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How to Wash a Car Inexpensively & Improve Its Lifespan

It’s that time of year again – the snow is melting, the yard work and projects are looming, and the warm-weather travel season will soon be upon us.

In the middle of the springtime hustle and bustle, your car or truck could do with some tender loving care, to help clean and de-winterize its body and cabin ahead of your next road trip.

The way you clean your car, and the products you’ll use to do it, matter. Below, we’ll look at 8 tips, hacks and considerations to bear in mind if you’re after a quick and effective clean that won’t shorten the lifespan of your car’s paint and finish – saving you money in the long run.

8 simple car washing tips to keep in mind

1. Avoid touching your paint

Touching your car is one of the worst things you can do for its finish. 

During ownership, this means that being careful not to lean on, brush against, or otherwise contact the painted surfaces of your car or truck is one of the best ways to ensure a long-lasting shine.

While washing your car, it means being kind to your ride’s paint by avoiding the temptation to overwork it during cleaning. A thorough rinse with plenty of water and use of a high-quality car-wash soap are key here – so make sure you’re washing with a sponge, rag, and soap solution that allows dirt to be removed easily, and without excessive scrubbing.

Work patiently, not in a rush. Use a light hand when washing your car’s paint, and let the soap do the work. 

2. Break up the work

Washing your car with a single bucket and sponge is not OK. For a damage-free wash that doesn’t scratch your paint, breaking your car into two separate sections is best.

Wash the wheels first

Start by washing the car’s wheels and tires using a single pail and sponge. Once you’re done with all four wheels and tires, you’ll be left with a pail of dirty wash water, and a dirty sponge.

These are highly contaminated with abrasive particles – mostly consisting of brake pad material and small bits of metal that are released as dust when your car’s brakes do their job.

Wash the car’s paint – but use a separate bucket and sponge

Washing your car’s paint with the pail, sponge or wash water you used from your wheels and tires can cause scratching, fading, and other damage to your finish over time. 

Solution? Switch to a second bucket and sponge that you’ll reserve for use solely on your car’s painted surfaces and glass. Using one pail and sponge for your wheels, and another for everything else, prevents cross-contamination of abrasive particles from damaging your ride’s paint, helping it last longer and look better for years to come.

3. Proper drying

When drying, use a towel or chamois that’s intended for the job. This will reduce the amount of drying and towelling required, meaning less contact with your vehicle’s painted surfaces. Remember– the less intense the scrubbing, rubbing and drying, the better.

Never dry-wipe the paint, either. Parking in the shade can help here. By the way, if you’ve got one, a leaf-blower is a great way to dry a wet vehicle with little physical contact to its paint. 

4. Don’t forget to rinse

Whether washing your wheels, glass or paint, the buckets and sponges you’ll use to wash your ride will finish their work impregnated with sand, dirt, and metallic particles that can scratch your paint the next time you use them.

To avoid unnecessary damage, vigorously rinse all sponges, rags and wash pails with fresh water before storing them.

5. Lightning speed interior detail

Want to clean and detail your car’s interior in record time, and on the cheap?

Tip 1: use a small paintbrush for dust

First, get a small paintbrush with hair or bristles from your local dollar store. Next, add a few drops of dish soap to a large pail, and fill the rest with warm water, being sure to get things nice and sudzy. Grab an appropriate cleaning rag, and you’re ready to go.

Start by using the paint brush to remove crumbs and dust from nooks and crannies, and follow up by using your highly-diluted solution of dish soap and water to gently clean everything else. 

Tip 2: use highly diluted dish soap

This solution will clean through just about anything stuck to the interior surfaces of your car, including ketchup, dog drool, fingerprints, and that greasy, shiny layer of old dashboard protectant. 

Highly diluted dish soap is an effective cleaner that’s non-toxic, has virtually no smell, and costs about 2 cents to make. It works great on plastic and vinyl, and cleans interior glass to a streak-free shine, too.

After detailing your car’s interior on the cheap, complete the job by hanging an air freshener in your favourite scent.

6. At-home deodorizer treatment

After a winter of lugging around your family, pets and sporting equipment, things can start to smell a bit funky inside of your Optima or Silverado. Deodorizing a smelly car starts with a thorough clean and vacuum – but if that’s not sufficient, there’s additional help available.

Products like OdorStop Odor Neutralizer, from Canadian company Emzone, can be just the ticket to send foul smells packing. Available at your favourite car parts store, this product comes in an aerosol canister with a timed release.

Run your car, turn on the air conditioner, and engage the ‘recirculation’ mode from its climate control. Next, place the can of OdorStop on your vehicle’s floor or in a cup-holder, press the trigger, exit the car, and close the doors.

The canister releases an odour-neutralizing mist that finds its way into every part of your car’s interior, as well as into the plumbing of its climate control system, eliminating bad smells along the way.

After about 10 minutes, the process is complete, and your car will be smelling its best.

7. Cleaning bird poop off a car is a special scenario

Birds seem to like pooping on our cars, especially right after we’ve washed them. If a passing condor or flock of robins happens to have a bout of diarrhoea on your Honda Civic, following a few important steps can help prevent serious damage to its paint and finish.

Bird poop can be acidic, which is bad for your paint. Also, some birds eat rocks, which makes their poop very abrasive. Though bird poop isn’t great for your paint, a bigger problem is the way most people try to clean it.

Avoid scratches and damage by never scubbing off the bird poop

Usually, bird poop is sticky and hard to clean – meaning you’ll be tempted to vigorously scrub away at the stain to remove it. Avoiding this temptation is key to avoiding deep and permanent scratches, and other paint damage.

Assume bird poop is full of gravel and sand, and never, ever scrub it.

Instead, soak the area with a mixture of car wash soap and water, allowing it to loosen the bird poop over time, before you rinse it away with the hose. Sometimes, bird poop needs to be soaked multiple times to properly loosen. Particularly challenging poop may need to be scrubbed, and if that’s the case, be sure to scrub very gently, and as minimally as possible.

With some added patience and a gentle touch, it’s possible to remove bird poop from your car’s paint without leaving heavy scratches behind.

8. Go waterless

A variety of waterless car wash products are available to shoppers looking for an efficient new way to clean their rides, and for shoppers who live in a condo or apartment and may not have access to a hose hookup.

Thanks to their special formulation and cleaning method, waterless car washes like Optimum No Rinse allow users to wash their rides using a single bucket of water, no hose required. Cars that are only slightly dirty can be washed with a spray-bottle and a rag, no rinsing or wash-pail required.

Waterless car washes are effective, work to prevent scratching, and help make for a more efficient wash, using little to no water.

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