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The Do's and Don’t's of Thoroughly Cleaning Your Car

April is here, and it's officially National Car Care Month! One of the best things you can do for your car beyond regular maintenance and repairs are to keep it clean! In fact, keeping your car clean on the outside is one of the best ways to protect your car’s exterior…well, that and avoiding having collisions and fender benders (*grin). There is a right way to clean your car and a wrong way though. If you use the wrong chemicals and cleaners, the wrong techniques, or improper or dirty sponges, you can actually damage your car’s exterior. So, in honor of this month and to help you keep your paint looking shiny and spiffy, we at Collision Works - Ardmore of Ardmore OK have included some car cleaning do’s and don’ts to help you take care of your vehicle.

Wash Your Car Regularly

DON'T wait until your car has a layer of crud and gunk on it before washing it. Bird droppings, chemicals from the atmosphere (think acid rain), and dead bugs all play their part in eating away at your car’s finish. If you leave it too long, those things can actually cause damage requiring sanding and even repainting to correct the damaged areas.

DO wash off bird droppings, tree-sap, dead bugs as soon as possible. Additionally, if you live in areas where there is acid rain, smog, road salt, et cetera you should wash your car after a rain or snow. Beyond these things, it is a good idea to wash your car weekly to keep the paint finish in good shape. Make sure you cool your car down before washing.

Don’t Accidentally Scratch Your Car’s Paint

DON'T leave on your jewelry when you are washing your car. Rings, watches, and necklaces all have the potential to scratch the paint’s surface when you are washing it. We've been asked to fix many cars brough in to us at Collision Works - Edmond, and we want to make sure your paint is kept perfect!

DO wear comfortable clothes that do not have zippers or snaps that could catch anything on the car or scratch the surface while you are cleaning it. You do not want these items scratching your paint when you lean up on the sides to clean off the roof of your vehicle.

Use Products Designed for Car Cleaning

DON'T use household cleaning agents like hand soap, dishwashing detergent, shampoo, or glass cleaner on the paint. These types of cleaners are not formulated for use on a vehicle’s paint and can strip off the protective wax or damage the paint itself.

DO use a dedicated car-wash product, which is much milder and is specifically formulated to use on automotive paint. Apply the soapy suds with a large, soft natural sponge or a lamb’s-wool mitt. Also, grease, salt, rubber, and road-tar deposits picked up from the road tend to accumulate around the wheel wells and along the lower edge of the body. These icky things can be stubborn to remove and can require a stronger product, such as a bug-and-tar remover. Use a separate soft, nonabrasive cloth to remove these deposits so not to blacken your sponge or put things on it you do not wish to transfer (or scratch) other areas of your car.

Read and Follow Directions

DON'T use any old cleaner on your precious vehicle’s paint (or on the interior). Many believe that baby shampoo is safe for cars since it is safe enough for babies, but remember it wasn’t designed for car care. Dishwashing liquid is awful for car paint as well. Use actual car cleaning products for the best results.

DO read the instruction on the products you use to clean your vehicle. Some might have special tips on how to achieve the best results with that specific product. Others roducts could have specified times that you’ll need to wait before rinsing or buffing (this probably will be the case with leather creams and car waxes).

Lather It Up

DON'T move the sponge in circles. This can create light, but noticeable scratches called swirl marks – this is especially the case with black painted vehicles. Instead of moving the sponge in circles, move the sponge lengthwise across the hood and other body panels to avoid swirls. Do not continue using a sponge that’s been dropped on the ground without rinsing it out thoroughly. The sponge can pick up dirt and salt particles that will scratch your vehicle’s paint.

DO work the car-wash solution into a sudsy lather as this will help provide lots of lubrication on the paint surface. Rinse the sponge often so not to be creating a “dirty” lather or accidentally picking up something that can scratch your vehicle, such as road salt. Use a separate bucket to rinse the sponge as this will help keep dirt from getting mixed into the sudsy wash water.

Clean Your Rims and Wheels

DON'T completely clean the wheels before you wash the rest of your car, think of it more like you are applying the wheel stuff first so that you can “presoak” the wheels, just like you would do with dishes that have stuck on food. If you do go ahead and wash your wheels first you’ll end up fighting gravity and all the dirt and grime you rinse off your car will end up right back on your wheels to be cleaned again. No need to pull double duty – presoak the wheels and wash your car from the top down!

DO apply your wheel cleaner solution first to get it started working while you wash the rest of the car. This will give it a chance to work away at the stubborn grime and crud on your wheels. Apply it according to the directions on the cleaner. Be sure to mist (don’t spray hard) the wheels lightly to get it going and let it sit while you work on your car from the top down. Brake dust and wheel crud is tougher to get off than whats on your vehicle’s paint, so it takes a more time. Use a separate sponge to clean the wheels and tires. Often wheels and tires are coated with brake dust, sand, and other debris that could mar the vehicle’s finish. A dedicated wheel cleaner should be used for best results, but be sure the cleaner is compatible with the type of finish (paint, clear-coat, chrome, etc.) used on the wheels. For example: A strong formula intended for mag wheels can damage the clear coat that’s used on the wheels that come on today’s cars so be sure to use the proper cleaner for your wheels. If you aren’t sure what your wheels are, choose a cleaner that’s labeled as safe for use on all wheels. Or, ask us! We'll be glad to answer your questions.

