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The Ultimate Guide to the Step-by-Step Car Cleaning Process

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The Ultimate Guide to the Step-by-Step Car Cleaning Process

Did you know that 93 percent of American households had access to at least one automobile in 2019? As this statistic attests, owning a car remains a source of accomplishment and pride for US citizens.

Purchasing and insuring a first vehicle mark significant rites of passage, and more than 77 percent of survey respondents see automobiles as absolutely essential. Despite increasing access to rideshare options.

Besides car ownership’s essential nature, it also comes with the thrill of adventure. After all, road trips prove just about as American as apple pie.

It’s little wonder then that the car cleaning process is a popular topic on the internet. How to wash the car without damage also remains another often searched area.

With this in mind, we’ve created this definitive step-by-step car cleaning solution guide. Keep reading as we break down the process and options worth considering.

Top Benefits of Keeping Your Car Clean

Before delving into the nitty-gritty of how to clean your vehicle, let’s briefly go over the advantages of keeping the body of your car pristine. For starters, a spotless ride will last longer, especially if you’re good about keeping it waxed.

Why? Waxing the surface ensures that natural deposits of salt and dirt don’t gather. As a result, you have fewer concerns when it comes to corrosion.

But the fantastic benefits don’t stop there. You’ll also be happy to know that clean cars get better fuel economy because the engine doesn’t have to work as hard. The sense of personal pride that accompanies owning a beautiful set of wheels is also worth it. And keeping a clean car also means better mental and physical health.

Dust, dirt, and bacteria can build up on surfaces, resulting in poor air quality. In turn, dirty surfaces can exacerbate breathing issues and allergies.

As for mental health, there’s nothing like the boost you get from a tidy vehicle. Learn more about the surprising psychology behind cleanliness.

And keeping your automobile neat could also save your life. What do we mean?

Clean mirrors and windows ensure the best visibility possible. The same goes for headlights, which shine more brightly when washed often. In other words, you can save in auto insurance costs by having fewer fender benders and other accidents.

Types of Car Washes

Now that you’ve got a better sense of what will be gained by keeping your car sparkling, let’s go over some of the different types of washes available. We’ll also talk about the pros and cons of each.

Your options include:

  • Hand washing
  • Car washes
  • Car detailers

Let’s delve more deeply into each of these categories. That way, you can make a more informed decision about the best wash for your car’s needs.

Advantages of Hand Washing a Car

Hand washing your car comes with some unexpected perks. For example, you’ll burn significant calories as you bend, twist, and polish away. You also have complete control over the finished product and what gets used on your car’s surface.

That said, hand washing has gotten a bad rap in recent years. And, honestly, it’s not the most environmentally friendly way to keep your vehicle looking brand spanking new.

In some states, like Washington and California, there’s even legislation prohibiting washing your car in the driveway. Why? Because of its potentially harmful environmental implications.

Fortunately, some new products on the market help you clean your ride even in places where wasting water or the risk of water runoff is looked down upon. For example, some sprays offer a waterless solution.

How do they work? Simply spray the product on a portion of the vehicle and wipe it with a clean microfiber rag.

What are some other vehicle cleaning tips to keep in mind? Make sure that you have a pile of clean microfiber towels handy, and change them out often.

Otherwise, you risk scratching the surface. Here are some more car care tips to bear in mind.

Pros of Commercial Car Washes

While many people relish the idea of sudsing up their vehicle at home, commercial car washes provide a convenient and fast alternative. They’re also generally inexpensive while still providing thorough coverage.

The commercial washes of today feature cutting-edge technology. They’re specifically designed for cycling through a set of steps that’ll have your car looking amazing.

Commercial washes also come with better paint protection because they’re created to be gentle. For this reason, your car’s surface may ultimately last longer.

The primary benefit of car washes remains how fast they get the job done. Instead of spending hours laboring over your automobile, you’ll never have this problem with a commercial setup.

That said, there are some downsides to this type of wash. First, you may end up with water spots, an unsightly look that could leave you feeling frustrated (and in need of another car wash).

What’s more, you’ll also have to deal with less contact to the surface. Sure, less contact means a lower risk of paint scratches. But at the same time, they also miss hard-to-remove grime, especially in the dirtiest parts.

Benefits of Hiring a Professional Car Detailer

By far, the most expensive option on this list is car detailing. Of course, you’ll also need to set aside plenty of time for the process. Yet, it’s hard to beat the full-scale auto detailing finished product.

What are the pros of going this route? For starters, you’ll gain access to everything needed for a brand-new-looking vehicle. But you’ll pay for it.

If you’re worried about the environment, look for a detailer that uses reclaimed water. Just make sure they don’t rely on recycled water for high-pressure washing.

Car detailers also offer a variety of services and packages. And they’re experts in their field, which means they can handle even the most challenging jobs.

What are the disadvantages of using car detailers? Different services come with diverse price tags, and they can get expensive.

If you opt for a company that provides “other services,” make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. Otherwise, you could get upsold on a package that doesn’t offer more value.

You also want to avoid companies with bad reviews as they could end up damaging your car. After all, who wants a car insurance claim instead of a shiny vehicle?

