Show/hide navigation

How to clean your car: 15 essential cleaning tips for a pro finish

Now is a good time to waste a few hours making your car as shiny as a shiny thing. But what is the best way to clean your car? What should you avoid doing? Here are Ben Griffin's fifteen essential tips.

The sun is here, which means it is now time for Brits to waste a morning or afternoon cleaning their cars to make them look new. We say waste, but there is actually something enjoyable about cleaning a car as dirty as Mia Khalifa (in the sexual sense, we have no doubt she washes).

Unless, of course, you are Jeremy Clarkson, in which case you would rather boil your own head. But what if you would rather save yourself a few quid or find it hard to trust someone or something else to do the job? Here are 15 tips for cleaning your car you should soak in.

1) Avoid the sponge

The magic sponge may be a good idea in football, but in the world of car cleaning it is about as welcome as Trump at a female self-defence class. They can do harm to the paintjob because of their tendency to hold grit. If you really have to use a sponge, buy one and buy two buckets (more on this in a second). Or, you know, buy two sponges and two buckets for total peace of mind.

2) Buy a wash mitt

Wash mitts make you look like a distant relative of Chewbacca, but these furry gloves work much better for cleaning your car ─ if you are happy paying more for them (they do last quite a while if treated properly, mind).

Besides holding more liquid so your soapy water goes further, the deeper pile helps move debris away from the surface to reduce the chance of, say, grit causing a scratch. Lambswool is the best material to go for, followed by microfibre.

3) Two buckets, one mitt

Two buckets? One should be filled with your soap and the other filled with plain-old water. Why? The idea is that you scrub an area using the soapy bucket and a Wookie mitt or sponge, then dunk into the plain water to remove any nasty debris. Rinse and repeat as you work your way around the car.

Under absolutely no circumstance should you chuck either bucket of water over the car once the job is done, unless you like making a now clean car dirty again. Just don't. Please.

4) Use an appropriate car soap

Fairly Liquid is great for plates but potentially fatal for a car. Well, somewhat damaging anyway. Instead go and buy a good car soap from Halfords or an online shop such as Clean Your Car. The pricier car soaps tend to require less to foam up so can last as long, if not longer than a cheap equivalent.

Meguiars, Dodo Juice, Chemical Guys and Victoria Wax are some of our favourite brands, but by all means do a bit of research yourself to find one you are happy with. There are plenty of detailing forums out there to help if you want some advice.

5) Remove all dirt first

The absolute first step is to clean your car, which can be done using a power washer (Karcher is a solid brand) or a hose. Avoid overdoing it with the pressure as you can actually do more harm to your car than good, but also really try to remove as much dirt as you can before attempting the soap phase.

6) Consider doing the soap stage twice

If you have managed to avoid washing your car for a really long time (like, a year and a half in our case), it may be worth a very thorough rinse and then two renditions of 'two buckets, one mitt'. The better the job now, the better the end result.

You really, really want all dirt removed before you even consider the waxing stage or, like with most elements of the car cleaning process, you can cause damage and create those dreaded swirls. The ones you can really see on a black car.

7) Buy a good wax

After spraying water and soaping your car, it can be easy to avoid the wax element of a car cleaning regime. But this is essential step as it helps keep rain and other liquids from staying on the paintwork, adds a protective layer and gives you the shininess you were craving.

We have a few favourites, including Victoria Wax, Chemical Guys, Poorboys, Meguiars, Autoglym and Dodo juice, but there are hundreds out there that will probably do a good job. Some take a lot more effort to use than others so lazier types may want to look into this.

Two-in-one wash and wax products exist and while less effective than two separate products it is better to clean your car than not to, especially as the likes of bird poo can be particularly damaging.

8) Consider a polishing machine

Some car detailers will say a polishing machine can be a bad idea in the wrong hands, but the right machine and the right instructions will save you hours of effort and can leave you with a shinier car. Some attach to a drill, others need a plug socket. Some are really expensive, some are cheap-ish.

At this point your car cleaning just got more serious and it is arguably more satisfying (not to mention healthier) to do the job yourself using multiple microfibres, but cars are expensive so maybe you can mentally justify getting the proper equipment.

9) Treat your car like your hair

Most people would feel odd going out with wet hair so why do the same to your car? The marks left by water can be unsightly and undo a lot of your hard work, not to mention prove difficult to remove.

Therefore invest in a good drying towel and wipe away as much of the water left on your car as you can before moving to the waxing phase. The Dodo Juice one is so effective at holding water you would think it is magical – never be without one.

10) Really sunny days are a bad idea

It may seem like a good idea to clean your car on a sunny day because you can top up your tan and do a chore all in one go. But the heat of the sun means water dries quickly and leaves unsightly water marks, car wax can become harder to remove and a hosepipe ban could scupper your plans.

Instead, wait for a day where it is cloudy or less hot (but obviously not rainy) or consider finding some shade or waiting for the gentler sun's rays at the start or end of the day. It will save you a lot of hassle and result in a better finish.

11) Get proper alloy wheel cleaner

Car soap can remove a lot of dirt from alloy wheels, but especially stubborn grime may need extra effort. We use Autoglym Clean Wheels as this can make even the dirtiest alloys look almost brand new, but sadly it cannot undo kerb damage.

Just be careful to test whatever you product you go for on a small area of your alloy to see if it reacts in a funny way, especially as any alloy wheel repair work you have had done can be undone by the stronger cleaners.

A tyre dressing spray can also be useful as it can look odd to have a clean car and brown-looking tyres. Just avoid getting it on the alloy wheels if you can.

12) Get some interior cleaner

Once you have vacuumed all the dog hairs up and other dirt that has accumulated in your car, find yourself a damp cloth of good quality (bad ones fall apart and leaves traces of fabric behind) and then use some soapy water or a good interior cleaner to wipe away dashboard grime.

It is worth avoiding silicone-based sprays as these can leave a slippery finish that is obviously a bad idea for a steering wheel or pedals.

13) Work your way from top to bottom

It can be tempting to start with the dirtiest area of your four-wheeled pride and joy, but let mother gravity help you. Start at the top of the car when doing the initial dirt removal and soaping so that it can drip down onto other areas to save you as much effort. Also, it is usually worth cleaning your alloys first.

14) Wax on a panel by panel basis

By the time you have covered your entire car in wax, it will be way past the time to remove it and could slow down the job. Instead, read the instructions and do what the manufacturer says with regard to the size of the area you should be working on before moving onto the next.

15) Put the effort in then walk away

The whole point of cleaning a car is to make it clean but it can be easy to fall into the trap of perfection. Nobody wants to have nightmares where they are being chased by a swirl. Or a sponge.

No matter how hard you try, your car will get damaged at some point. So accept the odd scratch. Embrace the dings. Ignore the kerbed wheels. Most important is that you enjoy your car and accept that, like people, they tend to look worse with age but a bit of TLC can make a significant difference.

You should also read

Join the conversation

Back to top ↑