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posted on May 9, 2022

It’s time to get your car in top shape for the busy season

When you hear “spring cleaning,” you probably think about a lazy afternoon spent pulling old sweaters out of your closet and dropping them off at the local donation box. 

While the exact origins of spring cleaning are hard to pin down — historians trace it back to Persian New Year as well as Passover — in North America, it became popular because of the changing seasons. Before vacuum cleaners were invented, you had to do dusting the old fashioned way: by hand. Spring was the perfect time to throw open the doors and windows and give the entire house a good cleaning. It was no longer too cold to leave the doors open, but it was also not yet so hot that bugs would come in and make cleaning a nightmare. 

Nowadays, people think of spring cleaning as any massive effort to get organized, throw out the old, and welcome in the new. This fits for car owners. As the warm months roll in, you’ll be spending more and more time driving off to cool adventures, so you want a car that won’t embarrass you when your friends hop in for a lift or when you roll up to that lakeside wedding. It also makes it easier to maintain your vehicle, avoid rust, and more. 

Of course, cleaning can feel like a bit of a chore. Where do you start? What products do you use? And is there a wrong way to clean your car? Put your worries aside with our comprehensive guide to clean your vehicle. 

Say goodbye to winter and hello to the sun

Before you can say hello to spring and summer, you’ve gotta say goodbye to winter. 

Saying goodbye takes a little bit of work. You’ll need to: 

  • Remove your winter tires: Now that the weather’s warming up, book an appointment to switch back to all-season tires since the heat can damage winter tires
  • Check your wiper blades: Check to see if your blades look worn, bent or cracked. 
  • Clear away the seasonal junk: Make some room in your garage for all of the winter tools jostling around in your car like your shovel, ice scraper, and blanket. That said, don’t accidentally remove your emergency car kit. You want that tucked away in your trunk all year round. 
  • Inspect your floor mats: If they look worn out, grab some new ones. Floor mats prevent excess fluid from getting into the body of your car. 

When you’re swapping out your winter tires for your regular tires take a moment to inspect them. Are they worn? Take a moment to inspect your floor mats as well as anything else that might’ve experienced some wear and tear over the winter. If it’s safety related, change it immediately. If it’s more for aesthetic reasons, add it to the list of things to spruce up when there’s room in the budget. 

New season, new you, and an as-good-as-new car

Now that you’ve tackled the big items on your list, it’s time to tackle those smaller — but equally important — car cleaning tasks. 

First, grab a garbage bag, turn on your favourite playlist or podcast, and start throwing out items. Decluttering can feel extremely overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to just get started. 

If you keep putting it off, try this: Set a timer for five minutes and tell yourself that once the buzzer goes off, you can do whatever you want. Believe it or not, you’ll get so carried away with the task that when the timer goes off, you’ll turn it off and keep going. 

Most of the stuff you’ll have to get rid of will have an obvious home — the garbage! But for those items that are trickier to place — winter cleaning equipment, a magazine, a shoe — just set them aside in piles. If you have time, you’ll find a home for them in your house. If you don’t have time, put them in a large box and tuck it away in a corner of the garage to tackle another day. The end result will be that your car is free of junk!

Now that those empty coffee cups and plastic bags are out of your way, you can do some really important housekeeping. Or should we say carkeeping…? 

Check your tire pressure

Are your tires inflated to the recommended pressure? If not, you could be shortening their life, not to mention ruining your car’s fuel economy.

Now that you’re doing some spring cleaning, it’s a good idea to check them out. First, find out what the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure is. You can find it on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door or in your owner’s manual.  If they’re overinflated, you won’t have smooth handling. If they’re underinflated, the increased friction will wreak havoc on your wheels. 

The best time to check is in the morning, after they’ve been sitting around overnight, or at least after the car’s been parked for a few hours. Long story short, you want to check your tires when they’re cold. 

To check your tire pressure: 

  1. Buy a tire pressure gauge from an auto parts store
  2. Pop the tire cap
  3. Press the tire pressure gauge under the valve stem
  4. Look at the reading and see if it falls in line with the manufacturer’s recommendation
  5. Add (or remove) air as needed

You can watch this video from cars.com for a full demonstration. 

While spring cleaning is a good time to check your tire pressure, you should aim to check them every month, not just once a year, since tires lose about one psi of pressure a month and one psi for every 10 degrees of outside temperature. 

Check your cabin filter

Your car’s cabin filter ensures you’re breathing clean air by getting rid of dust and pollen. But it can only do its job if you tidy it up every once in a while, too. While all filters are different, a good rule of thumb is to change your cabin filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles

A few signs that you need to hustle over with a new filter include:

  • hearing lots of noise from the heating and cooling system
  • whistling from the cabin air intake ducts
  • weak airflow when your heat or AC are on, or a musty odor in the air within your vehicle. 

