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Top tips for cleaning your car

Here's how to keep your car looking clean, spotless and as good as new

Top tips for cleaning your car

Getting started: essential car washing equipment

Cleaning your car should be on your list of regular vehicle maintenance tasks that will help keep it running at its best.

Washing your car at home is more effort than visiting the car wash, but it's usually more thorough and more rewarding in the long-run.

As with any job, you need some basic tools to get it done properly.

A sponge and a bucket of water will do the trick, but if you want your car to really shine, you’ll need to upgrade.

1) Cleaning cloths for a spotless car

First, while a sponge is fine, microfibre cloths are what the pros use. These help to wash, rinse and dry the car without risking scratching the bodywork. You’ll need separate washing and drying cloths.

2) Soap it up with a car shampoo

A specialist car shampoo is also a must. Do some quick online research to find one that has good reviews. Don’t use a household detergent, though: it's too harsh and will strip off any wax on the paintwork.

3) Keep the paintwork gleaming with a grit guard

Another useful piece of equipment is a grit guard for the bottom of your bucket: it means that your cloth or sponge won’t pick up any grit you’ve washed off and rub it into the paintwork. A bug and tar removal spray can also be helpful to shift stuck-on spots of dirt.

4) A dedicated glass cleaner

You’ll also need a specialist car glass cleaner: household products contain ammonia, which can damage the car’s upholstery. You should be able to find a whole host of handy products in your local auto shop, or online.

5) Treat your car to a wax

Finally, pick up a car wax. You don't need to wax the car after every wash, but if you do it three or four times a year, it will help protect your car’s paintwork. Alternatively, a good polish and paint protector will do a similarly effective job. Oh, and don't forget a tube of tyre shine.

The best way to wash your car

The first thing to do is choose the right time to wash your car. Don’t do it in hot weather or too direct sunlight, because water evaporates quickly and forms a residue before you’re able to wipe it off. If it's sunny out, consider washing your car earlier or later in the day when the light isn't so direct.

Start with the interior - cleaning inside your car

We'd recommend that you start by cleaning the interior, chucking all your rubbish from the door pockets, etc.

Then take out your carpet mats, give them a once-over with a vacuum cleaner, and hoover the rest of the cabin.

Don’t forget to clean your car seats; a quick vacuum will get rid of any bits of dirt, but you might need a fabric cleaner to shift any stains.

Cleaning the bodywork

As for the exterior, if your car is particularly dirty, rinse down the bodywork with just some plain water, to get the worst of the dirt off. This will reduce the risk of rubbing dirt or grit into the paintwork.

Pick up your bucket of lukewarm water and shampoo and start the washing process with the roof, then work your way down the car, washing the sides, then the front and back of the car. This gives the washing solution more time to soak into the dirtiest, grimiest areas of the car near the bottom.

If your car is super dirty and quickly turns the water murky, consider emptying your bucket and adding fresh water and car shampoo to prevent you from spreading old dirt across the car.

Any really stubborn dirt – especially bird droppings or insects stuck to the bodywork – needs more than elbow grease to shift. Use a bug and tar removal product if the stains won't budge.

One final tip: When wiping down your car, remember open the doors, boot and bonnet, cleaning inside them, because these are prime spots for dirt and water to collect.

Oh, and don't forget to wash your wheels last, with a different cloth - or a sponge. Brake dust can attach itself to wheels, so you won't want to contaminate your bodywork cloth with it. Otherwise, it could scratch your car's paintwork like fine sandpaper.

Dry the paintwork

Don’t let the car air dry after you’ve washed it: you’ll just get water marks on the surface that are unsightly and undo all your hard work.

The most effective method is to wipe the surfaces with either a chamois or a bodywork drying towel, using a figure-of-eight action, starting again at the top of the car and working your way down. Don't forget to wring the cloth out every now and then to remove excess water.

Wax on, wax off

You only have to wax your car a handful of times a year, but if that seems too much effort, you can always use a shampoo that contains wax. It won't leave as long of a lasting protection, but it's a quick solution for those short of time.

Once you’ve washed and dried your car, apply the wax, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Apply the wax in straight lines – don’t buff it in a circular motion – then leave it to dry before polishing it off. A trusty microfibre cloth is again what you need for this.

Professional car valeters often wax the car twice to get a better shine. You can test the quality of the shine by placing a ruler perpendicular (90 degrees) to the surface and see how many numbers you can read off in the reflection. The more you can see, the better the shine.

The final job is to apply the tyre sidewalls with your tyre shine product, doing your best to avoid getting it onto the wheel rims or the tread of the tyre. Keep it to the sidewalls.

Now you're ready to hit the road and show off your shiny motor.

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