How To Super Clean Your Car Series: Exterior Cleaning


The bright gleaming paintwork is undoubtedly one of the first things that attract people when buying a new vehicle. A first rain shower or a muddy puddle can soon take the shine off. However, with proper care and attention, your car can always look as good as new, or with the correct detailing even better than when it left the factory. If you want your vehicle to get the full protection from the elements it deserves, then it’s not just about washing, but also giving it the protection to avoid discoloration, marring and cracking of the paintwork. How often your vehicle needs to be washed and waxed depends on how often it is driven, and whether it sits outside in the sun for long periods, and the type of driving conditions it experiences, such as snow, hail, or sandstorms. Most professionals recommend an owner washes their car once a week and gives it a waxing once a month to maintain the shiny shell of the vehicle.

Does my car need more than a wash?

If your vehicle is dirty, then it can do with a clean. If you have been driving during the winter, when there is lots of salt on the road, it’s probably better to wash your car more regularly to get rid of the grit debris as soon as possible. At other times you should be inspecting your paintwork once a week, to see what needs to be done. Always do this in direct sunlight or with a bright light, as this will highlight any swirls or imperfections in the surface of the paint. If the paint surface is highly scratched, then it will take much longer to remedy. This is also the time to check headlight and taillight glass for scratches and chips.

How to wash a vehicle properly

This does not mean taking it down to the local car wash and letting the machines add more scratches to your paintwork. If you really want to wash your vehicle correctly, you will have to put some elbow grease in and do it yourself by hand. A pressure washer is useful to get rid of mud and dirt that has built up in the crevices of the car’s body. It will also get rid of any dirt in the wheel wells, and any brake residue on alloy wheels. You can get attachments for pressure washers to dispense a foam of car soap. A lot of professionals suggest that once the heavy dirt has been removed from your car, a froth of car soap is applied, and allowed a little time to work on the surface dirt so it can be taken off in a rinsing. However, if you want to go for a Concours shine its best to apply the shampoo by hand. Always use a soap specially formulated for vehicles, never kitchen cleaning liquids, as these can remove the protective wax layer on the paintwork.

The Three Bucket Method:

This is the classic way to hand wash any vehicle, and is used by professionals around the world. Each of the buckets used needs a grit guard in the bottom, which allow any particles pulled from the paintwork to fall to the bottom of the bucket and not be picked up again to further scratch the vehicle. For each bucket, you will need a cleaning mitt. These are usually made of microfiber, and are relatively inexpensive. To make things a little more comfortable, try and get different colors, so you can color-code each of the processes. You will also need a soft 2” brush with a wooden or plastic handle. Buckets one and two should be filled with water, while bucket three should have added car soap.

With the first mitt from the soapy water bucket, start at the centerline of the vehicle and apply the soap downwards, a small area at a time. Then rinse the mitt in bucket one, and bucket two, before getting more soap for a further application. Use the second mitt for the lower parts of your car, and the third for the wheels and trim close to the road. The small brush can be used to clean the hard to get to areas such as around the filler cap. Once the vehicle has been completely soaped, it can be rinsed, and the condition and cleanliness of the paintwork can be assessed. After rinsing, professionals use a blower to dry the surface before applying any treatments. Electric blowers can be found in most hardware stores.

Checking and preparing the paintwork

Your car is nice and clean, and the job is done I can hear you say. Well, not exactly, just rub the back of a finger across the paintwork and feel how smooth it is. If your vehicle has been outside for a while and been on the road for some months, the chances are there are lots of small particles embedded in the paint surface which makes it very rough to the touch. That roughness also reduces the shine on the car so it will not look its best. This is where it is worth considering using a clay bar to prepare the surface for waxing. To remove as much built up grime as possible, take a small piece of the clay bar and knead it, so it is soft and pliable. Gently rub the clay over a small area of the paintwork surface at a time, allowing any particles to be picked up by the clay. As particles are picked up, change the are of the clay piece in contact with the surface to reduce further scratching or cross-contamination. Discard the piece once it becomes embedded with visible debris. If, by any chance, you drop the piece of clay on the ground, throw it away and use another piece. A large vehicle may take some hours to complete, but the result can be astounding.

Polishing and waxing

It’s the same thing, I hear you say – No, it’s not and here’s why. Polishing will give the paintwork of your vehicle a fantastic shine, but the wax will protect it. Waxing is a bit like giving your car its own UV sunscreen. Taking each area of the bodywork at a time, one should apply a little vehicle polish, and use a battery or electric powered orbital polisher work the material into the paintwork. The polish should be worked slowly with wide irregular movements, allowing a little heat to build up, allowing it to bond and even the surface. After that, a coat of wax will seal the deal. Wax is best applied with a soft microfiber cloth to get a scratch-free finish.

Getting the glass gleaming

Once again, it is best to stay away from household products when cleaning car glass. The products you find around the home often contain ammonia which can damage the tint on a vehicle’s window. Always use as instructed. There are some products available to improve visibility through the windshield. These use nano-technology to create a thin coating on the glass which can repel dirt and water. Most need to be applied to a dry surface and should be left for some hours out of the sun to properly cure.

Turning heads with your wheels

A lot of modern vehicles come with aluminum alloy wheels rather than steel rims. Specially formulated cleaners should be used to get rid of the back brake dust, which accumulates due to driving. Inspect the wheels when you clean for any chips or cracks where the rim may have come in contact with a curb.

How to keep it looking so good for as long as possible

Regular cleaning, should keep your car looking a million dollars, but there as some simple tips that will make things a little easier. For instance, try and avoid parking your car under trees, as they will drip sap onto the paintwork, which can be hard to remove over time. Try not to let bird droppings linger on the paintwork, as they can be extremely acid and eat into the protective coatings. When it comes to trading in your car for a new one, a good paint job will always bring a higher value. Prospective buyers always like to see a shiny, well-looked after vehicle.