Different Types Of Professional Service Detailers Offer

What are some of the additional services provided by professional car detailers? While it depends on the company you choose, options many car detailers offer include:

  • Clay
  • Ceramic
  • Protective paint films
  • Paint correction
  • Wet sanding
  • Headlight restoration
  • Window tinting
  • Rim and wheel repairs
  • Ding and dent repairs

Depending on your vehicle’s state, these additional options stand to improve your automobile’s overall appearance radically. But they require experience and a certain level of mastery, or you could end up with damage to your car’s paint job. That said, detailing can cost hundreds of dollars and require a full day to complete.

Steps To Cleaning a Car Yourself

So, what are the steps necessary for a dealer-quality clean? They include prepping your car, washing it, cleaning the tires and wheels, and vacuuming the interior.

Beyond that, here are some additional pointers to guarantee a gorgeous finished product.

They include:

  • Making headlights shine
  • Spending extra time on crannies and nooks
  • Cleaning your cup holders
  • Using dryer sheets to keep your car bug-free
  • Giving floor mats attention
  • Removing gunk from upholstery
  • Using wipes to keep interiors clean
  • Improving your vehicle’s smell

Here’s what you need to know about each of these steps and how they can make the experience of getting into your car a luxurious treat.

Making Headlights Shine

Nobody likes cloudy headlights. They make it harder for others to see your car on the road. And they give your car an old, beat-up vibe.

How do you shine up your headlight covers fast? Instead of opting for an expensive kit, consider using non-gel toothpaste.

How does it work? Toothpaste has a gentle abrasive that can remove buildup on headlight covers. Try using a microfiber cloth to apply the toothpaste.

Which kind of toothpaste works best? Choose one with baking soda in it. Or go with one that offers whitening action.

What if your headlights have a special tint on them? Then, nix the DIY approach. Instead, find a professional to handle these specialty lights.

Spending Extra Time on Crannies and Nooks

Besides making headlights sparkle, you’ll need to devote some serious time to your car’s crannies and nooks.

After all, crumbs can get anywhere, even when you’re meticulous about eating.

How do you get crumbs out of tight spots? The answer can prove tricky.

Try using a flat screwdriver head covered with cloth or an old toothbrush to reach the tightest spots. You should also use a vacuum attachment to ensure you get all of the crumbs. 

Cleaning Your Cup Holders

Does your car lack removable cup holders? If so, they can prove tricky to clean.

What to do? Try using an old sock and an all-purpose cleaner to remove spots and stains.

If some of them prove stubborn? Scrape them off with a wooden skewer. Remember to vacuum anything that comes out of those holders.

If your cup holders can be removed, throw them in the dishwasher instead of scrubbing. Set your washer to the rinse setting and let your machine do the dirty work.

Don’t use the dry cycle, or they could melt. Instead, wipe them dry.

Giving Floor Mats Attention

One of the hardest working and overlooked areas of your car remains the floor mats. Because they take the brunt of what’s on your feet, they can look tattered and torn quickly, especially if they don’t get a little regular TLC.

How do you clean these necessary accessories? The answer to this question depends on the type of mat you’ve got. For example, you can throw fabric-covered rugs in your washing machine.

But first, remember to treat them with a stain remover to loosen tough, stuck-on messes. You should also throw in a little detergent and always use the gentle cycle.

What about rubber mats? Opt for a simple wipe-down with a microfiber cloth and an all-purpose cleaner.

Removing Gunk from Upholstery

Do you have vinyl or leather seats? Are you pulling your hair out trying to remove gunk from them? If so, there’s a simple solution you’ll wish you knew about sooner, a magic eraser.

Start by wetting the magic eraser and testing a small, easily hidden portion of your upholstery. If that works well, use a magic eraser to remove gunk and stains from your car seats gently.

If you still can’t budge spots, use 1/4 cup white vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup olive oil on your leather seats. Rub this mixture in using a clean towel until the seats appear clean. This tip will leave you with beautiful car seats that are also thoroughly disinfected.

Using Wipes to Keep Interiors Clean

Once your vehicle looks spic and span, keep it that way. What’s one of the easiest ways to combat spills and other issues that can impact your car’s interior? Keep baby wipes handy.

What’s so great about baby wipes for interior spills and messes? They prove gentle for dashboards, steering wheels, and other surfaces. Yet, they still effectively removing stains and grime.

Best of all, they’re easy to find just about anywhere, and you can store them in your glove compartment for life’s unexpected messes.

Improving Your Vehicle’s Smell

After you’ve cleaned your car with a fine-toothed comb, what’s left to do? Last but not least, ensure your car smells fantastic. While you can easily slap a deodorant in the car, maintaining a good smell long-term can prove challenging.

Fortunately, one of our favorite cleaning hacks does the trick. Sprinkle your car’s interior with baking soda, renowned for nixing odors related to pets, food, and spills. Best of all, it’ll also keep your car’s interior smelling fresh and clean.

