"Spring cleaning" hacks for your car

March 28, 2023 by PEMCO Insurance

spring-cleaning-car-hacks-(1).pngAs you’re decluttering closets, shampooing rugs and giving your home some spring-cleaning love, don’t forget about your car! It’s slogged its way through the worst of winter’s grime and needs a little spring sparkle of its own.  

You don’t have to pay big bucks to detail a winter’s worth of crud off your car. Most likely, you already have everything you need in your pantry or garage. Check out these home car-cleaning hacks and find out who in the PNW cleans their cars the most. 

What do I need to spring clean my car at home? 

To get rid of unwanted bumper stickers, food stains, pet hair, mystery odors and more, you’ll need a stiff nylon bristle brush, toothbrush, clean paint or makeup brush, coffee filter, WD-40®, club soda, white toothpaste, white vinegar and baking soda. A bucket, carwash soap, sponge and vacuum will come in handy, too! 

How to clean your car’s interior 

Always tackle the inside of your car before doing the outside. That way, you won’t track in water from washing the car and turn dusty floor mats into muddy floor mats: 

  • Dry scrub carpet grime. Vacuum lightly (think “big chunks”) then scrub carpets with a dry nylon-bristle brush. That can loosen stuck-on grime well enough that a thorough vacuuming, rather than shampooing, may be all you’ll need! 

  • Use a clean, dry paint or makeup brush on vent grilles. Dust won’t always vacuum up completely, but a brush can whisk it out of crevices. Cotton swabs or a toothbrush can work, too, especially around grubby instrument panel buttons where you might need to put more muscle behind your scrubbing. 

  • Mix equal parts vinegar and water to remove filmy residue from windows. Just spritz and wipe. Don’t forget to roll down your windows slightly so you can get the tops, which are hidden by the door frame.   

  • Dust your dashboard and console with a dry, unused coffee filter. It won’t leave behind lint, and you can toss it in your recycle bin when you’re finished. 

  • Roll away embedded pet hair with your hand. With a damp bare or gloved hand, rub your open palm over the upholstery in a circular pattern. Soon, you’ll see curls of hair lifting out of the fiber and clumping together, which you can then just pick up. Rewet your hands and repeat as needed. Finish with a vacuum. 

  • Use club soda to fizz away food stains. Pour on enough to lightly soak the upholstery and blot it up. It’s especially good for spilled coffee, cola, and ketchup. 

How to get rid of lingering odors in your car 

These tricks can help freshen your car without a perfumy cover-up: 

  • Replace the cabin air filter. Filters clogged with dust, pollen or leaves can be a frustrating source of musty odor – and many people don’t realize their cars have a cabin air filter. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on where to find it (often, behind the glove compartment) and the replacement model needed. If you’re uncomfortable changing the filter, ask your mechanic to do it at your next service. Many manufacturers recommend annual replacement. 

  • Use vinegar and water to remove dog or car-sickness odor. Lightly spray but don’t saturate upholstery with an equal mixture of white vinegar and water (first, spot-test the cloth for colorfastness in an inconspicuous place). As the vinegar solution dries, the odor will fade. When you’re finished, place an open bowl of baking soda on the floor overnight to further absorb the odor and help the vinegar smell dissipate. 

How to clean your car’s exterior 

Before you wash your car (more on that below), pre-clean these areas: 

  • Hose down the wheel wells. That’s the dirtiest part of the car. If you save it for last, you could splash mud onto clean wheels and fenders. 

  • Use GENTLE abrasives like Bar Keepers Friend® or Bon Ami® to remove grime on alloy wheels, like those made of aluminum or magnesium. They’re less likely to scratch than steel wool or harsher abrasives. 

  • Use WD-40 spray lubricant to remove unwanted bumper stickers. Wear safety goggles and gloves and saturate the sticker with WD-40. Let it soak in for a few minutes and gently scrape off the paper bits with an old plastic spatula or credit card. Vinegar works, too, although it may take more patience. Use soapy water or rubbing alcohol to polish away any lingering adhesive residue. Studies have linked bumper stickers with road rage.  

  • De-fog headlights with toothpaste. If your headlights have grown yellow and hazy with age, try buffing them with ordinary white toothpaste (Colgate® is good). The mildly abrasive toothpaste can temporarily cut through the fog without scratching to give you clearer headlights and better visibility. You also can purchase headlight restoration kits at an automotive store. 

Should you handwash or use an automatic carwash? 

The answer’s not always as obvious as it seems (here’s a PEMCO expert talking with FOX13 News). Home washing is cheaper, but if done incorrectly, you can scratch your car’s finish. You’ll also use more water than a commercial wash, and its unmanaged runoff can wind up in local waterways. 

If you do wash it yourself: 

  • Minimize the environmental impact. Wash on gravel or grass since those surfaces help filter water rather than allowing it to run straight into storm drains. Reduce the amount of carwash soap you use (in a bucket of water, two tablespoons plus a shot of vinegar to reduce water spots is all you need). Empty leftover dirty water into a utility sink or the toilet so contaminants go to a wastewater plant for treatment. 

  • Wash in sections, starting at the roof. Prerinse each section before washing to reduce the risk of scratching. Dip your microfiber cloth or sponge in a sudsy bucket and wipe gently using straight rather than circular motions. Rinse the cloth in another bucket to keep it grit-free and change the water frequently. Hose and dry the section before moving to the next to reduce water spotting. 

  • Finish with a wax recommended for your car. Park in the shade, work in small sections, use only a thin layer and wipe in straight-lined strokes. Remove the wax with a microfiber cloth. If you’re new to waxing, watch this easy-to-follow 12-minute video from Pan the Organizer

Whose cars are the cleanest in the PNW? 

In a PEMCO Poll, 63% of drivers in the Seattle and Portland areas rated the current state of their interiors as mostly clean or spotless (67% in Seattle; 58% in Portland). 

In Seattle, men were more likely to clean their car interiors weekly than women (31% compared to 15%). In Portland, it was a toss-up at 18%. At the other end of the scale among Portland drivers, 60% clean their car interiors once a month or less. 

Parents clean their cars more often than people without kids. In Seattle, 31% of parents clean weekly. In Portland, it’s 26%. 

When asked why they don’t keep their cars cleaner, 26% of Poll respondents said they just don’t have time to clean more often. For them, these spring-cleaning hacks may be able to help! 




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