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How to get your car looking great!

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Old Feb 20th, 2011, 17:02   #1
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GaryS40's Avatar

Last Online: Sep 17th, 2019 08:57
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Montrose
Blog Entries: 1
Post How to get your car looking great!

Hi all

After several requests, I have put together a plan for getting the most out of your car's appearance, through a planned valeting programme. It is always best to have a plan in front of you, so you remember what you have to do and in what order, so you can pace yourself and get the work completed on time. To do the whole of the plan below, I standardly take 10 to 12 hours to complete, but the programme can be done in sections.


Whenever possible, start with the interior, so you are not crouching in water from washing the car, while trying to get under the seats, or in the foot wells.

Vacuum first:

• Use a domestic vac, at least – the 12V car vacuums are not powerful enough.
• If your seats are height adjustable, jack them right up to full height for access.
• Remove all mats and any other items that are sitting around in the car – CD’s,
pens, parking tickets, jackets etc, so the car is totally clear of unnecessaries.
• Starting in the front, slide the seats back as far as they can go, so you have full
access to the area below and plenty of room to access the foot wells.
• Using a firm, clean brush (upholstery brush), start gently sweeping the foot well
areas to lift all imbedded grit and vacuum away with the open nozzle. Do not rub
the nozzle vigorously over the carpet, especially with a metal attachment, as it
will cause wear to the carpet fibres and eventually detract from the appearance
of the carpet.
• Once you have finished with the front area, slide the seats as far forward as
possible, to give good access to the rear for the car. Do the same here, as with
the front and make sure the space underneath the front seats is cleaned out
properly (this is usually where you will find some coins lying around!). If there is
anything sitting under the rails on the floor, get a piece for card, fold it over and
push it under the rail, from the outside, forcing the coin, or old parking ticket, etc
into the floor space, to be retrieved and spent/binned.
• Once the rear wells have been vacuumed, lift the base of the rear seat up and
clean under there too. You will be amazed at how much junk is lying under there!
Usually crisps and sticky sweets, if you have kids.
• Any marks that cannot be shifted with the vac, will require shampooing. This also
applies to the upholstery. Use automotive upholstery cleaner and follow the
manufacturer’s instructions. I personally use Autoglym Hi-foam upholstery
shampoo. Spray the effected area, gently work in with a clean upholstery brush,
wipe over with a clean microfiber cloth and leave to dry.
• Next, you will need a long crevice tool. The tiny things that you get with a vac
nowadays are not much use, so invest in one that can be bought on the .net. I
have two flexible tools, one is a foot long and the other is two feet long, so you
can get in pretty much anywhere. Run the crevice tool along the outside edge of
both front seat runners, to collect any debris and then move to the inside, next
to the centre console, where every thing seems to get trapped. When everything
is cleaned out of this space, give it a final wipe with a clean microfiber cloth,
sprayed with a citrus based cleaner(I use Flash All-in-one, lemon). Next, do the
same to the plastic trim around the seats and doors, finishing with a wipe over
the seat runners, to brighten them up.
• Vacuum the seats, making sure that you tilt the front ones back and clean in the
area between the base and the seat back. If the seats are leather, they can
either be wiped down with a damp microfiber cloth, after vacuuming, or treated
to cleaner and conditioner, depending on their appearance.
• Remember to clean the rear shelf, if it is a saloon. Estates can be done at the
same time as the boot space. Also return your seats to the correct position.
• Use the same processes for cleaning out the boot – and vac parcel shelf.


