How to Clean Your Car

Susan Sanders-Kinzel
April 1, 2005
Close up of a vacuum wand with upholstery attachment vacuuming a car seat.

With spring on the horizon, it's a good time to think about getting our cars clean. Regular cleaning of your car will help protect the finish and increase it's resale value.


In those areas where the roads are salted it is recommended to get a good undercarriage cleaning often. This helps prevent the rust damage. The longer the salt stays in contact with the vehicle, the more damage is done.


Before you wash your car, do a thorough cleaning on the inside. If you wash the outside and then vacuum, fine dust particles can ruin your cleaning job.

Make sure to wipe off the dash and around door handles. Use a vinyl cleaner or damp cloth. Don't use any harsh detergents because they can dry out the vinyl. If you interior is leather, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Clean the mirrors and interior windows with window cleaner. Take a cotton swap to get into crevices that collect dirt. Spot clean any spills or spots on the upholstery. A damp cloth will remove many spots. If it is a stubborn one, use a spray carpet or upholstery spot cleaner.

Before vacuuming, sprinkle some baking soda or borax on the carpets and upholstery. Let it sit a few minutes to absorb odors, then vacuum. This will freshen the whole car. You can add a dryer sheet under the seat or a car deodorizer to help remove odors.


Painted Area Spot Cleaning

Tough Water Spots

These are usually caused by salt. Take a soft cloth with a little white vinegar on it to remove. Then wash car as below.

Tree Sap & Pitch

Apply nail polish remover with a cotton swab or cotton ball. Follow this with a paste made of water and baking soda. Rinse.

Note: You may need to rewax areas where you have removed water spots, sap or pitch.

Car Washing

Rinse the car thoroughly before washing. Loose dirt that is rubbed in while washing can scratch the finish so do the best pre-rinse you can. Start at the upper areas and work your way down. That way you are not rinsing dirt onto the part you just rinsed. Use this method in the washing, too.

Use soap formulated especially for cars. Dish washing detergents that are designed to strip grease and grime can actually strip off wax as well.


Use a large bucket (5 gallons) to allow dirt particles to sink to the bottom. This keeps the suds free of contamination. It is wise to use two buckets, one for rinsing and one for the suds.

Using a terry cloth rag or car wash mitt apply the suds to the top and work your way down. If the car is especially dirty you may want to rinse and apply suds again.

Rinse the car using a gentle spray. This helps prevent water spots and speeds drying time. Take the time to run your wash mitt along the inside bottom edge of the doors, tail gate or trunk and hood. This dislodges salt and dirt that can be trapped there.

When cleaning the wheels, clean the tires first then the wheels. It is important to wash the wheels to remove corrosion from brake dust and road salt.


Drying the Car

Dry the entire vehicle with a dry towel or synthetic chamois. As before, start at the top and work your way down.

Rubber Bumpers

Wipe the bumpers down with a cloth and a little brake fluid. This will protect the rubber and give it back a sheen. A little goes a long way.


Depending on the conditions in your area it is good to give your car a throughout waxing every 6 months.

Copyright 2001

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October 26, 2011

Keeping your car's interior clean is a great way to maintain it's appearance and resale value. This page is about how to clean your car's interior.

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