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How Do You Clean Your Car? Autopian Asks

Autopian Asks Clean Your Car
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With Spring having thoroughly sprung, there’s a good chance that spring cleaning is thoroughly on some of our minds. Sure, getting your home gleaming is great, but given the corner of the internet we inhabit, there’s a good chance that warmer weather means nicer conditions in which to clean your car. However, not everyone cleans their car the same way, so we’re asking you how you do it. I’ll go first by sharing a little example.

Last year, I joined RCLUB, a local car club with its own wash bay. Let me tell you, having a heated pressure washer, forced air to dry shut lines and intricate elements, and a foam lance has been a game-changer, especially since coin-op car washes tend to eat a lot of quarters. I typically start with a pre-rinse, then lubricate the surface with snow foam. If whatever I’m driving isn’t horrifically dirty, I can usually get away with going mitt-free, letting the foam lift contaminants from the surface before power-washing it off. From there, it’s just a matter of drying the car, cleaning the glass because visibility is key, and maintaining the coating atop the paint with a spray sealant. A quick vacuum on the inside to get any pebbles, and I’m all set.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Mind you, I tend to dedicate significant time to proper detailing once a quarter or so. Think fine-hair brushes, all-purpose cleaner, plastic conditioners, leather treatment, cleaning dust from weatherstripping, applying and then knocking down a little tire shine for that perfect satin sheen, getting under the hood, in the trunk, in the jambs, all that sort of stuff. It’s oddly therapeutic, even if it takes all day. For quick at-home maintenance washes, I use Optimum No-Rinse, as I can work panel-by-panel without needing a hose and still get a solid result. Speaking of periodic at-home maintenance, I usually clean kick panels and lower door cards weekly, just because stuff often gets tracked along them. A little bit of all-purpose cleaner and a microfiber makes quick work of it.

Pouring Optimum No-Rinse

However, that’s just my regimen, and I’m in the minority at The Autopian when it comes to car cleaning. David often just lets rain do its thing, some of us have fewer qualms about automated car washes than others, and frequency of cleaning varies spectacularly. So, how do you clean your car, and how often do you do it? As ever, let us know in the comments below.

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(Photo credits: Thomas Hundal)

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Musicman27
Musicman27
3 months ago

Sponge on a stick, a hose, a bucket, and a good “polishing” soap.

Jared Johnson
Jared Johnson
3 months ago

I went deep down the detailing road after buying a convertible. Rinseless wash is my usual for a normal wash, or if I have to wash all the family vehicles, the pressure washer comes out. Since we don’t have a garage, ceramic coatings have been very helpful in keeping the cars from being a complete mess all the time. Even the nasty looking winter washes can be done with warm rinseless wash and a pre-spray. Coatings have probably been my biggest car cleaning upgrade. Everything else is gravy.

Learning to use a polisher has been helpful too! Recently we’ve been buying older cars and they look new-ish after some work with a polisher.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
3 months ago

My car has crap paint with the clear coat gone on every horizontal surface, so my cleaning is usually just driving it through the automatic wash at the dealership I work at. It’s free so I can’t complain.

Scott Sabinson
Scott Sabinson
3 months ago

Any automatic car wash is the devil. Hand wash only with Chemical Guys car wash (ceramic coat-safe formula for my wife’s car). I employ a VERY well used soft bristle wash brush attached to a mop handle for the majority of whatever vehicle I’m washing (Jeep Gladiator for me and my wife’s G70). This brush is at least 20 years old and is as soft as a microfiber towel because its SO used. For spots I can’t reach with it (inside gas door, around rearview mirrors, behind door handles, etc.), I have a microfiber wash mitt. I use a single bucket with a grit guard.
When I’m done, a silicone squeegee pushes most of the water off and old terrycloth towels finish drying the windows and any chrome that’s wet (I have a 72 Ford LTD coupe, too).
As far as interiors, I usually use a vacuum at a car wash simply because they’re really powerful and very convenient. Prior to that, I use a stiff bristle brush on the carpet to loosen any embedded dirt.
Pressure washers at DIY car washes are great for Weathertech floormats. Chemical Guys leather cleaner for seats. Chemical Guys cleaner, a drill brush, and a carpet shampooer for cloth upholstery. A Swiffer works great for dusting dashboards. Windex for hard interior surfaces.
Twice a year, I use an undercarriage pressure washer water broom on frames.
Dawn dishwashing liquid, an old washcloth, a stiff bristle brush, and normal pressure from a garden hose for engine compartments 2x a year.
To clean bugs off windshields, grilles, etc., I use an old airplane maintenance trick: I soak a dryer sheet in a small spray bottle filled with water, spray whatever area I want to clean bugs off of, and use new dry dryer sheets to wipe the bugs right off. It works better than any OTC bug/tar remover I’ve ever tried and it doesn’t kill the bucket of car wash suds.
I’m still trying to find a good solution to effectively remove vinyl fog from the inside of all the windows, but for now I use Stoner Invisible Glass and another terrycloth towel followed by a dry microfiber towel.