• Firstly, get another clean, dry microfiber cloth and wipe down all the surface
areas, starting with the door cards, and surrounding trim and then on to the dash
and the console between the seats, where the bulk of all crumbs and stickiness
seems to land. If the plastics are particularly dirty, these can also be cleaned
with the citrus cleaner, which eats through the grime and also leaves a pleasant,
fresh smell.
• Fix a soft bristled attachment to your vac hose, or use a new, unused ” (6mm)
paintbrush, with the metal ferrule covered in PVC tape (avoids scratching) and
start to remove all the dust and crumbs from all the joints, gaps and controls in
the same method as cleaning the carpets. The paint brush is very good at
getting into little spaces, such as around the wiper and indicator stalks, the
edges of the instrument cluster and the vents. This process can also be used
along the tops of the door cards, between the card and the glass. This is also a
good time to vac out the door pockets and wipe out any sticky stuff, with the
citrus cleaner. Take your duster, drop the steering wheel down as far as it goes
and wipe over the cowling, to remove any hidden debris. Take the cloth by two
opposing corners (one in each hand) and place between the steering wheel and
cowling, using a to and fro motion, clean all the hidden dust out – you don’t
normally notice it, but it really shows up in a photograph!
• At this point, you may want to polish the inside of the glass, either with a spray
on class cleaning solution or a glass polish. Drop the windows about an inch
(2.5cm), apply the chosen solution to the inside of the glass, again with a clean
microfiber cloth and then buff off with another microfiber. Clean the top of the
outside of the glass at the same time, as it saves you having to drop the
windows again, later. Put the windows back to fully closed position and wipe the
small section that was hides earlier, with the cleaning solution and then buff dry.
• You do need quite a few microfiber cloths, to do this right, but for the interior of
the car, you can but a pack of 6 from Asda, for a couple of pounds and they will
last you for ages. The only things to watch are that you remove the labels, as
they can scratch your paint (believe it or not), don’t wash them with fabric
conditioner and don’t tumble try them, as both these actions cause the cloths to
loose their “magnetic” dust collecting properties. Just wash them with washing
machine detergent and let them hang up to dry. I use three different colours –
blue for glass, yellow for applying product and red for removing/buffing.


• Now that the inside is done, we can look at the exterior of the car. It is better to
clean the wheels before washing the bodywork, to avoid splashing dirt back on to
the car, after it has been cleaned.
• Fill a bucket with warm water with some bodywork shampoo – I use a separate
bucket for wheel cleaning.
• Hose off all loose dirt and debris, with a strong jet from a hose. This will also
clean off a large amount of the brake dust from inside the wheel.
• Apply wheel cleaning solution to one wheel and leave to soak for about one
• Use a small piece of cellulose sponge, soaked in the water, to remove the main
dirt from the wheel face and rim, rinsing the sponge frequently. Take a clean
toothbrush (also bought from Asda – smart price 3 for about 30p) soaked in the
water and work it into all the tight to reach areas, like around the wheel nuts,
valve stem and any edges. Rinse off well with a hose.
• Repeat on the other wheels.


• Care must be taken, not to damage sensitive electrical components under the
bonnet, so I shy away from pressure washers, in favour of a slow flowing garden
hose. Put a carrier bag over the alternator, to help keep the water out.
• Remove any leaves and loose debris from the scuttle and around the engine bay,
before doing anything else.
• Spray the engine and surrounding trim with an engine cleaner / degreaser. I use
Autoglym engine and machine cleaner and work the solution into all areas with a
2” (5cm) paint brush, with taped ferrule. You can also spray the underside of the
bonnet and clean in the same manner as the engine bay.
• Rinse with clean water, from hose or watering can and check for any greasy
spots that have been missed. Re-treat if necessary.
• Pay particular attention to things like the dipstick handle that are usually brightly
coloured, these days and highlight oily finger marks!
• Remove the plastic bag from the alternator and start the engine, letting it run for
a few minutes and then switch it off.
• Dry the plastic trim off with either a microfiber cloth or absorbent paper workshop
towels (best price also Asda, at 2 and can be wrung out and reused –
like “Plenty” kitchen towel, but even stronger!). I have seen someone use a leaf
blower to dry the engine, but I think it would just kick up too much dust.
• Apply a plastic protectant/enhancer to all the trim pieces within the engine bay
and buff to a shine with another microfiber. For this, I use either Autoglym vinyl &
rubber care, or Armor All protectant, but there are plenty others on the market.
• If you drop a microfiber cloth on the ground, either throw it away, or rinse it out
and put it in the wash, but do not use it until it is clean.

