May 7, 2015

Written by

Chris Gonzales

With the hot, bright days of summer starting just two weeks from tomorrow, now is the perfect time to get your car shiny and spotless. Sure, you could easily take your car in to have it cleaned by professionals, but where’s the fun in that?

We prefer (and take pride in) the hands-on, almost-meditative experience here at T&T, so here are our tips and recommendations for your own car-cleaning kit.

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The Kit

Remember back in the day when all you needed to wash a car was a cheap sponge, a bucket, and some soapy water? You could still use that same basic setup today if you wanted, but believe it or not, it can actually create more problems than it solves.

For example, the dirt and grit trapped on a sponge’s surface can damage your car’s paint with tiny swirls and scratches, while dish soap — an all-too-common choice — can ruin the car’s wax finish. Our recommended kit is designed to get your car clean without those sorts of pesky issues.

Chemical Guys' microfiber chenille wash mitt. ($8)

Chemical Guys’ microfiber chenille wash mitt. ($8)

Chemical Guys Microfiber Chenille Wash Mitt »

Forget the cheap sponge and get this microfiber chenille wash mitt instead. Wear it like a glove or simply hold it in your hand; either way, all those plush, absorbent little dreadlocks on the surface help trap dirt and grit rather than smearing the stuff all over the car’s paint job, thus preventing scratches and swirls.

What’s also nice about this mitt is that it’s machine washable. Just don’t expose it to fabric softener and you’re golden.

The Grit Guard bucket insert. ($9)

The Grit Guard bucket insert. ($9)

Grit Guard »

The Grit Guard pairs well with the wash mitt above. What this little radial plastic insert does is sit at the bottom of a typical 12″-diameter wash bucket, letting dirt fall through its grill openings and keeping it trapped there with its four underside quadrants created by the x-shaped fins holding it up.

Swirl the water around above it and the dirt stays put, keeping it from getting re-absorbed back into your wash mitt. Scrub the mitt on the grill surface to clean off some of the grit between applications. If you drop the mitt entirely, the grill keeps it from falling into the accumulated debris at the bottom.

If you’re using the “two-bucket system” (which we do recommend) where one bucket is used for clean soapy water while the other is for dirty water, you can place a Grit Guard in each bucket to ensure nothing gritty gets back to your car. You can even stack two Grit guards in a single bucket for greater effect — say, if you’re washing a particularly sensitive or expensive car.

Meguiar's Gold Class car wash shampoo & conditioner. ($9)

Meguiar’s Gold Class car wash shampoo & conditioner. ($9)

Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo & Conditioner »

Like we said earlier, you’ll want to avoid washing a car with dish detergent, as so many people unfortunately do. Instead, pick up a bottle of Meguiar’s Gold Class. A little of this stuff goes a long way.

After gently rinsing your car to cool it off and remove debris prior to washing, mix a few capfuls of Meguiar’s with a gallon of water, dip your wash mitt in, then go to town, top to bottom. The stuff is so lubricated, you’ll be surprised how easily your mitt glides over the car’s surface. It’s powerful enough to get remove all sorts of dirt and grime, yet gentle enough to leave waxed and polished finishes intact.

Oh, and we love the smell. Don’t judge.

The Flexzilla water hose. ($46)

The Flexzilla water hose. ($46)

Flexzilla Water Hose »

Want a water hose that won’t easily kink up? The Flexzilla is your new friend. We could talk about its “premium hybrid polymer material” and other fancy things all day long, but really the important factor is that it’s super kink-resistant.

The hose is also tough enough to be dragged over concrete, grass, and vehicles without getting torn up within a few uses, and it holds up well to temperature extremes.

At first we thought the bright green color was a bit garish, but this turned out to be a useful feature — if you’re washing the car or watering some plants while someone else is mowing or weed-eating the yard, they won’t easily miss the bright hose in the grass.

Bon-Aire Original Ultimate Aluminum Hose Nozzle »

Using this water hose nozzle will make you feel like a firefighter, which is almost worth the price of admission alone. Thankfully it’s also really well-made and offers five different spray patterns — ranging from gentle pour to concentrated blast. Watch this video from 3:00 to 4:05 to see the various settings:

What’s more, even those with weak grips or arthritis issues can use the hose comfortably, unlike common squeeze nozzles (though those can be nice too).

Cobra Guzzler Waffle Weave Drying Towels »

Once you’ve shampooed and rinsed the car, you’ll want to hand-dry it to prevent air-dried water spots from ruining your hard work. (Same reason why it’s preferable to wash your car on a cloudy day or in a shaded area.) For that, we recommend Cobra’s Guzzler drying towels.

Their waffle-woven 80/20 microfiber surfaces, along with the 5 mil sponge sandwiched between them, help these towels absorb up to 7 times their weight in water. Depending on your vehicle’s size, you may be able to dry the entire exterior with a single towel — especially if supplemented with the better-than-a-squeegee California Jelly Blade.

On top of that, these towels are so soft and plush you won’t have to worry about scratching up the paint or ruining the car’s finish. They’ve even covered the edge stitching with continuous satin trim for the ultimate gentle touch.

Meguiar’s Hot Rims Wheel Cleaner »

Wheel cleaner gets the dirt, grime, and break dust off your wheels and tires. Just spray it on, scrub your rims with a wheel brush, and rinse.

Afterward, put Tire Shine onto your tires with these foam applicators.. This will make your tire sidewalls look brand-new.

Black & Decker's MAX Flex vaccuum. ($117)

Black & Decker’s MAX Flex vaccuum. ($117)

Black & Decker MAX Flex Vac »

And now we finally move to the car interior. First things first, you’ll want to vacuum all the crud off the floor and seats. For that, the Black & Decker Max Flex Vac works great. The 20-volt battery can power the vacuum for about 16 minutes straight, and the 4-foot flexible hose makes it easy to clean underneath seats.

The awesome folks over at The Sweethome have a more in-depth review of the MAX Flex you should read.

Better yet, the hose accepts attachments, including a 6-inch crevice tool, a brush/nozzle combo tool, and a pet-hair upholstery brush (sometimes full-size vacuums don’t even come with all of those tools). Those tools all lock into place, so there’s no need to worry about, for instance, the crevice tool falling off in your driveway after you’ve cleaned your car.

If you want something even more versatile, look into getting a shop vac. They’re just as great as cleaning out cars but also have a ton of other uses, like drying a flooded basement floor or cleaning a workshop where you’ve been woodworking.

Armor All protectant. ($10)

Armor All protectant. ($10)

Armor All Protectant »

After cleaning the floors, spray some Armor All on the dashboard, inside the car doors, etc, then wipe it all down using a cheaper microfiber cloth than the ones we recommended for the car’s exterior earlier. We’re not too worried about scratching anything up here.

Finally, spray the windows with Armor All Glass Cleaner (it’s just four bucks for the spray bottle) and use those same microfiber cloths to wipe them clean.

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Final Tips

You’ve done the majority of the work by this point, but there are a couple other small things worth doing if you find the time:

  • Use an old toothbrush to clean interior vents and detail other small surfaces throughout the dash and stereo area.
  • Get a paper towel, soak a bit of it in rubbing alcohol, then squeeze that alcohol-soaked portion along the underside of your windshield wipers (from one end to the other) to clean them off and prevent streaking.

…And you’re finished! Now all you have to do is stand back and admire your handiwork. Nicely done.