How to Properly Clean the Interior and Exterior of Your Car

With the proper care, even a car with several years of mileage under its bonnet can still look brand new, and what’s better if it can be pulled off without expensive visits to the car-wash? True, it does require a lot of elbow-grease and the willingness to stake at least a weekend to give your vehicle a thorough wash-down inside and out, but at the end of the day, as Captain America once said, “the safest hands are still our own”.

And, of course, it also helps that our wallets are that much fuller at the end of the day, too.

car being washed

Getting into all the nooks and crannies inside a car is often much trickier than hosing down your car from the outside, and therefore requires extra caution and careful attention. We can’t just carelessly throw soap-water or rigorous scrubbing into the mix where electronic components and delicate knobs and dials might risk getting damaged. But with a few household appliances you’ve already got lying around, the job isn’t as difficult as you would imagine. Why not glance through our hacks for how to go about it, along with how to give your car’s exterior the pro-level treatment it deserves?

Floormats and floors

Whether your floormats are made of carpet or rubber, they can stand a good cleaning since any dirt and debris stuck at the bottom of your shoes will wind up there. Using the upholstery attachment of your vacuum cleaner, vacuum the floor mats down, pushing the seats as far back as possible to make sure you can reach everything there is to clean. Upholstery attachments come with a lint-capturing design that makes them perfect for agitating deep-seated dirt out of textured surfaces like that of your floormat, sucking them right out using the vacuum cleaner.

If your floor mats are made of vinyl, it’s also a good idea to remove them from your car and give them a thorough scrub down with soapy water, leaving overnight to dry before putting them back in. For fabric-based mats, a little stain remover and a round in the washing machine can leave them good as new.

Don’t forget the floors, either – once the mats are out of the way, vacuum down the floors, reaching well under the seats while being careful to avoid bumping or tearing into any of the mechanisms there. If you still feel the floors need extra cleaning, go at it with a cloth soaked with soapy water, being sure to wipe it dry once you’re done.

Seats

Using the upholstery tool of your vacuum cleaner, you can suck out a lot of deep-seated dirt and dust stuck to your car seats, switching out for a crevice tool for cracks and corners you can’t reach. To get at dirt stuck into the seams of your seats, you can use a tough-bristled paintbrush or a used toothbrush to tease the gunk out.

For polyester-based seats, you can re-purpose laundry detergent as an upholstery cleaner, using a sponge and towel to scrub the seats down without getting them too wet. If you have leather seats, on the other hand, it’s important to both clean and condition, to prevent the leather from cracking and breaking from lack of moisture. Carefully wipe down leather seats using a cleaning solution or soap-water and a microfiber cloth – which ensures the seats are not left dripping wet and effectively cleared of stains and debris – before conditioning the seats with a store-bought leather conditioner, or a homemade alternative.

Dashboard & vinyl surfaces

A microfiber cloth and soap-water is generally perfect to wipe down any vinyl surfaces around your center console, door panel or dashboard. The textured, particle-sized fibers of the cloth make a little scrubbing all that’s needed to get rid of any smudges or stains, though you can also add a toothbrush with soft bristles into the mix for crevices your cloth can’t reach or for stubborn stains.

For the knobs, dials, and levers of the dashboard and center console, use a tough-bristled paintbrush to get in between the gaps and goad any dirt out. It’s a good idea to keep the dust tool of your vacuum cleaner handy, to pick up the stray debris before it gets elsewhere.

car dashboard

Windows & windshield

The window cleaners you normally use at home should be adequate for your car windows too (unless they’re tinted), coupled with a microfiber cloth for the most heavy-duty clean. Wipe vertically, and then horizontally, ensuring no streaks are left in the process. Roll your window down a few inches to wipe over the top of the glass, too, and repeat the process from the outside. For your windshield wipers, a little cleaning alcohol can help rid them of any dirt build-up.

Car body

Start by hosing the car down – this should get rid of any loose debris before you get down to the nitty-gritty. Move on to washing, using a cleaning mitt and two buckets containing soap water and rinse water, respectively. While cleaning liquids we use at home can be effective, it can also damage the finish and wax of your car, so we recommend using a proper car wash solution.

car being washed

This usually exposes scratches, scrapes or bonded contaminants (airborne particles which attach themselves to your car). For the latter, a clay bar folded into shape is usually enough to help clear these right off. For more obvious scratches and paint defects, polishing can usually buff them right off. Whether you choose to use cream, spray or liquid based polishes, a little bit of the compound and a polishing wheel is generally enough to get rid of any swirls or scrapes.

Polishing should not be confused with waxing though – while the former helps rid your car of any imperfections, waxing gives it a layer of protection and shine. Armed with UVA and UVB resistance to shield your car from the sun, you can either choose to use carnauba or polymer waxes, depending on the type of shine you are looking for. Using a foam applicator and a microfiber cloth for the final wipe-down, you can work the wax into your car and leave it looking as good as new.

Wheels

Rinse down your wheels to get rid of any loose dirt, using an alloy wheel cleaner and soft-bristled brush to get at the deeper-rooted debris. A rub-down with a clay bar can also help remove any bonded contaminants. If you choose, you can also go a step further and polish your wheels.