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How to Fully Clean a Car

Updated on July 15, 2011

Proper care is important in order to keep cars in good working condition. While changing the oil and rotating the tires are well-known aspects of car maintenance, one area that is often neglected is basic cleaning. Cleaning your car regularly prevents rust and damage. Plus, it makes it more enjoyable for you as the driver and more comfortable for your passengers. To properly clean you car, you need to thoroughly wash the exterior, polish and wax the body (if needed), and fully clean the interior.

To clean the outside of your car, park it in a shady spot—though not under a tree that could drop leaves or sap onto it. Wind up all the windows and close all the doors. Pour a capful of car soap into a bucket of warm water and place it nearby, along with a terry cloth or sponge. Begin by hosing the dirt and grime off your car. Start at the roof and work downward, ending with the tires. Don't start at the bottom; if you do, you'll end up spraying dirt onto the areas you've already hosed off. Now that the car is wet, soak your cloth or sponge in the bucket of soapy water and begin wiping the car. Once again, start at the roof. When you're done, spray off the soap. Move to all four sides of the car, washing one side at a time (including the windows and tires) and rinsing before proceeding to the next. You want to keep the car wet the whole time so you don't get water spots. For that reason, continue to spray it down with the hose.

Once everything has been washed and rinsed, dry the car with a towel or chamois leather. Beginning at the roof, wipe the towel along the surface to soak up the water. Work your way down to the tires. Pay attention to metal and chrome areas; dry them carefully to avoid water spots. You may also want to polish and buff them. Detail the inside and outside of the windows with a water-soaked rag, followed by a dry one, or just use window cleaner and paper towels. If you need to wax or polish, do that next. (Some car cleaners have a built-in wax, eliminating this extra step.)

Waxing and polishing are not the same. Waxing products use caranauba or synthetic wax to protect the exterior of the car. Polishing is done with a chemical or abrasive product to remove rust and/or to fix scratches. If you're going to polish, do that before waxing. (Keep an eye out for areas that will need polishing--scratches, etc.--while you wash.) You will need a dual-action orbital buffer and some foam pads. Put an abrasive pad on the buffer, and apply the polish to the edge of the pad. Chemical polishes are good for removing rust; abrasive polishes are better for fixing imperfections and are graded according to their coarseness. Without turning the buffer on, spread the polish onto the area of the car in which you will be working (no more than four square feet). Set the speed to 3, then, with the pad pressed against the car, turn the buffer on. Move the pad over the area, left and right, up and down. Once the polish has fully covered the section, turn the speed up to 5 or 6. Make sure the pad is evenly placed on the car. Once the polish turns clear or starts to flake, turn the buffer off. Wipe off the polish with a terry cloth. You can repeat this process with a less abrasive pad, or move onto other areas. Polish your car whenever you see nicks or scratches. This will prevent damage from rust.

After you've finished polishing, it's time to wax. (If you don't wax, your vehicle will be more susceptible to damage and wear.) Apply the car wax to a wet rag and work your way around the car, rubbing in a circular motion. Carnauba wax offers excellent protection and shine, but it wears off more quickly than a synthetic wax will. Synthetic waxes also deliver good protection, but the look may not be as "wet" as the one you'll get with carnauba. When the wax is dry, wipe it off with a clean towel and buff with a soft rag. Wax at least two or three times a year--the more frequently, the better.

Now that the outside is done, it's time to clean the interior. Remove all the trash and excess items (including ones under the seat) from your vehicle. Pull out the car mats; shake them thoroughly and set them aside. If your seat covers are dirty, remove and wash them according to the manufacturer's directions--refer to your manual or call the car dealership. You should be able to wash them in the laundry machine, but it's always best to double check.

Now that everything has been cleared out of your car, vacuum the seats, floors, and doors. Use a narrow attachment to get into the cracks and hard to reach spots. Next, attack stains on the seats with a carpet cleaner and/or stain remover. Follow the directions on the back of the product. Once the fabric is taken care of, clean the dashboard and other vinyl areas with a rag and vinyl protectant. Don't forget to get inside the cup holders! Open the windows to release fumes and allow the wet areas to dry. Meanwhile, vacuum the car floor mats, and then wash the plastic ones with a scrubbing brush and carpeted ones with carpet cleaner. Set them in the sun to dry. Once everything is dry, return the seat covers and floor mats to the car. Now you can enjoy a clean car!

Thoroughly cleaning your vehicle will not only protect it from damage and wear, it also makes driving a more pleasant experience. Start with the outside--washing, detailing, and protecting the body--then move to the inside where the real contact happens. Your car will thank you, and so will your passengers!


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      Kyle 6 years ago

      You would then follow up with a porter cable 7424xp to take away any swirls or imperfections in your paint.