The ultimate guide to car cleaning

Car cleaning can be a really satisfying way to spend a couple of hours. Put in the work and you’ll be rewarded with a car that not only looks great inside and out, but is protected for the future too.

In this article, we’ve laid out our step-by-step detailing process for how to clean your car like a pro and achieve a showroom-worthy result.

If you’re looking for a more streamlined car cleaning process, then check out our article on How to clean your car in 3 easy steps.

Step 1: Prepare

The first step in the car cleaning process is to remove any dirt or heavy soiling prior to shampooing. This pre-wash stage reduces the risk of a sponge or wash mitt moving over heavy contaminates and causing scratches or swirl marks during the washing stage.

Snow foam is the perfect product to use during the pre-wash stage, as it will cover your vehicle in a rich blanket of foam that clings to your paintwork and gently loosens dirt. The foam can also be added to a pressure washer or foam gun for easy application.

The process:

  1. Check that your bodywork and wheels are cool to the touch and out of direct sunlight.
  2. Rinse your car thoroughly from top to bottom with water.
  3. Mix your chosen snow foam as required on the bottle and adjust your pressure washer or foam gun settings as required to increase or reduce the level of foam.
  4. Spray an even layer of foam onto the vehicle. Start from the top and ensure that all exterior surfaces are covered, including glass and wheels.
  5. Leave the snow foam on your vehicle to loosen the dirt for up to 10 minutes. (Don’t allow it to dry on.)
  6. Rinse your vehicle thoroughly, from top to bottom.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Snow foam (2.5L) Autoglym Polar Blast Snow Foam Ideal for use in a pressure washer or snow foamer, this snow foam produces a dense foam blanket that helps loosen dirt from your paintwork.
Snow foam (5L) Turtle Wax Snow Foam The Turtle Wax Snow Foam removes dirt and grime during the pre-wash stage, reducing the chance of scratches and swirl marks during the wash stage.
Snow foam with gun Demon Shine Demon Foam with Snow Foam Gun This snow foam comes with its own snow foam gun, which makes it quick and easy to use. Simply attach the gun to your hosepipe to produce a dense foam.
Pressure washer Karcher K2 Full Control Car Pressure Washer The Karcher K2 Full Control Car Pressure Washer comes with a trigger gun, a Full Control Vario lance, a Dirt Blaster spray lance and a dedicated car cleaning kit.
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Step 2: Wash (body)

With the pre-wash done, it’s time to move on to step 2: washing the main body of your car. Keeping your car’s bodywork clean will not only keep it looking its best, but will also go some way to removing the films and particles that can eat away at your paintwork.

The process:

  1. Prepare two buckets, the first with water and your car shampoo or car wash of choice, and the second with just water.
  2. Use the first bucket and a microfibre wash mitt to apply the shampoo to your car.
  3. Use the second bucket periodically to rinse your wash mitt. This will remove the dirt and grime that it’s picked up from your car, and help to prevent scratches on your paintwork.
  4. Once your car is clean, rinse it once again with water to remove any excess cleaning fluid.
  5. Use a microfibre drying towel to dry your vehicle and ensure that it’s ready for the next step.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Bucket Meguiar’s 5 Gallon Yellow Bucket Heavy duty and with a capacity of 22 litres / 5 US gallons, this bucket is the perfect car cleaning accessory.
Car shampoo Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax Not only is the Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax a luxurious car shampoo, but it’ll leave your car with enhanced protection, gloss and shine.
Microfibre wash mitt Halfords Wash Mitt The Halfords Wash Mitt is highly absorbent, is easy to use and provides a secure fit. The microfibre loops make short work of lifting dirt and grime.
Microfibre drying towel Meguiar’s Water Magnet Microfiber Drying Towel This extra-large microfibre drying cloth from Meguiar’s absorbs up to twice as much water as traditional towels and gives fast, spot-free results.
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Step 3: Wash (wheels)

Our third step concerns washing your wheels using wheel cleaner. Wheel cleaner contains a powerful blend of cleaning agents and degreasers that separate brake dust and road dirt from your wheels on contact. A wheel brush will remove any dirt and once this done, you can use a wheel-specific sealant or wax to protect your hard work. These sealants are tougher than general waxes and should make wheel cleaning easier in the future.

The process:

  1. If your chosen wheel cleaner requires wet wheels, then rinse your tyres thoroughly with water.
  2. Spray your wheel cleaner along the entire tyre and use a tyre brush to remove any stubborn grit, dirt and grime.
  3. Leave the cleaner for the length of time listed in the instructions on the product.
  4. Use a microfibre cloth to dry the wheels.
  5. Use a tyre dressing (follow the instructions on the product) to give your tyres an instant deep black shine that restores them to their showroom appearance.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Wheel cleaner (600ml) Wonder Wheels Colour Active Super Wheel Cleaner This acid-free cleaner is suitable for use on all wheel types. It also contains an active indictor that turns your wheels red as it reacts with and dissolves the dirt and brake dust.
Wheel cleaner (1L) Autoglym Clean Wheels The Autoglym Clean Wheels cleaner has an advanced spray on, brush and rinse off formula that’s safe and leaves wheels gleaming.
Alloy wheel brush Halfords Alloy Wheel Brush The soft, hard-working bristles of this brush remove dirt and grime with ease, while the plastic core coating means it won’t scratch your wheels.
Tyre dressing Halfords Wet Look Tyre Dressing Restore the deep, wet-look shine of your tyres with the Halfords Wet Look Tyre Dressing. The formula’s fast-drying and adds a protective layer.
Tyre dressing applicator pad Meguiar’s Tyre Dressing Applicator Pad The Meguiar’s Tyre Dressing Applicator Pad makes short work of applying a tyre dressing and helps to keep your hands mess-free.
Wheel protector Autoglym Wheel Protector The Autoglym Wheel Protector helps to keep your wheels gleaming for longer by applying a hydrophobic, durable barrier. It’s ideal for use on white, silver and other light-coloured alloy wheels.
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Step 4: Polish

