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Whether you see your car as your pride of joy or a means of getting from A to B at some point in time it’s going to get dirty and it will need to be cleaned.
You could take it to your local car wash and get them to do it for you or if you want to have a better job done a car valet would be a good choice.
If you choose the above options this guide is probably not for you but if you prefer to tackle the job yourself read on.
At the very least washing your car on a regular basis will help keep it looking good, a simple wash with little more than a bucket of soapy water and a sponge is all that is needed but it wont protect in the long run. That’s because dirt, bird droppings, dead bugs, road gunk, tree sap, and other contaminants can harm the paint if left on for too long
If you want to go that little bit extra and get it looking like its just come out of the showroom, our guide will give you some pointers on how to achieve it.
- Best Way To Wash Your Car
- Shining Your Car, Compounds, Polish And Wax
- Glass And Exterior Trim
- Cleaning Equipment
Best Way To Wash Your Car
First thing to think about is are you washing your car or damaging the paint. When you see all those swirl marks in your cars paint this is caused by a poor washing technique and will need compounding or polishing to remove. Each time you wash your car you could be doing more damage as you rub grit into the paint finish.
A good thorough weekly wash and hand dry is the way to go, this is to ensure you remove all contaminants as quickly as possible that would otherwise cause long term damage.
Without regular cleaning and treatment your car’s exterior is prone to discoloration from UV damage, road debris, and every other contaminant that your car is exposed to.
The two major ones to worry about are bird droppings and bug remains, both contain bio hazards and organic acids that bond to your cars paintwork causing untold damage.
Another problem is brake dust which is highly corrosive and very sticky.
Allowing these contaminants to sit on your car for any period of time is taking a bit of a gamble.
Instead of taking this risk why not schedule a time each week to properly clean your car.
To wash your car you will need a Sponge which can be a natural sea sponge or a synthetic one, or better still a sheepskin mitt or microfiber mitt, a good car shampoo, 2 buckets a hosepipe or pressure washer, soft brush and a wheel brush.
One thing to consider before you start washing your car is what you are wearing, watches, jewellery, belts and some clothing which comes into contact with the paintwork could actually scratch it.
If you are using cloths with shop tags on them rip them off as these can also cause scratching.
Spray the wheel cleaner onto the wheels and leave it the recommended time, if the dirt is stubborn a soft wheel brush can be used to agitate the dirt, rinse and go onto the next wheel.
Empty buckets and rinse any tools that have been used for cleaning your cars wheels.
Now you are ready to wash the rest of the car.
Fill your two buckets with water, one with soapy water using a good quality car shampoo (do not use washing up liquid) and the other bucket with clean water for rinsing.
Some professionals use three buckets, one for soapy water and two for rinsing and two different coloured wash mitts, one for the top of the car and one for the lower panels which are dirtier.
You can also keep a bucket just for the wheels.
Buckets with grit guards placed in the bottom are the best option as they will allow the grit to settle on the bottom of the bucket leaving clean water above.
First rinse the vehicle thoroughly with a hosepipe or pressure washer, this is to remove loose debris that would otherwise be picked up when washing the car and could cause damage.
The next step is to physically wash the car.
Dip your sponge or cleaning mitt into the soapy water and start washing the top of the vehicle. Always wash from top to bottom rather than front to back as the car is always dirtier on the lower panels and you don’t want to transfer grit to the top of the car.
Wash in straight back and forth motions which will stop swirl marks which are more noticeable from different angles than straight ones plus swirl marks are harder to remove.
Once you have completed a small area rinse your sponge/mitt in the bucket of clean water before dipping it back into the soap water, this rinses any contamination out of the sponge and stops it getting into your soapy water.
If you drop your sponge/mitt on the floor rinse it out before using it again.
If it is a warm day use your hosepipe to rinse each area as you go.
Carry on washing the car from top to bottom rinsing your sponge as you go until the car has been completely washed.
It is best to wash the top half of the car first and then wash the lower panels.
Don’t forget to open the doors and clean the doors and door jams as well as the petrol cap door which is often forgotten.
If your car has picked up bits of road tar or dead bugs you might need a bug and tar remover.
Use your soft brush to get into hard to reach areas such as panel and bumper gaps that your sponge/mitt can’t reach
Once the car is washed its time to dry it. Drying your car is necessary to prevent water spots.
