Car Cleaning

By Sharon Naylor

March 17, 2014 6 min read

With winter's sand, salt and grime behind us, your car can be sparkling clean again. While some people prefer to take their cars to professional carwashes, others enjoy washing theirs by hand. There's something so rewarding about giving your "baby" a makeover, washing away those streaks and splatters, and getting a little bit of exercise as you clean and wax your vehicle. When you remove dust, dirt, mud and grime from the body and wheels of your car, you can actually prolong its life.

It's important, though, to have the right tools to wash your car, so that your car's post-wash appearance is flawless, and so that you complete the cleaning process without causing any damage to your car. Here are some of the suggested tools to acquire to clean your car without causing scratches and gouges that will eventually lead to rust damage:

--Several oversize soft sponges. You can certainly load up on the big, yellow auto-cleaning sponges you see in the grocery store's automotive aisle, but look as well for specialty car-detail sponges, such as the blue sponges from notable car-cleaning brand Griot's Garage, made of special foam material that delivers cleaning product to the surface of your car instead of being absorbed in the pad. They allow you to use less product per application.

Higher-tech sponges add efficiency to your cleaning and help with your budget. It's important to have several different sponges ready because the No. 1 mistake is to use the same sponge for your car's hood and tires. Tires may, for instance, have brake dust and gravel on them, so using one sponge for your entire cleaning task can transfer that grit, scratching the hood and door finishes of your car.

--Soft microfiber cloths, which can be used damp to place over bird droppings. They will soften and saturate the mess below without the grit and gravel possibly contained in the droppings causing scratches. Soft microfiber cloths can polish the inside and outside of your car, and are often suggested as the tool of choice for applying polishes and waxes to your car's surfaces.

Here's another revelation: Microfiber cloths come in special forms for polishing, buffing and waxing. Richard Griot of Griot's Garage says that some people make the mistake of using cloth diapers to wash their cars. But 100 percent cotton diapers have polyester seams running through the edges and binding these cloths, while specialty buffing cloths are woven from longer yarn and are thus free of potentially scratching fibers. And they're machine-washable, too.

--Compressed air. Small canisters found at office supply stores can blow dirt, dust and pollen from air vents and remove debris from crevices inside your car.

--Squeegee. A small, handled squeegee lets you clean and dry windows inside and out without leaving streaks.

--A soft-bristle brush. The softer, the better. It will still provide enough friction to remove caked-on mud or grime from hard-hit sections of your car, once those dirty spots are soaked with water.

--Specialty carwash soap. Your automotive dealer will have a supply of this in-store, chosen by their experts or by the manufacturers themselves, to work ideally with your car's paint and details. Carwash products are specifically designed to remove automotive dirt from cars without harsh detergents and chemicals that can damage your car's paint. (The chemicals found in household dish detergents are definite no-nos when it comes to your car-washing supplies.)

--Oversize bucket. A clean one, not the one you've used to mix concrete or other materials. Before and after each car-cleaning session, rinse out and dry your dedicated carwash bucket to keep it free of debris that can scratch your car.

--Grit Guard insert. This circular disk with "legs" sits in the bottom of your carwash bucket, allowing any debris to move below the guard's surface, keeping tiny rocks and other damaging items from embedding in your plunging-in sponge. Find this item online or at car-supply shops.

--Wheel spoke brush. Your front tires look dirtier than your back tires, because brake dust gathers on those front tires, hubcaps and lug nuts. A special, soft-bristled wheel spoke brush removes the damaging materials. You'll even find small lug nut cleaning tools with bristle heads to really fine-tune your wheel cleaning.

--Spray-on wheel cleaner. Choose a brand recommended for your car's particular tire materials and follow directions to the letter. If left on wheels too long, some cleaners can strip their protective varnishes.

--Hand-held vacuum. A powerful, efficient car vac can remove particles from your car's rugs and mats, and remove any food the kids may have dropped that squirrels and other rodents can smell from outside your car, leading them to chew into your car's parts to reach it. Dry vacuuming is fine, but if you wish to use a carpet shampoo, use just a small amount; oversaturation is a common error.

--Window-cleaning spray without ammonia. Ammonia can damage your interior car surfaces, notably any window tint. Ammonia cleaners can also damage the webbing on seat belts, reducing their effectiveness.

--Spray protectants. According to the experts at Armor All Products, spray protectants can keep your interior surfaces clean and help prevent them from drying and cracking. But don't use them on your steering wheel or pedals, as these surfaces should never be slippery.

Wash your car at least once a week to stay on top of dirt, sap, droppings and grime that can age your car's appearance and potentially affect its function. Wash your car in a shady spot, because direct sun can dry your applied water and soap, leaving residue and streaks, and making your job more tedious. Waxing should be done using the prescribed soft cloth according to the directions in your car's manual.

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