Nothing beats a new car with a showroom shine, so to maintain it you'll need to clean your car regularly.
But if you’re not careful when it comes to cleaning your beloved car, you can end up rubbing grit into the paintwork, creating fine scratches and even swirl marks.
So we’ve put together a list of the essential tools you'll need from a quick-wash to a super soak with detailing. Not to mention our best car cleaning tips to protect the paint finish and bring out the shine.
Before you start cleaning the car, you'll need to get rid of any grit or loose dirt. For this we'd recommend a pressure washer for the best results, but a hose pipe with a spray attachment will also work. Just bear in mind the pressure water will generate more power, thus removing more dirt in the pre-wash stage.
With your pressure washer ready, set it to a soft/medium setting. Many pressure washers illustrate the correct setting for your car with a little car icon, so look out for this as the wrong setting could seriously damage your paintwork. If you're unsure which setting is correct consult your manual or check their online resources.
When ready, give the car a good rinse starting from the top and then work your way down. Be sure to give the sills, wheels and alloys extra attention as these areas of your car get the dirtiest.
A pre-wash rinse ensures all lose contaminants such as grit and dirt are removed which protects your car in the next and final stages. Once you've given the car a good soak and the loose dirt and grit is removed you can start applying your car foam/shampoo.
For that extra clean, you might want to consider two additional steps before you grab a mitt or sponge. These are completely optional but highly recommended, especially the snow foam as it can make the wash and dry stage much easier.
Pre-wash - Optional Step 1 - Fallout Remover
This spray can be applied to the paintwork of your vehicle to remove any iron particles before you end up scratching the paintwork. Simply spray the car, let the fallout remover set in and it should begin to turn a red/purple colour. Then grab your hose or pressure washer and rinse. This should remove any unwanted particles from the surface of your paintwork that didn't shift the first time.
Pre-wash - Optional Step 2 - Snow Foam
Many pressure washers come with a snow foam attachment which enables you to get incredible soap coverage for your car, if not they can often be purchased. You'll need a good quality snow foam product to get the best results.
Pour the product into the bottle accessory and hook up to your pressure washer. Then give your car a good covering, leave to soak and let the foam lift any stubborn dirt. Then switch back to the usual water attachment and rinse. If your car is excessively dirty and you are not satisfied the dirt has been completely removed, you may want to repeat this step. However, don't be too concerned with this, as you'll be applying some elbow grease in the next stage to get those stubborn marks out.
IMPORTANT - DON’T USE HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS
Harsh household chemicals are not designed for a car’s paintwork and may damage its protective finish. Washing up liquid is a definite no - use special car products only.
Clean The Wheels First
The wheels and alloys are often the dirtiest part of any car. If you leave them until last, grit and mud can splash onto parts you’ve already cleaned. So before you clean the rest of the car give these a good clean.
Using a wheel cleaner and a strong brush, clean the wheels thoroughly to get any brake dust and dirt off. Then rinse with the pressure washer or hose pipe, it's worth having two buckets just for this stage as wheels can have more grit than any other part of the car. Then gives those buckets a clean and re-use them for the remainder of the cleaning process.
The Two Bucket Method
Using two buckets is really important. One for clean water and one for car shampoo/soap alleviates the potential risk of contaminating your car shampoo bucket with grit. Unwanted grit on your sponge or mitt can lead to swirl marks or worse scratches. If you really want to be cautious, you could purchase a grit guard bucket which catches any grit in the bottom of bucket for added peace of mind.
Washing Your Car
Once the wheels are done, begin washing the car from the top, so any dirt trickles down. Start at the roof and work down the sides and windows, do the bumpers last. Take care when scrubbing and if possible use a mitt rather than sponge as these tend to hold less grit. Even one little piece of grit caught in your sponge can leave scratch marks all over the car. So rinse thoroughly after every section and in particular after scrubbing very dirty areas.
Once washed from top to bottom give the car a final rinse to remove any shampoo or stubborn dirt. It's important to make sure any soap and shampoo is rinsed away especially, in any tight spaces like mirrors or grills. You can then move onto drying the car.
Drying Your Car
That's right you're better off drying the car yourself. Leaving it to air dry will leave watermarks and in some cases streaks and swirls, as well as unsightly pools of water. Whilst driving it to dry off may result in debris sticking to the paintwork or simply become dirty again.
A simple towel will give you the best results for drying your car, but you can opt for a leather or microfibre cloth too. Go round each section of the car to ensure there are no drops of water and you'll have a shiny, streak free finish.
Once you've given the outside of your car a proper clean it's worth doing the inside. Generally speaking if you keep on top of the inside of your car you won't need to do this that often, but of course this depends on how well you look after it.
First up start with the floor mats, remove them from the car and give them a good vacuum. Make sure you do this away from your car to avoid any dirt or grit hitting your newly-washed motor. If there's lots of mud or dirt give them a scrub or shampoo to lift any stubborn stains.
Finally, you'll want to focus on the dash and interior surfaces. A multi-surface cleaner can be used on most of the car including the upholstery just use it sparingly and wipe away with a cloth, be sure to check the suitability of the product before you go in all guns blazing. As any harsh products you use on any leather, such as seats or the steering wheel, can damage the material. Grab the vacuum once more and give the foot wells a clean before placing the mats back in place. Once you're done get glass cleaner spray and do all the windows, outside and in, and finish off by wiping them away with a cloth.
If you really want to get that showroom finish and turn heads you might want to go the extra mile and add some detailing to your car. Detailing is traditionally a term used in America, but more recently has been adopted by us brits. It simply means giving your car a clean, polish and wax from top to bottom.
Now you won't need to detail your car after every wash, but every now and again it's a good idea to apply some of the added cleaning products we've listed below to give your car extra shine and extra protection.
Either by hand or with a machine, polishing your car gives it an impeccable shine. A tiny drop of polish goes a long way, so less is definitely more and be sure to apply in straight lines to give an even coverage. Then leave on as instructed by the product, wipe off and buff. Polish is slightly abrasive as it takes the very top layer of paint protection off. So don’t polish your car more than once or twice a year.
Between polishes, you should wax your car to maintain the shine whilst also protecting the paintwork. Apply wax in small areas and rub in, working methodically. Buff up with a clean cloth for a shiny reflective finish. There are some products available in a spray that require less time too, which provide a similar finish and shine.
Does your car still look dull after washing? Here’s a great car cleaning tip: run your finger over the dry surface. Can you feel any residue or little bumps? This is caused by contaminants that have bonded with the paintwork.
Remove it with a clay bar, which you rub over the surface to get it smooth and clean. It works on metal bodywork and glass, but avoid plastics like headlight covers.
Tyre Spray or Gel
Tyre spray gives your wheels extra shine. We focused on the alloys during the wash, but you can apply a spray or gel to your tyres that give it a glossy wet look finish.
If you have chrome finish or tipped exhaust pipes you can apply a tiny bit of polish to those too. In the same way you polish your car, apply a small amount of polish to the exhaust pipe, wait to the recommended time, then wipe and buff.
With these car cleaning tips you should have a perfect, shiny car to be proud of. You'll also feel more satisifaction knowing you made it look that great, rather than going to a drive-in car wash or valet.
Just remember when it comes to washing, drying and detailing you won't need to do these steps every time. In fact if you keep on top of everything you should only be polishing once or twice a year and waxing every so often to maintain the shine. It's not necessary on every clean, in fact in some cases it can do more harm than good.