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How to Clean A Car

Updated on June 25, 2015
A 1963 Corvette showing the benefits of fastidious Car Detailing.
A 1963 Corvette showing the benefits of fastidious Car Detailing. | Source

What is Car Detailing?

How to clean a car might be easy to many experienced car owners, but to many new owners, proper car cleaning is something that must be learnt. We've compiled this guide to take you through everything you'll need to know so that if you follow our tips, we promise your car will look like a brand new one after you've finished.

Car detailing is used by either car enthusiasts to exhibit their pride at auto shows, or, by car dealers to get a better price for their trade in cars, or, by you, either for sheer pride, or, you want to get the best price possible if you're thinking of selling it or trading it in.

First impressions is what counts for everything and your car is no exception. First impressions of your car from a perspective buyer will actually tell a lot about you as a person and whether the car is hiding something. For example, if the car is dirty that would tell me straight off that the seller is a lazy person and doesn't know how to clean a car and that would sound some warning bells as to whether the car had been serviced regularly or not and if it had, I'd be assuming that when parts were required, cheap parts would have being replaced with the original ones. I's probably back away from the sale, even if it was a cheap car.

An immaculate car with great car detailing on the other hand would entice me to take a closer look.

Actually a side tip here is, when I'm really interested in buying a second hand car even though it may be totally immaculate, I'll ask the owner if he'd mind if i washed it even if it's a dealer. You'd be amazed if you carefully wash and then dry a car how many little defects you will pick up like tiny dents, scratches, maybe even a little rust etc that just weren't visible before.

Washing your car the right way.
Washing your car the right way.

How to Wash a Car

The first step in car detailing is how to clean a car the right way. This is important so that you get rid of all the dirt and grime. If you go straight to the polishing step you'll rub all this dirt into it creating some awful scratches all over it.

First, check the temperature of the bodywork of your car. If it's a hot day or you've been driving it and the motor and hood are still warm, then put the car in the shade for an hour or two, or, if your hose water is cool enough, then play the water on the bodywork until it's cool.

(Best in car detailing and how to wash your car is to take any jewelry or, anything like sharp cuff buttons off that may scratch the bodywork without you even noticing).

Next, take a bucket of warm but not hot water and put a little auto body shampoo in the bucket. You don't need too much, a couple of capfuls will do it. I'll list a good one on the side here with Amazon. What's really critical here is that you don't use a household detergent like something to wash your dishes, and definitely not something to wash your clothes. This is really important for car detailing. If your car has any wax on it, the dishwashing liquid will live up to its name as a grease stripper, and strip all your wax off.

Okay, next get a nice big sponge. Auto cleaning sponges are best for this only because they are so large, but this side isn't critical. Just a nice big sponge will do the trick. Take your hose and starting at the car roof spray that with a good dollop of water, then your trunk and hood and sides. Next step in how to clean your car is to take your sponge and giving it a good dip in the soapy water and start to soap your whole car from top to bottom down. Then rince off with thoroughly with your hose until there's not a sign of a soap sud.

Real Chamois is the best for the drying job for car detailing - but a synthetic one is next best. For $5.00 extra though you get the real thing - about 5 square feet of it and they are so long-lasting you'll be able to pass it down to your son. I've had mine for at least twenty years without any breakup in it at all. Wet your chamois cloth first and rince out.

Best not to dry in swirls which is the natural thing to do. Dry the car off, starting will the roof and going down in straight sweeps. How to clean a car is actually pretty easy.

Great book for Only 0.99cents

Buy only a Genuine Chamois Cloth. They are only $5.00 more than a synthetic one - and they'll last a Lifetime

How to use Cutting Compound on your Car

After you've washed your car and got rid of all the dirt and grime it's then time with how to clean a car to take a look at the overall condition of the paintwork and decide if it's best to buy some cutting compound for the best finish. This is not necessary if the paint still looks fairly shiny everywhere. If it's dull then you'll have to 'cut the paint.' Cutting polish is not included in the Amazon kit of car detailing products above but bought separately will only be about $6.00. Cutting polish has an abrasive in it so the idea behind it is that it will take a slight surface off your paint and then once buffed with a top polish, your car's like new again. A warning though is this. If your car is say ten years old or older and has lived in a hot climate if the paints bad it probably is beyond hope, but it's still worth a go. Also, if your paint has been 'cut' three or four times before, then it may now be too thin for another cut and cutting it again may expose some factory paint primer through the color.

Anyway, if you have to cut the polish for great car detailing, I can tell you that it's a lengthy and messy job and best done with an electric buffer. I've listed a buffer below that will be man enough for the job. I've tried cheap buffers and you end up throwing them away. Using cheap buffers - you can literally stop the motor without too much pressure on the paint.

Anyway - hopefully you wont have to cut the polish first. Next in how to clean a car- Applying the top polish.

