Your vehicle is the second-most expensive thing you own after your house or RV, if your home is on wheels. If you spend a lot of time in your car, SUV or truck, especially if you work in sales or construction, then you know how important it is to keep it clean and organized.
We spoke with Dave Mendoza, new car detail manager at Sanderson Ford, a Rosie on the House Certified Partner, for at-home car cleaning tips.
Common DIY Cleaning Mistakes
Dave noted the most common mistakes he sees car owners make when cleaning their vehicles.
· Using the wrong products such as dish soap and polish.
· Using bath towels to clean and dry the exterior and interior.
· Using the same towel or mitt to clean the tires, wheels, and interior.
· Not removing dust, mud, sap, and bird droppings.
We will get into these in more detail.
The general rule of thumb is to wash your car at least once every two weeks. Any more than that, Dave says, and your chance of scratching the vehicle's finish increases. Like eyeglasses, the finish will build swirl marks, and the glass will become dull. However, if you leave your car or truck dirty or muddy and someone rubs against it, the paint can get scratched.
"I try to wash my car once a week," he says. In his case, it's convenient to work in the detail department at a car dealership.
You can wash under the hood with a power washer or even a garden hose. However, do not hose down the top and sides of the motor. "You can foul up a lot of electronics, such as the spark plugs," cautions Dave.
Soap: Don't use dish soap. Dish soap is not designed for car paint. The detergent has an abrasive cleaner that can strip away the protective topcoat. Dave recommends car care products made by Meguiar's. "Meguiar's is the go-to product for soap, waxes, and polishes.”
Towels: He also highly cautions against using a cotton bath towel to wipe down your car. Terrycloth towels tend to leave fine scratches on the vehicle. Invest in a good chamois and three wash mitts: one for the exterior finish, one for the wheels and one for the tires. Also, don’t use the same cloth for the exterior and interior. You don't want the stuff your tires pick up on the road to transfer to the interior.
You can buy chamois at Auto Zone or a pack of 36 microfiber cloths at Costco for as little as $17 as of January 2023.
"Microfiber is the best towel to use," Dave says. "We got rid of all of the terrycloths at the dealership.
Headlights: To refresh the headlights, Dave suggests using a medium car polishing compound that can be purchased from any auto store. To get the lights looking new, use microfiber rags to apply the compound. For better results you can also use a cordless drill with a buffing pad attachment to apply the compound.
Windows: Like the rest of the car's surface, don't use a terrycloth to clean the windows. Paper towels and microfiber are best. Use a product that prevents hazing, provides long-lasting clarity, and is safe for use on all tinted windows. Again, Meguiar's is a good choice, though most cleaners made for glass, such as JAWS, work well.
Tires and Rims: Again, use two wash mitts: one for the wheels and one for the tires. Use regular car soap to clean the wheels.
Scratches: Some scratches can be removed without having to go to a body shop. Buff them out with a polish compound. If you need touch-up paint, go to the dealership. The dealership will have the paint code for the make, model, and year of your car. If the paint is not in stock, they can order it for you.
A note about car washes: Not everyone enjoys washing their car at home. Plus, washing at home uses a lot of water. Take your car to the drive-through car wash. They use recycled water. Before driving through, remove the antenna if it is removable. Fold in mirrors. As Dave notes, "those break a lot." For SUVs, secure the back wiper with three or four strips of masking tape. Drive your car through and follow the rest of the at-home cleaning steps.
Keeping the interior clean is as important as the exterior.
Trash: Dump the trash at the end of every day. Fast food bags will begin to smell. Water bottles and papers can quickly take over your car.
Polishing: After dusting, don't get overzealous with the polish. Too much polish will make the surface slimy. Meguire's and Armor All make easy-to-use towelettes. Store them in your car for quick touch-ups. If using a spray, spray the rag, not the surface, to prevent overspray.
Vacuuming: Before running the vacuum, be sure you have checked all of the nooks and crannies for items you don't want to lose forever.
If you see stains after vacuuming, use a general household carpet shampoo to remove them. Then add floormats if you don't already use them.
Leather & Wood Interior: Only use products designed to clean and polish leather and wood. Wipe up spills immediately to prevent stains.
Odors: One of the ROTH staff reported that upon opening the car door one morning she got a whiff of unpleasantness. Her mom left a whitefish salad sandwich in the car overnight. Thankfully, it was in February. Can you imagine how putrid her car would have smelled if that happened in the summer? Blech!!
"Ozium is probably the best air freshener," says Dave. "It will give you back the new car smell."
Arotags is an American-made reusable wooden diffuser that soaks up the fragrance oil and slowly dissipates the scent into your vehicle.
You can also stash drier sheets under the seats and between consoles to keep your car smelling fresh after removing odors.
Don't park under trees. Bird droppings and sap will destroy the paint, and you can’t polish away the damage. If you get bird droppings or sap on the car, rinse it off right away.
Even if your car is not parked in a garage or under a carport, the clearcoat on today's vehicles blocks out a lot of the rays, which can damage the paint. If you don’t drive the car for long periods, cover it with a car cover.
Refrain from dusting the car in between washes. Despite what it is designed for, don't use a car duster. Fine scratches will develop over time. Just take it to the car wash.
When buying a brand new vehicle, Dave recommends protecting the seats and carpet with Scotchgard right away. Applying it to a used vehicle is pointless, he says. The seats need to be clean and free of contaminants. The product won't adhere by that point. If you have leather interior, use a protectant formulated for leather and apply per the manufacturer's instructions. For used vehicles, use seat covers.
If your car or truck is a rolling office or "mom taxi," store items that you don't need to have in arms reach every day. Weathertech's Underseat Storage System will help you stay organized. A receipt holder and garbage bag will help keep things tidy.
Again, use floormats to protect the carpets. Daily wear and tear from your shoe heel will eventually rub away the carpeting.
A steering wheel cover will certainly come in handy in the summer. The cover also prevents the steering wheel from getting grubby from sweat, oils, and lotion on your hands.
A car is a big investment. Take care of it, and it will serve you well!
Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3. If you'd like to send us questions or comments, email [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter and "Like" us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions & comments.