It's officially spring, and you know what that means: time for spring cleaning. If your vehicle qualifies as a Superfund site, it's the perfect time to make your ride really shine. You can do it yourself in just an hour or two without paying hundreds for a car detailer.
Start on the inside
Remove accumulated debris from the map pockets, glove box, center console and trunk. Next, wipe down the dashboard and door panels with a mild cleaner. (For the best types of cleaners to use, consult your vehicle's owner's manual.)
Use a disinfectant for the door handles, steering wheel, turn-signal stalks and any other surface you touch regularly. Clean buttons with a soft, damp cloth; dashboard vents and panel seams will require cotton swabs.
Then clean the glass. Spray window cleaner on your towel so mist doesn't fall on your clean dashboard. Follow with a second towel to avoid streaks on the glass.
Tackle seats and carpeting
Now it's time to clean the seats. Upholstery cleaner or a steam cleaner will do for cloth seats. For leather seats and trim, use leather cleaner or saddle soap followed by a leather conditioner to prevent cracking.
Next, vacuum upholstered areas, including the headliner and the rear parcel shelf. Be sure to reach under the seats, and don't forget the trunk.
Finally, shampoo the carpet and floor mats with a scrub brush. You'll want to keep the doors open to allow for drying.
Wash the outside
For the exterior, you will need multiple sponges, one for each cleaner. If you drop one, get a clean one to avoid scratching the paint. Also, make sure your car is in a shady spot. Washing a car when the body is hot increases the likelihood of spotting. Cleaning a hot wheel rim can stain or etch the wheel.
Start by rinsing your ride thoroughly with gently flowing warm water to loosen dirt. High-pressure or hot water can damage paint finishes.
Next, wash the car from the top down, using a car-washing liquid and a natural sponge. Don't use dishwashing detergent or other household cleaners, which can damage paint.
Move the sponge lengthwise across the car. Never rub in circles; this can create swirl marks in the paint. Rinse thoroughly, starting at the top and working your way down.
Clean the tough stuff
Use a bug-and-tar remover to clean stubborn dirt. Next, clean brake dust from wheels using a wheel cleaner designed for your type of wheel, and then rinse.
Open the doors and trunk. Wash the door jambs and the channel around the trunk and sunroof. Apply a silicone spray to your car's weather stripping in the door jambs to prevent air and water leaks.
Next, use a chamois or soft terry towel to thoroughly dry the door jambs, sunroof and trunk opening channel. Then, close the doors and trunk, and dry the remainder of the car using a back-and-forth motion. Don't let the car air dry; that will leave water marks.
Polish: The final touch
Once dry, it's time to polish the car. The best results still come from polishing, then waxing.
Use a back-and-forth motion while applying the polish and wax. Also, be careful not to get polish or wax on plastic surfaces unless it's formulated for them. Otherwise, you might need a plastic cleaner to remove it. If you have a dark-colored vehicle, look for polishes formulated for darker colors.
Finally, spray on a tire-shine product for that finishing touch.