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How To Clean and Detail Your Car

Automobiles naturally collect a lot of dirt, crumbs and germs. When you use your car a lot, it can get filthy within just a few days. You may find that you have to detail your car, van or SUV monthly (or even weekly) just to keep it in good shape.

Here are tips to help get you started right from the comfort of your home.

Woman smiling while sponge washing her car.

Disinfecting and Sanitizing is Key

If someone gets sick in your car or rides in your automobile while ill, you should sanitize the surfaces to help kill the germs. In this case, it helps to understand the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting:

  • Cleaning means removing the smudges, stains and visible dirt from surfaces in your car. Many cleaners break down oils, but they aren't killing any germs.
  • Disinfecting requires chemicals that kill germs, though the surface may still be visibly dirty. These cleaners often need to sit for a certain amount of time (like 10 minutes) to kill the germs. Disinfectants include bleach and certain alcohol-based solutions.
  • Sanitizing means cleaning the surface and removing germs to a safe level. Different spaces will require different levels of cleaning to be considered sanitized.

When you are disinfecting or sanitizing multiple surfaces, it is important you don't mix cleaner types. In the tight space of a car, spraying two or three different disinfectants could create a dangerous toxic chemical mix.

How To Detail Your Car Interior

Toss the Trash
Start your cleaning process by removing all trash. If there is a lot of trash buildup, keep a garbage bag or can next to you. Get this entire job done first to reduce trips and make your process efficient.

Remove the Extras

Next, remove toys, books, gym clothes, unneeded seasonal items (like a window scraper) and anything else that doesn't need to stay in your car. Put these away so the car's surfaces are as empty as possible.

For the items you plan to keep in the car, make piles to the side until you are finished so you have easy access to all surfaces for deep cleaning. If you have car mats, remove them, shake them out and wash them with soap and water. Place the mats in the sun to fully dry before putting them back into your clean car.

Vacuum Surfaces

Now that all items are out of the way, sweep up crumbs and dirt with the vacuum. You can use your house vacuum or a shop vac for this process. You just need a hose and a crevice tool extension for the edges.

Wash Surfaces

Wipe down everything first with a damp rag to remove loose dirt, mud, food or anything else. Use the appropriate cleaners next, including:

  • Seat cleaner for leather, vinyl or fabric
  • Glass cleaner
  • Car interior spray or wipes

As you work, keep the windows and doors open to avoid trapping cleaners in the air. If possible, work with the garage door up as well to increase ventilation

Brushes of various sizes (like toothbrushes and Q-tips) can help you remove grime from all the cracks and crevices. Microfiber towels can help you dry your surfaces faster as you go to avoid streaking.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car

The outside of your car is pretty straightforward but requires quite a bit of elbow grease.

  • Wash your car wheels
  • Use car wash soap (not dish soap!) and scrub down the outside with a large sponge
  • Rinse off all soap completely
  • Dry the car with a microfiber towel
  • Use a clay bar to remove any small contaminants
  • Apply wax with a foam pad

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