Car Cleaning Hacks: The all-natural cleaning craze has yet to reach car maintenance on a commercial level, but you can get ahead of the curve with these easy and effective DIY tips and recipes that’ll help save the environment and your wallet.
Vacuum before you dust. In the house, you typically dust first, then vacuum, but the car is different. Since it’s such a small, cramped space, you’ll get the job done faster if you remove all the dry dirt and hair from the dash, seats, and floors first. That way, you can just suck up the dirt quickly instead of struggling to clean it up with a cloth.
Clean hard-to-reach areas with various things you already have around the house. Clean, dry paint or makeup brushes pull double duty to remove dust from air vents. A small, damp painting sponge, cotton balls, and cotton swabs work great on stubborn dirt. If these areas are really dusty, follow along with a vacuum to catch the dirt and dust right away as you clean.
Start cleaning at the top to work more efficiently. Work from top to bottom so you won’t have to clean a surface more than once.
Brush the carpet to loosen dirt the vacuum may leave behind. Use a stiff brush to loosen dirt before vacuuming. Even large industrial vacuums can have a difficult time picking up dirt embedded in those tight carpet fibers.
Keep the car tidy with a plastic cereal container. Use a plastic cereal container as a trash can to keep your car clean, then empty it when you reach a gas station or get home. This tip is especially helpful for long drives.
Protect your cup holders with cupcake liners. Cleaning stuck-on messes in your cup holders can be difficult and time consuming. Prevent the mess by lining them with silicone cupcake liners that are much easier to remove and clean.
Keep reusable wipes on hand to clean messes instantly. Citrus essential oils clean and condition car surfaces, and the all-natural cleaning solution is mild and safe enough to clean hands. These wipes are essential for car trips!
11/2 cups water
1/2 cup vodka
3 tablespoons liquid Castile soap or Sal Suds
30 drops lemon essential oil
30 drops orange oil
Washcloths or other soft fabric squares
1-quart glass Mason jar (widemouthed jars work best for easy access)
- Mix the ingredients in a Mason jar or other glass container with a lid. Screw the lid on tight, and shake well to combine.
- Add as many washcloths as you can fit into the container. You should be able to fit at least 6 regular-sized washcloths. Old cut-up towels and T-shirts also work well. Replace the lid, and shake again to wet the cloths.
- To use, remove a cloth, wring out the excess cleaning liquid back into the container, and wipe surfaces clean. When the washcloths get dirty, launder with other cleaning towels, and reuse.
Prevent stains on upholstery with seat covers. Do you have pets or kids, or just a messy partner? Protect your car’s upholstery—and its resale value—by using washable seat covers.
Clean your windows last. Since dirty windows can be a safety hazard, it’s even more important to get car windows as clean as possible. Leave the windows for last to ensure they don’t get marked up while you wipe down other surfaces.
Don’t forget the top edges of windows. Roll down your windows just a little bit to reveal the dirt around the top edges. Wipe clean.
Shine your car lights with vodka and pantyhose. Keeping your headlights clean and polished will help you see and make you more visible to other drivers. Spray your lights with vodka, then buff clean with pantyhose.
Use a DIY spray for streak-free windows. With all the grease and grime from the road, your car’s windows may need some extra cleaning power, and this easy homemade spray cleaner is sure to do the trick! Mix 1 cup of water, 1 cup of vodka, and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in a spray bottle, and shake to combine. Spray windows inside and out, then wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.
Clean your headlights with toothpaste. Put a dab of plain white toothpaste on a cloth, rub it on your headlights, then wipe clean to make them crystal clear.
Remove light upholstery stains with baking soda. Make a paste with 3 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of water, and apply it to your car’s upholstery. Scrub to remove dirt and stains, let it air-dry, then vacuum up the residue. This method will neutralize funky odors too!
Mix tough stains with a DIY maximum-strength upholstery cleaner. If your upholstery is badly stained, white vinegar and baking soda may not be enough to get it all out. This recipe brings out the toughest options—borax and Castile soap—to get out the most stubborn stains in no time!
2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons borax
3 tablespoons grated soap (I like to use Castile soap)
8–10 drops essential oil (optional—try pine essential oil for a traditional car smell or peppermint to improve alertness and mental clarity)
- Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, and stir gently until the soap dissolves. Add 8–10 drops of your favorite essential oils, if desired, to make your car smell nice.
- Take a stiff scrub brush, dip it in your cleaner, and scrub messes out of seats, floor mats, and carpeting. Wipe clean with a damp cloth, dipping the cloth in a bucket of clean water, as needed. Allow upholstery to air-dry completely.
Rinse your car before washing to prevent scratches. If you start washing your car without rinsing it first, you’ll just grind in the dirt that’s on the surface of the car, and you may ruin your paint finish.
