How to valet your car at home

Ireland often seems an unkind country when it comes to cars. In this specific instance, we’re not talking about taxation, nor insurance, nor even fuel. No, we’re talking about keeping your car clean. Living on a rain-lashed rock, sticking out of the North Atlantic, means that there’s ample opportunity for our roads to become mud-strewn and dirt-peppered, and that transfers instantly to your bodywork, lights, and windscreen.

Keeping your car clean is, in that sense, something of a safety issue — you need to be able to see out after all — but there’s more to it than that. A clean car is, pretty well automatically, a well-kept car and a well-kept car is more likely to be reliable, and more likely to be looked upon favourably when it comes to trade-in time. Plus, there’s something about hopping into a freshly cleaned car for a drive. It just drives… better.

Getting a professional valet done can be great for your car, but also pretty expensive. Thankfully, there are things you can do at home which can get your car shining inside and out…


1. Clean on a cloudy day.

It’s tempting to make the most of a sunny day to give everything a good polish, but a hot sun can make your car dry out too quickly as you clean it, leaving streaks and marks on the paint. Better to do this on an overcast day, if possible.

2. Tools of the trade.

Most of what you need is pretty simple — a clean bucket, plenty of water, a hose or pressure washer, and a ready supply of microfibre cloths. It is worth investing in some proper car cleaning fluid, though as using washing-up liquid can actually damage the paintwork on your car. It’s also worth getting some decent car wax, and a gentle fabric cleaner for the inside.

3. Hose-down

First off, give everything a good going over with a hose or pressure washer, which will loosen the worst of the dirt. If your car is especially mucky, it’s worth getting some ‘snow’ cleaner spray which you apply and then leave for a while before rinsing off, as that takes off hard, stuck-on dirt.

4. Start low.

Your first step should be the wheels. That’s because they’re inevitably the dirtiest part, and cleaning them after doing the body will — also inevitably — send mucky splashes up over pristine paintwork. Soapy water and elbow grease will get the worst off, but you may need some specialist alloy wheel cleaner for more ingrained dirt and brake dust.

5. Roof down.

Now, you need to add your cleaning solution (some of which will have wax included too, like a wash-and-go shampoo with conditioner) to your bucket of water, and thoroughly soak your cleaning cloth. Start with the roof, and then work your way down and around all panels, regularly rinsing the cloth with fresh water and hosing each panel clean as you go.

6. Wax on, wax off.

If you’re applying a separate wax, make sure that you let the bodywork thoroughly dry before applying, and then do so using a sponge, with small circular motions.

7. Inside out.

Take everything out of the interior — be it the floor mats, loose change, empty sweet packets, whatever — and then get busy with a vacuum cleaner. Make sure you use the hose attachments for getting into tricky areas, although for stuck-on dirt you could invest in a sticky ‘slime ball’ which you can roll-around in things like cup holders to lift up crumbs and dust. A clean shaving brush is also ideal for getting the dust out of air vents and other narrow spaces. Once you’ve vacuumed, get busy with the fabric cleaner and plenty of soft cloths. Scrub any stains or marks gently to avoid damaging fabrics or leather. If your car has interior wood or other decorative panels, use a gentle polish to get those clean, but remember never to apply polish or any other cleaner to your steering wheel or gear shift, as those will then become too slippery.

8. Handy tips.

There are some useful specific tricks for specific issues. Are your headlights looking a bit cloudy or yellowed? Simply apply regular toothpaste (not whitening) and clean off with a soft cloth. That should get them sparkling again. For alloy wheels with narrow gaps between the spokes, get some toothbrushes, but just remember not to use them for your actual teeth afterwards…

We hope you enjoyed our handy tips on how to valet your car at home. Why not check out our other tips while you're here?