There are a variety of ways to dry your car but it must be done quickly to avoid the unsightly water spots.
A silicone blade is the fastest way to remove excess water from the bodywork, these are made of soft silicone so they will should not scratch the paint. You will probably need to use a towel to wipe around places that it cant get at.
Microfiber towels are perfect for drying your car as you can get into all the parts and they are soft enough not to do any damage to the paintwork.
Chamois have been around for years and were always the preferred method of drying you car but they don’t last that long and you should never use one once it has gone hard.
Synthetic Chamois last longer than a genuine one so is a good alternative.
- Dry the windows and mirrors first then go over the whole vehicle.
- Open the doors, boot and bonnet and dry the jambs.
- Dry the wheels with separate cloth.
Shining Your Car, Compounds, Polish And Wax
Now that you have washed you car you need to decide if the paintwork needs more work to bring it up to scratch.
If you regularly wash and wax your car it should be nice and shinny and not need anymore work done to it unless its time for it’s regular polish and wax.
If the paintwork looks dull and doesn’t shine you are more than likely going to have to do some work to get the shine back.
Feel the paint with your hand, if it feels gritty and not smooth, you have contaminants embedded in your paint that will need to be removed.
Like most cars, over time it will fade under the sun’s powerful UV rays unless it’s protected with regular polishing and waxing.
Faded and heavily oxidised paint can be restored to a point depending on how bad it is become, the colour and the type of paint used.
Clear coat colours can be brought back depending on how far it has gone and how many times its been compounded. Once the clear coat starts to fail you will be left with blotchy areas which will need to be repainted.
Traditional paint finishes without the clear coat can be restored but without the protection of the clear coat you will be cutting straight into the paint and eventually it will take the paint away completely exposing the primer below.
You won’t notice the damage being done on an unprotected car over a short period of time but it is there, after a year or so the you will notice it getting dull and rough.
As long as its not that bad that it needs repainting you can often bring back the shine.
First you need to wash the car as above and dry it, then use the following products to remove the offending dull paint.
Clay bar: A clay bar is a paint cleaner and is the first step to getting rid of the oxidisation.
It’s only job is to remove contamination from the paintwork but never actually touches the paint, instead it glides over a layer of lubrication that needs to be applied as you can use it. This is a less abrasive way to clean your car.
Choose a panel to work on and spray on the lubricant, this can be a proper detailing lubricant or soapy water.
Take your clay bar and spread it out, then flatten it against the body panel, with light to medium pressure glide the bar in straight lines back and forth.
As you work feel the panel, you are feeling for smooth paintwork, if it’s still rough keep on working.
You will notice the clay bar getting dirty as it picks up contaminants, when this happens knead it and fold it over to bury the contaminants and uncover a clean surface.
Clay the whole car, you can then wash the car again to remove any contaminants that have been loosened but not removed.
When the clay bar is heavily contaminated discard it and use a new one.
Compound: A rubbing compound also known as cutting paste is a mild abrasive material that removes the top layer of damaged paint.
The first step is to use the clay bar over the entire vehicle, this is to remove the dead paint and bonded contamination on your car’s bodywork.
Once you have clayed the car you then go on to use the compound. You can do this by hand or with a polishing mop/orbital polisher but be careful not to go to deep.
Do a small area at a time and buff it off.
Once you have the desired finish its time to go on to polishing.
You can also use cutting compounds to remove light scratches and swirl marks.
Polishing Your Car
Car polish is designed to smooth out scratches and imperfections in your cars paintwork.
Depending on the car polish this works because of the chemicals the polish contains or in some cases because it is slightly abrasive and removes a minute layer of paint.
If you have carried out the above procedure for cutting the paint you are ready to polish, if it didn’t need cutting i assume you have washed the car and possibly clayed it to get an ultra clean surface.
Apply the polish to a pad or cloth and dab it around the area that you are going to polish and the gentle spread it around, it’s best to do a small area at a time.
Polish goes a long way so you don’t need to use a lot to do a good job.
Start working the polish into the paintwork, this can be done in a circular motion, up and down or side to side it doesn’t really mater just as long as you work the polish into the paint following the contours.
You need to keep working the polish into the paint until it’s almost clear.
Check how long the polish needs to be left on the car to cure, some can be buffed off straight away whilst others need time to cure.
