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Tool and Material Checklist:

  • Cheesecloth 
  • Baking soda
  • Terry cloth towels 
  • Chamois
  • Hose 
  • Fiber brush
  • Sponge 
  • Polish
  • Bucket 
  • Wax
  • Mild soap 
  • Trim polish/wax
  • Tar, remover 
  • Vinyl gloss and preserver

Maintaining the appearance of your car has more than cosmetic significance: it has practical value as well, preventing general deterioration and large repair bills. You can prolong the life of your automobile by keeping it clean-and this booklet will show you how.


A new car might not need much more than dusting at the start, unless it is in an exceptionally hostile environment. Here are some tips for dusting:

Use a clean cotton cloth or cheesecloth; synthetic fabrics do not absorb properly and can damage the car's finish.

Never dust your car's finish with a dry cloth. Proper dusting requires the use of a slightly damp cloth, which will pick up the dust particles while avoiding the abrasive action of dry dusting.

Rearrange the cloth's shape often, so that only clean surfaces touch the car's finish.

Don't use dirty rags to dust the finish, but don't throw them away either. They can be laundered so that you always have a clean supply on hand.

Dry-dust the glass surfaces frequently. Dirty windows can impair vision to the point where the driver is virtually blind. And dirt on the headlights can reduce their effectiveness up to 50 percent.


There are three methods of washing your car: (1) hand washing, (2) do-it-yourself mechanical washing, and (3) commercial washing. Each has its unique advantages and disadvantages, and there are cautions that accompany each method.

NOTE: Before starting any wash job during the winter, make sure that all exterior locks have been covered with masking tape to prevent water from entering the locks and freezing. A bit of liquid graphite shot into the lock prior to washing will help.

Manual Washing

This method is the slowest, but done correctly, it can be the most effective. Although some experts say that a chamois is absolutely necessary to do the job, terry cloth towels are a reasonably sufficient alternative. Do not use synthetic fabrics; they do not absorb like terry cloth and can damage the car's finish. Use the following procedure:

1. Place the car in a totally shaded spot and wait for the surface to cool.

2. Make sure all the windows are closed tightly.

3. Starting at the top so that dirty water does not run over the areas already cleaned, remove the heavy layers of dirt and mud with a hose. Be sure to force the dirt out of the roof gutters.

4. If no hose is available, use a heavily loaded sponge and rinse it frequently. If the water in the bucket is dirty, dump it out and get a fresh supply.

5. Wash the car one section at a time, moving the sponge in a circular motion. NOTE: Always use mild soap or a commercial car washing soap; anything else will remove the protective wax finish from your vehicle.

6. Rinse off the washed section immediately. Dried soap can cause hard-to-remove streaks.

7. Be sure to clean under the fenders, behind the bumpers, and in other body pockets where dirt and salt can build up and lead to rust spots. Remember, most rust occurs underneath the car.

8. Remove any bugs and tree resins using bug cleaner. Use tar remover for tar and other road deposits; be sure to wear gloves. A warm water and baking soda solution is good for difficult stains. NOTE: Never use gasoline, kerosene, or abrasives. Gasoline and kerosene are hazardous to your health and harmful to car finishes. Abrasives remove the wax and scratch the finish.

9. After thoroughly rinsing the car, wipe off the excess water with a damp chamois or terry cloth towel. Spread the chamois or towel flat over a large area and pull it toward you. Wring out chamois or towels frequently.

10. Use a commercial agent, mild soap, or baking soda dissolved in warm water to clean the whitewall tires. Use a special whitewall tire brush or a fiber brush (never steel or wire) on stubborn spots. A brillo pad or other scouring pad also works well. If these cleaning attempts are not successful, leave the spot alone; harsher methods can wear away the whitewall.

11. Rinse the tires thoroughly after cleaning.

12. Clean the windows and rearview mirrors (inside as well as outside), headlights, license plate, and the small license plate lights.

Window-washing agents are not recommended; they can attract more dirt after use. Instead, use a 50-50 mixture of warm water and white vinegar (being careful not to get any on the cars finish). along with one of the damp towels used to wipe off the car. After wiping the outside glass surfaces, rinse and do the inside. Wipe glass surfaces with long strokes and be sure to get into all corners. Dry with paper towels or newspaper; the latter is particularly good because it is very absorbent, leaves no lint, and has the added features of polishing the glass. Rags are not recommended because they can smear or leave lint.

Do-It-Yourself Mechanical Washing

Coin-operated car washes help you get the job done quickly. Most of the techniques described earlier apply here as well.

