How to Clean Your Car Without Harming the Paint

Porsche 911's parked at the Nürburgring
Photo: Old News Club / Steen Hansen

Do you care about your vehicle’s appearance? If so, you probably already know that even the best factory paints are susceptible to damage from excessive sunlight, harsh chemicals in rain water, and careless car cleanings.

Is there a way to keep your four-wheeled pride looking great without hurting the paint? Fortunately, there are several easy, inexpensive ways to get your ride into tip-top visual condition safely and without having to hire a professional.

If you have access to an auto parts store and are willing to be patient while removing dirt, grime, and grease from the exterior of the vehicle, then you’re ready to begin.

Rinse First

Phase one of any car-cleaning job is a warm water rinse. Use no soap or cleansers of any kind. Simply wet the entire exterior surface with warm water in a covered shaded area.

Protect Finish When Removing Bugs

It’s essential to be gentle when removing love bugs from glass, exterior painted surfaces, grills, and wheels. The smartest way to begin is to review an online guide about removing the little bugs wherever they adhere to your car.

In short, step one for love bug removal is spraying with warm water. Let the water soak in for a few minutes and then try hosing them off with a gentle spray bottle set to stream.

This should remove a majority of the insect bodies, but a portion will still be adhered to the surface of the glass or paint. Then, put a tiny dab of Vaseline on what’s left of the little creatures and let it sit for five minutes.

At that point, you should be able to wipe them completely off with a fiber cloth.

Apply Warm Alcohol Gel (Hand Sanitizer) to Problem Areas

If you discover grease, thick grime, or other mystery substances stuck anywhere to the outside of your car, mix a squirt or two of alcohol gel hand sanitizer with hot water. Mix the concoction with your finger and apply it to the dirty areas. Leave it there for five minutes or so before rinsing the area with a direct stream of warm water from a spray bottle.

Use Soft Cloth to Apply Soap

Whenever you apply soap, wax, or anything else to the exterior paint of your vehicle, use a microfiber cloth rather than paper towels, newspaper, or regular towels. Microfiber is the only thing that won’t leave tiny residual scratches on paint or glass. You can buy them at any auto parts or big box retail store.

Wax Regularly

The smartest form of preventive protection for the paint job on old and new vehicles is regular waxing. How often should you do the job? That depends on how old your vehicle’s paint application is, what your local climate is like, and whether you have access to a garage.

On average, attempt to spend a few hours doing a wax job at least twice per year. It won’t hurt to do it more often, so consider waxing every other month if you have the energy and the time. Don’t forget, if you’re older or just hate the chore, you can always pay a detailed pro to do it for you.