Everything You Need To Know About Routine Car Cleaning

October 24, 2018 Allison Hess


The average American spends 25 miles and one hour in the car every day. This adds up even more if you have a bigger family, take road trips, or have a long commute. In fact, Fatherly estimates that 6% of our lifetime waking hours are spent driving.

That means your car is as much of a symbol of your family as your house is. You spend a significant portion of your life and time in the car—so why don’t you take care of it like you know you should?

A clean car, inside and out, can improve passenger health, extend the lifespan of the vehicle, and show off the “status” of your car.

With that being said, we all know that cleaning your car frequently can be expensive. Have no fear, we’re going to give you the easiest routine to give your automobile a little TLC so you can get it back on the road clean and in tip-top shape.

How frequently to clean

You should be cleaning your car at least monthly, although we recommend once every other week. The more often you clean your car, the longer it will stand up against wear and tear. Think of cleaning your car as an offensive tactic to extend your car’s life and fight off depreciation.

You should clean out any trash or gunk from the inside of your car once weekly. Make your car cleanings as frequent as your house cleanings.

1. Choose a car cleaning spot.

How often do you use weather as an excuse to avoid cleaning your car? In fact, it’s during those bad weather times that you most need to clean your car to protect it from long-term damage.

If it’s hot outside, park your car somewhere shady. This gives you more time to clean without your soap and water drying and staining. It will also keep you more comfortable as you wash your car.

If it’s cold outside, you can wash your car in the garage. Make sure there’s nothing on the floor of the garage. Use a large ventilator or fan to help dry up any excess runoff. (You may even want to lightly spray the interior of your garage before drying.)

2. Get the necessary supplies.

To clean the outside of the car, you’ll need:
Buckets (two)
Car cleanser
Soft sponge
Tire cleaner
Soft terrycloth towels
Car Wax

We recommend plant-based car cleaning products. The run-off will find its way into your lawn and neighborhood, so you want it to be as natural and safe as possible. We also recommend liquid castile soap, which is an eco-friendly, olive oil solution that lathers well.

Follow the instructions on your car cleanser to dilute the solution in water. Don’t use dishwashing or laundry detergent on your car, because they’re often too harsh for car wax and paint. However, Dawn can sometimes be a good solution because it is environmentally friendly.

For the inside of the car, gather up:
Trash bag
Glass cleaner
Upholstery cleanser
Carpet cleaner
Paper towels

3. Start with a rinse. 

Start by first rinsing the car with a hose. This gets the car prepped for the cleanser. It also helps remove any loose dirt or debris, so these particles won’t cause scratches or dents when you start scrubbing in the soap.

The water should be lukewarm. If it’s too cold, it could actually “freeze” to the paint of your car, which could cause chipping. If it’s too hot, it could damage the car wax and leave your car exposed to the elements.

You’ll want to use a high-pressure setting to loosen any dirt or grime, but don’t use too high a setting, which can damage your car’s wax.

4. Scrub.

Fill one bucket with soapy water and a second bucket with fresh, clean water.

Lather up your soft sponge with soapy water from the bucket. Rub in an up and down motion (not circular or side to side) to avoid streak marks.

When washing, start from the top of your car down to the bottom. This helps you avoid repeat washing when gunk from the top drips down towards the bottom of your car.

Rinse your sponge frequently after washing each section of the car. This removes any debris that could damage or scratch your car while cleaning. You may need to replace the fresh water every few rinses.

Try to work as quickly as you can. You don’t want your car to air dry with soap on it, which can cause streaking, paint damage, or marks.

5. Rinse.

After scrubbing in the soapy water, you’ll want to rinse the car with fresh water. Use the hose again but this time with mild pressure and lukewarm temperature.

You might want to rinse after each section that you scrub (as opposed to washing the whole car and then rinsing). This will prevent soap from drying and staining the car, leading to a shinier finished product.

6. Dry.

You want to dry immediately after rinsing. This prevents watermarks and streaking while lifting any leftover soap and dirt.

Use a terrycloth towel or microfiber cloth to clean up. We recommend using a larger towel so you don’t waste time during the hand-drying process. Dry in gentle, circular motions.

7. Clean the windows and chrome.

Now that the body of the car is washed, you’ll want to focus on the “special” areas like the windows and tires. Below are natural, green ways to keep these fresh and clean without marks.

For windows, mix together 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of white vinegar, and 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol. Put in a spray bottle and shake gently. Spray on the interior and exterior windows, and wipe clean with a microfiber towel. This will cut through grime and reveal a streak-less shine. You can use the same solution for the chrome on your tires as well! (Don’t use vinegar on aluminum alloys.)

For the tires themselves, mix together 1/4 cup of baking soda and water to form a paste. Use a scrub brush to work the paste into the tires. Let it sit for several minutes (while you clean the windows maybe) before rinsing with a hose. Dry clean with a fresh microfiber towel.

8. Wax and polish.

You want to re-wax your car at least every three months (if not after every washing). It is best to use the was in conjunction with a clay bar. These remove microscopic dirt and prevent scratching. They also help create a protective shield over your car to defend it against the elements.

Cut the bar so you can easily hold it with your hand. Spray clay lubricant on the car before gliding the clay over the section back and forth. Don’t use a circular motion. Once you feel the roughness gone and the clay moves smoothly over the car, you can move on to the next section.

Then, use a natural car polish on a small, soft pad. Apply in a straight motion on the body of the car. Don’t apply to windows or trim. You only need to use a smooth, thin coating to create a glossy finish.

Let the polish settle. Then rub a microfiber towel up and down to buff away the excess wax and polish.

9. Get rid of trash and vacuum.

The outside of your car is looking shiny and fresh, so it’s time to tackle the inside. Start by removing any trash, toys, or extras. Throw out everything that’s been sitting in cup holders and on the floor. (You might want to wear gloves.)

Remove the floor mats and shake them out. Place them aside for vacuuming. Then, vacuum every part of your car using the upholstery nozzle. Make sure you cover the crevices of the seats, the dashboard, the console, and the headliner. Move the seats back and forth to get underneath them.

See the top 5 vacuums on the market.

10. Clean interior upholstery.

Apply a natural carpet cleaner to lift carpet stains. Learn more about cleaning carpet stains here. Make sure you blot and dry with a paper towel since there is less air flow in the car than in the home.

For fabric, use a foam cleanser and rub with a soft brush. Check out how to get odors and stains out of upholstery here.

If you have leather seats, make sure you use a leather cleanser or saddle soap.

Read: Eliminate Lingering Odors Naturally

11. Clean interior hardware.

Spray your homemade window cleaner (water, vinegar, and alcohol) in cup holders. Let it sit for five to ten minutes before cleaning out with a paper towel. This helps get rid of stains and gunk that sit on the bottom.

We recommend using car wipes to sanitize the dashboard and console. You can find these at your local auto shop. They help disinfect and remove dust and dirt safely. You can also use cotton squabs to clean small areas like air vents and panel seams.

Don’t forget to change your car’s air filter every 6 months. Neglecting to do so will cause a buildup of dirt and grime that’s released into that small, enclosed space every time you turn on your AC.

Clean airflow in your car is dictated by how well you clean your air filter. (where you spend 6% of your time).

See our automotive air filters here.


Cleaning your car is the best way to protect your investment from depreciation while keeping your passengers healthy. You’ll help remove debris that could cause scratches or dents. You’ll bring back that gorgeous shine that looks so good cruising down the highway. And you’ll keep your passengers healthy and comfortable while going for a ride.

What are your routine car cleaning tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments below!

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