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How to Clean a Car

How to make money flipping cars. I've been flipping cars for some time now. It started as a side hustle but I now do it full time.

A 1963 Corvette showing the benefits of fastidious Car Detailing.

A 1963 Corvette showing the benefits of fastidious Car Detailing.

What Is Car Detailing?

Detailing means cleaning a car inside and out by hand, using specialized products when necessary, to make it look new and reverse the effects of aging and weather.

Car detailing is important: car enthusiasts do it to exhibit their pride at auto shows, car dealers do it to get a better price for their trade-in cars, you might do it to get the best price possible when you sell your car or trade it in, or you might do it for sheer pride.

First impressions count, and your car is no exception. First impressions tell a prospective buyer a lot about you and your car. For example, if the car is dirty, that would tell a buyer straight off that the seller is a lazy person or doesn't know how to clean a car, and that would sound some warning bells as to whether the car had been serviced regularly or not. And if this dirty car had been serviced, the buyer might assume that cheap parts had been used and a lackadaisical job done. A buyer might back away from buying a dirty car, even if the price was low.

An immaculate car with great detailing, on the other hand, would entice a buyer to take a closer look.

Actually, here's a side tip: when I'm really interested in buying a second-hand car, even though it may be totally immaculate, I'll ask the owner—even if he's a dealer—if he'd mind if I washed it myself. You'd be amazed, if you carefully wash and then dry a car, how many little defects you will pick up, like tiny dents, scratches, or maybe even a little rust, that just weren't visible before.

Many experienced car owners know how to clean a car thoroughly by hand, but many new owners need to learn. We've compiled this guide to take you through everything you'll need to know. If you follow our tips, we promise your car will look like a brand new one after you've finished.

Washing your car the right way.

Washing your car the right way.

How to Wash a Car

The first step in car detailing is washing a car the right way (here are some tips). This is important so that you get rid of all the dirt and grime. If you go straight to the polishing step, you'll rub all this dirt into the car and create some awful scratches all over it.

First, check the temperature of the bodywork of your car. If it's a hot day, or you've been driving it and the motor and hood are still warm, then put the car in the shade for an hour or two. Or, if your hose water is cool enough, play the water on the bodywork until it's cool.

When you detail or wash your car, you should take off any jewelry, sharp cuff buttons, or anything else that may scratch the bodywork without you even noticing.

Next, take a bucket of warm but not hot water and put a little auto body shampoo in the bucket. You don't need too much, a couple of capfuls will do it. Don't use a household detergent, like something to wash your dishes, and definitely not something to wash your clothes. This is really important for car detailing. If your car has any wax on it, the dishwashing liquid will live up to its name as a grease stripper, and strip all your wax off.

Okay, next get a nice big sponge. Auto cleaning sponges are best for this, only because they are so large, but this isn't critical; just a nice big sponge will do the trick. Take your hose, and starting at the car roof, spray that with a good dollop of water, then your trunk and hood and sides. Next step is to take your sponge, give it a good dip in the soapy water, and start to soap your whole car from the top down to the bottom. Then rinse off thoroughly with your hose until there's not a sign of a soap sud.

Wet your chamois cloth first and rinse out. Real chamois is the best for drying off a car. Real chamois is so long-lasting you'll be able to pass it down to your son. I've had mine for at least twenty years without any breakup in it at all.

It's best not to dry in swirls, though that is the natural thing to do. Go down in straight sweeps, starting with the roof.

how-to-detail-your-car

How to Use Cutting Compound on Your Car

After you've washed your car and got rid of all the dirt and grime, it's then time to take a look at the overall condition of the paintwork and decide if it's best to buy some cutting compound for the best finish. This is not necessary if the paint still looks fairly shiny everywhere. If it's dull, though, you'll have to 'cut the paint.'

Cutting polish has an abrasive in it. The idea behind it is that it will take a little bit of the surface off your paint, and then once your car is buffed with a top polish, it will look like new again. A warning, though: if your car is say ten years old or older and has lived in a hot climate, and the paint looks bad, it probably is beyond hope, though it's still worth a try. Also, if your paint has been 'cut' already three or four times before, the remaining layer may be too thin for another cut, and cutting it again may expose some factory paint primer through the color.

If you do decide to cut the polish, I can tell you that it's a lengthy and messy job and best done with an electric buffer for great car detailing. I've listed a buffer below that will be man enough for the job. I've tried cheap buffers and you end up throwing them away. When you use a cheap buffer, you can literally stop the motor without too much pressure on the paint.