You can watch a full demonstration of changing your cabin filter here. 

Check your washer fluid levels

This is probably the easiest spring car cleaning maintenance task you’ll do. There’s no need to gauge how full or empty this is. Simply add more until it’s topped up. A funnel can help make this easier. Keeping your washer fluid full helps prevent corrosion within your car. 

Do an oil change

Like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz, your car needs oil (if it isn’t an EV), otherwise its metal components will rub together. Your engine can also overheat without enough oil running through it. 

Changing your oil regularly increases the lubrication of the metal parts in your car and helps it run more efficiently. Plus an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Change your oil routinely and you can avoid expensive deep cleans or entire engine changes. 

The rule of thumb is to change your oil every three months or 3,000 miles (depending on which comes first), so once you’ve done this as part of your spring car cleaning add it to your list of quarterly tasks. Make sure to check if your car make and model requires a specific kind of oil (synthetic or not).

Check your seat belts

Believe it or not, your seat belts need maintenance, too. After all, seatbelts cut the chances of being killed or seriously injured in an accident in half, so they’re worth taking care of. You can take care of your seat belts by doing the following

  • Cleaning your seat belts: This does more than make your seat belts look good. It also prevents the wear and tear and subsequent weakening that comes from exposure to dirt, sunlight, and moisture. 
  • Clean the seat belt buckles: Avoid dirt from getting stuck in the buckle. Pass a vacuum over them to grab everything then use a flashlight to make sure you’ve got it all. 
  • Test the tongue and buckle: This means fastening the seat belt. Does it click together quickly or does it take some work? Your seatbelt is only as good as its weakest link, so you want to ensure this part is working well. 
  • Inspect the anchorage: Make sure the seat belt is properly attached to the car’s frame. This way, it’ll work the way it’s supposed to in the event of a collision. 

Build your own car cleaning kit 

Now that you’ve done the heavy lifting, you can do a little work to lighten next year’s load. The easiest way to keep your car — and any other environment! — clean is to do a little cleaning on a routine basis as opposed to waiting until it gets totally overwhelming. 

If you build a car cleaning kit, those routine cleaning days won’t feel so overwhelming, because you’ll have everything you need to get the job done at your fingertips.

Here are the things you’ll want to keep in your car cleaning kit: 

  • Bucket
  • Car shampoo/cleaner
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Hose nozzle
  • Grit guard
  • Washing mitt
  • Air fresheners
  • Wheel brush
  • Tire shine
  • Car wax
  • Microfibre wax applicator pads
  • Microfibre towels
  • Glass cleaner
  • Dust buster
  • Lint roller
  • Hand-held vacuum

You can include as many or as few of these as you wish. Use the recommendations below to start building your repertoire of car cleaning products. 

Best car wax products

Keep the body of your car clean (without stripping away the wax) with one of these products:

  • Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash
  • Mr. Pink Super Suds Superior Surface Cleanser Car Wash Shampoo
  • Armor All Car Wash

Best car interior cleaning products

Keep your dashboard shiny enough to see your reflection by using one of these interior cleaners: 

  • Mothers 18324 Speed Interior Detailer
  • 303 Automotive Interior Cleaner 
  • Chemical Guys Hydro Interior Ceramic Quick Detailer

These interior cleaning products not only clean, but they also provide a layer of protection against dust and UV rays as well. 

Best car vacuum cleaners

If you’re looking for a dedicated hand-held vacuum for your car, these two are considered the best options of 2022

  • Black+Decker Flex Vacuum BDH2020FL
  • Dyson Humdinger

Best car steam cleaners

If you’re looking for a deeper clean, consider one of these car steam cleaners:

  • Wagner Spraytech
  • Steamfast SF-210 Handheld Steam Cleaner
  • COSTWAY 2000W Multipurpose Steam Cleaner

Best car carpet cleaners

You’ll also need to give those car carpets a good scrub. Pick up one of these top products

  • CarGuys Super Cleaner
  • Tuff Stuff Multi-Purpose Foam Cleaner
  • Chemical Guys Fabric Clean Carpet and Upholstery Shampoo

Best car leather cleaners

Driving a luxury car with leather seats? Definitely don’t want to ruin those with the wrong product. While you should always test a new product on a tiny, out-of-sight portion of your upholstery to see if there are any unsightly effects, here are the top leather cleaners to give a try: 

  • TriNova Leather Cleaner
  • Leather Cleaner by Leather Honey (they also make a conditioner)
  • Meguiar’s Leather Cleaner & Conditioner Spray

Best car headlight kits

Last but not least, you can’t forget those headlights. Here are a few tried and true headlight restoration kits to pick up while building that car cleaning kit: 

  • 3M Headlight Restoration Kit
  • Meguiar’s Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit
  • Mothers NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit

How to clean your car’s exterior and interior

Now that you’ve got all of your products in hand, how do you actually clean your car? Let’s take it step by step. 