Jared Johnson
Jared Johnson
3 months ago
Reply to  Scott Sabinson

Just have to get older cars. No more outgassing on the windows. hah! Personally I like a magic eraser for it if it’s bad though.

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago

I got the interior detailed when I got my Prius v (as the 4th owner). Other than that, interior just gets vacuumed, or maybe a tint-safe glass cleaner on the windows if needed.
I have the premium Weathertech mats, so I can take them out and spray them at a coin wash once or twice a year.

Exterior, I’m far less meticulous. Rain is great when it happens; I do go through a brush wash if it gets really dirty or clearly covered in road salt. But it’s not often.

I used to clean my van way more frequently in the hopes of making it last longer, but I don’t think it helped much. Looks were never its issue, anyway. For one winter I was in a “$30 a month for unlimited supreme washes” deals. Only needed to go through it twice in one month to pay for itself.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
3 months ago

Rarely, but I have had grand ambition in the past.

I have a garage cabinet full of detailing stuff that I’ve never used, including a Griot’s Garage dual action polisher that is still in the box.

When I do actually do it, I just break out two buckets with grit guards and I have some fur looking wash mitt I bought from Autogeek. Duragloss soap. I have a brush for wheels and a sponge for bugs/tar. I use a giant microfiber to dry the car. That is about as far as I get 99% of the time.

The Collinite 845 I last used a decade ago is probably still good, so maybe I’ll break that out this year with the polisher.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
3 months ago

Ugh, I’m so hungry I thought the picture used for the article was a bunch of fried onions like the bloomin’ onion from Outback. :/ I was like, why does he have that on the car?

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
3 months ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

Yeah I thought it was a mass of sweet potato fries on the hood…

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
3 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

Great minds!

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago

I clean my car by vacuuming it out once in a while and and cleaning the interior with glass cleaner. And I clean the exterior by letting it sit in the rain.

Dave Beth
Dave Beth
3 months ago

I don’t ever wash my truck.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
3 months ago

The Sorento that I loathe has not been washed since I bought it. I clean the interior with your classic combo of vacuum, damp cloth wipe downs, and leather treatment as that’s where I sit, but the outside can rot for all I care.

The Benzo gets regular washes and a nice garage to hide in. But, seeing as it’s clear coat has failed on the hood, trunk, and various parts of the roof, I just give it the old 2-bucket method and call it a day. I spend more care cleaning the deep dish wheels than anything else.

Jakob Johansen
Jakob Johansen
3 months ago

I do generally do not.
I wash lights and windows (inside and out), + clean wipers, and fill up wiper fluid.
I vaccum and clean the interior quite often though.
Mostly focused on the parts of the car that I have to touch and look at.

Frederick Tanujaya
Frederick Tanujaya
3 months ago

Sonax SX Multistar in a hand pump spray bottle as pre wash, 3 mins, rinse, then Sonax Intesive Gloss Shampoo or their Ceramic Shampoo (once every month) into a bucket, another bucket for rinsing with a grit guard, wash mitt, detail brush, and a few drying cloths, and always a spray of Sonax Extreme Ceramic Detailer after wash and let cure for 4 – 8 hrs.

BentleyBoy
BentleyBoy
3 months ago

Usually have Biff do it, but you got to watch him on the wax.

Gee See
Gee See
3 months ago

I use 2 wash buckets, one with a grit guard to rinse off used dirty wash tools / fabric.. then a clean water bucket for rinsing.

I usually don’t start washing cars until it is pretty warm ~20C. Even soap have a optimal temp.

Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
3 months ago

If anyone here has never tried a claybar, drop what you’re doing and do. it. now. It should have won the Nobel Prize for car care.

WaitWaitOkNow
WaitWaitOkNow
3 months ago

100%. What do you use? I LOVED doing this on my old Integra. I couldn’t believe how much it got off even on the windows! Probably should’ve chucked it for a clean one more regularly, but it did some serious work with parking lot dings and random paint transfers in the parking lot.

