Cleaning Your Vehicle: Exterior

Part 3 of the “Cleaning Your Vehicle” series

In previous articles we discussed cleaning you dash, accessories, and carpet. Once the interior of a car is good and clean, it’s time to move to the exterior. Here a few tips from a former professional car detailer (me).

Do it in the Shade

Photo by Matthew Dockery on Unsplash

If at all possible, clean the exterior of your vehicle when it is in the shade.  Direct sunlight can cook your car, making the surface too hot. A hot surface can cause the soap you’re using to evaporate too quickly and may even damage the paint.

Once in a shady place (and I don’t mean the seedy part of town), rinse the car with cool, clean water. Be sure to rinse the entire car. Your goal here is to gently remove as much dust, grime, and dirt as possible before applying any soap. This also creates a slick surface with less chances of harming the paint job. Car paint is tough, but not that tough.


Next, soap. Be sure to fill a thoroughly clean bucket with hot water and your favorite car washing soap.  There are a lot of choices for car wash soaps on the market. I don’t have the space to review them all in this article.  The best thing to do is read reviews, ask classic car owners, and find something you really like to work with. Follow the manufacturer’s application instructions. A nice, soft sponge works well when applying soap.

Light Pressure

Use as little pressure as you can while you apply the soap to the car. If you have any grit or dirt on the sponge you can quickly ruin a paint job. You are not scrubbing the car, just gently coaxing the dirt off the finish. If there is stubborn dirt, remember to use as little pressure as you can. Work up to heavier pressure if needed.  Also, try soaping up a tough area and just leaving it for a little while you continue cleaning other parts of the car. Let the soapy water do its magic, loosening the grime.

Always use cleaning supplies that are softer than the paint on your car. Materials that usually do not scratch tougher materials. Use a circular motion when soaping the car, if possible.


Finally, before the soap dries, gently rinse the area of the car you have just applied with soap. I like to do areas of the car and not the whole car at once to avoid letting the soap dry on the paint. Once you are finished and have rinsed the entire car, it’s time to move to the wheels.

We will save washing the wheels and trim for another article. Until then, keep it clean.



Written by Gary Pradel