How to Clean Your Car

Keeping your car clean means more than a quick scrub down each weekend. Give your car the respect it deserves with a thorough cleaning. 

You Will Need: 

  • Car soap
  • Wheel cleaner
  • Window cleaner
  • Interior cleaners as desired (leather cleaners, dashboard protectant, etc.)
  • Sponges
  • Buckets
  • Soft cloths
  • Lambskin mitt for washing
  • Terrycloth or microfiber cloths
  • Wax kit
  • Scrubbing pads
  • Vacuum with attachments 

Steps to Clean Your Car: 

  1. Wheels: Start with the wheels as they often hold a lot of gunk that you won’t want sprayed or splattered over your newly cleaned car. First, wet the wheels with water, then spray them with a wheel cleaner. Scrub them well with a cloth or scrub brush. Rinse completely with water.
  2. Wash the Exterior: Spray the entire car down with water. Use a bucket with water and a good quality car soap (not dish soap – it will strip the wax!) to wash the surfaces. If you want to detail, use a small brush to get in the cracks and crevices.
  3. Dry the Exterior: Use a terrycloth or microfiber cloth to remove the water and dry the exterior. If possible, open all of the doors for 5-10 minutes to allow the water drips in the door frame to dry. Wipe these areas to speed the process along.
  4. Wax: Once the exterior is dry, you are ready to wax it and make it shine. Choose a quality wax (black wax for black cars) and follow the instructions on the package to apply and remove it.
  5.  Clean Out the Inside: Now that the outside is clean, it’s time to move to the inside. First, remove any cups, trash, papers, etc. that may have been left. Don’t forget to clean out the console and remove that lose change and dropped pens from between the seats. If you have small children, you’ll want to lift of the back seat and remove all the dropped cereal and trinkets.
  6. Vacuum: Now that all of the debris is cleaned out, it’s time to vacuum. Use the attachments to get into the tight areas and vacuum out the rest of the loose debris.
  7. Wash the Seats: If you have an upholstery or steam cleaner, this is a great time to clean the fabric seats. Remove the dirt build up with a quality shampoo. Keep the windows open until the seats dry completely. For leather seats, use a leather cleaner and conditioner to keep the seats in top condition.
  8. Windows and Mirrors: The final step is to clean the windows and mirrors. This will remove any oversprays that may have occurred while cleaning and give the car a finished look. 

Additional Tips and Advice 

  • It’s best to clean your car on a warm day in the shade, especially if you are cleaning the interior, as it will need to dry quickly.
  • Choose quality car care products over household cleaning products for the best results. Car care products are designed to clean the surfaces without damaging or removing the protective coatings that need to stay.


  1. Tracy says:

    When hosing your car, make sure to go from one area then work your way up. Dirt may go to a different area of your car. Go over it several times if needed.

  2. Tina says:

    You know how difficult it is to get those love bugs off the windshield and the front of you vehicle in May and October; love bug months.

    While washing your vehicle, simply use a Bounce Fabric Softener Sheet, wet it and watch the magic. Unbelievable.

  3. Mitch says:

    Hose from the top, then use baking soda and Dawn in the bucket. Nothing works better.

  4. Robert says:

    Washing and waxing your car
    NEVER, EVER USE DISH SOAP- IT WILL RUIN ANY WAX THAT’S PROTECTING YOUR PAINT. Think about it; dish soaps contain degreasers for cutting through things- like waxy buildup. Stick with a car shampoo or soap. And be sure to be in the shade, if at all possible.

    1. Wheels
    Start with your wheels, otherwise you could get parts of what could have been a clean car dirty again. Be sure to start on a wheel that’s not hot to the touch- you don’t want to warp your brake rotors! Take your time, get them good; these babies hold a lot of brake dust and road grime. After doing all four, be sure to change your water out for a fresh batch before continuing on the rest of your car. Back to the wheels- if they’ve cooled, get ’em wet. Spray your favorite wheel cleaner and let her sit- follow directions on the bottle. I’ve found that sometimes I gotta give it a second round or use a SOFT wheel brush. If your wheel wells are nasty, you can hit them with the cleaner as well. When satisfied, hose your wheel down and move on.

    2. Tires
    These guys like to be cleaned one at a time as well; I like Black Magic’s Tire Foam. Easy to use- spray it on, let it sit and spray it off. This step will get them ready for that shiny tire dressing that’ll give your ride that finishing touch.