Buff off the polish residue using a soft clean cloth such as a micro-fibre towel, fold the towel as you go to make sure you always use a clean part of the towel.
Make sure you clean all of the polish residue from around the panel gaps, seals and the badges.
Carry on around the vehicle until its completed and your done, one shinny car.
If doing the job by hand sounds like too much work you could try an electric polisher. You could get much better and faster results using this method but it is possible to do damage to your paint so bare that in mind.
Machine polishing is messy so you may want to cover areas that you don’t want to splatter polish on.
If you do decide to use an electric polisher you need to apply the polish to the appropriate polish pad and just like hand polishing dab it or spread it around the area you are working on before turning the machine on. If you don’t spread the polish on the work area it will fly off the pad when you turn the machine on, you have been warned.
Use enough polish on your pad to work an area for about one or two minutes.
Holding the pad against the vehicle turn on the machine using a slow to medium speed move slowly to work the polish in the increase the speed to work the polish in. Never take the polisher off the paint while it is still turning.
Keep the pad level and use a light pressure, just enough to keep the pad in full contact with the paintwork, use overlapping motions up and down then side to side letting the polish do the work.
Never dry buff, this is when the polish goes dry, you need to work the polish to get good results but you need to stop when the polish goes clear.
Use a finishing pad or bonnet to on the machine to remove the last of the polish residue, you can also do this by hand if you want to using a soft towel.
Now you have spent all that time on getting your paintwork to shine it’s time to seal it in with a good quality wax.
Wax works by simply smoothing out the paint surface of the bodywork, this is done by filling in the tiny imperfections and bumps of a vehicle paint job. It creates an almost completely smooth finish to the car’s bodywork, giving a lovely high gloss finish.
You can get waxes as liquids or pastes but you will find that liquids are easier to apply and still provide the same protection as a paste.
Always apply wax in the shade as if it dries too quickly it can become difficult to buff off.
Its a lot easier to do one section at a time than to do the whole car in one go.
If you want more shine and depth apply the thinnest coats you can, if you try to put a thick coat on it will just be harder to remove and wont make much difference. Lots of thin coats is the way to go.
After each coat let it dry then buff it off with a soft cloth before applying another coat if needed.
To keep your car in tip top condition you should apply wax every two to three months.
Just like polishing you can apply wax by hand or machine.
Paint sealant is a synthetic wax that does the same job as natural waxes by sealing in the shine and protecting the paintwork.
They tend to shed water and grime far better than waxes meaning your car stays cleaner for longer and makes it easier to maintain on future washes.
Paint sealants have a different level of gloss, more a glass like finish compared to the deep warm glow offered by a car wax.
They claim to protect the vehicle more effectively than waxes and can protect your car for between six months and a year.
They actually bond to the paint surface to prevent fading and oxidisation.
So which do we recommend: This is a hard one, for great looks and the deepest looking shine a traditional wax is the way to go whilst a sealant gives longer protection, so maybe use the sealant to protect the paint in the winter and the wax for summer use.
Proper regular cleaning with good quality cleaning products is the key here, also avoid parking under trees that could drip sap onto your car.
Take action if a contaminant such as tree sap or bird droppings are detected on your car, they become difficult to remove once hardened as well as damaging your paintwork.
Glass And Exterior Trim
Now you have spent all that time getting the paintwork to shine it would be a shame not to finish of the rest of the vehicles exterior.
Always clean your windows last.
Do not try to clean windows that are hot as this will dry out the window cleaner making it a pain.
Start with the most difficult glass first which is the front windscreen and rear window which are usually the largest and have difficult angles.
For large windows its best to tackle them in smaller areas, this helps to keep the cleaning cloth from getting too soiled and spreading that dirt around the rest of the window.
Spay a dedicated car glass cleaner onto a soft clean cloth or micro-fibre cloth, if you try to spray the cleaner straight onto the window you will probably get it over your newly polished paintwork.
Clean one side of the glass at a time using different strokes for interior and exterior, using horizontal strokes on the outside and vertical strokes on the inside will help you inspect the glass for streaks making it easy to tell which side of the window needs further work.
Once cleaned you can use a clay bar to remove any contaminants that are really stuck on the glass, use warm water in a spray bottle as a lubricant.
