Spring Cleaning Your Car

Now is the best time to give your car some extra DIY care.
car care

Sunny days are back and in a few months, it will be hotter. If you’re the type who prefers to skip the auto-detailing shop and clean the car yourself, then now is the best time to give it some extra care. 

What makes this different from your regular car wash is that you’ll be more systematic, spend more time to thoroughly check the car, and clean it well on the inside and out. 

Keep in mind that the information provided here is not intended to be professional advice. Please proceed with caution and common sense. 

Hybrid and electric vehicles may need special considerations.


Before You Start

Don’t let your excitement get in the way of preparation. Here are some reminders: 

1) car washKnow the water restrictions in your area: The kind of cleaning you can do to your car will depend on the level of water usage restrictions where you plan to clean your car. 

  • For example, under Level 2, you are required to use a bucket, although you can use a pressure cleaner with a special adapter.

  • Refer to this quick guide by Sparesbox to know what kinds of water usage activities are permitted under different restriction levels.   

2) Allow sufficient time to do the cleaning: Don’t start something that involves working in, out and around the car and garage, only to rush it when you realise you don’t have much time.  

You don’t have to do the activities all at once: 

  • On the night before your planned cleaning day, start making a checklist of things for replacement. Begin with the lights. 

  • Do the rest of the visual inspection in the morning, so you’ll have a good idea of the things you need to buy (see #3 and #10). Use this time to order your supplies online or visit the car care shop. 

  • On cleaning day, clean the interior first, and do the exterior the next day. 

  • On another day, clean the mechanical parts that you are comfortable dismantling. 

3) checklistDecide which parts and accessories you want to replace: With the engine turned off, you can visually check the condition of basic non-mechanical parts and consumables. Make a list before you go shopping to avoid unnecessary back-and-forth trips.  

Things to check: 

  • Do you need to replace the lights in the dashboard? Are the headlights, indicator lights and taillights working? You should have checked this the night before (see #2) to see their actual brightness. 

  • Is it time to replace the battery? There are various factors that affect its life span, such as the frequency of your usage and how well your alternator recharges it while you drive. Different sources will give you different answers, but many agree that the battery is good for a minimum of three years (on average). You can promote longer battery life by properly maintaining and protecting the poles/terminals. 

  • When was the last time you had the air filter element replaced? 

  • When was the last time you had the cabin filter element replaced? This is the one usually found in the airconditioning blower assembly that’s behind the glove box. 

  • Do you need to replace the wiper blades? The rubber can wear off badly enough to scratch the windscreen. In which case, you consider getting a new set. 

  • Do you need to refill the windscreen washer fluid?

  • Do you need to top up fluids? With the engine turned off, you can visually check the level of brake fluid and coolant by their reservoir tanks. Check the level and condition of the engine oil and transmission fluid with their dipsticks. 

Here’s an exhaustive list by CarPart.com.au. 

4) Park the car under the shade and in a secure space, preferably inside a well-lit garage: Ensure you are not causing any obstruction as you clean the car.  

  • Don’t expose the car directly to the sun.  

  • Keep the exterior cool so the soap (and wax) will not dry quickly to leave streaks or cause paint fading. 

  • Ideally, you’ll work in a place near the drain, so you can easily wash the water and soap off the floor. 

5) Make a thorough visual inspection of the car: Check if the car has panel and paint damages that justify a visit to the body shop. 

6) Have realistic expectations of the output: Don’t expect your car to be a “sparkling new” shiny and “car show” clean. Professional-grade auto-detailing products are best used and applied by auto-detailing professionals. 

7) Use personal protective gear: Make sure you have gloves and eye protection, at least. 

8) Prepare your vacuum cleaner: As you’ll be dealing with various surfaces and hard-to-reach areas, make sure you have the appropriate vacuum cleaner and attachments for the job. RealSimple has put together a handy guide on which vacuum attachment to use when

  • A handheld vacuum cleaner will be the most convenient to use for car interiors. 

  • brush head will be useful for cleaning the carpet, fabrics and upholstery. 

  • A flat, narrow nozzle will help you easily clean the gaps (eg. between the seat and the centre console).  

9) Know which cleaning fabrics to use: You don’t want to remove gloss, scratch glass and damage the paint finish with the wrong cloth. 

  • Microfibre cloth towels are good for most car surfaces and quick exterior detailing jobs - basically, anything that doesn’t involve waxes and rubbing compounds meant to be applied with polishing kits

  • Make sure you have enough clean microfibre cloths, as you will need plenty. 

  • Some cleaning solutions in cream or wax form must be applied with special pads or sponges. 

10) Make sure you have the right cleaners and polishers on hand: Mind that there are various solutions meant to be used for interior and exterior surfaces, and parts.

car care product guide

Some recommendations:

crc interior protectantkitten washre-po polish

Be extra careful: 

  • If in doubt, test it first on a small, inconspicuous area. 

  • Do not use abrasive pads that can leave fine scratches. 

  • Do not use products that contain alcohol or paint thinners, as they can discolour surfaces. 

  • Do not use household bleaches, dishwashing liquids or detergents, as they can fade the finish.


Check that everything is working

11) hand brakeMake sure the handbrake is engaged: If your car has an automatic transmission, ensure it’s set to “Park”. 

12) Pop the bonnet open: Check the engine bay for “foreign” substances and creatures that may be lurking under there. This is especially important if you haven’t used your car frequently during winter. Small animals may have taken shelter in the bay. 

13) Start the engine: Do not rev the engine from a cold start, as it’s unnecessary and could pre-maturely damage the cylinder walls and piston rings. Then, evaluate the following: 

  • Did it start on a just a few cranks? 

