The changing British seasons, with their equally changeable weather, also mark a time when drivers all over Britain go in for some DIY car cleaning.
But washing a car is not as straightforward as most of us like to imagine. At least, that’s the view of expert car cleaner, Sean Longworth-Smith of Ultimate Finish. The car care and detailing company, based at Brands Hatch in Kent, has been helping drivers primp and preen their cars for 15 years. And Sean knows what it takes to give any car the professional finish.
“You have to establish a routine – cycles – and stick to it each time you clean the car. That way you won’t miss anything and you’ll get the best finish for the bodywork,” says Sean. Here’s an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to cleaning a car.
Step 1: Arm yourself with a pressure washer
A pressure washer is the most important piece of equipment any driver could own if they’re serious about caring for their car’s paintwork, says Sean. “The power of the high pressure water is the only way to break dirt’s bond with a car’s paintwork before you wash it.” Sean stresses that even a hose won’t manage to properly shift dirt – which means you’ll just end up rubbing minute particles of grit and dirt all over the paintwork. That is why paintwork ends up covered in ‘swirl marks’ – minute scratches cut in the protective lacquer of the paintwork. Pressure washers cost from £75. The Independent tested nine here.
Step 2: Clean the wheels
The most important thing here is to buy a dedicated wheel cleaner from a reputable brand. “Cheap wheel cleaners are too acidic and will do more harm than good,” warns Sean.
Spray on the cleaning product, then leave to soak as you treat the remaining wheels. Then return to the first wheel and rinse off all the brake dust that’s been lifted by the cleaner. “Next, give the wheel a light spray, and use a wheel brush to gently agitate the surface, rinsing it in a bucket of water from time to time.”
If you’re fastidious, after this Sean suggests using an iron fallout product, which lifts out the minute iron particles from brake discs. “This only needs to be done every sixth wash or so,” adds Sean.
Step 3: Rinse the bodywork with a pre-wash product
“Before you even consider washing the car by hand, it’s important to lift as much dirt off the surface of the bodywork,” says Sean. The likes of Gtechniq, Bilt-Hamber, Dodo Juice, ValetPRO, Meguiar’s or Autoglym offer pre-wash products which are designed to break down traffic film, bug splats, dirt and grease. Auto Express tested a range here. You can use a pressure washer lance to apply this over the bodywork, and also inside the doors. Leave it to soak then rinse off.
Step 4: Apply snow-foam
“The great thing about snow-foam is that it penetrates all the nooks and crannies, lifts dirt away from the car and can even do wonders under wheel arches,” reckons Sean. Like the pre-wash, this can be applied using a pressure washer attachment, and is available from a wide range of car care brands. “If you let it soak for five minutes, then take a detailing brush and agitate around the grille, lights, badges and so on, you’ll clean areas that a sponge or wash mitt may miss.”
Step 5: Washing the bodywork
“By now, your car should be dirt-free. So when you make contact with the paintwork with a wash mitt, there’s no danger of damaging the paint lacquer. You’ll need a wash mitt and two-buckets,” says Sean. “The first is filled with warm soapy water, using car shampoo from a reputable brand, the other is clean water for rinsing the mitt. And remember to remove a watch, rings or belt, as they could scratch the car as you wash it.
“Start from the top of the car and work your way down. Don’t apply too much pressure as that could cause scratches. Every now and then, put the mitt in the rinse bucket, shake it, remove, and squeeze out. Then add more soap and continue.” A tip is to fit a grit guard to each bucket. Debris sinks to the bottom of the bucket, and the guard prevents the mitt coming into contact with it. Finally, rinse the car.
Step 6: Dry the bodywork
“A microfibre towel is our preferred way to dry paintwork. We never use a leather chamois or synthetic drying towel, as they either don’t hold much water or are too thin and can cause scratches” advises Sean.
After this, you can clean the glass, polish the paint to remove scratches from paintwork, and then apply wax to add a protective layer over the paint. But that’s probably a job for another day…
“The more protection you add the easier your car will be to clean in the longer run, and the better it will look in years to come,” notes Sean.