1. Start with the wash cycle, but do the whole car instead of one section at a time. Keep the nozzle close to the finish to remove caked-on dirt.

2. You usually get 5 minutes for your money, so try to finish the whole car in that time. Don't worry about the underside during the wash cycle-it does not need soap.

3. Switch to the rinse cycle and again start at the top and work down. Keep the nozzle 12" to 18' away from the surface.

4. Thoroughly rinse the gutters, the underside of the body, and behind the bumpers.

5. Drive the car out of the wash area and remove the excess water as described earlier.

6. If a vacuum cleaner is provided, clean the floor.

Commercial Car Washing

Commercial car washes are the most expensive, but they do a professional cleaning job. Always use "brushless" car washes, because mechanical brushes can cause scratching and dulling of your car's finish with repeated use. Long-line (70' to 120' long) units are capable of providing the most thorough wash; short-line (30' to 60' long) units lack many of the necessary components that make up a complete commercial car wash. Make sure that the establishment you choose provides dry-off services at the end of the line. Otherwise, you're going to drive away a car that will develop water spots and a splotchy finish.


Some experts suggest that a wax job should be done even on brand-new cars. Although this step is probably not necessary, anything that can be done to protect the finish has to do some good. In any case, a car should be waxed every 6 months; if the finish shows signs of dulling, it should be polished as well. This is especially true if the car has been operated in a particularly harsh environment.

It is useless to attempt a polish/wax job on any surface that has not been thoroughly prepared. Before a polish/wax job, the car must be washed following the methods already described.

Read the label of any polish or wax product before purchasing it to make sure that it can be used on your cars finish. If your car is fairly new, you might consider using a combination polish/wax, which removes oxidized paint and coats the car all in one operation. Combination polish/waxes are not recommended for very dull finishes. Badly oxidized paint requires a two-step job. NOTE: Never use household polisher or waxes on your car. They contain abrasives and other chemicals that can seriously damage the finish.

Read the label once more before beginning in case you overlooked an important item on the first reading. Never rely on remembering the directions from a previously used product. Each product has slightly different instructions and cautions that must be followed carefully for best results. There are, however, a few general rules that are applicable to any polish/wax job:

Always use clean rags and/or polishing cloths.

Avoid synthetic fibers; use cotton or cheesecloth.

Periodically rearrange the cloth to avoid rubbing dirt back into the car's finish.

Do not use the same cloth to apply and remove the polish or wax.

To avoid premature caking or streaking, always place the car in a shady place and let the surface cool before applying any polish or wax.

Never polish in direct sunlight or when the car's surface is hot-no matter what the label says.

Use a circular motion when applying the polish or wax.

Overlap your strokes to do a more thorough job and, at the same time, to avoid missed areas.

Do one section of the car at a time. Even liquid products will harden and leave streaks if left on too long.

Don't be afraid of pressing down too hard when applying polish or wax.

Be careful not to overlook small areas such as posts and gutters.

When buffing (removing dried polish or wax) by hand, use the same circular motion as for the application. Remember to use a clean cloth and to shake it out regularly. Remove all the dried polish and wax; otherwise, it will harden and leave spots and streaks.

Try to avoid getting any wax on rubber or hard plastic trim because of the danger of powdering and/or discoloring.

When power buffing, attach a pile fabric pad directly to the rubber backup pad. Starting at the top of the car, work down by floating the machine in long strokes, with just its own weight over the surface. Do not try to remove all of the cleaner with the pile fabric pad; a little remaining in the corners and around the edges should be removed by hand or left for the lamb's wool bonnet.

For the final operation, remove the pile fabric pad and attach the lamb's wool bonnet over the rubber backing pad. Center the bonnet on the pad and tie it as tightly as possible; tuck in the loops of the lacing so they will not fly out. A tightly tied bonnet is essential for balance and smooth operation. Go over the entire car to bring the finish to a high luster. Power polishing and buffing might leave slight swirl marks or a haze, but this can be easily brought to a brilliant luster with a few flourishes of a polishing cloth.


Other parts of the car-bumpers, hubcaps, moldings, and light rims-need as much protection as the paint job. The first step before attempting to clean or wax the car's trim is to determine the materials you will be working with. Polishes designed for real chrome contain chemicals and abrasives that will dull or damage the materials, especially aluminum and plastics. Consult the owner's manual, dealer, or an expert in an automotive parts or repair shop before purchasing any trim polish, cleaner, or wax.


There are many products on the market to clean and protect vinyl roofs. Follow the specific directions on the container.


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