    3. Wash and Dry
    Most important car care step: caring for your paint job. There are plenty of ways to do it. You worked hard for this car; so, do it right- use the old school two bucket method. One with car wash solution (NO DISH LIQUID! IT WILL STRIP YOUR WAX!!) and the other with plain water for rinsing. This is in order to keep your rinsing mitt clean from grit that could damage your paint. Dip your mitt into some suds (not too many), then starting at the top, do one section at a time and work your way down each side of the car. Now, my dad used to use a circular motion, but he’d end up with swirls in his paint- I think you end up pressing to hard. SO, I recommend going with the air flow of your car, using a back and forth motion. I find this technique to rain supreme in all levels- washing, waxing, drying. Don’t muscle it; we want to lift the dirt, not sand the car. After washing each panel, clean your suds mitt and hit the panel with some water- do all the panels this way- you will thank me in the end. Besides, this is YOUR time.

    Now, for the final rinse, let the water run softly from the top down. Because you’ve used proper procedures during the wash, the water will sheet off and mostly remove itself. Now, kill the water and let’s dry. To do it right, use a micro-fiber towel (pick up a pack at Costco- 36 for $15) a terry cloth type towel. You can blot or swipe if you’re using a micro-fiber. But make sure you take it one step further and use a good quality micro fiber towel to get all the remaining water off and out of all the nooks and crannies before moving on to the wax process.

    4. Wax and Polish You have a technique, now use it here as well and adapt your product’s directions.

    5. Dress Tires
    Back to my favorite tire cleaner because it does both clean and dress- Black Magic’s Tire Foam. Now, it’s not as glossy as some other things I’ve seen, but I don’t have a show car. If you love the wet look, there’s plenty of good products out there.

    6. Polish Wheels
    This is the last exterior step- be happy! You just saved yourself $200 on detailing- go buy yourself tickets to the Bears game- or you can keep yourself outta the doghouse by buying your wife a night out on the town in your detailed ride.

    Back to biz- this will help you in the long run- polishing your wheels is like Scotchgarding your couch- it helps to repel brake dust and grime, making it easier to clean for next time. I like Ice by Turtle Wax for this- very easy to use and does a great job. If you want to spend a little more time and have an excuse to get out the drill, buy yourself Mother’s Power Ball. No wrong way here- wax on wax off. Be sure the product you use is safe for the material your rims are made of.

    7. Interior Care
    Armor All has me covered here. I like the matte look. They’ve got one that’s safe for every surface (excluding glass), which I love- use it on the dash, the steering wheel, seats (without sliding out of ’em). Be sure to spray your micro-fiber cloth first and then apply. I keep mentioning micro-fiber here because they can be washed about 100 times; in the long run, they’re much better than paper and MUCH more safe on all your car’s surfaces.

    Have fun!

  5. Debbie says:

    When I wash my car, I do it weekly even if I don’t see anything on it. When I dry it, I use my husband’s leaf blower; it works fast and it’s great. It gets the water out from under chrome (usually one of the places rust starts at). I also wipe the inside of the doors with plain water. For the windows, I use a product called Invisible Glass. It is great; it does not streak. Just spray and wipe off. To keep things in order in the trunk, I laid down some of those things you put under carpets to keep them from sliding. Nothing moves around in the trunk.

  6. Ray says:

    Not a tip, a question: How can I remove accumulated wax (from auto car wash) from a vehicle windshield?

  7. Amit says:

    Wipe under the door of your car after washing.

    It is very important to wipe the car properly after each wash and one very common place one misses is the lower panel of the door. When you wash the car, water enters the doors through the window panels. SO once you are done washing the car and if you have enough places around your car, leave all the doors-open for 5-10 minutes and wipe it dry. All cars have drain holes at the bottom of the doors to drain rain water. But due to accumulation of dirt and muck in the inner parts, these holes get blocked; ensure you clean and clear the blocks, if any… DO not neglect this part, because if you do, you know what you can expect in due course of time… RUST. Your car’s WORST ENEMY. Happy washing!

  8. Bernice says:

    Help!!! How do you remove build-up from headlights?

  9. Dayna says:

    How do you remove build up from headlights? While I’m waxing a vehicle, I buff the headlights too. It takes all the buildup OFF! They will look NEW!!!! I use an auto buffer; you just got to learn how to use one. It’s easy – by the time you wax your vehicle, you then do your headlights.

  10. Angela says:

    Does microfiber interior with basic spray-on scratch guard really resist the stains of that small children inflict?

    Can you get all of the stains out of these seats?

  11. Susan says:

    Spray on Scotchguard is designed to “resist” stains. It forms a seal that prevents spills and staining products from penetrating the fibers of the fabric. As with any stains and spills, they need to be removed promptly for the easiest clean-up. Children introduce many different products to the back seat of a car and some spills go unnoticed for quite some time. While the Scotchguard does help to lessen the severity of these stains, it is not guaranteed to stop them. For example, if a juice spill is unnoticed and allowed to sit, it will eventually soak through the protective barrier and soak into the fibers of the fabric. So, to answer your question, yes, the spray on protectant does help to resist the stains that the average small child will inflict. However, it does not stop prolonged exposure to staining products and thus requires prompt removal to achieve top performance.

