As the saying goes, if you want it done right, do it yourself. That includes washing your car, inside and out.

While it’s tempting to save time and relax in the driver’s seat while your car gets moved through the automatic car wash, it’s often imprecise and rarely does a thorough job. And while a do-it-yourself cleaning bay may seem simpler than creating the space to wash your car at home, these shared facilities often house old brushes containing debris that could scratch the surface of your vehicle.

How you wash your car can affect the longevity of your vehicle. Besides, setting aside the time at home to wash your car creates an opportunity to do a thorough job on the exterior as well as the interior, which is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pick the right spot and the right tools

Washing your car is like any other project — you need the right tools for the right job and the right place to do it.

The best place is your driveway, but you don’t want to wash your car under direct sunlight or heat as the soap water will evaporate before you have a chance to rinse it off properly. And while the shade of a tree might seem like the answer, you risk having bugs, leaves, and buds falling onto the car and sticking to it. You should avoid doing it near a dusty road, too.

You don’t need special tools, just a few buckets of water, a hose, some soap and some cleaning mitts. You should replace the latter regularly as they can wear out to the point that they don’t do the job and even damage your car. Be sure to use a hose with a controllable nozzle, so you’re not running water the entire time. Although you don’t want to wastewater, you should always start by hosing down the car thoroughly to get as much loose dirt off and prep the surfaces for a good lather.

Always have at least two buckets of water going. One should have a soap specifically designed for washing cars as other household cleaners could damage the vehicle. Professional car soaps allow the water to sheet and bead off, so the car dries faster with less chance of water spots. The other bucket should just be water so you can rinse the soap mitt and not carry dirt from one area of the car to the other.

You’ll want to start from the top down, making sure you rinse off the soap, so it doesn’t dry on the car. The back of the car tends to be dirtiest, so leave it until the end. Pay special attention to the wheels, too, by using the proper cleaning solution and the water pressure in your nozzle hose to remove dirt and debris. Your undercarriage should get the same treatment as to remove dirt, lingering road salt from the winter, and brake dust. Never use the mitts from the wheel washing on the rest of the car as they’re likely to capture debris that could scratch your finish.

Having washed all areas of the car, use the hose without a nozzle to rinse off any soap with free-flowing water completely. To dry the vehicle thoroughly yet gently, avoid household towels and favour a dry chamois or a microfiber cloth.

If you want the car to sparkle and shine, you can polish and wax it, bearing in mind they’re two separate steps. The polishing processes get rid of scratches and other small blemishes, buffing the finish to a shine and is essential for getting the best results from a waxing, which adds gloss and a layer of protection.

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Be equally thorough cleaning the inside of your car

Like the outside of the vehicle, the inside of your car should be cleaned from the top down.

If you make the mistake of starting with vacuuming and shampooing the carpets, it will just get soiled again when dust and dirt come down from above. Start with the dashboard, console, and door panels, followed by all the glass. Finally, use a brush to get at the stuff stuck in tight spaces, vacuuming as you go. Be sure to check under and behind car seats, as well as door pockets — they tend to become home to many lost objects and trash.

Once you’ve sucked up all the loose dust and dirt, you can deep clean the carpet and upholstery. Ideally, you should use a carpet cleaning machine if you want to get all of the dirt out that gets lodged into the carpet fibres. You can rent one since it’s not something you’ll need very often. If you have leather upholstery, consider getting a leather-cleaning kit specifically designed to remove stains from that material.

Car washing in the COVID-19 era

During the pandemic, cleaning your car should be a regular habit, not a semi-annual endeavour.

All the above rules still apply, but you should regularly clean the most frequently touched surfaces. That includes everything the driver will touch, such as steering wheel, as it’s the most problematic surface, gear shift, turn and wiper signal levers, any buttons on your radio and climate control unit, including touch screens. Anything touched by a passenger, such as outside and inside door handles, upholstery, seat belts, mirrors, driver and passenger armrests, grab handles and any seat adjustment levers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, soap, water, and alcohol solutions such as disinfectant wipes that contain at least 70% isopropyl alcohol are effective against COVID-19. But bear in mind using alcohol-based products can damage most imitation leather and leather seats if used too often, so soap is the safest option. Similarly, avoid bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or ammonia-based products. While they will kill the virus, they can also damage the upholstery, plastic, and other common materials that make up the interior of your car. Always wear disposable gloves and toss them when you’re done.

Beyond this regular cleaning regimen, you should always have disinfectant wipes in your car so you can quickly wipe problematic surfaces when you get home from your latest trip. And while you’re at it, keep some masks in the glove compartment.

When it comes to cleaning your vehicle, paying attention to the details makes all the difference. The same can be said of your auto insurance policy. It’s always worth your while to take the time to understand the details of your policy as well as comparison shop for the best price and coverage you can get.

Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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