How to Wax your Car

Waxing your car is the best part of how to clean a car. I love the smell of the polish for a start. Make sure the body of the car is dead cool before you start though. If the body's hot the polish will dry too quickly and the wax is then hard to get off and can leave streaks. Probably best done in a garage if you've got room to move around it. Afterwards you'll have to take it outside and go over places that you would have missed in the garage because of lighting though.

So go get some very soft old rags and take a careful check on them that there's not any buttons, zips, even hard seams before you start. Start on the roof. Do one side by applying in straight movements, not circles and rub it into the paint until you are starting to rub it off again. Then get another dry rag and rub the dry polish right off the paint. Go around the other side of the roof and do the same thing. You'll need about a square inch of polish for each side. When first learning about how to clean a car you can't avoid getting the polish onto rubber strips etc - just take it off immediately. In your kit of car detailing products if you buy the one above you'll have another bottle of liquid in it that you can use later to buff all the rubber up and make that like new again.

Keep going right around the car until you finish. Remember when first doing how to clean a car don't use the polish on the window, rubber or, lights as I said, but the chrome loves the polish. Next the wheels.

Cleaning the Wheels
Cleaning the Wheels

Cleaning the Car Wheels

If your car hasn't been cleaned for some time, especially if it was because nobody knew how to clean a car, the wheels are going to look pretty bad. In the Amazon kit of car detailing products above is an excellent spray to clean your wheels. For great car detailing to clean the wheels you do need a special cleaner. Why your wheels mostly get so black and dirty is through the brake dust that gets lodged on them every time you use your brakes. The front wheels will always be worse the back wheels as they take most of the pressure. Trying to clean them without a special wheel cleaning spray isn't really possible and is truly messy. So, first go get a bucket again of warm water with a capful of car shampoo in it. Then give your wheels a thorough spray with the special wheel cleaner on all four wheels. Leave that for a few minutes then with a sponge (you'll have to dedicate this sponge to just cleaning wheels- so better to not use the one for washing the car - get another one for this job but it doesn't have to be that big) tip the sponge into the soapy water and start washing your wheels. Afterwards hose off the suds and you'll have some great looking wheels. We think in 'how to clean a car', that the wheels and tires make a huge overall effect when properly cleaned.

Cleaning motors can be a lot of work - but are worthwhile
Cleaning motors can be a lot of work - but are worthwhile

Engine Cleaning

Yep - this is a dirty job so put some coveralls on. There's a few degreaser spray products on the market in car detailing products and they do a really great job. In how to clean a car properly we know its best if you warm the motor a little, then spray the can onto everything you can see. Have a small hard brush handy and start scrubbing everything that has some oil deposits on. For some areas a hard toothbrush is a great little tool. When you think it's all off then get your garden hose and with some fairly good pressure, spray everything with high pressure water until the milkiness of the degreaser is all gone. In days long gone the water was a surety in killing your engine with regards to water on the spark plug leads. These days they're fairly well sealed so you should be okay. This makes a pretty big mess underneath your car too so best to put an old sheet or something that will catch all the old oil deposits then throw it in your landfill. Unfortunately Degreaser isn't in the Amazon kit either of car detailing products. I've listed it separately below in the next section of how to clean a car.

Cleaning Tires and Rubber Engine Tubing.

Tire cleaning is easy. You can use the spray on blackening product in the Amazon kit of car detailing products, but I prefer to use a can of Silicone Spray. This is ideal to spray onto all the rubber cooling and heater tubes inside your engine bay. If you have black rubber bumpers, use it on these as well. It's a bit sticky for about an hour after you apply it but then it dries and makes these parts look new again.

Interior Cleaning and other Parts to Detail

In the Amazon kit of car detailing products are spray bottles fantastic in how to clean a car for cleaning the dash and windows. The dash cleaner is great and just a light spray and a buff with a cloth will do wonders to not only protect it but also bring it back to life.

With the windows for the best car detailing, don't use the spray provided to clean while the car is facing the sun. All you'll get is streaked windows. So, just clean them in little light. If they are smeared on the inside, lightly use an abrasive on them, an abrasive that you might use to clean your pots. Just don't rub furiously at the windows - go gentle. After you've got the smears off then clean normally with the Amazon window cleaner.

Use the window cleaner on the lights as well.

The seats and carpet are over to you and should be thoroughly vacuumed. If you've got pleats in your seats (nice rhyme) open them up with your fingers and vacuum down the pleats. You'll be astonished how much crap has got trapped in these pleats over the year. It's the number one reason why seats start coming apart.

For perfection in how to clean a car, clean everything in your trunk - vacuum and polish.

Lastly, open your doors right out and polish what they call the 'door shuts'. The door shuts are an area a lot of people forget about, but it's an area that the car dealer will go straight to as it tells someone experienced like him whether you've given the car a quick flick over or you've always being proud of your car and kept it in pristine condition.

Now you've done some great car detailing and learnt how to clean a car- Go sell it for a great price or just be very proud of it and what you've done (You could even make a living out of)


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