Keeping Your Car Clean

If you love your car as much as most people do, you'll want to take care of it. Here are a few basic cleaning tips to keep your car in good shape.

Keep the Outside Clean

Regularly wash the outside of your car to help ensure it has a long life. A clean car protects against dirt, salt and other contaminants picked up from the road every day. When possible, wash your car once a week and follow the guidelines below when you're ready to suds up:

Wash your car in a shady spot or on a cloudy day.

If a car is not kept cool while washing, the water will evaporate too quickly and could possibly leave spots.

Use suds specifically formulated for washing a car.

When you use a car wash shampoo or soap, you'll know it's made for a car (instead of dishes or your hair). Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the proper shampoo to water ratio.

Start with the wheels, and wash them thoroughly.

Use a lot of soapy water and a scrub brush to scour the wheel and rubber tire to remove deep down dirt. Rinse, then use a sponge or washcloth to do a follow-up cleaning. Take extra care of your wheels and tires - they're the part of your car closest to the road and are subject to the corroding effects of brake dust.

Use something soft to wash the surface.

Good choices include a natural sea sponge, cotton chenille pad or sheepskin mitt. These materials have a large number of fine filaments that draw dirt and grime away from the surface.

Wash from the top down, and rinse the car often.

Use a final rinse of free flowing water (nozzle off the hose) to allow the water to sheet off the car.

Try polishing dry glass with crumpled newspaper.

Unlike paper towels, newsprint does not leave lint behind, and the ink acts as a polish on already dry glass.

Wax and Polish Go a Long Way

A regular application of wax is the best way to protect your car from the elements. Rain, snow, road salt, pollution and the inevitable bird droppings can all compromise your car's thin finish. Here are a few general tips to ensure that your car looks great every time you wax:

Thoroughly wash your car's exterior, as described above.

Use a pre-wax cleaner.

A pre-wax cleaner will remove blemishes such as tar, water spots and insect remains. It also may deep clean the paint and remove the remains of your previous coat of wax. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Apply the wax to one body panel at a time with a damp cloth or manufacturer-supplied applicator.

If you're just looking for a nice appearance and good protection, synthetic waxes, which are easily applied and very durable, will do the job. Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding exactly how to apply the wax (i.e., in a circular versus straight motion).

Allow the wax to dry on the body panel, then buff it to a smooth shine.

The wax usually dries in a few minutes, and you can use a smooth terry cloth towel to buff the panel.

In most cases, a single coat of wax will make your car look great and ensure it is properly protected from the elements.

However, for an exceptional shine, you may choose to apply a second coat of wax. Allow sufficient time for the wax to cure - usually 12 to 48 hours - between applications.

Wax often enough to keep your car protected.

Natural waxes typically need to be reapplied every six to 10 weeks (depending on the type). Synthetic waxes will last six to nine months between applications.

Keep the Inside Clean

Keeping the outside of your car clean is only half the job. The inside is threatened by many of the same contaminants that can damage your car's exterior, including dirt, salt and stones that your feet drag in from outside, cigarette smoke, paper refuse and crumbs. Remove these contaminants at least as often as you wash your car's exterior. Here are a few things to do to keep your car's interior clean:

Vacuum what you can.

This includes the floors, fabric upholstery, mats and under the seats. Use a narrow hose-end attachment to get into narrow crevices - a collection point for dirt and crumbs. Use soapy water to scrub and rinse rubber mats, but make sure they're dry before you put them back in the car.

Wipe down hard, non-glass surfaces.

Use a damp cloth to wipe down areas such as the dashboard, center console, steering wheel and column and the inside of doors.

Wipe leather surfaces with a clean, damp towel.

Clean the inside of the glass.

Use a clean, dry paper towel and non-ammonia glass cleaner to remove any dirty, filmy buildup. When the glass is dry, polish it with crumpled newspaper.

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