Cleaning the bodywork (my favourite part) using the two bucket method

• Rinse over the whole car with the garden hose, to remove all the loose dust and
debris from the bodywork, to avoid any scratching. Make sure you blast out all
the mud from under the wheel arches, before washing the car and rinse off the
• Never use sponges or brushes to clean your car, as brushes can scratch the
paintwork, even with soft bristles and sponges can trap the grit in the outer
surface of the sponge, in effect, turning it into a piece of sandpaper. It is best to
use either sheepskin or noodle wash mitts, as there is no chance of dropping it
on the ground. The sheepskin & noodles draw the grit up into the mitt, keeping
it away from the surface of the car, reducing the risk of scratching.
• Mix up a spray bottle of water and car shampoo, roughly 6:1 mix. Spray over the
whole car and leave for a few minutes, to soak into the bodywork, while you get
the buckets ready. At the same time, apply some insect remover to the front of
the car, to assist in the removal of the carcases from the paint.
• For anyone not familiar with the two bucket method, two buckets are used to
reduce the risk of scratching the painted panels, by keeping the grit separate
from the soapy water. Fill one bucket with warm water (not hot, as this strips off
waxes) and bodywork shampoo, (I use Autoglym bodywork conditioning
shampoo). fill the other bucket with tepid, clean water, for rinsing. The
process is: Soak your wash mitt in the soapy water and wash one panel of the
car, starting at the top, where it is less dirty. When the panel is clean, dunk the
dirty mitt into the clean water and agitate with your other hand, to remove the
grit. Wring it out again, so the mitt can absorb more soapy water from the other
bucket and continue as before, until all the panels above the bumper line are
• For the lower part of the car, I would suggest using another mitt and only use it
on this part of the car, as most of the grit is found here.
• Open each of the doors and wash the metalwork in the aperture and also the
inner edges of the doors too, still using the two bucket method. Do the same for
the bonnet and boot, cleaning all the guttering and internal metalwork. Rinse with
clean water from a hose, or watering can, with the rose removed. Rinse the rest
of the car with clean water.
• Clean out the hinges sections of the doors with a cloth and some citrus cleaner,
but don’t remove the grease from the hinges, or any other moving parts, it is
there for a reason!
• Run your fingers over the lower bodywork and you will probably feel small bumps
on the paintwork. These are tar spots and are nearly impossible to remove with
car shampoo. Best solution is to apply a tar spot remover solution, such as
Autoglym Intensive Tar Remover. Apply some to a microfiber pad of cloth and
gently rub onto the affected areas. This will remove all traces of the tar spotting.
You may need to quickly wash over the treated areas again, to remove any
surplus product. Rinse the car again.
• Dry the whole vehicle with microfiber towels, or better still, soft terry, or waffle
weave car drying towels. Standard bath or dish towels will most certainly add to
the scratching or marring of your paintwork, which shows up as holograms, or
spider webs, especially when the sun shines on them. Remember to dry the inside
of the door openings and inside of the doors, as well as the inside of the boot,
bonnet and places like the grille and openings in the front bumper.

Claying the paintwork

• Now the car is dry, gently rub your fingers over each panel around the car,
checking for rough spots. This will usually feel like fine sandpaper and is caused
by contaminants, such as brake dust, airborne pollution and such like. These
contaminants imbed themselves in the clearcoat layer of the paint, or on older
cars, the paint itself. This can be remedied with the use of a clay bar. The
claying process also removes any old wax and polish that has been applied to the
car, so retreatment is a necessity.
• Most clay kits come with the bar and a spray bottle of lubricant and sometimes
with a microfiber cloth.
• A clay bar can be cut in half and one piece is kneaded in the palm of the hand, to
make soft and then flattened out into a pancake shape. If you drop it, throw it
away and get another piece.
• One panel at a time, spray the lubricant on to the paintwork and with the clay in
the flat of your hand, gently start to move it over the surface of the car. Do not
turn the bar over, stick to one side, which will soon be apparent. If the bar starts
to grab at the paint, apply some more lube and continue.
• When the bar looks very dirty, simply fold it over, with the dirty side facing
inward, push it flat and continue as before. When the panel is finished, it should
feel as smooth as glass. Buff the panel with a microfiber cloth, remembering to
remove the label first. If you fold the cloth in half and then in half again, in the
other direction, you have 8 clean sides to use from one cloth. Change to a clean
side frequently and yet again, if dropped, use another one. When all the rough
sections have been removed, this stage is complete.

