Spring Clean Your Car – DIY Auto Detailing Tips
Spring cleaning and auto detailing is more than a hobby for car enthusiasts. Auto detailing helps protect your vehicle’s appearance and integrity for years to come. A vehicle purchased through Carsforsale.com is an investment worth maintaining. Rather than pay hundreds for professional auto detailing, here are some DIY tips to help you detail like a pro.
Wash, But Do It Right
An automatic car wash is fine, but why not enjoy the warmth of spring? Get to know your car and ensure every nook and cranny is free of dirt and grime. Hand washing produces great results, but it can harm your vehicle if done incorrectly.
1. Start with the Wheels
The cleaning solution used on the wheels tends to be the harshest, so use it first. Any solution overspray will be removed by the rest of the car wash. Apply the solution all around the wheel and leave it for 30 seconds. A soft bristled brush or old sponge can be used to ensure no crevasse in the rim is missed. Hose down your wheels with a strong stream of water, and apply a tire dressing product for a brilliant black appearance. Feeling zealous? Remove the wheel and clean the inside rims. Grime behind the rims usually takes a stronger product and brush.
2. Rinse and wash
Hose down the entire car to remove loose dirt. Don’t use household products like dish soap or detergent. Use products formulated for cars, as they are created to not harm paint or protective wax on your vehicle. Begin washing from the top down with a hose.
Apply suds with a lamb’s wool mitt or soft, large sponge. Applying suds with a circular motion could make small scratches, so move the sponge in straight lines. Use two buckets throughout application; one with the soapy water, one with just water. With the two buckets, follow this process: Dip mitt or sponge in the soap, apply to car, squeeze out in water, repeat. This will further protect the car from scratching.
Don’t use any cloth or sponge that was used on your tires, as dirt and grime left over can scratch the vehicle. For trouble areas like the bug-stained front bumper or under the wheel wells, use a separate cloth. Stronger product may be necessary for these spots.
All done? Re-rinse from the top down.
If the car isn’t dried properly, watermarks are almost inevitable. Use a chamois or microfiber chamois. Rinse, squeeze and use it to dry off any water remaining on the vehicle. With a separate chamois, open up the doors and wipe both in and around each door.
Clean the Invisible
Even if you did a great job of hand washing, there are probably plenty of invisible contaminants stuck to your car. A clay bar kit will have everything you need to remove that invisible grime. It’s hard to believe, but the clay bar will usually be completely dirty after wiping the visually clean surface of your car.
Take out the clay bar, which looks like silly putty. Mold it to the size of your hand, spray the solution found in the clay bar kit on a small area of the panel you’re working on, and rub back and forth on the lubricated area with the putty in your hand. Grime you didn’t know existed should come right off.
Touch Up on Chips and Scratches
After the clay bar cleaning, take care of chips and scratches. Your local auto parts store will have a variety of DIY products available that can remove minor blemishes in the paint. Run your fingernail over the blemish. If your fingernail catches on the scratch or dent, the blemish is deeper than the clear coat of paint, meaning you’ll need a more specialized product or professional assistance.
If you’re trying a new scratch removal product, test the process on an inconspicuous surface, like the inside of a door, to ensure you won’t damage the finish of the car. Every product is different, so simply follow the directions given.
Polish is a great to remove minor clear coat scratches and give the car a fresh shine after washing and drying your vehicle. Polish is a micro abrasive that removes a fine layer of your car’s clear coat, deleting minor scratches.
The process involves applying polishing product onto a panel of your vehicle with a somewhat coarse applicator, then removing the product with a microfiber cloth. If micro scratches are still visible, do another pass with the polish applicator. Avoid polishing in hot sunlight if possible, especially on dark vehicles. The hot panel of your car could cause the polish to dry on the panel prematurely.
Every polishing compound has a slightly different process. Some brands have multiple compounds used in succession, and repeated as necessary. Be sure to follow the directions on the product you purchase, and test new products on an inconspicuous surface of the vehicle before using them.
Polishing incorrectly can produce undesirable results, so be sure to do your research and get comfortable with a product and process before touching your car.
Wax on, Wax off
Waxing is an often overlooked and misunderstood auto detailing step that will extend the life of your car’s exterior. Many consider waxing to be an extra shine for a special occasion, but it should become a habit to those serious about protecting their cars. The primary purpose of waxing is not cosmetic, it will preserve oils in the paint and prevent oxidation.
