5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Your Car

Rather than rub grit and grime into your car's paint, opt for strategies and products to increase your vehicle's shine.

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Washing your car might seem like a throwaway duty best left for a lazy Sunday morning, but lackadaisical cleaning habits might damage your automobile. Here are some easy remedies for five car-cleaning mistakes.

1: Washing in direct sunlight on a sunny day

Bright sunlight is the perfect setting for car washes in cheesy music videos. However, the sun and overly warm temperatures won't be as helpful for a clear shine on your ride. Cars need to be wet during the cleaning process; if you wash them in the blazing sun, you could end up with streak marks, hard-water spots, and dried soap residue. You're more likely to get better results washing your car in the shade or timing your wash for earlier or later in the day when the sun won't be as intense.

2: Washing your car in the wrong order

Following the laws of gravity while washing your car will help make sure that road grime and grunge end up on the ground, not recirculated into your shiny body panels and hood. That said, it's helpful to hit your wheels and tires first, as they likely wear a layer of brake dust and rubber residue that can contaminate your car's clear-coat if sprayed up and onto the rest of your vehicle. Carefully wash your wheels and rims and then do the rest of the car from the top down to help minimize spreading that dirt around.

3: Using the wrong towels or sponges

Have you got a bucket of old T-shirts or worn-out bath towels that you use for your car-wash jobs? Do your car a favor: Toss those rags in the trash and invest in microfiber towels or a dedicated wash mitt. Cotton towels and ragged cloths often leave streaks and rub dirt and grime deeper into the paint. The raised fibers of microfiber cloths, on the other hand, generally help lift that gunk away. Similarly, a traditional sponge's surface can inadvertently grind contaminants into the paint; a wash mitt will lift and clean away the crud. And steer clear of paper towels, which leave lint behind.

4: Cleaning your car windows incorrectly

A product like Windex can be an excellent choice for washing home windows, but using ammonia-based cleaners can damage tinted glass, which is found on most cars. The cleaners are also more likely to leave streaks that won't rub out. Try an old-fashioned mix of white vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, and distilled water and substitute a microfiber cloth for ordinary towels. For a truly old-school approach, you could switch out the microfiber towel and scrub your windows with a sheet of clean newsprint (make sure the printers used soy-based ink) for lint-free results.

center console of a carManuel Carrillo III | Capital One

5: Using oily products on control surfaces

We all love the shine and glow of a freshly detailed interior. Still, using an oily, glossy finishing product like Armor All on critical controls such as your steering wheel, shift knob, and brake and accelerator pedals can leave a slippery sheen. Those sprays are great for a gleaming dashboard, but you need to be able to get a solid grip on your controls, so clean them with a damp microfiber cloth instead.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.