Cleaning your car isn’t rocket science, but it is important to do it in a logical and orderly fashion if you are to make the most of your time and money.
Here are my seven top tips to maximise your car’s shine with the very minimum of elbow grease!
1. Hose it down first
Your first job should be to hose your car down with lots and lots of cold water. This will loosen the dirt and make it easier to remove later.
Don’t stint, and if you’ve got a pressure washer, then now is the perfect time to hose off the underside and wheel arches.
Just don’t concentrate the water stream on door seals and any areas of loose paint or rust because high-pressure water can be a very effective paint remover.
Top-tip: if you apply a quick squirt of traffic film remover before you start, then half the dirt will just wash away, leaving you with even less to shampoo off later. This is also important because it leaves less dirt on the bodywork to act as an abrasive when you’re sponging it off later.
2. Clean the wheels
You can now spray the wheels with a dedicated wheel cleaner to give it time to shift any baked-on brake dust. I also use a small, soft-bristled brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of the wheels, working the fluid well in.
Top-tip: I use Bilt Hamber auto-wheel, which changes colour to a deep red when it has finished working. It’s easy to forget that the wheel cleaner is there, so anything that gives me a visual reminder that it is time to wash it off is much appreciated.
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3. Shampooing the car
Again, I use Bilt Hamber auto-wash car shampoo, simply because it is relatively cheap and gives the best finish of anything that I’ve ever tried. Of course, even something like Halfords car shampoo will do a far better job of cleaning your car than washing up liquid – which contains salt – will.
Start at the top of the car working down, keeping your sponge wet at all times, rinsing off with plenty of cold water from a hose when you’ve finished.
Top-tip: keep one sponge just for use on your car’s bodywork. If you drop the sponge on the floor, rinse it thoroughly as just one small piece of grit trapped inside the sponge is enough to leave your car covered in scratches…
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4. Drying the car
My least favourite cleaning job is drying the car off. However, if you don’t you’ll be left with streaks and smears, all of which will need to be polished out later.
Synthetic chamois cloths are available but nothing beats a real one. They aren’t cheap but a good one will last for a decade if you rinse it off after use and dry it carefully. (Obsessives can substitute a hair dryer for a chamois if they really want to avoid the possibility of scratching their paintwork.)
If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to chamois the car off, then try swilling a couple of buckets of clean, fresh water over the car and then driving it; the wind rushing over the car will dry it and minimise streaks forming.
Top-tip: if you rinse the car off with the distilled water you can collect from a condensing tumble dryer you are even less likely to get streaks.
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You can either polish or wax your car or do both: car polish is mildly abrasive and should only be used once or twice a year to bring up a shine, while a wax sealant is best used to seal in the shine after polishing. For what it’s worth, I polish my car once a year and wax it three or four times.
Again, work methodically one panel at a time, using one cloth to apply the polish and another to wipe the dry polish off. I like using cheap micro-fibre cloths bought from my local pound shop but any clean, lint-free cloth will do.
You can also polish your freshly cleaned alloy wheels with car wax too. This will help keep the acidic brake dust at bay and prevent it damaging the clear lacquer coating.
Top-tip: never polish your car in direct sunlight. Better to leave it until the evening or do it inside the garage or in some shade.
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6. Cleaning the glass
You can clean the glass – inside and out – either with a spray liquid or a thick cream. Both have their pros and cons: the spray liquid is easier to apply and remove but not as effective at removing engrained or heavy dirt as the harder-to-apply cream.
I tend to mix-and-match depending on how thorough I’m being; a quick clean sees me reaching for the spray cleaner, while a more thorough valet will see me using the cream. No matter what I’m using, I’ll apply the cleaner with one micro-fibre cloth before removing it with another.
Top-tip: If you buff the glass cleaner off horizontally on one side, and vertically on the other you’ll know at a glance which side any remaining streaks are on. Oh, and don’t forget to roll the windows down an inch-or-so to make sure you don’t leave a thin strip of dirt along the top!
7. The interior
I’ll hoover the carpets and upholstery next using a domestic hoover fitted with a crevice tool. I have tried the 12-volt vacuum cleaner that plug into your car’s cigarette lighter but have never found them powerful enough for anything other than fresh crumb removal.
If you are having trouble picking up dog hairs, try using a damp rubber glove on your hand to sweep them into a pile. Failing that, a few wraps of sellotape around your hand (sticky side out, obviously!) will pick them up easily and quickly.
I’ll finish up by wiping the dashboard and other interior plastic surfaces with a matt vinyl cleaner, taking care to make sure that none of the polish gets on the car’s steering wheel or pedals. If they do need cleaning I’ll use nothing but a damp cloth to avoid leaving a slippery residue.
Now is also a good time to clear out all the bumf and odds-and-sods that inevitably accumulate. If I’m unsure whether I need them in the car I’ll pop them in a carrier bag in the boot. If they are still there in a couple of months’ time then I know that I can probably take them out of the car…
Top-tip: I wash my car’s rubber mats while I’m shampooing the car’s bodywork, rinsing them off and leaving them to dry while I’m doing the rest of the car. Carpet mats, on the other hand, respond well to a short, warm wash in the washing machine. I find that a 15-minute cycle at 30-40°C is plenty with just a small amount of washing powder.