Car cleaning tips: How to wash your car like a pro

Nothing beats a new car with a showroom shine. And to maintain it you need to clean your car regularly.

But if you’re not careful during the washing process, you can end up rubbing grit into the paintwork, creating fine scratches and swirl marks.

So we’ve put together a list of the best car cleaning tips to protect the paint finish and bring out the shine. 

Start by rinsing the car

Before you start cleaning the car, hose it down to remove thick grit, otherwise you’ll just swirl it across the paintwork with the sponge. Use a hose or pressure washer.

Don’t use household cleaners

Harsh household chemicals are not designed for a car’s paintwork and may damage its protective finish. Washing up liquid is a definite no - use special car products only.

Always rinse off bugs

The acids in bugs and bird droppings can erode the car’s paintwork over time, resulting in a costly repair job. Simply wipe them off as soon as you can.

washing car like a pro wiping boot yellow sponge
sponge car shampoo how to wash your car

Clean the wheels first

They’re the dirtiest part. If you leave them until last, grit and mud can splash onto parts you’ve already cleaned.

Work from the top

Once the wheels are done, begin washing the car from the top, so any dirt trickles down. Start at the roof and work down the sides and windows, then do the bumpers last.

Take care when scrubbing

Even one little piece of grit caught in your sponge can leave scratch marks all over the car. If you drop the sponge on the ground make sure to wash it really, really well.

Use a grit guard

Some people recommend using two buckets to wash your car – one to rinse the dirty sponge and the other for the soapy water. But our top car cleaning tip is to use just one bucket with a grit guard. This is a grille that sits at the bottom and traps grit when you rinse the sponge, making sure you don’t reapply it to the car.

Use microfibre cloths

These don’t scratch your car and pick up particles much more effectively. You can use a general car cleaning cloth or sponge too.

Dry the car well

Dry your car after cleaning for a perfect finish – a simple towel will do. Leaving it to air dry will leave streaks and swirls, as well as unsightly pools of water. And driving it to dry off may result in debris sticking to the paintwork.

wring out cloth into red bucket washing car
washing red car with yellow sponge soap suds

Take care with alloys

Sometimes general car cleaner doesn’t get alloy wheels clean – brake dust in particular is difficult to remove. You can buy special alloy wheel cleaning products, but some types can damage the finish, especially with aluminium. Check the product is suitable for your type of alloys before you buy.

Clay bar

Does your car still look dull after washing? Here’s a great car cleaning tip: run your finger over the dry surface – can you feel any residue or little bumps? This is caused by contaminants that have bonded with the paintwork.

Remove it with a clay bar, which you rub over the surface to get it smooth and clean. It works on metal bodywork and glass, but avoid plastics like headlight covers.

Clean the windows

Use a car glass cleaner or just a damp cloth to clean car windows. Don’t use household window cleaners, which can damage the glass finish. Remember to roll the window down a little to get to the very top of the glass. Wipe on the cleaner with one cloth and buff dry with the other.

Vacuum inside

Cleaning inside the car is also important. One of the easiest ways to make a quick difference is to remove the floor mats and vacuum them and the footwells.

Shampoo the seats

Clean car upholstery with a multi-purpose product for seats and interior surfaces. Dilute it to the right strength for your fabric and rub over surfaces, then wipe off with a clean cloth. Then clean interior plastics like the dash with a damp, not wet, cloth.

wiping clean car dashboard interior with car cleaner
polishing and buffing car to make it shiny

Polish for added shine

To get your car really shiny, you need to polish it. But less is more here – too much product and the finish will be thick and dull. A small blob of polish will cover a large area. Wipe on in straight lines to get even coverage, leave as instructed and then wipe off and buff up.

Don’t polish too often

Polish is slightly abrasive as it takes the very top layer of paint protection off. Don’t polish your car more than once or twice a year.

Wax to protect

Between polishes, you should wax your car to maintain the shine. It also protects the paintwork. Apply wax in small areas and rub in, working methodically. Buff up with a clean cloth for a shiny finish.

With these car cleaning tips you should have a perfect, shiny car to be proud of. Check out our other driving tips, including how to increase your fuel economy.