Always make sure your car is washed and completely dry before waxing. There are thousands of products to choose from. Here are a few categories you’ll encounter at the store:
- Spray Wax
If you want an easy option and have a newer vehicle, spray wax may be the best choice. They are easy to apply and can be wiped off without drying. If you have a vehicle that requires more serious attention, consider another option.
- Liquid Wax
Liquid waxes are a great option for durability and gloss, but can be difficult to apply. If you know what you’re doing, liquid wax will produce the best results.
- Paste Wax
If you’re looking for easy application, paste waxes are another great option. However, they won’t perform as well as liquids.
Once you’ve selected your wax, prepare your car by parking it away from intense heat and sunlight. If this is your first time waxing, test the wax on an inconspicuous surface of the vehicle. Always wax small sections at a time, as wax that stays on too long can be difficult to remove.
Like with washing, work from the top down. Always use a clean applicator pad for waxing to avoid scratching your car. Use small circular motions during application, then buff off the wax with a dry microfiber cloth using small circular motions.
Cloudy or faded headlights can hurt the appearance of an otherwise clean car. If you search the internet, people have claimed avocado, toothpaste, vegetable oil, and even cola could help clean headlights. While some of these actually do help, car polish or specialty headlight product will work most effectively and produce lasting results.
A product kit designed for headlights will usually come with a compound and some sanding pads. Application of these products is fairly simple. Wash and dry the headlight and tape around it to avoid damaging paint bordering the headlight. Sand down the exterior of the headlight, add polishing compound and wipe it clean. Be sure to follow the specific instructions included with your kit.
It’s a great idea to run through the car with compressed air first to dislodge any hard to reach dust. Blow air in the vents, door pockets, dash, etc. The dislodged dust will be removed by the next interior cleaning steps.
A quick way to spruce up the interior is to clean the floors and rugs. It’s amazing what 25 cents in a vacuum machine will do on it’s own, but if you’re willing to purchase a simple carpet cleaner and put your back into scrubbing, the results will be worth the effort.
Every carpet cleaner is different, but most carpet cleaners are spray on and are designed to lift dirt from the rug or carpet. After vacuuming the carpet or rug, spray the cleaner evenly onto the surface. With a thick bristled brush, scrub vigorously into the carpet with vertical motions followed by equally aggressive horizontal motions. Spray additional product on trouble spots throughout the scrub, if needed. Finally, wipe softly to groom the carpet and visualize the progress.
For serious auto detailing, purchase or rent a carpet shampooer, which will moisten the carpet to suck up dirt on an even deeper level.
The methods used for carpets are similar to those used on cloth in other areas of the vehicle. Feel free to use the same methods of cleaning used for the floors, but be much less aggressive. The cloth on your seats could be damaged if scrubbed in the same way as the floor mat.
Use less product, scrub less and find a softer bristled brush. If deep stains are not removed, consider researching a more intense product. Remember, always start with the gentlest method and try more aggressive methods as needed to avoid doing more harm than good.
A simple product and microfiber cloth will do a great job on most car leather. Only use a product designed for car interior leather. Spray the product onto the cloth and wipe the leather surface clean. For a slightly more detailed clean, add the product to a soft bristled brush and apply it to the leather in small circular motions. Wipe the product lather off immediately after scrubbing. If necessary, use a thicker bristled brush or scrub pad to dig in aggressively.
The brush technique also works on leather-wrapped steering wheels. Use the bristles to scrub out around the ridges and stitching where a simple cloth couldn’t reach. Again, wipe the product lather off immediately after brushing it on.
Dashboard and Other Surfaces
Don’t get too aggressive under the windshield and rear window. A simple microfiber cloth will handle most situations. Dampen a clean microfiber cloth with water or product, wipe the surface and dry it with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. If any of these surfaces need deeper cleaning, trade out the damp microfiber cloth for a thin bristled brush.
Streak-Free Windows and Mirrors
Household window cleaners are not designed for automotive use. Stick to specialized automotive window cleaners. Microfiber cloths are very effective, but newspaper is a surprisingly effective wiping tool that doesn’t leave lint on the window. Standard car window cleaner can damage tinted windows. If your car has tinted windows, use a specialized ammonia free window product.
It’s often less messy and easier to spray the applicator cloth or newspaper first, rather than the window. After spraying the product on the applicator, wipe down the window inside and out as much as possible. After wiping the window, buff off extra spray by wiping the entire window with a dry, clean microfiber cloth. A clean toothbrush works great to get rid of dirt that accumulates around the molding of a window.
There are thousands of auto detailing products and methods used to clean cars. These are some of the methods that work best for a DIY at-home clean. Have other auto detailing techniques or products that work well for you? Share them with us in the comments below!