The family car can become cluttered jalopy in a flash. Discarded sneakers, solo mittens, and last month’s homework papers pile up all too quickly, especially in a shared vehicle. Add a few shaken soda splashes, snack crumbs, and fallen fries, and … well, you get the picture.
Plus, a Midwestern winter can wreak havoc on an automobile’s exterior, especially if that car should go a week or two without washing.
Still, commercial car washes can be costly, and automotive detailing is even pricier. But car cleaning is a fairly simple do-it-yourself project. Here’s how to tackle the job.
1. Keep it simple by preventing lots of car messes in the first place.
Rubber floor mats are a lifesaver in a family car, especially with pets and in-car eaters. These can be lifted out and hosed down quite simply, virtually eliminating the need for frequent in-car carpet cleaning.
Leather seats tend to cost considerably more than cloth upholstery, but they hold up longer and resist staining.
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2. Contain the clutter.
A handy basket or back-of-seat hanging bag helps keep papers, toddler toys, or other large loose items organized in the car. Smaller bins can hold breath mints, hairbrushes, lip balms, pens, phone chargers, or other little items that tend to be lost under the car seats.
3. Toss the trash.
Before pulling out the cleaning supplies, it’s best to start by removing all refuse from inside the car. Grab a garbage bag, and pull out any food wrappers, junk mail, or other trash that may hide in the vehicle’s interior nooks and crannies.
4. Go over the car’s interior.
A thorough car cleaning or detailing must attack the vehicle’s interior with a complete wipe-down. Take a bottle of window cleaner and a roll of paper towels, or use a packet of cleaning wipes. Start at the top, and wipe your way downwards, cleaning the insides of windows, the dashboard and control panels, the consoles, the arm rests, and the seats. Spray and scrub every surface. Pay special attention to any areas that may bear sticky or germy fingerprints or pet nose prints. (Be sure to open all of the vehicle’s doors for this process, to prevent inhalation of the cleaning products.)
5. Vacuum the entire inside of the car.
Many a vehicle owner keeps a designated vacuum for this express purpose. It may be a cast-off from indoors, when the primary home vacuum was upgraded. Otherwise, plenty of gas stations and self-service car washes offer coin-operated vacuums. (Why not use the coins you find under the car seats to pay for the vacuum use?)
A thorough in-car vacuuming goes under the floor mats and beneath and between the car seats.
6. Find an air freshener.
Whether a misted spray or a dangling ornament, air freshener can spruce up the car’s interior. Pick a scent that isn’t headache-inducing.
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7. Wash the outside of the car.
Here’s the fun part, if the weather is fine. In warmer seasons or climates, washing a car can be a fun way to enjoy the outdoors and a little exercise. A hose, a bucket, a soft sponge, and a gentle biodegradable soap will do the trick. And it can be amusing to add a few water-loving youngsters to the mix.
Be sure to scrub all surfaces before rinsing thoroughly. Be sure to scrub, rinse and wipe tires, wheel hubs, and hubcaps well. Spray products are available at automotive supply shops to shine up dull tires, if needed.
Step back and check out your handiwork, to see if you missed any spots before wiping down the entire vehicle with soft, dry cloths or towels.
After washing the car, it is a good idea to open all doors and hatches and wipe down those areas with clean paper towels. To prevent streaking, avoid opening any windows or using the wiper blades until the vehicle has been completely dry for some time.
During the winter or inclement weather, a drive-through car wash is sufficient. Try to choose one that sprays the undercarriage of your car.
Does the car really need waxing?
Car fanatics seem to love frequent waxing. Is this necessary? Certainly, some automotive waxes do protect the car’s paint job. However, this may not be an essential step for every time. Periodic waxing can be advantageous, so long as all products are completely buffed into a lovely shine (with a soft cloth or buffing brush) on each occasion.
The most critical component of car cleaning, however, is the overall wash and rinse to remove potentially paint-damaging dirt, debris, and road salt.