☀️ Summer Cleaning Series: Your Car 🚗

Cleaning Series
Part 1: Wardrobe
Part 2: Grooming
Part 3: Basic Cleaning
Part 4: Problem Areas

Obviously, this post is only relevant to those of you who own a car.  If you drive your car with any regularity, there’s a pretty good chance it has picked up some clutter and a few weird odors too (it doesn’t matter how quickly you eat them, if you had fries in your car, the residual scent will be there to greet you tomorrow. 🍟)  Of course, it’s even worse in the summer because the interior of your car gets super hot 🔥 and your stuff can get baked and ruined, and those car smells seem so much worse in the stifling heat; so it’s important to take a few moments to clean it up.

For the record, I think you should wash and clean out your car somewhere between once a month to once a week, depending on if anything has pooped on it, etc. 💩


Step 1: Take Everything Out

I don’t really know anything about cars, so I can’t say for sure if having a bunch of junk (i.e. extra weight) really has a big influence on your gas mileage; but what I do know is that the car is not a great place to store most things, because your car is relatively small (even if you own an SUV), and gets really hot as mentioned before.  This should be familiar advice by now, but you should take everything out of your car, throw out the trash, and put everything else it where it goes.

Here’s a few suggestions on things I think should go in your car:

  • Owner’s manual (Always have this; if you lost this, you can find another online, or order from the manufacturer)
  • Proof of Insurance (Required by law, but only keep the most up-to-date one)
  • Current vehicle registration (Also required by law)
  • Napkins & tissues
  • Phone charger & connector (i.e. some way to play your music in your car)
  • Sunglasses & case
  • Bag of coins for parking
  • Emergency kit w/ first aid supplies
  • Extra oil for your car (if you car is old or burns oil, this is a lifesaver)

Almost everything else, like maps, cameras, pens, and paper, you can use your phone for, so I really wouldn’t bother unless you have a specific need.  Some people like to keep snack bars in their car, but I feel like food options when you’re on the road are plentiful (fries, fries, fries! 🍟) so I’m not sure if it’s necessary.  Use your best judgment!


Step 2: Wash the Exterior

Full disclosure here: I really hate washing my car.  I’m pretty short, so it’s difficult for me to reach the top of the car and get it clean without sticking my torso all over the dirty car and ruining my clothes.  Also, here in sunny California, we’re in the middle of a drought, so we’re not supposed to be wasting water by pouring it all over the ground. 💧   Third, people are really, really weird about a woman being in front of her house rubbing a motor vehicle with soap and water.  I guess it’s all that bending over and, uh, working while being wet, but it skeezes me out to have people honking and leaning out their window while I’m trying to get things done.  For those reasons, I almost always take my car to a car wash place that uses recycled water.  They also vacuum the car for me and it costs me about $25 after tax and tip, which I think is fair.

However, if you’re determined to DIY, here’s a few tips:

  • 🌳 Only wash in the shade, do not wash your vehicle in full sun or else you’ll get a bunch of streaks
  • Do not use dish soap!  It removes the coating on your paint.  It’s a pain, but only use dedicated car soap that contains lubricants so particles won’t scratch your paint.  You can get car soap at any auto shop, Amazon, or probably retailers like Target.  You should also pick up some wheel cleaner because it has special chemicals specifically for your wheels
  • Only use paint-safe sponges, wheel brushes, and rags.  Flat towels aren’t the best things for washing or drying because they can grind the dirt into your paint (and your roommates will hate you for wiping bird poop off your car with their bath towel).  It might not visibly damage the paint the first time, but over many washes, the damage adds up.  Cars are expensive, and cars with bad paint are less valuable for resale, so it’s worth your while to do it right.  You can find the right cleaning tools in the same place you found your car soap.
  • Clean the wheels first and the glass last.
  • Wax on, wax off” might be okay when you’re polishing floors, but if you try to wash your car with circular motions, you might end up with swirl marks.  Try moving your hand in straight lines instead.
  • Your car would like a new coat of wax every season, so make sure to use some after your car is washed and completely dry.  You can buy wax at the auto store (do you have any money left?)

Ugh, see why I leave this to the professionals?


Step 3: Clean the Interior

Pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll try to break it down:

  • Vacuum everything!  Get under those seats and in the nooks and crannies.
  • Spray cleaner on all the hard surfaces (make sure the cleaner is safe for vinyl or leather if that’s what you’re cleaning) and use a soft terrycloth rag to wipe clean up the dust and gunk.
  • Use a protectant spray on your vinyl and leather (you can find these at that auto store; like everything that has to do with cars, cleaning is kind of expensive!)
  • Clean the interior of the windows, with a non-ammonia glass cleaner (ammonia is bad for leather and vinyl)
  • Use a stain remover on your cloth seats and car carpets if needed.
  • I like to throw an unused dryer sheet under the seats to give a nice clean laundry smell to the car

Step 4: Regular Maintenance

Okay, it’s not cleaning, but it is important.  Your owner’s manual has a good guide for when you should be doing various things to increase the life of your vehicle and it goes without saying that you should absolutely take it seriously.  Nobody wants to be on the road and have their car die; there’s never a good time for that to happen.  Further, the next person who buys your car (provided it doesn’t blow up) is going to want to know that you took good care of it.

So first, check your manual against your mileage and see if you’re due for any service.  You don’t have to get your car serviced at the dealership (but sometimes it’s helpful, especially if your car is still under warranty), but you do have to do it.  Next, check your oil , and then consider filling up your gas tank. ⛽️  Some people think you shouldn’t let your tank get below 1/4 full to protect your engine.  I don’t know anything about cars, so I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know I hate getting up in the morning and being late for wherever I’m going because I forgot to fill up my gas tank the night before, so why not?


And finally, after all that, you should probably take your shiny, clean car out to buy yourself a snack 🍧 (after you’ve had your shower of course, all that cleaning makes me sweaty  🚿)   Enjoy!

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