The misconception about car polish is that this is the step that will make your car shine. However, what polishing actually does is essentially exfoliates your paintwork and removes a minute layer (i.e. any dirt, scratches and other minor imperfections). This then sets up your car for waxing during the protect stage.

The process:

  1. Apply a small amount of your chosen polish to a foam pad or cloth and gently spread it across your paintwork.
  2. Start working the polish into your paintwork. You can use circular motions or up and down then left and right – either way works.
  3. Keep following the contours of your car and rub the polish in until it’s almost transparent.
  4. Leave the polish on your car for several minutes, then use a clean microfibre cloth to buff off the polish and wipe away any remaining residue, ready for waxing.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Car polish (500ml) Auto Finesse One Step Car Polish As the name suggests, this car polish enables you to restore your paintwork and remove swirls in one easy step. It’s been developed for use with a dual action polisher.
Car polish (1L) Autoglym Super Resin Polish The Autoglym Super Resin Polish is suitable for all paint types and colours, will remove light scratches and marks, and will give your car a deep, glossy finish.
Foam pad Halfords Car Polish Applicator Pads (Pack of 2) This applicator pads make short work of applying car polish to your vehicle.
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Step 5: Protect

Waxing your car smooths out the painted surface by filling swirls and scratches with a protective coating. It also enhances the look of your car by providing a deep, glossy shine.

The process:

  1. Apply your chosen wax directly onto the surface of your car, working on one section at a time.
  2. Rub in the wax with one side of a damp microfibre towel.
  3. Buff out the remaining product with a clean microfibre towel.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Graphene wax Turtle Wax Hybrid Solutions Pro Graphene To The Max Wax This high quality and durable liquid car wax from Turtle Wax delivers depth of colour, gloss, slickness and protection against chemicals, UV rays, water and stains.
Ceramic wax Meguiar’s Hybrid Ceramic Wax Meguiar’s Hybrid Ceramic Wax applies ceramic protection to your car without the need for rubbing, buffing or curing. Just spray on, rinse off and dry.
Microfibre towel Meguiar’s Supreme Finishing Towel This super-soft microfibre towel makes it easy to remove polishes, waxes, spray detailers and spray waxes from your car.
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Step 6: Vacuum

With the outside clean and protected, it’s time to turn our attention to the interior. A good vacuuming will help to remove any loose dirt, stones, dust, leaves and more that have built up in your car during use.

The process:

  1. Remove any car mats you might have.
  2. Carefully vacuum the surfaces inside your car, including the footwells, seats and boot.
  3. Make use of any special brushes or nozzles that your chosen vacuum has to reach narrow areas (such as between the seats) or to clean more sensitive surfaces (such as the dashboard).
  4. Finish up by vacuuming the car mats and returning them to your car.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Car vacuum Karcher WD 3 Car Vac With its high suction power, low power consumption and variety of special brushes and nozzles, the Karcher WD 3 Car Vac is ideal for thoroughly cleaning vehicle interiors.
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Step 7: Finish

The final step in our ultimate guide to car cleaning is finishing the interior. There are a range of products you can use here to make your upholstery, surfaces, dashboard and glass shine.

The process:

  1. Clean and disinfect the high-touch areas in your car such as the steering wheel, door handles and belt buckles to help keep your car germ-free.
  2. Use an upholstery cleaner to remove any stains on your carpets, fabrics and vinyl.
  3. If you’ve got leather in your car, use a leather detailer to clean, condition and protect the material.
  4. Use your chosen interior detailer to clean all of your hard surfaces and leave them with a clean satin shine.
  5. Finally, use a glass cleaner to remove any dirt, dust, grease and more from your windows, windscreen and glass surfaces.

The product checklist:

Type We recommend Why we love it
Cleaner and disinfectant (500ml) Auto Finesse Wipe Out Auto Finesse Wipe Out cleans and sanitise the interior of your vehicle, killing bacteria and leaving nothing but a fresh scent behind.
Upholstery cleaner Halfords Upholstery Cleaner Quick-drying and perfect for spot removal, the Halfords Upholstery Cleaner has a deep cleaning foaming action that makes interior car cleaning easy.
Leather detailer Meguiar’s Ultimate Leather Balm This premium leather balm from Meguiar’s cleans, conditions and protects to leave behind leather that looks great and is soft to the touch.
Interior detailer Meguiar’s Quik Interior Detailer The Meguiar’s Quik Interior Detailer helps you to maintain the look and feel of your car’s plastic, vinyl, leather, rubber and metal surfaces.
Glass cleaner Autoglym Car Glass Polish The Autoglym Car Glass Polish is a deep-cleaning glass polish that can be used inside and out for crystal clear, smear-free vision.
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