Polishing – manually

• Manual polishing can take some time, to do it right, but the effects can be
stunning, to say the least.
• If there are any flat spots on the paintwork, this can be due to marring on the
clearcoat or paint. This can be removed/reduced, using a cutting compound, if it
is more apparent or a polish, if it is a minor blemish. It is not recommended to cut
your paintwork too many times, as the compound removes a thin layer of the
clearcoat (lacquer), each time it is used, effectively thinning down the protective
layer over the paint finish.
• For manual polishing, I use Autoglym Super Resin Polish, which is an all in one –
paint cleaner, polish and sealer (3 stages in one) and is highly effective, at a
decent price.
• Start with one panel and apply a small amount of polish to a microfiber cloth, or
applicator pad and apply to the paintwork, rubbing in a circular motion. Keep
topping up the cloth and rubbing into the paint until the panel is completely
covered in a light covering of polish, which will haze over within a few minutes.
Buff this off with another clean microfiber cloth (remember to fold it over and use
all the available sides). There should be a high level of gloss on the polished panel
now. Repeat for all other panel around the car, taking care not to touch and
unpainted plastic trim or window rubbers, as it can be extremely difficult to
remove again. Autoglym Fast Glass spray is very good at cleaning away polishing
marks, as well as for cleaning glass!
• You can stop there, or further protect the paint with a gloss enhancer, For dark
colours, use AG Ultra Deep Shine and for light colours, AG Extra Gloss Protection.
Application is the same process as with the Super Resin Polish, except the whole
car is treated at once, left for an hour, before buffing off.

Waxing – manually

• Most people will stop at the enhancer polish, but for a really high gloss finish, you
can apply a coat of wax. With wax, you really get what you pay for, but I really
do not see the point of spending 1000.00 on a tub of wax, that may only stay
on your car for a few weeks. I use Autoglym High Definition wax, as it can be
applied really easily, even in direct sunlight and buffs off with ease, leaving an
amazing sheen on the paint.

Glass polishing

• The clay bar can also be used on the glass, as it helps clear traffic film and other
contaminants, using the same process as for the paintwork.
• Glass polish can also be applied to the windscreens and windows, to bring up a
good shine. Same process as per polishing the car bodywork.
• If the glass has been polished recently, a glass cleaner solution may be used
instead of the polish

Trim detailing

• Once polishing is complete, the trim will require treatment. There are many
different products on the market, but the ones I use are Autoglym Rubber and
Vinyl Treatment, or Armor All protectant, but there is an amazing product from
G-Techniq, called C4, which can revive and protect all unpainted external plastics
for up to 2 years. It is quite expensive, at 24.00 for a 15ml bottle, but as it
lasts for up to 2 years, you really don’t have to worry about it for a long time.
• Apply your treatment to all the rubber window surrounds, door handles, mirror
trim, door and bumper trim and of course the plastic panel below the windscreen.
• If there are still some yellow stains on your alloys, from long term brake dust
attack that was not removed with the wheel cleaner apply some metal polish, like
Autosol, or Autoglym Metal Polish, to the affected area, with a cotton cloth and
buff off – it should all be gone! Spray some alloy wheel sealer onto a cloth and
work in to the entire wheel face. This protects the wheels from further brake
dust damage and makes the wheels easier to clean next time.
• Finish the tyres with a dressing, applied with a sponge. Sometimes, two coats are
required as the tyre absorbs the first, leaving the tyre looking dull. I never use
tyre paint, as it has the tendency to crack and flake and can also be flicked on
to the paintwork, if driven away, before it is totally dry, spoiling all of your hard

Between main washes, like the above programme, the paintwork can be kept up to standard by applying a quick detailer spray and buffing off again. It only takes about 20 minutes to do the whole car and reinforces the protection of the polishes.

That is pretty much it. Your car is clean and protected and will be so much easier to keep clean, as the paint is slick and smooth. A quick rinse is normally enough to get the worst of the dirt off of the car, without any rubbing.

I have not written anything on machine polishing, as anyone who is using one, will know what they are doing already.

As this is the first instructional document I have ever written on this process, I may have either missed something out, or have not made myself clear enough. If you have any questions on anything in this “how to”, or indeed anything regarding cleaning your car, please feel free to ask and I will do all I can to answer them correctly.

If anyone would like me to send them a "Word" version of the document, just PM me with your e-mail address and I will forward it on to you.

Thanks for taking the time to read it and I hope is of use to many people.

Current car:
2002 V70 2.4T SE
Mod's so far: Orpheus alloys, hands free kit, reversing camera and display screen, behind the mirror dash cam, Ocean Race wood trimmed m/f steering wheel, Polestar blue and black calipers.
Previous cars:
1982 760 GLE saloon
1989 740 GLE estate
1991 440 S
2003 S40 S - Gone but not forgotten. ☹
16 non Volvos.
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