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Car Cleaning Guide: How to Wash Your Car

Has someone carved Wash Me! into the back of your car? Pick up some car washing tips and techniques in this handy guide to get your ride shiny again!


car cleaning guide

Save on an expensive trip to the car wash by doing it by hand. If you’ve got the time, you can even make a family activity out of it! Read on for the things you’ll need, how to do away with the dirt, and how to get headlights clean and clear.

Rinse your sponge or washcloth frequently with the hose, under the tap, or in a bucket of plain water before putting it back in the soapy water – this stops the water getting progressively dirtier as you wash.

Car Washing Equipment

  • Firstly, you’ll need a bucket of water mixed with car soap and something tough but soft to wash with, such as large car-washing sponges or Jif cloths. It helps to have more than one. Be sure to follow any safety instructions on the soap.

  • A hose is really useful, but can be replaced by a bucket or two of plain water if you don’t have one.

  • A stiff-bristled brush for the tires. Plastic bristles make it easier to avoid accidentally scratching hubcaps than wire.

  • Finishing products like wax and polish are optional.

  • Finally, you’ll need some old towels, rags or cloths to dry it off.

How to Clean a Car

  • First, park the car out of direct sunlight if possible. This will stop the water drying prematurely, which may leave streaks or marks.

  • Then get everything ready. Fill any buckets you need, mix the soap, make sure all windows are closed, antenna are retracted (if possible) and windscreen wipers are in their popped-out position away from the glass.

car cleaning guide
  • Douse the car with water to soften and loosen dirt. The hose is best for this, but you can throw a couple of buckets of water over it if you don’t have one.

  • Soak your sponge or Jif cloth in the soapy water and begin to wash the car in sections, starting at the top to avoid spreading dirt from the road upwards.

  • Once a section is done, rinse it off with the hose or a bucket before moving on. The soap may leave marks if it dries on the paint.

  • The wheels and lower body are the dirtiest and grittiest parts, so do these last. It’s best to use a separate cloth or sponge.

  • Clean the sides of the tires with a plastic brush. Use a cloth or sponge for hubcaps to avoid scratching them.

  • Rinse off the wheels, and dry the car with the towels. It’s best to keep the entire car wet throughout until you dry it to prevent streaks and water spots.

  • Finishing touches like polish or wax are optional, but be sure to follow any safety instructions on the packaging if you choose to use them.

Cleaning Car Headlights

Once-clear headlights can often turn hazy or yellow with time. Keeping them clean can become a matter of safety as well as appearance.

  • Most headlight haziness comes from oxidation; an opaque covering that lays flatly and evenly on the surface of the lens, starting white then turning yellow and eventually brown.

  • Light to medium oxidation can usually be fixed with a non-abrasive deoxidiser. These chemicals can be dangerous, so be sure to follow safety instructions.

  • Higher levels of oxidation and other problems may have to be treated by sanding. Sanding headlights is a complex process and can easily cause permanent damage, so it may be best left to professionals.

  • Clean the outside of the headlights first like you would the rest of the car, to make it easier to identify the problem or the level of oxidation.

  • Most headlights are plastic. Glass headlights should be checked by a professional.

  • Only resort to sanding if previous methods haven’t worked, as the abrasion can damage the lenses.

Originally published