Anyway, hopefully you wont have to cut the polish first. The next step in cleaning a car is applying the top polish.

How to Wax Your Car

Waxing your car is the best part of the cleaning process. I love the smell of the polish. Make sure the body of the car is dead cool before you start, though. If the body's hot the polish will dry too quickly and the wax is then hard to get off and can leave streaks.

Waxing is probably best done in a garage, if you've got room to move around in it. Afterwards you'll have to take it outside and go over places that you would have missed in the garage because of the lighting.

So go get some very soft old rags, and check them before you start to make sure they don't have buttons, zips, or even hard seams. Start on the roof. Do one side by applying the wax in straight movements (not circles) and rub it into the paint until you are starting to rub it off again. Then get another dry rag and rub the dry polish right off the paint. Go around the other side of the roof and do the same thing. You'll need about a square inch of polish for each side. When first learning how to do this, you wont be able to avoid getting the polish onto rubber strips, etc; Just take it off immediately.

Keep going right around the car until you finish. Remember when you first do this, don't use the polish on the window, rubber or lights, as I said, but the chrome loves the polish. Next the wheels.

Cleaning the Wheels

Cleaning the Wheels

How to Clean the Wheels

If your car hasn't been cleaned for some time, the wheels are going to look pretty bad. For great car detailing, you will need a special product to clean the wheels. Why your wheels mostly get so black and dirty is that brake dust gets lodged on them every time you use your brakes. The front wheels will always be worse than the back wheels as they take most of the pressure. Trying to clean them without a special wheel cleaning spray isn't really possible and is truly messy.

So, first go get a bucket again of warm water with a capful of car shampoo in it. Then give your wheels a thorough spray with the special wheel cleaner on all four wheels. Leave that for a few minutes. Then get a sponge: you'll have to dedicate this sponge to just cleaning wheels, not the rest of the car, but it doesn't have to be that big. Tip the sponge into the soapy water and start washing your wheels. Afterwards, hose off the suds and you'll have some great-looking wheels. The wheels and tires make a huge overall effect when properly cleaned.

Cleaning motors can be a lot of work—but worthwhile.

Cleaning motors can be a lot of work—but worthwhile.

How to Clean the Engine

Yep - this is a dirty job so put some coveralls on. There are a few degreaser spray products on the market and they do a really great job. It's best if you warm the motor a little, then spray the can onto everything you can see. Have a small hard brush handy, and start scrubbing everything that has some oil deposits on it. For some areas, a hard toothbrush is a great little tool. When you think it's all off, then get your garden hose, and with some fairly good pressure spray everything with high-pressure water until the milkiness of the degreaser is all gone.

In days long gone, people would say the water would kill your engine if it got on the spark plug leads, but these days they're fairly well sealed, so you should be okay.

Cleaning the engine makes a pretty big mess underneath your car, so best put an old sheet or something that will catch all the old oil deposits, then throw it in your landfill.

Cleaning Tires and Rubber Engine Tubing

Tire cleaning is easy. I prefer to use a can of silicone spray. This is ideal to spray onto all the rubber cooling and heating tubes inside your engine bay. If you have black rubber bumpers, use it on these as well. It's a bit sticky for about an hour after you apply it, but then it dries and makes these parts look new again.

How to Clean the Interior and Other Places

Use a product specifically made to clean the dash and windows. Just a light spray and a buff with a cloth will do wonders to not only protect the dash but also bring it back to life.

Don't use the window spray to clean the windows while the car is facing the sun. All you'll get is streaked windows. Clean them in just a little light. If they are smeared on the inside, lightly use an abrasive on them, an abrasive that you might use to clean your pots. Just don't rub furiously at the windows—go gentle. After you've got the smears off, then clean normally with the window cleaner.

Use the window cleaner on the lights as well.

The seats and carpet are over to you and should be thoroughly vacuumed. If you've got pleats in your seats (nice rhyme), open them up with your fingers and vacuum down the pleats. You'll be astonished how much crap has got trapped in these pleats over the years. It's the number one reason why seats start coming apart.

For perfection, clean everything in your trunk: vacuum and polish.

Lastly, open your doors right out and polish what they call the 'door shuts'. The door shuts are an area a lot of people forget about, but it's an area that the car dealer will go straight to, as it tells someone experienced like him whether you've given the car just a quick once-over, or you've always been proud of your car and kept it in pristine condition.

Now that you've learned to detail a car, go sell it for a great price (some people make a living this way), or just be very proud of it and what you've done.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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