Additional Tips for Treating Leather Interiors

What else do you need to know about treating leather interiors? Don’t be afraid to pull out a vacuum cleaner to remove stray crumbs and dust buildups. A good two-in-one leather cleaner will snazz up your seats while conditioning them with natural oils.

Use a soft, clean towel to apply this product, and remember to do it often so that upholstery remains in tiptop shape. As you apply the product, use a circular motion to massage it into place.

How to Dry a Car With a Cloth or Microfiber

When it comes to drying your automobile, nothing beats a microfiber towel. Why? Microfiber cloths prove incredibly absorbent because of the durable fibers from which they’re constructed.

Yet, these fibers remain small enough that they won’t damage the paint. For this reason, we recommend soaking your microfiber cloth in water to make it damp.

A damp cloth decreases friction between the car and towel, and it represents an overall safer way to keep your automobile from getting scratched. Wipe your car from top to bottom, and change out the water regularly to avoid dirty streaks.

Cleaners to Use to Polish Your Vehicle

What are some of the best products for polishing your car after you’ve thoroughly cleaned it? They include:

  • Carnuba Wax
  • Ceramic
  • Clay

As for the differences between car waxes and car polishes? Each material comes with specific pros and cons. For example, car polishes tend to last longer than car waxes, providing superior protection.

The best polishes can nix minor swirl marks and other surface scratches when properly applied. But some experts advise against using them, particularly with newer vehicles.

Why? Because they prove slightly abrasive and strip a small amount of paint from the car’s surface. For this reason, the consensus remains older vehicles will get the most benefit from car polishes.

As for wax, it sits on the car’s surface, offering protection from weather and the elements. When you make consistent waxing a part of your routine, you’ll maintain a showroom shine while providing your car’s surface with added protection.

Detailers Steps for Paint Correction

Besides the car care tips above, you may have questions about what professional detailers offer when it comes to paint correction. This term refers to the process of rejuvenating and restoring the paintwork on a car.

How is it achieved? Generally, through the removal of surface imperfections that impact how light reflects off a vehicle’s surface. Issues addressed through paint correction include fine scratches, swirl marks, oxidation, acid rain etching, bird drop etching, and more.

What sets paint correction apart from other forms of surface work? To truly get classified as paint correction, it must involve the proper removal of imperfections. Not merely covering them up with filler-based products.

The Ultimate Guide to the Step-by-Step Car Cleaning Process

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

We’ve taken a closer look at the different kinds of car washes available on the market. Now, it’s time to consider some of the most frequently asked questions among car owners.

Why Is It Important to Detail Your Car?

There are many beneficial reasons to get your car detailed. Not only does detailing help you preserve the original appearance of your ride, but it also keeps your car’s paint safer. While it’s impossible to avoid some wear and tear over time, meticulous care of your automobile will help it go the distance.

Is Detailing Your Car Worth It?

When you commit to detailing your car regularly, you’ll enjoy many different benefits. These include protecting your car’s resale value and making sure the dirtiest parts are always pristine.

Detailing helps you stop irreversible damage dead in its tracks with consistent TLC from detailers. You’ll also better protect your car’s clear coat, which represents the skin of your vehicle. The clear coat protects it from fading, scratching, and rusting.

What Is the Difference Between a Car Wash and Car Detailing?

Car detailing provides a more in-depth and thorough car cleaning experience. While detailing costs more and takes longer, your car will shine inside and out.

What’s more, detailing ensures your car’s surface won’t get scratched during the cleaning process. A professional detailer goes to great lengths to clean your vehicle in the most gentle way possible, avoiding common issues with car washes such as chips, scratches, and swirl marks.

How Often Should You Get Your Car Detailed?

Most experts agree that you should get your car detailed two to three times per year. But this rule of thumb depends on various factors, including your geographic location, seasonal weather conditions, and more.

Are Automatic Car Washes Bad for Your Car?

The long and the short answer is yes. Automatic car washes will damage the surface of your automobile.

That said, there are things you can do to minimize the overall impact. Ironically, traditional car washes with rotating brushes cause the least amount of damage.

Is It Better to Hand-Wash Your Car?

Although many detailers swear by hand washing as the safest way to clean your car’s exterior, don’t leave this job to just anyone. Even hand washing comes with risks.

After all, using the same sponge to clean multiple cars is a common mistake we see with many handwashing facilities. This practice can introduce surface-scratching abrasives into the mix. To avoid these unpleasantries, make sure sponges and microfiber towels get replaced consistently.

What Kind of Products Should I Use to Clean My Car?

There are countless products on the market designed to make car washing a breeze. They include everything from DIY touchless sprays to car polishes and waxes of various kinds. Some car washers also swear by bizarre items such as hair conditioners.

You’ll enjoy the best results with products containing lanolin. How do you apply it? Mix half a cup of hair conditioner with two cups of water. Then, spread it liberally onto your car before rinsing to reveal a shiny finish.

The Car Cleaning Process

Now you’ve got a better understanding of how the car cleaning process works. You also have a variety of tips you can use to guarantee a showroom-worthy finish every time.

What else can you do to keep your car safe and well-maintained over the long haul? Invest in car insurance that fits your lifestyle. Contact us to discuss your auto insurance needs.

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