10 top tips on how to clean your car

10 top tips on how to clean your car

Keeping your vehicle clean is an important but often overlooked service item, that can help identify and prevent some fairly serious issues.  

It also shows you take care of your car, especially to prospective buyers. Here we answer and advise on the top 10 car cleaning queries. 

1. What tools do I need? 

Before starting the task of cleaning a car, it’s best to gather all the required tools, so you’re not searching for a cloth or bucket whilst the car is covered in soapy water. Here’s a brief list of what we’d recommend: 

  • A hose or tap to fill your buckets 
  • 2 clean buckets 
  • A microfibre washing mitt 
  • A wheel cleaning brush 
  • A step or ladder to reach the roof 
  • Drying towels 
  • Car shampoo, wheel cleaner, glass cleaner 

2. What soap should I use to clean my car? 

Many people often think that any soap will do the job, and whilst technically true, many soaps such as dish soap strip away more than just the dirt. 

Car paintwork is often treated with a wax coat to protect the paint, as long as you don’t scrub too hard, this wax coat should last for one or two washes. It serves to protect the paint as well as make dirt easier to remove. 

The harsh action of dish soap will easily remove this layer. Instead, use a high-quality ‘car shampoo’ that not only retains the wax coat but in some cases restores it. 

3. What sponge should I use to clean bodywork? 

In short, none! Traditional sponges are not kind to car paintwork. They trap dirt and contaminants in their pores, and then, when you clean the rest of the car, scrape these particles into the paint.  

It’s best to use a microfibre mitt, this has a much higher surface area and is softer to the paint. Combined with the two-bucket method below it protects and cleans the paint in a much kinder way.  

4. What should I use to clean my alloys? 

A traditional wash mitt is often too cumbersome and soft to clean wheels with. Many retailers sell a wheel cleaning tool, usually a firmer sponge on a handle, that will allow you to clean around the wheel spokes effectively.  

Specific wheel cleaning solutions are also available, often that you spray on and leave for 10 minutes or so to work. These loosen the stubborn dirt that is usually on alloy wheels, specifically targeting brake dust. 

5. Do I need a pressure washer? 

Surprisingly no, with the right tools and cleaning products, a pressure washer is virtually redundant for all but the muddiest of cars. A bucket or hose for wetting and rinsing is usually sufficient. The exception is if the car has a lot of mud trapped under panels, wheels or in places that might get trapped in the engine.  

What's more, with the power of modern pressure washers it's quite easy to do more damage than good to paint, door seals and other components with high-pressure water. It’s much safer to stick to good old-fashioned elbow grease.  

6. Do I just need a bucket and a hose to clean my car? 

Sort of, we recommend a common technique called the two-bucket method. A hose is handy to wet the paintwork and release some loose dirt before using the wash mitt. 

The two-bucket method is the best way to refrain from introducing contaminants to your paintwork. One bucket contains hot water with your car shampoo of choice to the correct ratio. The other should contain purely hot water, with no shampoo, this is your rinse bucket.  

7. In what order is it best to wash my car? 

Always start from the top down, this is because most of the dirt accumulates on the bottom half of the car, the area nearest the road. When cleaning the bottom sections, it’s best to rinse the cleaning mitt more often. 

The wheels can be done before or after the rest, but bare in mind that dirty water from the bodywork could end up on the wheels, and vice versa.  

Clean glass and mirrors separately, with a specific glass cleaning solution and a microfibre towel, to avoid streaks, use a soap solution before the special glass cleaning product.  

8. How do I dry my car? 

Using your microfibre towels, gently absorb moisture before the heat gets a chance to evaporate it. Avoid dragging the towel across the bodywork as dirt can unintentionally get caught in the towel and scratch the paint.  

Never rely on the sun to dry your car, it is always best to clean a car in the shade on a sunny day. The action of the sun evaporating the water can leave streaks and watermarks. 

9. How do I clean my wheels? 

Disc brakes are great, they’re much more effective than drums and their exposed nature means cooling is much more efficient, but it also means your wheels get covered in stubborn brake dust.  

Wheel cleaning products are often available in spray bottles. Following the instructions usually advises to spray on a dry wheel, and wait for 10 minutes or so, before scrubbing.  

As mentioned a specific wheel cleaning brush will help here, they are stiffer and more coarse than a mitt designed for bodywork as wheels tend to be more resilient to abrasion.  

Be careful not to get too much soap or water on brake components and always test your brakes when starting a journey.  

10. How do I protect the paint after washing?

Once the car is cleaned of all the road dirt, grime and contaminants, and the paint has been dried, an optional step is to protect the paint from future damage.  

There are a wide range of waxes and protective products available, from high-tech ceramic coatings to traditional waxes and simple spray and rinse products. The best one to suit you depends on how much time you want to spend. 

The last tip, that protects the pain more than anything else, is to keep on top of cleaning. Dirt and contaminants such as tree sap, bird droppings and others can eat away at your paint if left for too long. 

If your car needs more attention than a good wash, spread the cost of your next repair or servicing bill with Bumper. Enter your vehicle registration and postcode on our website to apply for a credit limit of up to £5,000.

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