Car Care

The ultimate guide to a DIY car wash, inside and out.

Ciara Knight's profile picture
Ciara Knight

When was the last time you hoovered your car? Or took it to the car wash? Or, heaven forbid, did a manual car wash?

If your answer is “I can’t remember”, then this is the content for you.

While your house and garden sometimes undergo a spring clean (regardless of the season), it’s important not to forget your home away from home – the car! It deserves a hoovering just as much as the living room carpet, and a wash almost as often as the dog.

With our handy list of tips for giving both the inside and outside of your car a good wash, your next spare Sunday afternoon is sorted. Just be sure to check the weather first, or your efforts could be in vain!


Part 1: Cleaning Outside The Car

Do a pre-wash.

The experts down at the local car wash do it, so you should too. Getting rid of loose dirt at the start removes the risk of dragging debris across the paintwork when you get into the more thorough part of the cleaning process. Apply a quick coating of spray foam or cleaner to the entire car (wheels too), then rinse it off before you get into the scrubbing. If you don’t have any specialised car cleaner to hand, a thorough blast of the hose all over will do the trick. Just stand back at a decent distance from the car to make sure it doesn’t damage the paintwork. 

Only use car cleaning products.

Household cleaning products are meant for, you guessed it, household cleaning. Many contain chemicals and other harmful things that can damage your car. Be sure to use the right apparatus for cleaning the car too. Microfibre cloths are a good car wash-friendly option for both cleaning and drying, plus they’re reusable. Be sure that any brushes and sponges you’re using are specifically designed for cleaning cars before you get to work. You don’t want to wash so thoroughly that your car changes colour in the process.


Park the car away from direct sunlight while you’re washing it.

There’s no point in putting in all this hard work to then have your heroic efforts spoiled by pesky streaks. The heat of the sun can result in your car starting to dry before you’ve had a chance to give it a final rinse, so eliminate that risk by parking the car out of direct sunlight if possible. That way, you can take control of its drying, or at least try to. It’s a race against the clock, but you can do it. We believe in you!

Use more than one bucket.

It doesn’t make much sense to dip a dirty sponge into clean water, so if you have them to hand, a three bucket system is key – the soapy water bucket, the plain water bucket and the wheel bucket. As you might have worked out, you use the water bucket to rinse the sponge or cloth before it goes back into the soapy bucket, and the wheel bucket is used on the sunroof. Just kidding, it’s for the wheels.

Wash from top to bottom.

Yes, it’s common sense, but easily forgotten. As you wash away the dirt, it makes sense to have it dripping into the area that’s yet to be cleaned. That way, you won’t be faced with the misery of discovering muddy streaks going over your newly-cleaned part of the car.


Don’t forget the underside of the car.

It doesn’t need a thorough clean, but the underside of your car can get quite dirty on the roads. A quick blast of the hose as you’re doing the pre-wash should loosen the majority of the dirt. No need to scrub, it’s not that important. Nobody will be checking it anyway. If they do, they’re very strange indeed.

If you’re going to wax the car, make sure it’s fully dry first.

Every wax product comes with its own specific instructions, so be sure to follow them closely. In general, once the car is fully dry, you can start rubbing the wax in and then buff it with a clean cloth. Be sure the cloth is car-friendly to avoid any damage to the paintwork. Microfibre is usually the best guy for the job.


Part 2: Cleaning Inside The Car

Take out the floor mats and bash the ‘big dirt’ out of them.

Floor mats gather dust, loose strands of hair and chips from the drive-thru better than anything else. Make life a little bit easier for yourself by giving them a bash on the ground before you get hoovering, that way the bigger chunks of dirt can float away into the abyss while you can get to work on the more manageable stuff. A brush is also handy to get rid of the dirt, if the hoover is struggling to take hold of it.

Don’t forget to dust the car.

Loose dust particles are an allergy hazard, but they also make a car feel unloved. Grab an old rag and give the dashboard, steering wheel and all non-fabric areas a quick dust to keep everything looking spick and span. Ideally do this before hoovering so you can suck up any chunks of dust that escape the rag. Also, keep the windows and doors open for this part to avoid bombarding your senses with a dust overload.


Dig out the vacuum cleaner’s nozzle collection.

It’s not the worst if you end up using the vacuum’s open end, but if you can find it, the narrow nozzle attachment can get into those hard-to-reach areas, like down the sides of the seat. Bonus tip: If you suspect there’s a fortune lying down there in coins, stick a sock over the hoover nozzle so it doesn’t suck up your riches. Spend the profits on an ice cream after to reward yourself for a job well done.

Give the windows a clean with some window cleaner.

Check the label to make sure the cleaner is suitable for car windows before you start, then spray generously on the interior windows. There are many cloth options out there, but a personal favourite go-to method involves a humble newspaper. Spray, wipe with a scrunched up piece of newspaper, get rid of the streaks, and you’re good to go. Just make sure the paper has been read by all interested third parties first! It’s a lot more difficult to read it after.

Remember the boot!

Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. The car boot is prone to soaking up shopping spillages and mucky boots, so be sure to give it a whizz around with the vacuum cleaner before you down tools. While you’re there, give the spare tyre a quick check (if your car comes with one). Hopefully you’ll never need it, but it’ll help you rest easier at night knowing it’s in ship shape.


A damp microfibre cloth is your best friend.

Household cleaning products can be harmful to the fabrics and interior of a car. Unless you’ve got one that says with absolute certainty that it’s car-interior-friendly, a damp microfibre cloth can often be just as effective. Get rid of grubby fingermarks and stains with some good old fashioned water and a bit of elbow grease. If the stains are proving to be stubborn, it may be time to invest in a car-friendly cleaner, which you’ll get in a supermarket, specialist car shop, or online. We’ve spotted some here

Seal the deal with a new air freshener.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Once you’ve cleaned the car from top to bottom, inside and outside, it makes sense to top the whole thing off with a new air freshener. If you’re not keen on hanging it from the rearview mirror (objects hung here, especially larger ones, can obstruct your visibility when driving, or just be a bit of a distraction), you can tie it to the back of a headrest, or just store it in a side pocket. The next time you get into your car, enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass, or slightly over-ripe strawberries, or whatever your preference is. Enjoy!


Spending more time admiring your pride and joy in the driveway than you’re actually driving it? If you drive under 150 miles a week, you could save money with a pay-by-mile car insurance policy. Get a quick quote here.