Here’s how to clean the exterior of your car

Step 1

Park your car outside of the sun. This prevents the soap and water from drying too quickly and leaving stains. 

Step 2

Grab your car cleaning kit. If you’re just cleaning the outside of your car, you’ll need two buckets, glass cleaner, and rags. A grit guard, hose nozzle, and washing mitt can make your cleaning job easier, but they’re not mandatory. 

Step 3

Fill up both of your buckets with water. You’ll need two so that you can soak your cloth in one and rinse it in the other. Add car cleaner to the soaking bucket. While you can do without things like a grit guard or washing mitts, you’ll need a car cleaner. Opting for a household detergent or soap can strip off your car’s wax.

Step 4

Rinse the entire car with the hose to remove any dirt or debris that can scratch the surface while you’re cleaning. Setting the hose on high pressure can help you tackle stuck-on dirt. 

Step 5

Start cleaning with the car cleaner from the top of your car and work your way down. This way, you’ll sop up any water or dirt that drips down when you clean the other sections. Be sure to do one section at a time and to completely rinse each section so that you don’t wind up with unsightly soap stains. When you’re scrubbing, move straight up and down as opposed to moving in a circular motion, so that you don’t leave any swirl marks on your car. 

Step 6

Hand dry your car. If you let it air dry, you’ll wind up with streaks and water marks. Using a towel, blot the water instead of wiping it down. 

Step 7

Clean your wheels. The same rules apply (pick a cleaner appropriate for your rules, wash from the top down, etc.) but you may need to use a toothbrush to clean those smaller nooks and crannies. 

Step 8

Wax your car. Use your preferred wax applicator pad to apply your chosen brand of wax. Follow the same rules as when you were cleaning: stay in the shade and complete one section at a time. And remember that less is more. Keep the layer of wax thin. 

Here’s how to clean the interior of your car:

Step 1

Shake out your floor mats and vacuum them. 

Step 2

Get rid of large pieces of trash around your car. Don’t forget to check inside your cupholders and underneath your seats. You’ll want to clean these out with some cleaner and a rag. 

Step 3

Vacuum the entire car. Start at the top and work your way down. So vacuum the dashboard, seats, and console before cleaning up the floor. 

Step 4

Grab your carpet cleaner to remove any stains. Don’t spray on too much or you’ll risk getting mildew. 

Step 5

Sanitize your dashboard and console. It’s a good idea to keep a pack of wipes in your glove compartment or console box so you can wipe these high-touch areas down regularly. 

Step 6

Wipe down your windows. Remember to use an up-and-down motion rather than a circular motion. And don’t forget to roll your windows all the way down so that you can clean the tops. 

Step 7

Vacuum the car once more. This way you’ll grab any dirt that came loose while you were cleaning the vehicle. 

Skip the work and get professional detailing

If you don’t have the time to give your car a thorough clean, take advantage of a professional detailing service. When you’re looking for a professional detailer, look for the following: 

  • Experience: Look for someone who knows what they’re doing and remember that you get what you pay for. Don’t just opt for the least expensive detailer, especially if you have a high-end car that requires special attention. 
  • Good reviews: See what other customers have to say about the detailer. Look for particular information about how professional they are, their attention to detail, and their experience with different vehicles. 
  • Options: Check out their website to see if they have different service options based on your needs. This way you can get the value you want while avoiding any disappointment about what was or wasn’t included in the detailing job. 
  • Certifications: There are certifications for things like ceramic coating. If this is important to you, look into your detailer’s experience. 
  • Communication: When you call do they take the time to explain their services to you and answer your questions, or do they rush you? Find a business you’ll be comfortable working with.

Forget the stress and book your vehicle on Turo

There is one other option: skipping the car cleaning hassle altogether. If you’ve got to make a long-distance trip for work or you want to take your family on a road trip and cleaning is the last thing you want to think about, you can book a car for your trip on Turo. Our hosts keep their vehicles clean and maintained. Plus, you can add an Extra to your trip so you don’t have to pay for post-trip cleaning. 

And it’s all as easy as clicking a few buttons. 

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