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No matter how much time you spend in your car, it's important to give it a thorough cleaning on a regular basis, inside and out. Over time, daily accumulations of dirt can ruin your paint job and when dirt and stains are allowed to build up in the car’s interior, they’re not only unsightly, but can also lead to odors. Keeping your car clean is good for resale purposes, but a clean car is also a source of personal pride. No one wants to ride in a dirty vehicle while wondering what they may be sitting or stepping on.
So, what do you need to keep your car looking good? Here, we've rounded up the best car cleaning products to get it looking great.
Best Vacuum: Bissell Multi Auto Lightweight Lithium-Ion Cordless Hand Vacuum
It’s downright inconvenient trying to get a corded vacuum to fit into the tight spaces of your car's interior. Often, you’ll need an extension cord, and even then, there are a lot of small spaces that need to be cleaned. However, the Bissell Multi Auto Lightweight Lithium-Ion Cordless Hand Vacuum lets you leave the cord behind and get into all of those nooks and crannies.
Since it’s battery-operated and has an ergonomic, soft-grip handle design, the hand vacuum is comfortable to use at any angle. The motorized turbo brush is ideal for the vehicle’s carpet and upholstered sections, while the dusting brush is perfect for the dash and center console. LED lights even help you find debris even in dark spaces, and the included extension hose can get to the crumbs between and under seats.
Best Soap: Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash Soap
If you’re using regular liquid dish detergent to wash your car, it's time for an upgrade. Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo/Surface Cleaner is pH-balanced to safely use on vehicles without stripping the wax and sealant. In addition, it’s safe to use on vinyl, rubber, and other trim pieces.
The car shampoo removes grime and dirt and rinses clean to bring your car's shine back without ruining your wax job or protective sealant. It can be used with a pressure gun or cannon, or in just a good, old-fashioned bucket of water. The car shampoo is also safe enough to use on a weekly basis for quick touch ups between bigger detailing jobs.
Best Wax: Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax, Automobile Wax 16 oz.
A good wax job keeps your car looking good for a long time, but only if you use the right wax. Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax uses a ThinFilm technology that makes it easy to wax your car. It only requires one easy step to apply the wax, and it's fairly fuss-free.
The wax provides a barrier that keeps water from settling on your car, which can cause rusting, dullness, and stains. It also provides a glossy, mirror-like shine. The wax can be used on both clear coats and glossy paints, and won’t stain your vehicle’s trim.
Best Kit: Chemical Guys 16-Piece Arsenal Building Car Kit
Instead of buying a bunch of products separately, the Chemical Guys 16-Piece Arsenal Building Car Kit includes everything you need. The kit has a foam cannon, heavy duty detailing bucket, cyclone dirt trap, flagged tip wheel and rim brush, easy grip applicator pad, glass and window waffle weave towel, chenille microfiber scratch-free wash mitt, and three professional-grade microfiber towels.
You'll even get soap and wax, including Diablo Gel wheel and rim cleaner, Butter Wet Wax, Silk Shine for the car’s interior, Speed Wipe quick detail spray, Signature Series glass cleaner, and Honeydew Snow Foam Auto Wash Cleanser. With so many products, don't forget to read all of the instructions and make a plan before you get started on your detailing
Best Headlight Cleaner: Cerakote Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit
No one likes foggy-looking headlights and the Cerakote Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit promises to make them look new. You won’t need to use power tools or to keep applying the cleaner/restorer again every few months.
Cerakote uses a three-step process that involves applying an oxidation remover to get rid of surface oxidation, then using the prep pad and discs to remove any deep level oxidation and scratches. Finally, you apply the ceramic coating restoration wipes, and the effect is guaranteed to last as long as you own your car. It doesn’t get easier than that.
