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The Essential Car-Cleaning Guide

Get your auto in tip-top shape for spring.

By Jerry Edgerton
A person cleaning a car tire Erik Asla
Think of it as a wise investment: Keeping your auto filth-free can boost its resale value and eradicate those nasty end-of-lease excess-wear-and-tear charges. And if you focus on the task at hand, it shouldn't take more than an hour every two weeks.

The Interior

A shiny exterior polishes your automotive image with the world, but keeping the inside clean makes life more pleasant for you and your family. Dragging the cord of a vacuum cleaner through puddles is an especially bad idea, so clean the interior before the exterior. 

Dash and doors 
  • Using an electrostatic dust cloth, sweep the dash, knobs, vinyl surfaces, and plastic trim.
  • Wipe them down with an all-purpose cleaner using an old towel.
Pesky gearshift 
  • Gently pull the leather or plastic away from the sides to vacuum it and wipe it down with a cleanser-dampened towel.
Floor and seats
  • Start by taking out the floor mats and shaking them. If you don't have floor mats, get them―they protect the carpeting and can be replaced if stained beyond repair. If your region gets a lot of snow or rain, you might want to buy a rubber mat with deep channels to collect mud, sand, and salt (two front mats for inclement weather that each hold more than a quart of liquid, $70, griotsgarage.com).
  • Vacuum the mats, the seats, and the floor carpeting, in that order. Slide the front seats all the way back and make sure to get the debris (spare change and fossilized French fries) from under the front seats. Then move the seats all the way forward and vacuum underneath from the backseat.
  • Tilt the seats back so you can get the nose of the vacuum down in the cracks.
Windows and windshield
  • A microfiber cloth and a spritz of water clean well and won't cause streaks.
  • Roll down the windows a few inches to get the grime on the top edges.
  • For the rear window, use the back of your hand so you don't strain your wrist.
 
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