If you’ve had your pride and joy hidden away in the garage over the winter to keep it looking pristine, or you’ve been using it all winter and are now ready to remove the effects of the elements it’s important to do a good job so your car looks brand new when it rolls off the drive in the spring sunshine.
Cleaning a car at this time of year is a bit like spring cleaning your home – removing all of the dust and dirt that may have accumulated so that it looks nice and welcoming. With your car you want to turn heads so they look on with envy, or you want it to look just how it did when you bought it so that each time you go to get behind the wheel you feel that rush of excitement.
In this guide we’ll give you plenty of advice and car care tips on how to clean and car and prepare it for the spring and summer sunshine; starting with the preparation.
Step 1: Pre-Wash
The first step is to remove some of the toughest dirt first so that you make the process easier further down the line and help you to achieve a much better finish. The less dirt on your paintwork, the less risk of swirl-marks from later stages. Bug splats, and bodywork imperfections can all be a real pain to work with; but using the right products at this stage can really pay off later.
Wheels are, as a rule, the dirtiest part of the car. If you leave doing them till last, there’s a real danger of flicking dirt and other contaminants off the wheels onto the rest of the bodywork. At this stage we’d recommend starting with a wheel cleaner. You want to carefully apply this to the wheel, making sure to get all surfaces of the spokes and cavities. You then want to brush, then hose this off. Particularly dirty wheels may require more specialised decontaminant products like fallout remover.
A pre-wash is designed to be sprayed onto the cars paintwork and left. Through the magic of chemistry, a pre-wash gently removes bugs, and other accumulated grime. Something like Auto Finesse’s Citrus Power is outstanding at gently removing dirt ready for later stages.
Snow Foam Lance
A snow-foam is designed to be sprayed onto the car using a pressure washer and a special attachment called a snow-foam lance. This is exactly as much fun as it sounds. This does two things – the foam drags dirt off your paintwork as you spray it across it, and the foam encapsulates left-over dirt to lift it off.
Step 2: Wash
Wash Mitts and 2-Bucket Method
While a lot of people do wash their cars with a sponge, we don’t particularly recommend sponges. Their structure is great at holding in particles of dirt.
You dip your mitt into the shampoo bucket, clean your car a panel at a time, and then rinse the mitt in the clean water bucket. Any dirt you remove from the surface of the paintwork sinks to the bottom of the bucket, beneath the grit-guard.
Once the whole car has been shampooed thoroughly, thoroughly rinse it.
Waterless Washing / Quick Detailer
If there’s one theme you should have noticed so far, it’s that you don’t want to rub dirt that is on the car into the paintwork. On this note, we’d like to mention that quick detailer products are probably best used on cars that already have spotless paintwork. Using them on dirty paintwork could result in you dragging dirt over your cars paintwork.
Step 3: Decontamination
At this stage, some more advanced detailers may look to get their paintwork extra clean using a fallout remover and/or a clay-bar.
Fallout is tiny particles of metal. The most common sources are brake dust from your cars brake system, and rail dust typically found in the air. These particles have jagged edges and can damage your paintwork, and indeed start to rust. Fallout remover safely removes these particles. Fallout removers are quite potent, and if misused can damage trim and car finish, so always read the instructions. It’s worth doing this even if you are using a clay-bar, as it will leave less contaminants for the clay bar to pick up.
While not something you would do every time, a clay bar can really clean up your car’s paintwork. We should note that once you’ve started using a clay bar, you then 100% need to reapply polish and sealant.
Step 4: Drying
After all this applying products and water to the car’s paintwork, it needs drying. By this stage, the paintwork should be free of dirt and contaminants. You don’t want to drag any dirt across the car while drying it.
Professional detailers tend to use leaf blowers and the like to thoroughly dry the car. Possibly a bit more realistic for your driveway, a specialised microfibre drying towel will gently remove water from the cars paintwork without damaging it.
Step 5: Polishing & Waxing/Sealing
If you want your car to really look amazing, this is where the magic happens. Because you’re applying the top layer of protection and gloss to your car’s bodywork, this step has the biggest effect on how the car actually looks.
You can also apply a sealant to your wheels. Poorboys Wheel Sealant is very popular and works well. Once applied, the wheel sealant forms an outer barrier to protect your wheels against brake dust and road grime.
Polish contains cutting compounds that cut and refine the top layer of the paintwork. Applied by hand, or by machine, these will remove light scratches and swirls from paint. We offer a range of different polishes. One of the main considerations here is how abrasive a polish is. Paintwork with deeper scratches in normally requires a more abrasive compound to restore to a shine. Lighter scratches and swirl marks can usually be sorted with a gentler polish.
Glaze is a special product that goes on your cars paintwork after polishing, but before sealant. It improves the shine of your paint and can hide damage done to the paintwork like holograms or swirl marks.
Wax and Sealant
Wax and Paint Sealant do much the same thing – providing a layer between your car’s paintwork and the elements.
Wax tends to use a lot of natural ingredients (Carnauba wax is the most well-known, although too much carnauba wax is actually a bad thing, and it must be mixed down with other types of wax). Because of the high oil content of wax, they give a high gloss finish. The downside is that wax tends not to stand up to the elements as well as a synthetic sealant.
By contrast car sealants tend to use synthetic polymers or resins. This means that they tend to last a lot longer than wax. You can use either or a mix of both. Waxes tend to be preferred for darker paintwork. Normally where both are being used, the sealant goes on first, with the wax being used as the top layer.
Step 6: Interior
It isn’t just the outside of your car that gets filthy. There are a whole range of interior cleaning products on offer, covering everything from cleaning leather seats to keeping rats away from chewable bits.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
Clean glass work doesn’t just look good, it’s practical. A good glass cleaner will leave your windows shiny, clean, and easy to see through. Don’t forget to clean the inside of the windscreen as well.
Don’t let dirty tyres ruin the effect of pristine wheels. Applying tyre dressing will bring your tyres to a glossy black finish.
We mentioned earlier on that the right place to use quick detailer isn’t on dirty paintwork. Using it on clean, sealed paintwork is great though. Once you’ve finished detailing your car, a quick go over with an instant detailer can remove any residue, water marks, or tiny bits that you have missed.