Use two buckets to get your car really clean. Use one bucket for soapy water and the other for clean rinse water. After you scrub your car with a microfiber mitt or cloth, dunk it in the rinse water before grabbing the suds again so you won’t fill your soapy water with grease and grime.
Shine up your dash with olive oil. Use a dab of olive oil to polish your car’s vinyl and leather surfaces and keep them from cracking.
Save money and the environment with DIY all-natural car wash concentrate.
1/4 cup dish soap
1/4 cup baking soda
1-gallon jug with a twist-top lid
- Add the dish soap and baking soda, then fill the jug the rest of the way with water. Shake to combine.
- To use, shake again to mix, and add 1 cup per 2 gallons of warm water. Clean your car’s exterior with the solution and a microfiber mitt or cloth.
Wash your car when it’s cool to prevent streaks. When you wash your car’s exterior when it’s warm from driving or sitting in direct sunlight, you may be left with a splotchy, streaked finish. To combat this, try to wash your car after it’s cooled from driving or when the sun isn’t so high in the sky.
Ditch the sponge to prevent scratches. Sponges can hold on to dirt as they clean, and all that embedded dirt can scratch your car. Use a microfiber mitt or cloth to clean instead. Unlike sponges, microfiber lets dirt fall away easily every time you rinse.
Make a gentle scrub sponge with pantyhose. Put your sponge in a pair of pantyhose to scrub your car without scratching.
Wax your car a couple times a year to keep it cleaner longer. When a car is protected with wax, dust and dirt lift away easily. Plus, it helps protect the paint job.
Dry your car after washing to prevent water marks. Leaving your car to air-dry after washing or driving around when the car is still wet can cause water marks and streaks to form. To prevent this, dry your car with a microfiber towel or other absorbent, soft cloth, being careful not to pick up any dirt that may scratch your car’s paint.
Use baking soda and essential oils for an easy DIY air freshener.
1/2 cup baking soda
8–10 drops essential oil
1-pint Mason jar
- Stir the ingredients to combine. Poke 4–5 small holes in the lid with a nail, and pop the jar in a cup holder to keep your car smelling fresh and clean.
- Replace the mixture every month.
Buff wax with a microfiber towel. Wipe the wax in a circular motion, and refold the cloth as you wipe, so you’re always using a fresh, clean cloth. Replace the cloth once the first one is covered in wax.
Wash your car’s exterior with hair conditioner for a freshly waxed look. Get that clean, waxed look without all the work of applying car wax by washing your car with hair conditioner that contains lanolin.
Remove tough back-road messes with cream of tartar. Cut through greasy, grimy windshield messes from driving on back roads by sprinkling your windshield with cream of tartar. Scrub the windshield with soapy water, and rinse thoroughly.
Clean your windshield in a pinch with feminine hygiene products. Did you run out of windshield washer fluid and just happen to have some sanitary napkins on hand? Rub your windshield vigorously with the pad to get it nice and clean until you can replace the washer fluid.
Remove tar and sap from your car with mayonnaise. Cover the stain with mayo, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Wipe clean with a cloth or paper towel.
Use a squeegee to clean pet hair from upholstery. Spray pet hair lightly with plain water or natural cleaning spray if that’s what you have on hand, then wipe it up with a squeegee.
Clean stuck-on bugs with baking soda. Make a paste with baking soda and water, and apply it to your car’s grille. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then scrub with a moist sponge.
Eliminate stickers with ease. Use a plastic putty knife to scrape off stickers without scratching. Clean up any sticky residue with the DIY gunk remover mentioned earlier in this chapter.
Deep clean your windshield wipers to prevent streaks. When your wipers are dirty, they’ll streak the glass instead of cleaning. Lift the wipers away from the windshield, and spray them with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. Wipe clean with a cloth or paper towels, and lower them into place.
Prevent your car’s paint from rusting with clear nail polish. Coat small scratches, dents, and wear in your car’s paint with clear nail polish to keep these weak spots from spreading and rusting.
Melt ice instantly with homemade deicer spray. Mix 1 cup of water and 1 cup of vodka in a spray bottle, and shake to combine. Spray windshields and locks to melt ice quickly and naturally.
Stop a crack in your windshield with clear nail polish. Move your car into the shade, and paint the crack with clear nail polish on both sides of the glass. You will still need to replace the windshield, but this trick should buy you some time.
Make your own inexpensive and effective natural windshield washer fluid. Mix 4 cups of water, 3 cups of vodka, and 2 teaspoons of natural dish soap in a 1-gallon jug with a screw-top lid. Shake to combine, then add to the washer fluid reservoir.
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