How to detail clean your car like a pro

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 22 July 2020

Star Car Wash owner's top tips for giving your car a proper, professional-style clean.

If the coronavirus outbreak has given us anything, it’s time. As people hunt for activities to fill the hours while stuck at home, many of us have turned to home maintenance. But now might also be an opportune time to spruce up your car.  And we’re not talking about a quick squirt with the hose and a bit of soapy water here – we mean a proper, professional-style clean, inside and out.

We asked Simon Cook, one of the owners of Star Car Wash, for his top tips on getting your car looking schmick without leaving home. So put on your cleaning duds and get washing! 

Man polishing car with shammy cloth

How to clean your car like a pro

Make sure it's not too hot 

Simon says it’s best to wash your car when the paintwork is cool to touch – it’s more prone to scratches or swirl marks when hot. Start by rinsing the car, then shampoo using a mitt and car shampoo, before rinsing again. Simon suggests using one bucket of fresh water to rinse the wash mitt and another to apply clean soapy water. Start at the top of the car and work downwards. Leave the areas under the door openings till last as they often have abrasive road grit that may scratch the paintwork. Don’t apply too much pressure as you can push debris from the mitt into the paint surface.

Which products get the best results?

Ideally, it’s best to use a wash mitt with soft finger-shaped ends. Sponges are best used only for the wheels and underbody as they tend to trap dirt and grit which can damage paint. Synthetic chamois are best as a natural chamois tends to trap dirt. Use only car-wash shampoos as they are designed not to strip polish from painted surfaces. Never use dish-washing liquid. You don’t need a lot of shampoo, either – a small capful will suffice. The better-quality the shampoo, the less you’ll need. 

How do I clean the wiper blades?

Lift the wipers and wash the rubber blades as well as the glass where they sit. Clean wipers will not only ensure a more effective wipe action when it rains, it will help preserve the life of the wiper blades. And don’t neglect the chrome exhaust tips. Left unchecked, carbon from the exhaust will eat into the chrome, leaving it black and difficult to restore. Don’t forget to open the bonnet and remove any leaves that have fallen down the base of the windscreen.

What is the best way to dry it off?

A synthetic chamois is best for drying the car, as it’s smooth and won’t pick up debris as it moves across the paint surface. Be sure to open and close all doors and the boot as you go so water trapped in crevices will run out and dry. A drive around the block is a smart way to blow water out of inaccessible crevices, before finishing off with the chamois.

Is polish really necessary?

Polish not only helps protect the paintwork but also acts as an exfoliant to help remove contaminants. Regular polishing also ensures the paintwork remains shiny, so there’s no need for paint restoration. Ideally polish your vehicle four times a year.

Shine your tyres

If you want your tyres to look brand new, consider using a tyre-shine product for that deep black look. Many of these are spray-on-and-leave products. Allow tyre shine sufficient time to dry before driving to avoid splatter down the side of the car. Don’t be tempted to use tyre shine on the pedals as it can make them slippery.

Man vacuuming car seat
Man cleaning hub caps of car

The inside story

Most leathers should be cleaned/conditioned twice a year. Cream and tan leathers require much more attention as soiling is very difficult to remove. Other fabrics and plastics can be wiped with a chamois, using cleaning products only when necessary. 

Whether your car has hard or soft plastics on the dashboard and door trims, a damp microfibre cloth is one of the safest and most effective cleaning products for 99 per cent of the car’s interior. If you do use a cleaning product, don’t spray it directly on the interior. Spray on to the microfibre cloth first then wipe. 

Cleaning nooks and crannies

It pays to have a vacuum nozzle narrow enough to reach all crevices. A soft-bristle paintbrush is ideal for air vents and panel gaps. Ideally your boot should have a rubber liner, but if not, a vacuum with a power head is great for extracting sand and pet hair. A rubber window squeegee can be helpful to remove pet hair from fabric seats. 

Expert tips for keeping your car looking schmick  
  • Be very careful removing bird droppings to avoid paint damage. Take your time and let the soapy water soak in and remove a little at a time with a soft microfibre cloth – add soapy water, let soak, gently wipe… repeat.  
  • Whether you wash your car at a car wash or at home, it’s best to wash often. Contaminants such as tar, bird droppings and sap are much harder to remove once baked into the paintwork. 
  • Don’t leave a car parked under gum trees as the sap falls and dries in hard little lumps.  
  • Don’t sit on leather seats with wet swimmers as the leather will absorb the moisture and sag.  
  • Ideally, avoid black and dark-blue paint colours as these require the most attention to keep looking good.  
  • Avoid ammonia-based window-cleaning products on tinted windows. 
  • Avoid washing under the bonnet as there are many sensitive electrical components in modern cars.  

If you'd prefer to leave the car cleaning to the professionals, Star Car Wash stores are still open for business. Simply show your RACV Membership number at the time of payment (online or in-store) and save up to 15 per cent on carwash packages

RACV proudly stands behind our Accredited Auto Care Centre network, which repairs vehicles at more than 40 locations around Victoria.