Car washing

Intermediate cleaning – removing tar and bug splatter with chemicals

After two bucket method has been done you should be left with largely clean bodywork. Inevitably however there are going to be bits of resilient dirt. Commonly these include tar from the road and bugs that have sealed themselves to your car that are too ingrained to be removed with a mitt.

The easiest and safest way to remove the majority of these imperfections is to apply a chemical solvent such as the popular Tardis. These are very strong chemicals that will soften virtually all tar and bug residue allowing it to be wiped off with a microfibre towel.

Once you have your chosen product (in my case Tardis) apply it to your car as instructed on the bottle. Usually I will apply it by spraying the entire lower section of the car (from the side bump strips down) all round the car working around it side at a time. 

I apply the solvent, leave until it turns cloudy and the tar is running, then wipe it down with a microfibre. At this point I will rinse the side with the power washer to ensure the solvent I not left on the paint for long durations.

It is recommended that this process shouldn’t be performed too frequently as the paint would end up being damaged by prolonged exposure to the strong solvents. I tend to do this about quarterly, however if you wanted to do it more frequently you could dilute the concentration or reduce the dwell time to reduce the impact.

While this will eliminate a lot of the stubborn marks some elements will remain. These will require a slightly more advanced technique to remove known as claying. This is covered in depth in the advanced tutorials section.

After I have chemically removed tar and bug splatter I will move on to a last stage protection to try and lock the great finish of the paint down for as long as possible. See the LSP tutorial for more details.

Car washing

Intermediate cleaning – quick detailing

Quick detailing is essentially a waterless wash process. A spray of cleaner is liberally applied to the bodywork then this is wiped down with a microfiber towel. As you will hopefully have identified this is a ‘high risk’ method of cleaning a car as there is no rinse process and no deep woolen pile mitt used to remove dirt!

I will never suggest using a waterless wash technique as a means to clean a genuinely dirty car as there is just too much scope for dirt to clog the microfiber then mar the surface of the paint inducing the scratches we are trying to avoid and/or correct.

Where quick detailing does have a use is in top-up cleaning. If I fully clean the car this will take about an hour and at the end of this I am ready for a sit down inside! If I decide I want to polish the car or similar either later that day or perhaps the next I will quick detail the recently cleaned paint (assuming the car hasn’t moved) then begin polishing.

Why is this safe? Because I have already removed all the major risks by performing a full wash. Quick detailing will remove any dust and light fall out ahead of polishing.

As a cleaning tool quick detail spray is very versatile. Per above I use it if I am leaving the car before polishing/waxing but I will also use it to clean the car after it has been clayed, if I notice a random spot of dirt. Further most clays require quick detail as lubricant and it is useful when polishing to lubricate pads and remove stubborn bits of polish so it is useful to have around.

I use Meguiars quick detail which is excellent at what it does, however I try and avoid this technique where possible due to the risky nature of it.

Car washing

Intermediate cleaning – caring for wheels and tires

Best practice dictates that wheels should be cleaned first as this means any splatter on to the body from when rinsing with the hose can be mopped up and cleaned as part of the regular two bucket approach to bodywork. My approach is to power hose them as part of the rinse stage and then foam them during the pre-wash stage. Once the snow foam has been rinsed off, I then clean the wheels before rinsing again and following the two bucket method.

Wheels are generally one of (if not the most) dirty area of a car. This is due to brake dust from where the pads wear out on the disks (and vice versa to a certain extent). This can bake onto the wheels forming a very hard layer of dirt on the rim. I bought a car with this before and ended up having to sand the area of build up back, as washing simply would not penetrate the dust once it had cooled. The moral of that story is to try and keep on top of your wheels!

I will flag just now that there are different types of wheel – I am dealing with one piece alloys however there are lots of split alloys wheels out there. A lot of wheel cleaners will specifically exclude use on split rims so be sure to check the label before proceeding. The Muc Off cleaner I use here is suitable for split rims I believe.

