Bob Vila's Guide to Cleaning Your Car

When spring temperatures hit and winter has finally churned out its last storm, it’s likely that your car could use a little care and attention. After all, car cleanliness often takes a backseat during winter months when your vehicle must weather ice, snow, sleet, and road salt. But before you bust out your trusty sponge and bucket, read our quick guide to cleaning your car to learn tips and tricks that will save you time, money, and prevent you from scratching or damaging your car's finish.

By Jamie Birdwell-Branson | Updated Sep 14, 2020 03:50 PM

Avoid Washing the Car When it’s Too Hot

Avoid Washing the Car When it’s Too Hot

It may be tempting to give your car a bath on a warm, sunny day, but this could actually spell bad news for your car. Washing your car when the temperatures are too high or right after you’ve driven it can speed up the drying process, leaving permanent soapy deposits on your exterior.

Related: 10 Things You Need to Keep Your Car Clean

Don’t Let Your Car Drip Dry

Don’t Let Your Car Drip Dry

You might not have a professional dryer at home like they do at the automatic car wash, but that doesn’t mean that you should let your car air dry. To prevent rust stains, water spots, or damage to the paint, remove excess water with a clean squeegee and soft terry towels to get your car nice and dry.

Avoid the Wax-on Wax-off Motion When Washing

Avoid the Wax-on Wax-off Motion When Washing

Mr. Miyagi may be a true believer in the “wax-on, wax-off” move, but it’s actually not a great idea when you’re washing the car as it can potentially leave swirl-like scratches on the paint. Instead, move the sponge lengthwise and rinse thoroughly after you’re done washing.

Related: 14 Ways You’re Wasting Money on Your Car

Toothpaste Will Cure Your Headlight Woes

Toothpaste Cleans Headlights

Have you noticed that your headlights aren’t shining as brightly as they once did? Years of accumulated dirt and debris could be the culprit, and the remedy is likely sitting in your bathroom drawer. To clean yellowing headlights, spread toothpaste—one that contains peroxide and baking soda—over the headlight cover, rub the toothpaste in using a toothbrush, spray with warm water, and wipe clean with a terry towel.

Clean Your Wheels First

Clean Car Wheels

Although you may think it makes sense to work your way from the top to the bottom of the car when cleaning, it’s actually the wrong way to go about it. Clean your wheels first so that you can prevent brake dust and other debris from splashing all over your freshly washed car.

Related: 15 Genius Tricks for Keeping Your Car Clean

Baking Soda is the Remedy for Stains on Cloth Seats

Baking Soda for Stains on Cloth Seats

If your car seats could talk, they’d tell you a lot about where you’ve been, what you ate while you were there, and what you accidentally spilled while you were on a road trip. To lift unsightly stains—even stubborn ones like ketchup and chocolate—from cloth seats, mix ¼ cup baking soda with 1 cup of warm water. Apply to the stains, blot with a towel, and scrub gently only if necessary.

Rubbing Alcohol Can Lift Stains from Leather Seats

Rubbing Alcohol for Stains on Leather Seats

Although leather seats are more resistant to stains, they are certainly not immune to spills. To lift stains from a leather seat, place a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and place directly on the stain. Once the offending spot is removed, wipe away the alcohol with warm water and dish soap.

Coke Can Remove Bug Guts from Your Windshield

Coca-Cola Cleans Windshield

There’s nothing scarier than the “thunk” sound of a large bug hitting your window—and it doesn’t exactly look great, either. Bugs and the mess they leave behind can be difficult to remove once hardened, but a can of Coke can make the job easier. Just be sure to wash the car and windshield well with soap and water after dousing it with soda.

Related: 13 Hacks Every Car Owner Should Know

Squeegee Away the Pet Hair

Use Squeegee to Clean Pet Hair

If your beloved pet likes to go on rides to the dog park and to the pet store, they’ve probably left behind some fur in your back seat. Pet hair can easily be removed by dousing the seat with a spray bottle of water and using a clean squeegee to wipe it away.

Remove Dust with a Make-up Tool

Dust Car Interior with a Make-up Brush

Your air vents help cool you off in the blazing heat and keep you warm in the winter, but they can also be collectors of dust and germs. Clear away built-up dust with a clean make-up brush, perfect for tackling those small nooks and crannies in the car.

Clean the Car

Clean the Car

Treat your car well, and it will serve you well.

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