  • Is it idling okay? It’s normal for most modern internal combustion engines to idle a little higher from a cold start. 

14) With the engine now running, check the dashboard gauges and controls: 

  • Are the gauges functioning? 

  • Are the indicator lights flashing? 

  • Is the air-conditioning system cooling properly? 

15) Turn off the engine: If you had a hard time cranking the engine from a cold start earlier, let it idle for a few more minutes or until the engine is warm enough. This allows more time for the alternator to charge the battery. 

It’s advisable to do these pre-cleaning checks so you can rule out anything unusual and not attribute any trouble to your DIY effort later. More importantly, you can make a list of things that aren’t functioning as intended, so you only have to visit the shop once. 

Do these things before you proceed to the actual cleaning.


Clean the car interior

16) Clear all belongings and rubbish: You must be able to freely move inside the cabin. 

  • Empty the seat pockets. 

  • Empty the glove box and other compartments.

  • Check the papers and keep the important ones before you throw the rest away.

  • For now, keep the important documents (eg. proof of registration, vehicle insurance, etc.) in a safe place in your home, garage or somewhere you can avoid spilling cleaning fluids on them.

  • Rid the trunk of clutter. 

17) Remove the floor mats: This gives you easy access to the floor carpet. 

18) vacuum cleanerStart vacuuming: Attach a soft brush head to your vacuum cleaner and clean all the visible surfaces such as the: 

  • Roof lining (start here) 

  • Dashboard

  • Airconditioning vents

  • Plastic mouldings

  • Upholstery

  • Seats

  • Storage compartments

  • Glove box

  • Door handles

  • Floor carpet (move/fold the seats so you can access the area underneath them)

  • Floor mats 

Vacuum those areas and everything in between. Use a flatter, narrower vacuum head to access hard-to-reach areas. 

Do this more thoroughly if you take your pets on trips. 

Vacuum the floor mats separately before you place them back over the floor carpet. 

Be extra careful: 

  • Do not scatter dust such that it enters (or is sucked into) the tiny openings in between the airconditioning vents, instrument cluster, console buttons or touch panels. Dust accumulation in these areas may not give you a headache now, but too much of it in those places can become a big problem in the future. 

  • Move around so you don’t bump the handbrake lever or unintentionally detach cables, sensors or anything electrical. 

19) Wipe the surfaces clear of any remaining dirt: Make sure no dust has settled on the surfaces. Then, use another clean microfibre cloth and a multi-purpose cleaner*. 

  • Spray cleaning solutions on the cloth. Do not apply them directly to the surfaces. 

20) Apply interior protectant* to the clean surfaces with another clean microfibre cloth: Do this to protect the car’s interior from cracking, dulling or fading in the sun. 

  • Apply it to the compartments as well. 

  • Do not apply this to genuine leather trim* as it may cause the natural colour to fade. It should be fine on faux leather/vinyl, though. Once again, if in doubt, proceed with caution and apply to a small, inconspicuous area. 

  • For leather trims, use proper leather care products and conditioners. 

21)kitten glass cleaner Apply auto glass cleaneron a clean microfibre cloth and wipe off the inner sides of the windscreens and the windows. 

  • Do not use glass cleaners meant for household use, as they contain chemicals that could damage your tint film. 

22) Replace the cabin filter*, especially if you don’t do this regularly. Make sure you buy the right filter with the same exact specifications as the one you have. 

*Use extra caution: If in doubt, read the product label or consult the owner’s manual.


Optional steps:

34) crc tyre careBlow dry hard-to-reach areas such as the window sills and cowl panel vents. You can use a hair dryer for this. 

35) Apply auto glass cleaner on a clean microfibre cloth and wipe off the outer sides of the windscreens and the windows. 

36) Apply metal polish to metal and metal-coated trim and accents. 

37) Apply tyre shine to the tyre sidewalls, mud flaps and exterior rubber trims.


Leave the underside to the pros

Unless you have a garage that’s equipped with proper lifters, save the under-chassis for when you visit the mechanic to get an underside wash. Not only is this task very time-consuming for the untrained, but it could also get messy as well.


The activities we’ve outlined in this article should be more than enough to keep you busy for a day or two, though if you’d like to spend more time with your car, please stay tuned because we’ll update this article with more tips on how you can: 

  • Clean the parts (eg. battery poles, brakes etc.) 

  • Clean the engine bay 

  • Clean the wheels 

  • Tidy up the garage


AIMS' Note on Safe Use of Parts Washers and Parts Cleaning Chemicals

  • Protective gear: Protect your skin and eyes! Wear chemical-resistant gloves to prevent skin irritation or absorption of chemicals. Safety glasses or goggles provide essential eye protection. Additionally, consider using a respirator if fumes are particularly strong or you are working for an extended period.
  • Labels and instructions: Before using any product, carefully read the instructions and safety warnings on the label. Follow the specific guidelines for usage, proper handling and disposal. Check for ‘use by’ dates.
  • Fire hazards: Many parts cleaners and lubricants are flammable. Keep them away from open flames, heat sources, and anything that could cause a spark. Store these products in a cool, dry location in their original containers, out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Environment: Choose less toxic and environmentally friendly options whenever possible. Make sure there are no open flames or anything that can ignite flammable substances. Dispose of used products and empty containers responsibly according to the instructions or your local hazardous waste guidelines.
  • Ventilation: When working with chemicals that release strong fumes, always work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors or in an open area. If you are working indoors, make sure that the windows are open and consider using fans to increase airflow and disperse / vent out the fumes.

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