Supplies and recommendations:
These products are recommended. I’ve stripped this down to the minimum needed for at-home upkeep. These are professional products chosen for their cost-effectiveness, quality, and availability/compliance of safety data sheets from the manufacturer. I recommend avoiding flashy, social media and marketing driven brands, and buzzwords. Ceramic coatings and other "ceramic" products are costly, have safety considerations, and provide little benefit that regular cleaning and maintenance wouldn't. While I do opt to apply a SiO2 product professionally, it is more expensive, is risky to apply in direct sunlight, and requires PPE to be worn. Meguiars and Griot's detailing products are generally quality choices in common retail stores if ordering online isn’t an option. These links ARE affilate links and purchasing from them assists me. I truly use and recommend these specific products. I appreciate your support!
3D 202 Pink Soap (PH balanced, no unwanted gloss agents, waxes, or fillers): https://amzn.to/3lSawgO
P&S Acid-Free Wheel Cleaner: https://amzn.to/3ZqOgbm
Meguiars Ultimate Quik Detailer: https://amzn.to/3o2iG7q
P&S Xpress Interior Detailer: https://amzn.to/40sYwl4
Invisible Glass: https://amzn.to/3zfT4Wz
Microfiber towels (I use similar costco bulk microfiber towels- bright colors recommended to show dirt): https://amzn.to/3lP2V2u
Grit guard for buckets: https://amzn.to/3svvWUr
Clean 5-6 gallon bucket (I prefer white food-safe buckets from the orange or blue hardware store, they show dirt better than other color buckets and are often more durable)
Never clean or “dust” your vehicle with a dry towel or “cali” duster. Always use a lubricant like soap and water, a waterless wash or even detail spray when touching up trouble spots. Using a dry cloth on paint will create fine swirl marks and scratches, sometimes referred to as “love marks”. Towel dry with clean microfiber only - never use a squeegee or anything that could drag contaminates across the paint. Natural and synthetic chamois/”shammy” drying towels are not safe for drying vehicles.
During driving months, I recommend doing a hand wash at least monthly. Spot treat any bird droppings or other contaminates immediately with spray detailer and a clean microfiber. Car covers can introduce fine swirls and scratches. Cleaning after indoor storage is preferable to polishing from car cover damage. "All weather" covers without a soft-touch lining can be preferable, as they do not hang onto dirt. Daily drivers may need more frequent rinsing or washing.
If you must use an automatic car wash, touchless-only is recommended, though they have some downsides and may strip existing waxes or coatings with harsher detergents and degreasers. DIY pressure washer booths are preferred. Home wash and care is best. Automatic ‘touch’ washes can retain the dirt and debris of previous vehicles in their brushes and microfiber fingers, causing damage and swirl marks. Request that dealers/auto shops not wash the exterior of your vehicle.
Avoid parking where sap and debris is a concern, when possible. Windshield reflectors may not keep your car much cooler, but can prevent or reduce UV damage to your dashboard/interior.
Hand Wash Instructions:
Wash & dry microfiber towels with free & clear laundry detergent before use (even new towels) in a load by themselves. Place 12-16 microfiber towels (one for each body panel plus extra) in a clean, empty bucket (with grit guard if available). Fill with water and 1oz of soap until towels are covered and saturated. Ensure all towels are wet and soapy. Have an empty bucket or bin for "spent" towels handy.
Give your vehicle a thorough rinse, ensuring to spray the undercarriage, and clear any "gutters" or drains, hood cowl and hinges, trunk jam, and inside your fuel door. If you have a capless fuel filler, hand wash only while the fuel door is open, no hose. Spray, and rinse your wheels with wheel cleaner, let it sit for a minute, then rinse.
Start with the roof. Take one towel, clean one panel with it, ensuring to use much of the water and soap held by the towel. Work top to bottom on each panel cleaning the lowest and dirtiest areas last. When finished with that panel, wring out and set the towel in your "spent" bucket to be laundered. This process reduces risk of damage from cross-contamination of debris between panels. If you drop a towel, immediately place it in the spent bucket and do not use it until laundered again, and inspected for debris. Remaining towels may be used for hand wheel, tire, or exhaust tip cleaning. Towels used for this purpose will likely be stained and should only be used for wheel/tire cleaning moving forward. I do not recommend dressings or tire shine for average at-home maintenance.
Dry with clean microfiber towels. Prior to drying, it’s beneficial to throw a few light spritzes of a detail spray onto your drying towel to add lubrication. This reduces any risk of fine scratches. You may need multiple microfiber towels to dry your vehicle. If towels touch the ground, cease use of them until laundered and inspected for next time. When dry, apply a more liberal amount of spray detailer on a clean microfiber towel and wipe onto the paint surface. Do not spray directly on the paint surface, especially in direct sunlight. Save lower areas of the vehicle that may have minor road debris remaining until last. Use of a spray detailer on headlights can prolong their life before a lens restoration is needed or after a restoration is performed. Modern spray detailers can offer better protection than traditional waxes with easy upkeep. “Ceramic”, SiO2, or Siloxane products have safety considerations and should only be applied professionally or after consulting the manufacturer safety data sheet and application instructions. I clean windows with glass cleaner and clean microfiber towels or paper towels. Avoid scented, dyed, or “natural”/alternative glass cleaners to ensure a streak free result. Invisible glass is tint/film-safe.
Your interior can be cleaned with simple vacuuming and an interior detail spray with a clean microfiber towel. Dollar store makeup brushes can be great for cleaning vents and other hard to reach areas. A microfiber towel wrapped around chopsticks, wood bbq skewers, or detail brush handles, can be helpful for getting into tight corners.
Washing with water restrictions or apartment living:
You have options! An inexpensive garden sprayer and waterless wash solution can help you keep your car clean. This replaces the hand wash process, but applying a sealant afterward is still recommended.
Garden Sprayer: https://amzn.to/3rvgt5U (Harbor Freight has an inexpensive one that will work fine)
Optimum No-Rinse: https://amzn.to/47tWpRa
Mix one ounce of ONR to 2 gallons of water in your sprayer. Use the sprayer to apply the waterless wash solution to your vehicle, working top to bottom, panel by panel, starting with the roof. Quickly wipe the solution off with a microfiber as you spray. Use a new microfiber towel for each panel, or more frequently when visibly dirty. It may be best to spot treat any bird droppings or other significant contamination before doing the rest of the vehicle. Heavy soiling will require prior rinsing with a hose or DIY pressure car wash booth. You do not need a foaming sprayer, though it may provide more work time as you spray the solution on your panel.