Each year, billions of dollars are spent on car cleaning services and supplies, and do you know what? A lot of what we buy is either complete crap, or entirely unnecessary.
From weekly trips down to the automatic car wash, to infomercial-backed car cleaning supplies, and paying professional detailers for house calls, it’s all up for grabs, and by Zeus’ beard do we buy into it.
There’s a reason why people buy into quick fix detailing solutions, or opt to contract-out the cleaning process entirely. Maintaining a clean car is an expensive, time-consuming, and painstakingly tedious process.
Unfortunately, when it comes to car cleaning, cutting corners won’t help much either, as it typically results in subpar results, or worse yet, damaged surfaces.
But like any other car care project, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce mistakes, and save time, money, energy, and expletives.
So if you’re a do-it-yourself type of guy or gal, keep on scrolling, because we tossed everything you’ll ever need to know about DIY car cleaning into today’s bucket of suds.
Car Cleaning Preparation
Gathering car detailing supplies is kind of like hitting-up the Batcave for a few choice gadgets, before going toe-to-toe with the likes of Killer Croc and The Penguin. Your ability to clean-up scum, and kick filthy evildoers to the curb depends heavily upon what’s packed in your Batbelt, errr… detailing bag.
However, with so many opinions, blogs, and YouTube.com videos creating a minefield of inaccurate information, how do you weed through the BS?
Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you.
In the information below, we’ll lay out some facts about car cleaning preparation, provide some basic advice on how to prepare for cleaning your vehicle so it continually looks like a new car.
Not sure what to buy, and are looking to learn what car cleaning supplies work best? The AvalonKing guide to car detailing 101 will provide you with everything you need to know.
But first, let’s explain a few important rules about auto detailing that should be followed to ensure your car cleaning experience is a positive one.
- Don’t let anything touch the ground: This includes any wash mitts, upholstery cleaners, towels for drying, or anything that physically touches your car.
- Always keep your wheel cleaning supplies separate: Brake dust is comprised of microscopic particles of metal. When you clean a car with the same supplies as the wheels, it opens the door to scratching and damaging paint. This also includes keeping your Armor All and other tire shine or wheel cleaning supplies in separate areas.
- Always use clean supplies: Cleaning a car with supplies that are dirty just doesn’t make sense – does it? This includes using fresh car detailing supplies and not using expired products. Also, if you use a leather cleaner or tire cleaners that are expired – throw them away. That 20-year-old can of turtle wax could be thrown away also.
- Don’t wash a car in direct sunlight: Sunlight creates heat, which evaporates water – including soap. This makes it difficult to effectively wash the car. Washing a car in the early morning or close to sunset is always best. If you want to take a break and detail the car seats and car interior later, that won’t impact the overall results.
Now that we have a clear understanding of the rules for cleaning your car, let’s outline the steps that should be followed.
Step 1: Choose Your Car Wash Location Wisely
We indicated above that you shouldn’t wash your car in direct sunlight. However, there are a few other exterior wash best practices that should be followed. First, make sure to situate your car on an even surface; such as a driveway. Second, if you can – try to wash the car in shade. Finally, make sure to leave yourself plenty of space to work.
Step 2: Gather Your Car Cleaning Supplies
Cleaning a car is so much easier when you’re not tripping over shit. By placing your supplies and materials in easy to access locations, you’ll reduce mistakes and produce better results.
The first step here is to uncoil your hose. This will ensure there are no kinks, which is time-consuming to resolve during the car washing process. The next thing to do is place your wash and rinse buckets, wheel cleaning supplies, soap, and other materials in places that make it easier to access.
Step 3: Prepare Your Wheel Cleaning Supplies
The initial area you’ll clean while washing a car is the wheels. It makes sense to prepare your wheel cleaning supplies first. Remember a few of the rules above – never use the same cleaning supplies or materials for washing your wheels and the car. To wash wheels, you’ll need the following: a wash bucket, wheel, and tire washing brush or wash mitt, and wheel washing soap.
Step 4: Prep Any Additional Supplies
Washing the car should be completed after washing wheels. But, being proactive by gathering and placing all of your car washing supplies will save you time.
How to Wash a Car
So, we’ve laid out our supplies, outlined a few important rules to remember, now it’s time to wash the car. It’s important to remember that we’re talking about exterior detailing here. If you want to clean your floor mats, use glass cleaner to do the windows, or complete other interior detailer tasks – that should be done after washing the outside.
The intent of washing a car in the first place is removing dirt, debris, bird shit, bug guts, and more. As such, it’s important that you gather the right car cleaning materials, supplies, and products that are going to allow you to accomplish this objective.
While we are going to provide a few recommended steps below, let’s be real – you’ve got the freedom to pick and choose what methods or steps works best for you.
Before we dive into the four steps of washing your car, let’s throw out a few simple reminders.
- Make sure to remove jewelry, rings, watches, or any other items that can potentially scratch or damage your paint.
- If you’re going to wash your car, do it all at the same time. Don’t start washing in the morning and finish up later in the afternoon.
- Remove the old air fresheners from inside the car and use a new one when you’re done.
