Tips and advice

Best car cleaning tips: how to wash your car

Driving a clean car isn't just nice, it's vital to keep your car in good condition. Our guide will make it easier

Cleaning your car

It’s easy to forget how rewarding it can be to clean your car, but giving your pride and joy the spruce up it deserves can make driving it even more enjoyable. You might not think there’s much to it when it comes to washing your car, but there are definitely techniques, car shampoos and waxes you can use to make it an easier job and get better results. We’ve put together this guide to cleaning your car according to our own experiences testing hundreds of products.

Our guide will also help to clean your car in a way that will preserve the paint finish and protect it for years to come. That’s more than can be said of automatic car washes – we urge you to resist the temptation of using car wash with spinning drums as their heavy, aggressive brushes can damage your paintwork. Cleaning your own car will also save you money by using a bit of elbow grease to give it the attention it deserves, and can help spot defects that may require further attention.

Checking engineCar maintenance: top tips

Don’t leave it too long to wash your car, either – removing fresh dirt and bird poop from your car is much easier the sooner you get to them, and they have less of a chance of eating into your paintwork.

Here's our easy-to-follow guide to car washing made easy.

How to wash a car

We recommend filling two buckets before you begin. Fill one with plain water, and one with a mix of water and good-quality car shampoo, following the instructions on the bottle. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the car shampoo and use washing up liquid instead – some household cleaners contain aggressive ingredients such as ammonia and bleach which can remove the protective wax layer from your paint and even strip it or damage its coating. Before using these, use a hosepipe with a jet nozzle attachment to loosen the dirt and grime. Before using these, use a hosepipe with a jet nozzle attachment to loosen the dirt and grime.

Instead of a sponge, it’s best to use a microfibre noodle or mitt with long strands to apply the water and shampoo mix to the car –  these are gentler than traditional sponges as they leave a space between strands for dirt particles to gather, while a flat sponge can rub them back over the paintwork. Start with the roof and work your way down in sections, rinsing the microfibre in a second bucket of clean water. The shampoo should foam up in much the same way as if you were washing your hair. Rinse the sponge with clean water when moving between sections.

Washing your car

Continue until the entire car is lathered, making sure to lather the dirtiest and lowest areas last. Next, use the sponge and clean water to rinse the car thoroughly until all signs of lather are removed. Use a large chamois leather or microfibre cloth to dry the car, working quickly to avoid watermarks forming.

Take care when cleaning your windows – a cloth and water will usually suffice outside, while a purpose-made spray window cleaning solution is a good idea inside. Don't forget to clean the windscreen wipers – grit caught beneath the blade could damage the windscreen when the wipers are used.

How to clean your alloy wheels

You’ll want to clean the wheels too, but make sure to do this separately from washing the paintwork.

Spray them with a hose to moisten the dirt and then use a special wheel cleaner. Apply the solution onto the wheel, following the instructions, wipe and then rinse off.

It’s also a good idea to add a little wax so that brake dust clings to the wax rather than the wheel. That’ll make it much easier when you come to clean your wheels the next time.

How to clean your car’s interior

You shouldn’t forget the inside of the car either. Give the carpets and seats a thorough vacuum and wipe all the plastic surfaces down. There are plenty of cleaning products available to help you with this.

If your car has leather seats you should use a special leather cleaner that removes dirt and nourishes the leather. Firstly vacuum the seats, take a microfibre cloth and apply the cleaner and rub into the leather. Use a small brush to agitate the leather, and then wipe the seats with a clean microfibre cloth.

For a bit more help, read our guide to the best car shampoos on the market as well as a guide to the car interior cleaners you can buy. We can help if you find a few marks that you struggle to remove, too – here's our guide to cleaning car seats, and here's our advice on the best scratch removers and polishes to buy.

Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

Most Popular

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers
Carbuyer best new car deals hero
Deals
23 Feb 2024

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet released, costing from £53k
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet front quarter
News
22 Feb 2024

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet released, costing from £53k

Hot car deal: sporty Skoda Octavia vRS Estate for £278 a month
octavia vrs hot deal
Deals
19 Feb 2024

Hot car deal: sporty Skoda Octavia vRS Estate for £278 a month

Tips & advice

View All
Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
19 Dec 2023

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide
Public EV charge point
Tips and advice
11 Jan 2023

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?
PCP vs HP
Tips and advice
17 May 2022

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?

Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Tips and advice
12 Apr 2023

Average speed cameras: how do they work?

Best cars

View All
Top 10 best car interiors
Peugeot 208 hatchback
Best cars
25 Jun 2021

Top 10 best car interiors

Top 10 best electric cars 2024
The best electric cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best electric cars 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024
The best cheap-to-run cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024
Fastest hot hatchbacks hero
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024