Recently I have been using Muc-Off wheel cleaner. While this is very gentle on the alloys it can lack bite if there is a build up of tar and brake dust. Generally, once every few months, I will treat the wheels with a tar remover such as Tardis to get more stubborn marks off. 

Given the pre wash routine I apply to the wheels a lot of the dirt is already washed off, therefore when cleaning the wheels with Muc Off I usually apply and agitate with a microfibre cloth. This minimizes scratches that can come from wheel brushes and preserves the wheel protection by not aggressively rubbing it off.

Generally the approach for all wheel cleaners will be the same. I liberally hose down each wheel one at a time when rinsing the car, then apply snow foam leaving it to dwell for a few minutes. Once rinsed, I apply wheel cleaner liberally to a wheel at a time and agitate with a microfibre.

Now leave the wheel with the suds on it for a few minutes. I usually do the same on the next wheel in this time then return to the original wheel with the hose. Once the settling period is over rinse thoroughly ensuring all the suds are gone. Repeat this process on each wheel.

At times I will leave the process here, however for full protection there are additional steps to follow.

At this stage I then perform the two bucket wash method on the body of the car, and return to the clean wheels once the whole car has been dried.

At this point there are a number of options available to add a layer of protection as there are numerous wheel sealants on the market. I have Autoglym Wheel Sealant lying around so have been using it. I’ve not been blown away by its performance however so will try alternatives once finished.

For these follow the instructions on the container as they can vary. Generally the product should be applied to a microfibre towel and worked into the wheel surface. I avoid spraying directly on to the wheels as I don’t want any protective layers building on the brake disk. 

Car washing

Intermediate cleaning – plastic trim

Plastic trim is identifiable as the textured black/gray plastic which is often present on the exterior of cars.

This can fade and become tired looking naturally over time in the sun and exposed to the elements. If this is the case there are a number of products that can be used to rejuvenate the areas. 

In my experience I have found that I usually end up cleaning the plastic trim when polish or wax has come into contact with it. These compounds stick to the plastic and the textured surface prevents them from being rubbed away – as a result they tend to leave an unattractive white residue on the plastics.

I currently use Autoglym bumper restorer which is a green paste. Autoglym themselves recommend using their Autolym fast glass product on the plastic trim however and it does work at least as effectively therefore if you have that already there is no need to expand your range of products.

Using a clean microfiber apply some of the product directly to the towel. I tend to work this in my hand slightly to get an even spread of the cleaner over a patch of the cloth about five centimeters squared. 

Carefully apply the cloth to the textured surface keeping it away from the paintwork as far as possible. I apply a very light passing to the plastic surface then go back over the area working it into the trim with the microfiber. When doing this I apply moderate to hard pressure working with one or two fingers.

Once this is complete I will give a quick passing over with the clean side of the microfiber to get any excess product off of the car before moving on to the next area of plastic.

I also use this product for restoring the roof rails and window seals around the car.

Car washing

Intermediate cleaning – glass

As part of the two bucket overall clean I perform a quick wash down of the windows with the bodywork shampoo. I find this removes any smears and surface dirt effectively and acts as a pre-cleaning process for a proper glass cleaning session.

I currently own a selection of glass cleaning products including Autoglym and RainX products each with their own merits. I think the concept of RainX is interesting in that it would provide good quality beading however the product seems to be quite short lived. For speed and ease I usually use 3M glass spray – this effectively cleans the windows then wipes off instantly leaving streak fee finish with no misting.

For most glass products (including the 3M spray) I apply the product to a regular microfiber towel and work it into the glass surface in medium sized circles. Best results are usually obtained if you then turn the microfiber to a clean area and buff off in similar circles with hard pressure. I finish by doing a light pressured, large circled wipe down of each area with the permeated cloth.

It should be noted that glass surfaces can be clayed and polished as per bodywork. If you are having problems with haze and getting the desired cleanliness of windows you should follow the advanced clay and polishing guides.