Best Cleaning Rags: Chemical Guys Chenille Premium Scratch-Free Microfiber Wash Mitt
Choosing the right cleaning towel is important. You want to effectively scrub your car without potentially scratching your car's exterior. The Chemical Guys Chenille Premium Scratch-Free Microfiber Wash Mitt is made of a microfiber blend designed to avoid scratches while still getting grit, dirt, and salt off of your car. Microfiberprovides an intensive cleaning and grabs dirt better than other materials.
Since the mitt is so big (12 x 8 inches), it can cover a large area, which allows you to finish washing the car quickly. The mitt is available in a variety of colors, including lime green, magenta, black, and blue.
Best for Leather Seats: Leather Honey Leather Conditioner & Cleaning Kit
The Leather Honey Leather Conditioner and Cleaning Kit is great for all leather goods, including your car’s interior. To start, dilute the cleaner and give your leather details a good cleaning before they're conditioned. It doesn't require much elbow grease—you just spray it and wipe it off for mildly dirty leather interiors.
The conditioner protects your leather seats, dashboards, and other leather components from cracking and keeps them feeling soft. It’s a thick liquid, but you only need a thin layer, especially if your seats are in good condition starting out. Let it dry, buff, and you won’t need to apply again for six months.
Best for Upholstered Seats: Car Guys Super Cleaner for Upholstery
Car Guys Super Cleaner for Upholstery will clean almost every surface in your car. From dusty dashboards to soiled fabric seats and carpets, just spray and wipe. For extensive cleaning, spray and scrub with a brush to remove set in stains and dirt. It can also be used on your dashboard, trim, steering wheel, and even your tires. The cleaner is safe for every surface except for glass and delicate instrument panel screens, like a touchscreen or navigation system.
Best for Ventilating: Lasko High Velocity Pro-Performance Pivoting Utility Fan
Cleaning your car can get pretty stuffy, especially in you’re in an enclosed space like a garage, and the various chemicals can produce fumes that aren't pleasant to breathe in. The Lasko High Velocity Pro-Performance Pivoting Utility Fan is designed to fit into small spaces (it’s about the size of a milk crate), and circulate air as needed.
The 10-foot power cord allows you to position the fan as needed to push stuffy air out and welcome fresh air in. The fan has three speeds and the pivoting blower head lets you point it in the desired location. The fan also includes two 120-volt accessory outlets, so you can plug additional devices into it.
How do you clean a car’s interior?
It’s as important to clean your car’s interior as the exterior. Remove the car mats to vacuum the carpets—and don’t forget to vacuum the area under the seats. Use vacuum attachments like crevice tools to clean your air vents and to reach all of the tight spaces in between the seats.
Depending on the material, use either leather or upholstery cleaner to keep your seats and other components in excellent condition. For hard surfaces, rubbing alcohol on a microfiber cloth can remove dirt, grime, and germs.
Don’t forgot to clean the windows. Some people swear by a combination of vinegar and alcohol to leave a streak-free shine. For more detailed help, see our complete guide to cleaning your car's interior.
Do car cleaning products expire?
All products expire, and the expiration date can vary by manufacturer. For example, Meguiar states that its formulations are fully effective for three to five years—as long as the container has been tightly sealed and has not been frozen.
Expiration dates can vary depending on the quality of the product, the type of product, and the storage temperature. As a general rule, if you notice a change in the product’s appearance or performance (or a rancid smell), throw it away.
How do you store car cleaning products?
Extreme heat and cold can negatively impact how long a product remains effective. It may be convenient to keep your cleaning products in the garage, but you might want to store them in another area of your home that has a more consistent temperature. The laundry room is one place to consider. A closet in your home with enough empty space might also be a better choice than the garage. Keeping all of your auto cleaning products in a plastic storage crate in a closet can make transportation much easier. If moving your products out of the garage isn’t an option, consider purchasing smaller quantities to you can use them up quickly.
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Terri Williams is a professional writer who has tested hundreds of products. She has product review bylines at Tom’s Guide, and both home improvement advice and product review bylines at Realtor.com, Bob Vila, Apartment Therapy, and Heavy.com.