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Car Cleaning Guide for Professional Results

Eddie spent 35 years in the automotive business with Honda. He is an ASE certified master technician and has bruised knuckles to prove it.

Read on for some tips to get your car looking showroom new!

Read on for some tips to get your car looking showroom new!

Take Pride in Your Ride

Cleaning a car sounds pretty straightforward. But if it's not done properly, it could turn out disastrous. There are certain precautions to take seriously when cleaning your car or your results will look like a 4-year-old reconditioned it.

I will cover basic steps, tools, and products to use that will make car cleaning more enjoyable, less time-consuming, and will generate professional results. After all, you clean your car to make it stand out above all the dirty ones you park next to. Cleaning your own car reflects your pride of ownership plus gives you the feeling of self-satisfaction knowing that you cleaned it, and it's done right!

Washing Your Car

Washing a car seems pretty basic, the fact is that most people make a huge mistake that will cost them dearly in the long run.

1. Rinse Car Off.

Removing all the dust and heavy debris before will protect the paint from being scratched. If you were to just wash without rinsing it first, you will be washing the paint with sand and dirt in the brush or pad. This is the worst thing you can do, it causes fine scratches in the paint and sometimes deep scratches. Rinse the car thoroughly first and then wash.

2. Wash Your Car from Top to Bottom.

Start by washing your car from top to bottom. This is done for two reasons:

  1. You will only have to rinse the top of the car once.
  2. Most of the heavy dirt that is kicked up by your tires is at the bottom of your car's doors and fenders. If you own a power washer you will probably remove 80% of this debris, but most people washing their cars in the driveway will only be using a hose.

Also, wash in small sections, don't try to do it all at once. You'll never do it without the soap drying and leaving spots.

Try to wash in the shade if possible as this will help prevent dried soap spots. If you have no choice but to wash in the sun, have a helper spray as you wash. If you can remove the soap quickly without letting it dry on the paint, your wash job will come out looking great. If you have a shady spot, park in the shade and let it cool down—soap will dry quickly on hot paint and will cause spots as well.

Wash your rims and tires last because of the brake dust, you don't want to wash with brake dust because it has very fine metal particles in it that can scratch your paint. Don't forget to wash your tires, it will remove scuff marks, and your tires will look new again.


  • Use a brush. If you want to save time, and also save your back, I highly recommend using a wash brush specially made for washing your car. It has a telescopic pole and works awesome for washing the car. It will allow you to reach the middle of the windshield plus hood, your moon roof, and the roof itself. It will also save your back washing the bottom of the car and wheels without having to bend over. This is truly a time saver for the small investment, this is one tool you will never regret owning if you're an avid car washer.
  • Use a special squeegee. Using a chamois to dry is still a good option, but there is a new tool on the market that will save you time and the hassle of squeezing the water out of the chamois every ten seconds. There is a squeegee that is like a windshield wiper with no metal parts. It's made of silicone rubber and just wipes the water off the paint without scratching and doesn't leave water spots. Add this squeegee to your car cleaning toolbox and save even more time with professional results.
  • Use a bucket. Always put your brush or mitt back in the wash bucket, never place the brush or mitt on the ground, you could pick up a small rock or dirt on it and really scratch your paint bad. If you make a habit of putting the brush or mitt back in the bucket, you just might save yourself from a paint job.

Cleaning the Interior

If you want to have a professional-looking job, you need to be detailed when cleaning your interior. Pay attention to all the little nooks and crannies in your interior. Before starting, consider:

  • If you're having a hard time reaching the dirt in the small cracks, use an old toothbrush, or a new one—they're cheap enough and if you go to the dentist regularly like me you probably have a bunch of extras laying around. Use it to move the dust and dirt out of the cracks while vacuuming it up at the same time.
  • I don't recommend using anything to make your dash shiny. It will usually attract even more dust and will cause a glare on the windshield on sunny days. Most of those products will have a water base, and in cold climates, the water will cause cracks because it freezes and expands.
  • I recommend using a window cleaner on all interior parts to help attract the dust. You can also use the window cleaner on the plastic instrument panels. Be careful when cleaning your dash so you don't hit any buttons that change preset settings on your instruments.

