Estimated Time to Read: 5 minutes

If you think there’s a magic solution that comes in a bottle you’re wrong. Sorry, but there’s no substitute for elbow grease and no skimping on this tried and tested process. Anyone who says any different is selling snake-oil. Yes, there’s good and bad products that make a difference, I’ll recommend a few below, but (trust me) from BMW to Porsche and Audi to Mazda, this is the only one way to get that new car shine.

Step 1:

With a hose and normal tap water, wet the car down and rinse it thoroughly – ideally with a high pressure washer (but not set too high, depending on it’s rating). At this stage the car is usually covered in oil, grit, tar, bugs, and grime. All this needs to go, in a non-abrasive way. DO NOT WIPE. If you move all that grit around you’ll just be making a road map of scratches. Water and time, it’s the only way. Leave it to soak, and make yourself a mug of tea.

Step 2:

Tea drunk, hose it again. This’ll give the muck a chance to get wet, soak, and a chance for it to get removed on the second pass. Be just as thorough as the first time. This time, after a good first pass with just the hose, use a soft cloth or a woolen cleaning glove, no harsh cloths or sponges to avoid abrasion. The aim is to remove the grit, so no scrubbing at this stage, just wipe from the roof down, working around the vehicle and down in a spiral. The last job should be rims, sills, and the lower dirtier extremities.

Step 3:

Now it’s time for the first wash. Use a decent pre-wash car shampoo and clean water. Household detergents are not suitable, they are not made for a painted surface. Don’t use anything that makes a lot of bubbles (you ideally want something that will give you a rich foam) or has any kind of built in polish. There are a few good pre-wash products on the market that do the job nicely. Autoglym and AutoFinesse products are good, and both also do excellent tar and bug removers for those trouble spots, as is R222 Total. Use thoroughly clean water and 2 buckets, one to clean and one to rise your sponge (also do this when we get to Step 4). You don’t want to be swilling dirty water over somewhere you’ve already got free of bird muck and grit.

Step 4:

Now it’s time for the main wash. It’s always tempting to do this on a sunny day, but actually late afternoon is better to prevent patchy drying. Working from the top down, moving around the vehicle in a descending spiral again, paying particular attention to any trouble spots as necessary. Again, a good car shampoo is a great help. I like Autoglym standard bodywork shampoo or Muc-Off Ubershine, either is excellent for this stage.
Brush the tires with a hand brush (making sure the brush is clean first), then give them a good scrub with a scrubbing brush and judicious use of elbow grease (getting in there with an old tooth brush if necessary). As per Step 3, use 2 buckets – one of which you keep clean and one for rinsing your sponge.

Step 5:

Give everything a good rise with clean water. Using the hose again is fine, but turn the volume down a bit and let it flow off rather than blast it off.

Step 6:

Wipe by hand with a window cleaners Chamoius leather. Take it slowly and wipe downwards (in the same direction). It’s just like that scene from the Karate Kid. One direction, top to bottom, patience is the key. This isn’t like drying, this is more like wiping off.

Step 7:

For the windscreen and side windows there are plenty of automotive glass cleaners on the market. A general tear-off micro fibre cloth is fine for this. Don’t use a general household cleaner, they offer no protection and you’ll never get the look you want. Make sure everything’s dry before heading to Step 8.

Step 8:

Next we polish to get rid of all those small blemishes and give our finish. Naturally, it’s best to use a high quality polish and once again I like the Muc-Off and Autoglym. Don’t apply in circles, just apply it in lines and then buff it off with a soft cloth. One cloth to apply it, one (very soft) cloth to buff it off. Electric buffers are fantastic, but be careful with them – there’s no substitute for care and excessive pressure can damage paint for good. Patience and elbow grease.

Step 9:

Last, but not least, time to give the interior a once over. This is a large are to cover, with specialist leather care, fabric cleaners, interior glass cleaners and all kinds to consider – so I’m going to be fairly generic here. Pull out all the mats, vacuum, and wipe everything down with a damp cloth (including the door edges). Don’t use any products containing silicone, it leaves a residue behind, and go easy on the soap suds. Feel free to try some of the professional dash cleaners (if you’re really serious) as they give excellent results, or just go for any (non-silicon based) spray polish that’s lying around the house (but be sure it’s not to heavily scented for such a confined space). Auto Finesse offer a good range of mid-priced products, offering more than adequate results for the money. If you have fabric seats go over them with a lint roller, it makes a big difference.

Step 10:

Hang up a new air freshener. Smell makes a BIG difference to a car, and I always see this as the ‘cherry on the cake’. It sets the scene (like showing a house and having the small of baking bread in the air). It’s also another way of you putting YOUR stamp on the vehicle. Are you a pine, vanilla, ‘new car smell’, bubblegum, or black cherry kinda person?

Yes, all this is hard work and it’ll take you a good few hours. There’s no substitute or short cuts I’m afraid, but the results are worth it. Obviously there will be chips and scratches to deal with at some point, and newer cars have had less time to oxidize and so this is a far easier process, but stick to these 10 steps and do each one diligently and you’ll be driving a motor that looks showroom perfect for many years to come.

John O’Shea has worked in the motor industry for over 15 years. His years in the trade and love of high performance cars has given him an in depth knowledge of the auto trade second-to-none. He writes on behalf of The Joe Duffy Motor Group from the Northside of Dublin.