Try and keep cloths used on windows separate from cloths used for polishing.
You can apply an after market product like rain x to protect your exterior windows which allows water to bead of.
You can also use wax on your windows in the same way as you protect your paintwork, a thin layer of wax is all that is needed.
Apply in circular motion, wait until it dries and buff off.
Years ago chrome was all the rage but time has changed first with black trim and bumpers to today’s cars with everything colour coded.
If you have a classic with lots of chrome then a good chrome cleaner/polish and lots of elbow grease will make it shine.
If you have black or unpainted trim on your car you may have noticed its faded due to those pesky UV’s, if that’s the case you can bring it back to showroom condition using a good quality trim restorer.
Another reason your trim looks faded (white chalky appearance) is because polish has got on to the surface and dried. If this is the case you will need a solvent that will dissolve the wax before protecting it with a product for plastic.
For cars with everything colour coded there’s nothing for you to do.
Most headlight lenses are now made of plastic and over time they can fade which can detract from the overall look of your newly washed and polished car.
The reason they fade and get that opaque/yellow/cloud/fog look is down to our old friend UV.
They can be restored and its not that difficult too do if you use the right products.
The first one to try is an of the shelf plastic polish, most of these contain diminishing abrasives that work to remove the top layer of your lens to reveal a like-new lens just like using a cutting compound on your paintwork.
You can do this by hand or use an orbital buffer for faster results.
Apply the polish to the lens using firm pressure rub it in using horizontal, vertical, or circular motions until the polish has gone.
Wipe the lens with a clean cloth and inspect, repeat until the lens look as good as new.
Tyres are critical to the overall appearance of your car and are often overlooked as over time the tyre degrades.
Washing your tyres with car shampoo maybe all that is needed to get rid of the dirt.
Finishing of with a good quality tyre dressing will get them looking like new again.
Applying a tyre dressing is quite easy, there are a few points to keep in mind.
Firstly don’t apply too much dressing a lttle goes a long way.
Simply apply the dressing to a rag/towel dedicated for use on your tyres and wipe it on the tyre, you are looking to provide a nice even coverage.
Try not to get the dressing on the wheel or the car particularly when using an aerosol spray.
If your engine needs a clean it should be done before the rest of the car is cleaned.
A lot of people worry about cleaning the engine because of all the electrics but as long as you protect electrical items there should be no problem.
So the first thing to do is protect the electrics, use food bags and cling film to do this.
The engine should be warm but not hot.
Choose a good quality engine cleaner/degreaser and spray around the engine getting into all the corners and hard to reach areas, leave to sit for a few minutes.
You can use a brush to agitate the cleaner and loosen stubborn dirt and give it another spray if needed
Rinse off with a hose or pressure washer but if you are using a pressure washer stand back so the engine isn’t blasted with too much pressure which could disconnect wires and penetrate the plastic that covers electronics.
If it still looks dirty in parts reapply the degreaser and rinse.
Remove plastic bags/clingfilm from the electrics and let it dry or wipe it dry with a microfiber cloth.
Finish with a quality rubber/vinyl protector for all the plastics and hoses.
Cleaning the interior is a major part of a clean car but above all else it’s the place you spend your time in so why wouldn’t you want it looking spic and span.
Begin by dusting the dash and vinyl trim.
Next remove and clean the car mats before giving a thorough vacuuming of the carpets and upholstery, start with the seats first before tackling the carpets, always work from top to bottom otherwise you will find yourself going over and over it again as dirt falls on on to freshly vacuumed areas.
A dedicated car vacuum is a good option but there’s no reason why you cant use a large domestic vacuum with tools attached.
Once the dirt has been sucked out of carpets, seats, door panels and all other parts of the car its time to clean everything.
Starting with the door panels use a good quality cleaner to remove the dirt and wipe of with a clean cloth.
Next move on to the dash and again give it a good clean.
Use a small brush or toothbrush to get into hard to reach areas.
Check the carpets and upholstery for stains and dirt and shampoo if needed, it’s a good idea to clean them at least once a year even if they don’t look dirty.
Don’t forget to clean the boot.
Once you have finished cleaning your car you need to clean all the cleaning equipment before putting it all away.
Clean and rinse out all the buckets with clean water.
You can wash you microfiber cloths and mitts in your washing machine or by hand but do not use fabric conditioner.