Could never get the clay mitt from Griots garage to work. Stuck with gray clay from whatever auto parts store and went to town before whatever wax I applied. The mitt just seemed to streak my shit.

Graduated to an Xpel ceramic coat and that did wonders for years on my track car, especially on the wheels. Best option for stick brake dust and flying tire bits imo.

Last edited 3 months ago by WaitWaitOkNow
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago

Same way I get my fence painted.
For free, under the guise of teaching some kid karate.

John M
John M
3 months ago

I scrub the annoyingly narrow details in my wheels with a dedicated brush, then use a microfiber mitt to wash the rest. Then towel it off and check for new rock chips or door dings that need to be protected. Twice a year follow up with a clay bar, sealant, wax, and buff. Damp microfiber cloth on the inside, vacuum up the dog hair, wipe down the glass if needed, and grab a beer.

When it is too cold outside or I’m too lazy I will use a coin-op DIY place to spray wash, but now that I’m out of the salt belt I use it much less. I love that the place near me added a credit card reader during Covid so I no longer carry a huge stash of quarters in my car.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
3 months ago

I just wanna say I respect the hell out of all you process minded folks. Somewhere along the way my joy: work ratio from cleaning the cars got out of whack. I love the great gleaming reflections from the hood of the z4 or streaking along the side of the bike. It’s just that if it takes more than 45 minutes exterior or 90 minutes total, I’m not having fun anymore. For me, the last 20% that takes it from “washed” to “showroom ready” is 80% of the work and a diminished return.

But.

Know that there are appreciators out there all the same. I saw an immaculate white 98 (?) Tacoma this weekend with an impeccable chrome bumper and had the utmost respect for the owner.

Note that I do reserve the right to wash and obsess over a washing the car if I manage to score a Blackwing, for a period not to exceed 20,000 miles/24 months.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
3 months ago

I’m a bit obsessive. I just put together a wall mount pressure washer setup. Before I was a firm follower of the two bucket method and then the three bucket method (the third only ever seeing brushes and microfiber that touched wheels and tires), but with the pressure washer, I’ve gone back to two buckets (one for wheels/tires and the other as a wash).

My latest method is clean the wheels and tires first still. Then foam the entire car, let it dwell, then rinse off. Foam again (maybe one half or quarter at a time), wash with my mitt, then rinse. I use a handheld blower to dry in one hand with a drying towel in the other to follow up.

Interior when fully cleaning is vacuum, clean the surfaces, and then follow up with a protectant dependent on the surface being treated. In between those a microfiber with a quick interior detailing spray.

Der Foo
Der Foo
3 months ago

Wash: Opt 1) Bucket and microfiber (dreadlock looking) mitt. Mostly Mr. Pink or some other Chemical Guys soap. Initial soaking, then scrubbing, rinsing mitt out frequently so minimal chance of scratching. Opt 2) Foam sprayer followed by mit. This seems to work a little better, but I don’t think it is worth it (econ vs labor –> results) unless you already have a power washer. NOTE: Wheels get their own bucket and mitt bc they are 3x as dirty as the rest of the car.

Rinse: High pressure spray to remove soap and dirt.

Dry: Usually a chamose due to hard water and sometimes compressed air to drive water out of the crevices.

Wax: Opt 1) A good spray wax (Groit’s Garage, Optimum or Duragloss 951) after most washes. Opt 2) Collinite Insulator Wax for a more durable annual wax (still do spray waxes throughout the year).

Interior: Vacuum the carpets and seats. Scrub down the all weather mats. 303 everything that isn’t cloth or leather. Weiman Leather Cleaner & Conditioner, but not too often because I’m not keen on the smell. Other times some leather products from Lexol, Meguiar’s, Leather Honey, Chem Guys or whatever I happen to have that isn’t Armor All.

Last edited 3 months ago by Der Foo
Ncbrit
Ncbrit
3 months ago

I take a bucket and a roll of tear off microfiber cloths to one of those diy power wash places. Then:

-Fill a bucket with soap from the car wash
-Throw in half a dozen microfibers
-Power blast the heavy crap off
-Foam it up
-Hand wash with the soapy microfibers, discarding dropped/dirty ones
-Power blast it clean
-Spray it with the wax/spotless whatever stuff is in there
-Rinse
-Drive on the interstate to dry it off

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
3 months ago

Clean?
My car?

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