  12. Matt says:

    Robert provided a VERY good outline of a quick detail. Some will consider that process a quick wash.

    I have to stress the importance of keeping a good wax or sealant on your car’s finish, especially in the winter months, and even more so if your car sits outside. Rain, sun and other contaminants will eventually oxidize and destroy your finish. Avoiding swirls is one thing (follow Robert’s advice), but keeping that shine is another battle.

    I understand the comments on avoiding dish soap; it will strip the wax. However, applying wax on existing weathered layers may only lead to swirls, hazing and frustration. Get rid of that old stuff with dish soap once a year, pick up a clay bar to remove contaminants if your finish feels rough. (BE VERY CAREFUL WITH CLAY BARS.) Then, wash and reapply a new coat. I find sealants, such as Zaino, to provide the best protection for the longest time. A few coats in the Fall provides beading protection all winter long.

    A note on drying. If you keep a nice coat of wax on the car, the water should bead right off. If this is the case, remove the hose nozzle and allow the water to SHEET off the car. You’ll be left with only a few small drops to soak up with a good Microfiber. Another step in avoiding swirls.

  13. Adam says:

    Regarding wax buildup from car washes, try straight up white vinegar on a well-saturated microfiber cloth.

    Just be careful! You do not want to get the vinegar on your metal/car/paint as it may/will eat at the wax/finish/clear coat on your vehicle. 😉

    But it’ll definitely remove that wax from car washes.

    Regarding upholstery stains on interior fabrics, get the aerosol can of “Tuff Stuff;” that stuff works wonderful. Spray it on, wait 45-60 seconds, then scrub up/off using a clean microfiber cloth. :) The stain should be gone. If not, try another go around with Tuff Stuff, same procedure.

  14. JRE says:

    Two other suggestions for wax build up:

    (1) Use a clay detailing bar.
    (2) As discussed above, Dawn dish soap will strip wax, so you could use that.

    Of course, then you will need to wax the rest of the car. Then again, liquid wax from a commercial car wash probably isn’t worth damn, so you’re better off starting from scratch anyway.

  15. Megan says:

    Weird question; I forgot and left a pack of butter in the car, and, of course, it leaked out onto the seat of the car. Any suggestions on how to get the excess butter out of the seat and so you won’t get a grease spots on your pants every time you sit in the car?

  16. Donna says:

    Let kids have popcorn with butter and now the seat is stained-help!

  17. Lee says:

    Kids poured flour on the inside of my son’s car. How do I get it off the vinyl dash and doors? The speaker holes are full of it and can not be removed.

    The seats were vacuumed, but if you smack them, flour comes out in the dust.

    What a mess.

  18. Debbie says:

    Any ideas on how to remove what I believe to be leaf stains from the paint on a car?

  19. Ellen says:

    Unbelievable, but true; Orange Glow, or any off brand of it. This stuff really works. It will take all the goop off your car – bugs, old wax, whatever. Your car is then just as when it was painted. Some may want to put a protective wax on. I don’t as I am not too finicky. Why pay for anything else? I have been using it for years and it will not damage anything. I haven’t used my off brand of spray-on orange cleaner from the dollar store in a year. My car still looks OK. I don’t like cleaning my car; still, no matter how grungy it gets, a good rain takes the grime off still, after I used this spray on orange cleaner. I found this out by mistake, but that mistake sure has worked, and is so inexpensive. The expensive stuff does not come close to the cheap orange spray.

  20. Diane says:

    I disagree with your theory about Armor All. A friend used it on an old car and it caused the dashboard to crack. It doesn’t have natural product in it I understand.

  21. Rod says:

    Instead of Armor All, use Vinylex; it comes in a blue spray bottle. I restore antique cars and this works best on all vinyl surfaces, however, it is not cheap, but goes a long way. Use it on the vinyl bumper and door protectors as well.

  22. Dana says:

    I just got my car painted a few days ago. The place that painted my car recommended that I wash it with Dawn dish washing soap in a week. Will that damage the fresh paint? Surely the company that painted it knows what they are talking about?

  23. Marty says:

    Regarding Scotchgard, it has been proven to contain a liver-damaging chemical that contaminates the environment. It was pulled off the market and reformulated by 3M, but is not proven to be non-toxic.

  24. Joe says:

    Best to just sit back and watch your girl in her daisy dukes and leave it at that.

  25. Joseph says:

    What can I use to remove love bugs from my car without damaging the paint?

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