If you care about your car's exterior, you'll want to avoid those drive-thru car washes with the big brushes that do more harm than good. Let's go over how to properly take care of your car's exterior and avoid swirling scratches.
Analyze Your Paint
Evaluating the condition of your vehicle will steer you towards how it should be cleaned. A new car or one that already has a good coat of wax on it, may only need a wash and wax to maintain it, but a car with an average to neglected exterior may need to be clean and polished as well.
Know What You're Using
Before using any type of car cleaning chemical, it is important to read the label. The application for soap, wax, or detailer can vary from brand to brand and vehicle to vehicle. For example, using a chrome wheel cleaner which is extremely acidic on an aluminum wheel can ruin it. Also invest in premium microfiber clothes and keep separate piles for those used on your paint, wheels, and windows. Wash your towels and cleaning mitts after every use.
Washing your car will remove loose contaminants such as dust, dirt, and mud from the exterior of your vehicle. Always use a car washing soap and not a liquid detergent or dish cleaner, which can damage the paint and strip away wax. Rinse your car first to remove larger pieces of dirt which can scratch your car when washing, and use clean mitts and drying cloths.
Prepare the Surface
After washing you can easily see scratches, swirls, and oxidation in your paint and feel for bonded contaminants such as overspray or tree sap that washing doesn't remove. Just run your hand over a washed vehicle, and if you can feel little bumps, then you need to go a step further with cleaning your car.
A clay bar can be used to remove stubborn bonded contaminants. It will remove everything off the surface of your vehicle including wax and will restore smoothness to the paint. Start by kneading it into a flat wafer and use a detailer as a lubricant. Hold it in the palm of one hand and run it across the surface of your car.
Polish the Surface
To remove scratches and etching that are below the surface, you'll need to use a compound. They can be applied by hand using applicator pads or by using a dual-action polisher, and wiped away soon after applying. A compound paint cleaner needs to be worked into the finish and can sometimes require a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th application. Some scratches are too deep and only a paint touch-up will repair them.
This step is optional and can be compared to applying lotion on your skin. Polish can be applied by hand or with a dual-action polisher, and the conditioning oils add depth of color and maximum gloss prior to waxing, especially on dark colored vehicles.
Wax to Protect the Surface
Waxing is like sunscreen for your car. It adds a layer of protection from UV rays to prevent fading, as well as anything that may land on the paint. It preserves your high gloss finish and is available in a carnauba or polymer form. Both types of wax perform the same, but a polymer wax won't haze as it dries and can usually be wiped off soon after applying. The choice between using carnauba or polymer wax is similar to choosing synthetic or regular engine oil. Polymer is a bit more expensive but is easier to apply and some say performs better.
Maintain the Shine & Protection
After you've done the hard work of washing, cleaning, and protecting your car, you'll need to take steps to maintain it's appearance. Keep a spray detailer and clean microfiber cloth in your trunk, which can come in handy for quickly removing dust, overspray, and bird droppings.
If your car is relatively clean and all of these steps seem daunting and time-consuming, a one-step cleaner wax may be the best choice for you. After washing your car, use it to clean, polishing, and protect your car in one product. It can be applied by hand or with a polisher and you'll achieve much better results using a product like this instead of just going straight to wax after washing.
Wash the Windows
Stay away from Windex and other household glass cleaners as they contain ammonia which can damage a car's window tint. Use an auto window cleaner for best results and wipe down twice to ensure the cleaner is removed. Our handy window and windshield cleaning tool is perfect for this job! Be sure use tint-safe cleaner if you have tinted windows.
Wash the Wheels and Tires
The most important wheel cleaning tip is to use the product that has been specifically formulated for your type of wheel. If you don't know what type of wheels you have, then go with the least powerful version which is an acid-free pH balanced aluminum wheel cleaner as these can be used on all type of wheels. Apply tire dressing to your desire.
Clean the Interior
As always, scrub and vacuum the carpet and floor mats - shampoo if needed for heavy stains. Find your favorite interior cleaner and wipe down the dashboard and center console. Use our handy vent and crevice cleaner for those tough to reach areas.