Step 1: Prewash and Scrub those Rollers
This is the easy part. Before you begin to apply soap to any portion of the vehicle, it’s smart to give your car a pre-washing shower. Just spray clean water over the entire vehicle. This will remove light debris from the vehicle and provide you with lubrication to wash the car – which helps to reduce scratching and improves your ability to clean the car. Prewashing is absolutely vital as it also helps to minimize the swirl marks during the washing phase.
Once you’ve sprayed down the car, the next item to complete is washing the wheels and tires. This will ensure you remove all the brake dust, road grime, and other contaminants from the wheels and tires.
During this phase, you’ll likely make quite a mess – with soap flying all over the car. Well – that’s why we wash the wheels first – and not after washing the car. Since you’re going to make a mess anyways, it makes sense to wash off the excess crap off your car after doing the wheels.
Here are the steps you should follow for cleaning your wheels and tires:
- Spray on your wheel cleaner and let it soak in a bit. This will allow the cleaner to penetrate the caked-on brake dust and make it easier to remove.
- Scrub the wheels with your wheel washing mitt or brush.
- Rinse off the wheels completely.
- Repeat this step 4 times.
Step 2: Put Both Buckets to Work
After you’ve washed your wheels, spray down the entire car again with fresh water. This allows you to have a fresh canvass to work on. If you followed our advice earlier, you’d already have your washing supplies, both buckets set up and ready to begin the washing process. If you didn’t – review that section again and come back when you’re ready.
Now, in order to wash the car completely, it’s important to follow a few important steps:
- Wash your car in sections: It’s always best to wash and rinse your car in sections, such as the hood, driver side quarter panel, doors, the rear deck lid and so on.
- Wash from top to bottom: When you’re washing the car, make sure to start on top, then work your way down to the bottom. This allows all the dirt and crap to flow downhill – which reduces cross-contamination and scratching.
- Fill (2) buckets with water. One bucket will be filled 2/3rds of the way full with only water, while the other will be filled with soap and water. You’ll use one bucket for soaking your wash mitt with fresh soap, while the other one is used for rinsing that wash mitt after each application on the car. Again, if you’re confused, watch this video to see how it’s done.
- Soak the wash mitt in the soapy bucket. This loads your wash mitt with fresh soap for improved lubricity.
- Begin washing the car. Work in sections as we indicated above. Start on top and wash the car from left to right, not in a circular motion – go side to side Daniel-San.
- Place the used wash mitt in the clean water bucket and agitate it at the bottom to remove dirt and debris.
- Rinse off the section you just completed and repeat these steps until you’ve completely washed the car.
Once you’ve finished washing the entire car, complete a final rinse over the entire car, to remove any excess soap.
Step 3: Dry Hard With a Vengeance
Once you’ve completely washed the car, your final step is drying. There are a few important things you DON’T want to do. First, don’t dry the car down the road or air compressor hose to dry off the car. This will just throw more crap back on your car. Second, only use scratch-resistant drying materials. Finally, like washing, go side to side and resist the urge to dry in a circular pattern.
The steps for drying a car include:
- Always use a microfiber cloth, chamois, or automotive drying towel.
- Dry off the vehicle the same way you wash – top to bottom and each section at a time.
- Use multiple drying towels – and replace them when they get wet.
These steps are general in nature. So, if you want to learn more about the proper ways of cleaning your car, review our car detailing guide.
A Few DIY Car Cleaning Tips
There is much more to washing and waxing when it comes to cleaning and protecting your vehicle’s paint. Sometimes, you’ve got to bust out the old elbow grease to produce the best results. However, there are a few DIY car cleaning tips videos that help explain how to best accomplish this task.
Quick Tip: In case you are short of cleaning products a mix of baking soda, water and vinegar can really help you de-grease cheap and fast.
Super Clean the Windshield
In this video, our pal ChrisFix is back at it to show you the 3 step method to clean the inside of your windshield so there is no streaking and it removes the oily film. This is the easiest and fastest method to get a truly streak-free windshield.
Clean Cloudy Headlights
Using toothpaste for headlight restoration. This video will show you how to clean headlights with toothpaste and restore yellow headlights so they are clear again. Headlight lens restoration using regular toothpaste actually works. It doesn’t take much effort, and you can get great results. Watch to see how to get your ugly headlights clear again.
How to Get Buff and Shine On Like a Crazy Diamond
The video here will show you a secret DIY mix for cleaning the dirtiest car carpets is revealed. Just soak the carpets, follow the instruction on how to make a simple extractor and voila your carpets will be looking brand new no matter how dirty they were.
Looking to restore your car’s interior, but don’t have the funds for an intergalactic steam cleaning machine from Dimension X?
A Couple Killer Car Cleaning Hacks
Hack 6 – Shine your body with a clay bar
Time to Do: 45 minutes
Cost DIY: $20
Cost Professional: $150
Constantly cleaning your car but never quite getting it to shine?
If you want that showroom finish and shine but without the showroom prices for that shine, a great way to “cheap out” but get that same exact look is by using a clay bar on your car’s body paint. This is due to the fact that the clay picks up the leftover gunk on your car’s body while leaving a clean, shiny finish
If you enjoyed this article, then you'll love AvalonKing's automotive care products for Do-It-Yourselfers. We create "No B.S. products" for an affordable price. And the best part, we treat our customers like family, so if you have any questions or just looking to chat about cars, we're only an email or call away. Check out our homepage here.