More and more, people are turning to pros to wash their cars. According to the International Carwash Association, 77 percent of drivers in 2019 reported they most frequently took their vehicle to a professional car wash, up from approximately 48 percent in 1994. A full professional detailing can run from $75 to $150 or more, depending on where you live and the level of, well, detail.
Car interiors attract their share of dirt, dust and grime, and trips to the car wash and detailing shop can add up. But with a little know-how and a few smart tips, you can clean your car like a car detailing pro.
Step 1: Stock Your Cleaning Caddy
Skip household cleaners and invest in car care cleaners specifically formulated for automotive applications. Household products, including dishwashing soap, can be harmful to automotive paint, interior and plastic surfaces, says AAA repair systems manager David Bennett.
Besides car cleaning products, gather some cotton swabs, fluffy make-up brushes, microfiber cloths, a scrubbing brush and a vacuum cleaner with a brush and crevice attachments. If you prefer a cleaning product set that covers it all, including exterior detailing, John Peterson, editor of Safe Drive Gear and an auto retailer senior sales manager, recommends the 16-Piece Arsenal Builder Car Wash Kit.
Step 2: Clear Out the Car
Remove the floor mats, large items such as car seats, bags and anything else sizable you store in your car. Mike Pennington, Meguiar’s director of global training, event marketing and consumer relations, recommends clearing out trash, too.
“Keep a small trash bag handy to put your trash in while on the road,” Pennington says. “Then you can easily throw away the bag and replace it with a new one as often as needed.”
Step 3: Make a Plan
Vehicles have nooks, crannies and crevices. Before you dive into cleaning, assess your car’s interior. Note any areas that are particularly dirty, or spaces you may not notice as you operate the vehicle.
The most commonly overlooked spaces, according to Pennington, include beneath the seats (reach under there carefully!), floor mats and the back sides of the sun visors. Peterson mentions air vents, cup holders and storage compartments. And Bennett says the cargo and trunk areas frequently get overlooked. Be sure to hit these spots like the pros do.
Step 4: Clean Surfaces and Vacuum
Next, vacuum the car interior and wipe down surfaces. It sounds straightforward, but for car detailing-level clean, take your time so you’re sure to hit every nook and cranny. Work from top to bottom as much as you can, but know you may need to go back over an area. Cars are tight quarters and dirt can fly around; you may need to go back to do a crevice you missed.
Keep these car detailing tips and tricks in mind as you complete this marathon of a step:
Pre-vacuum: “Use a soft, natural bristle brush to loosen dirt from all the interior surfaces prior to vacuuming,” says Bennett.
Don’t forget the headliner: That’s the fabric covering the inside of the roof. “Wrap a microfiber towel around a stiff nylon brush, then spray with an upholstery cleaner and lightly agitate the headliner,” Pennington says. “This is a great trick to keep from over saturating the headliner with a cleaner.”
Move seats: “When vacuuming the interior, move the front seats all the way forward and backward to get under the seat,” says Bennett. For seats that recline, Pennington recommends moving them as far as they’ll go in both directions to reach any hidden dirt.
Use your tools: The crevice attachment for your vacuum cleaner was made to fit into tight corners. Employ it frequently during your car detailing. Use cotton swabs and make-up brushes for tasks like cleaning air vents and around buttons.
Choose wisely: Clean with products designed specifically for the material. Then use a conditioner or protectant on any vinyl or leather surfaces, if necessary.
Spray carefully: “Always spray your interior cleaning solution on your towel or detailing brush as it can leave streaks and also damage electronics,” says Peterson.
Step 5: Wash the Windows
Finally, wash the windows. Specialty window wipes work well for this step. Even though you’re focused on the car interior in this step, you’ll see any exterior grime from inside your newly detailed car interior. Clean the outside of the windows, too, while you’re at it.
Step 6: Clean Floor Mats
Shake out any loose dirt from your floor mats. Vacuum and then scrub with hot water and an automotive carpet cleaner, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Let the mats dry completely.
Step 7: Reset
After you’ve finished your car detailing, put the fully dried car mats back in place, return any items you want to keep in your car back to their rightful spots, and return your seats and mirrors to their rightful positions. Now you’re ready to roll in your freshly cleaned car.
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