use a rubber or latex glove (the kind that are sold a dishwashing gloves are perfect). You'll also need a new bucket of water. Just wipe the hair collected area with your gloved hands and rinse the glove in the bucket. You'll probably be amazed at how easy it is after trying to vacuum up the hair.
Once the vacuuming is complete, we can start in on the plastic and vinyl surfaces. Push the seats all the way back so that we have lots of room.
Clean and wipe all surfaces with appropriate cleaners.
TIP: Any cleaner with ammonia as an agent is not a good idea for cleaning your car interior. Ammonia is especially damaging to tinted windows.
TIP: Don't use a product like Armor-all on your steering wheel or control pedals. This is one of those tips that you will only ignore once.
Clean and wipe all surfaces in an orderly fashion make sure to clean the door panels as well.
Remove, clean and reinstall the steering wheel cover, and gear shift boot as well.
You can use on old soft paint brush or toothbrush to get in between the cracks and vents in and around the dash and center console areas. Be sure to extend head rests and arm rest to clean any hidden areas of dirt.
Once that is complete, you can spot clean the carpeting and velour. Using the foaming cleaner spray directly on to carpet or velour. Use a carpet brush to scrub the surfaces clean and follow up with the vacuum over the carpet and seats, this will remove any excess foam. Run over the carpet one more time with dry carpet brush to apply clean stripes to the carpet.
NOTE: See our Tip Pages for Removing Coffee Stains, Grease/Sand, and Melted wax from carpet and upholstery if need. Or our Hard to fix Interior Damage article has tips on removing rust stains and fixing scratches in your plastic dash or door covers. If you have leather in the interior, see our Leather Care page as well.
Waxing the exterior
What we need:
Paste or liquid wax
Several micro fiber towels
Time to move in out of the sun.
Its never a good idea to wax a car in direct sunlight. What we want as well is some control over the temperature of the car's surface. So don't star right away. Let the surface temperature cool down a bit before you start.
If your vehicle is light colored and it has been a considerable amount of time since the last wax you will want to use the pre-wax cleaner. This step removes any stains or dirt that has worked its way into the paint surface.
To apply the wax, start with the roof and apply a light coat and if possible apply in the same direction as the panel. In other words, do not swirl around when applying simply wipe back in forth from front to back. This will eliminate any cob webbing affects that can occur when viewing the car in the sun.
To remove the wax simply start where you began and remove the wax by wiping back and fourth with a clean micro fiber towel. Do no use paper towels or regular towels as they can scratch the paint' surface.
What we need:
Several clean micro fiber towels
Tooth brush (to remove any wax left behind in the cracks)
Window cleaner (no ammonia)
Begin by taking a quick lap around the car and remove the majority of any wax left behind. Now clean the windows inside and out using a window cleaner, if your windows are tinted, make sure you use a window film safe cleaner (no ammonia).
Now it is time to "detail" the car. Start at the fender and wipe it down paying close attention for any wax left behind. Wipe down any chrome or trim moldings as needed and continue around the vehicle under. If your hands have touched every inch of the car, chances are you are complete. Take one last looks around to be sure nothing was missed.
NOTE: Car covers can really make a difference in the condition of your car. They help save the paint from scratches and dirt build up, they also keep the interior cool, and safe from UV and sun bleaching damage. In the winter, sand and salt damage are common problems car covers help protect you from.
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