How to Keep Your Car Clean, Inside & Out

There are people for whom cars are nothing more than appliances to be used, discarded, and replaced when worn out. Others consider cars an extension of their personalities and worthy of the finest care. There are lessons to be learned from both schools of thought.

Obsessing over the appearance of your car, given the wide variety of circumstances to which it is exposed, can be frustrating. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with exhibiting some pride of ownership. Learning how to keep your car clean inside and out, with a minimum of effort, can satisfy both camps.

Here’s what you need to know.

Washing and Waxing Preserves Value

Regular washes keep your paint in better condition, which can buy your trade-in and resale values. So even if pride doesn’t enter into it for you, preserving as much of your investment as possible should.

In general, waxing your car twice a year will stand you in good stead. The ideal times are going into the winter driving season and coming out of it. This puts a fresh layer of protection on the paint just before the harsh weather kicks in and replaces it right after it’s been worn away.

Avoid Drive-Thru Car Washes

The best way to wash your car is by hand. The second-best way—if you must use a drive-through wash—is a touchless car wash. Those massive felt brushes in typically automated car washes are loaded with the grit they’ve wiped off of every car passing through before you got there. This will put fine scratches in your paint.

Avoid charity car washes—period. They use the same clothes, towels, and buckets on car after car after car. This will lead to scratched paint. Further, they have no real investment in the appearance of your car; they’re just trying to wash as many cars as possible in one day.

Professional detailing can be expensive, but if you plan to keep your car long-term, having it done once a year is a good investment. Some professionals offer subscriptions, which can save you a lot of money.

A Monthly Regimen Works Wonders

Bi-weekly washes and vacuuming, along with monthly interior cleanings, should be more than enough to keep your car clean inside and out. While you don’t need to obsess over it, giving your car regular attention will improve the way you feel about your car and inspire you to hold on to it longer—saving you lots of money over the cost of buying a new one.

While we’re on that subject, another way to save money is to look into refinancing your car loan to see if you can get a better interest rate or more favorable loan terms.

No Hot Dogs Allowed

One of the best ways to keep your interior clean is to avoid eating in the car—especially if you frequently transport children. Kids spill—period. Stopping for ten minutes in a nice park to consume a quick lunch while you’re on the road will keep your car in much better shape.

Even if you don’t have kids, French fries and food crumbs have a way of establishing residence beneath your seats.

And now you know where that recurring food smell is coming from.

Dust Early and Often

A handheld vacuum cleaner with a brush tip will serve you well for keeping your seats and carpets free of grit. Taking your floor mats out and shaking them from time to time will also get rid of a lot of loose dirt—without vacuuming.

Going over interior surfaces with a Swiffer is a great way to eliminate dust on the dash, consoles, windowsills, and armrests. While it’s getting harder and harder to find, newspaper (used with standard window cleaner) leaves glass streak-free.

Cup holders, storage consoles, and vents are a lot easier to clean if you can remove them first. If they can’t be removed, do the best you can with a soft cloth and mild soap, wiping them afterward with another soft cloth soaked in fresh water.

Act Immediately

The main thing to keep in mind when it comes to how to keep your car clean inside and out is – “do it now.” Stop and clean right away whenever a spill occurs. Give it time to soak in; you’ll have a much harder time getting it out. Similarly, if you encounter bird droppings, road tar, or tree sap, the sooner you address the problem, the easier it will be to resolve and the less damage it will cause.




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Noman covers automotive news and reviews for Unfinished Man. His passion for cars informs his in-depth assessments of the latest models and technologies. Noman provides readers with insightful takes on today's top makes and models from his hands-on testing and research.

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