Now, to clean the interior:

  1. The carpet. Remove the floor mats and vacuum the carpet, vacuum under the seats and between the console and the seats—be sure to vacuum all of the French fries and coins that fall in between the seats while you were on your road trip. If you collect the coins before vacuuming, you might just have enough for a coffee. Vacuum your seats and pull the material apart between the seat bolsters and the cushions. Recline the seats and vacuum between the upper seat and the lower seat.
  2. Floor mats. Vacuum the floor mats. If they are rubber or all-weather mats, simply rinse them with the hose and then wash them with your wash brush or mitt and hang them to dry. I don't recommend using anything to make them shiny, as the product will get all over your shoes and will make the pedals in the car slippery, and this could actually cause an accident. They will look just as good without the shiny stuff and it will be a lot safer.
  3. Carpeted floor mats. If you have carpeted floor mats and you would like to deep clean them, I would use a carpet cleaning soap and a stiff brush. Spray them with soap and hose them down. Once they are good and wet, scrub them with a brush. Once they look clean, hang them on something like a fence, and rinse them thoroughly, hang them to dry in the sun for a few days or until they are completely dry, you don't want mold growing under them so make sure they are completely dry.
  4. Door jams. Clean the door jambs and the jamb on the doors. This is one of the most overlooked places and it really makes a huge difference. Just use some window cleaner or degreaser and wipe out the door jams. Sometimes there is grease in the jam area because of the hinges and door check, so just use a degreaser to remove any petroleum-based substances. Sometimes just using window cleaner is enough.
  5. Windows. Cleaning the windows is the biggest pain and it is the most difficult part of car cleaning, but I have a solution that will ease the pain. Any place that sells automotive supplies will sell bundles of microfiber shop towels—towels that are used just for cleaning cars. These towels are the best option for cleaning windows, inside and out, and if you wash them first in very little soap and place them in the dryer, it will remove 90% of the lint on them. You can use regular paper towels, but they have a chemical in them that leaves streaks. I use these cotton shop towels for the windows in my house as well—they do a fantastic job and you can just throw them in the wash when you're done.

Note: Rain-X is a great product, but you have to like it if you're going to use it. A lot of people don't prefer it because it leaves a film on the windshield as the blade clears the glass. However what people don't realize is that they don't have to use their wipers with Rain-X, even at night, in fact. It's easier to see in the rain without your wipers and Rain-X. Try it and see for yourself—I love it and use it every time I wash my car.

Waxing and Polishing

Paste Wax

Most waxes will not outlast the winter, according to Consumer Reports. Most car waxes only last a few weeks, but if you are looking for a wax that will last a bit longer, paste wax is your best buy for the money. If you're looking for a quick shine that is easy to apply and easy to remove, Meguiar's NXT liquid wax and Nu Finish are top contenders. I was looking for a wax this summer for my boat, and the boating store recommended Meguiar's, then my Consumer Reports magazine came in last month and they also recommended Meguiar's or Nu Finish.

Nu Finish has been around forever, my dad bought some about 25 years ago and I still have it, but I think it's about time I upgrade the bottle. Nu Finish NFP-80 paste wax is the top CR Best Buy for waxes.

Turtle Wax ice synthetic paste comes in second.

So if you're looking for the best wax on the market today, check out these two waxes, Consumer Reports spends a lot of time testing products, and if they say it's a good buy, I'm listening.


  • When waxing your car, remember to try to do it in the shade. The wax will go on easily and will come off easily. Try to keep the wax away from the emblems and the body lines so you won't have to spend much time removing the wax later. Leaving wax in the body lines looks crappy and it's very time-consuming to remove it.
  • If you have to remove it from these places, use that nifty toothbrush again, it works wonders.
  • Also, don't get wax on the black rubber or black plastic parts on your car; it is very difficult to remove it if you can remove it at all.
  • After applying the wax to your car's paint, remove it with those microfiber towels I mentioned before, they remove the wax the best and will not scratch your paint. You don't realize how much you use these towels until you have them on hand.

Wheels and Tires

Wheels and tires are last on my list because this is where the rubber meets the road.

  • Clean the brake dust off your rims and tires and be sure to clean the rims well, get in all those tight areas, and make them shine. Rims really dress up your car—they're like a nice pair of shoes, you wouldn't go out with dusty shoes on your feet, would you?
  • Then, add some tire shine to top off that new car look, when the rubber is clean and glossy it really makes the car stand out and the rims pop, so use some tire foam and make them shine.
  • I didn't mention washing the engine because I don't believe it is a good idea unless you are mechanically inclined and you know something about engines. Water and engines never really got along together since the beginning of time, but they are much better friends now with the new technology. But unless you know what you're doing, I don't recommend it. Open your hood and wipe it down; there is a lot of plastic cover on the newer engines that you can clean up to make it look good, but if you wash your engine and it doesn't start, you're on your own.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.