Control Your Water

DON'T just spray water at your car at full blast, hoping that such will knock off all the dirt. It will help, but you will still need soap.

DO use the right amount of water. Too little water and your soap won’t work like it should. Too much and you’ll end up  washing all the soap off before it can loosen and break up all the dirt on your car. Use a sprayer head on your hose that has multiple settings like mist, spray, and flat. This will let you fine-tune how the water sprays onto your vehicle. Believe it or not, it does actually make a difference.  Make sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly with water before you begin washing to remove loose dirt and debris that could cause scratching. Once you begin, concentrate on one section at a time, washing and rinsing each section completely before moving on to the next area. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to rinse the soap off before dries. Start at the top, and then work your way around the car.

Don’t Let Your Car Air Dry

DON'T rub your towels hard on the paint. This will cause streaking. Note, too, that using an abrasive towel can leave hairline scratches in the paint. Do not let your car air dry or think that driving around the block can do an effective drying job. Both will leave you with watermarks caused by minerals in hard water. In addition, don’t use an abrasive towel or other material that can leave hairline scratches in the paint.

DO use a chamois or soft terry cloth towels. If you go with towel, you will likely need several. Let the towels do the hard work when you’re drying your car. Towels are made to absorb liquid — not rub and scrub.  For the best results it is best to blot the water up instead of dragging the towel or chamois over the paint. Just lay a clean, dry towel flat and pat it straight down onto the car, then pull it away. Repeat until the car is dry. If you wish to speed up the drying process you can by using a soft squeegee to remove most of the water on the body. Be sure the rubber on your squeegee is pliable and that it does not have any bits of dirt on it and that can cause scratching.

Don’t Leave Water Traps Untouched

DON'T forget to stick a towel in your car . That way, if you’ve forgotten any water traps, you can quickly wipe up the water before it has a chance to leave streaks on your paint. When you roll down your windows for the first time after washing, you’ll probably release some hidden water from inside the door that will run down the sides of your car – dry that up using the towel as well.

DO open car doors, hood, and trunk/hatch when you’re drying your car. You will need to wipe (or blow dry) all around the edges of these parts as water tends to get trapped in these areas and when it runs out while you’re driving it will leave streaks on your paint as it dries. If your grille has slats, wipe each individual slat down as well.

Detail the Interior of Your Car, Too!

DON'T forget to dust the dashboard and instrument clusters. That dust might not be very obvious when your whole car is dirty, but it certainly will be once the car is clean. Also, don’t forget while you are vacuuming to vacuum the vents, as well as clean them off with your dust rag.

DO take the time to detail your interior. Is your car really clean if its only looking nice on the outside? Nothing looks worse than a car that’s clean on the outside, but looks like a tornado plowed through it on the inside (or worse, smells gross). Get rid of the trash on the inside, vacuum the carpet and seats. Use some leather or cloth cleaner on the seats, too. If cloth seats have stains you can also use some upholstery cleaner to help remove them – mind you that you may have to do some research on the best way to remove stains from the upholstery based on what the item is that has set into your seats or carpet. Some stains in cloth upholstery or carpet may not completely remove if its set in for a long period of time, but it may be able to at least appear better once you work it over with the proper cleaner or stain removing technique.

Clean Under the Floor Mats

DON'T neglect the trunk liner either if your car has one. Stuff also gets trapped under there! Don’t worry about scrubbing in the trunk (unless you spilled something), but a quick vacuuming will help it nevertheless.

DO take the time to vacuum underneath the floor mats, too. Crud gets trapped under there, even if you don’t ever move the mats while you’re driving. You may even need to get out a toothbrush and some carpet cleaner and scrub, especially if you’re cleaning up after a harsh winter. Salt may melt snow and ice, but it can leave nasty stains on your carpet that you’ll want to get out.

Your car can look great with some care. While you should be concerned about keeping the car clean inside and out all year round, if you have neglected doing this for awhile, why not clean it this month? Car Car Month is a good excuse to get into the good habit of keeping your car looking its best--inside and out! If you do not have the time to do this for yourself, check out the local detail shop. They do this for a living and based on your price point usually offer several options on the cleaning of your vehicle. Even if you shell out the bucks for the deluxe (most expensive) car detailing option, which can run anywhere from $100 to $300, it will cost much less than a new paint job for your vehicle’s finish.

Blog Written by:

Meleah Montgomery, Community Relations Director

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