Tips for Keeping a Car Clean in Seattle

Category: News. Written by Dave Andriesen 

hand_car_wash_spongeIf you’re a Northwesterner trying to explain the Northwest experience to someone who doesn’t live here, here’s a fact that always seems to et a raised eyebrow:

People here wash their cars in the rain.

Someone from Los Angeles might think that’s insane, but if you’re from Seattle you think nothing of seeing someone at the car wash during a winter drizzle. If it’s rained for two solid weeks and is going to rain for two more, sometimes you just have to wash off the gunk and start over.
A clean car not only makes you feel better, it protects your car’s resale value — something that might be of particular interest right now, as people might be holding onto cars a little longer. Particularly with older cars, clean vs. dirty can make a huge difference in sale price.

One local used car dealer estimated you can get up to 25 percent more for a car that looks and smells clean, and people can tell the difference between a car that was kept clean all along and one that got a hasty carpet shampoo before the “for sale” sign went up.
If you’re car shopping and you get into a car that smells like it’s been housing wet chinchillas, or notice a shady rectangle on the rear carpet from when a child left a Fudgesicle on it in 1996, does that attract you to the car? On the other hand, if a car feels like it’s been taken care of on the outside, you tend to assume the previous owner also took care of it mechanically.

The best choice for washing is generally a top-flight commercial car wash like Brown Bear. They take the extra step of recycling their water, which has a huge impact on the environment. Places like Brown Bear also have special brushes, wiping cloths, and cleansers. All are gentle products designed specifically for the exterior of most cars, because they have to be.

But it’s a financial commitment to have your car professionally cleaned often, so even though many major car manufacturers advise against hand washing, some people will choose the do-it-yourself option at least sometimes. Following a few guidelines can make the process more effective, easier and more environmentally friendly.
• Don’t wash your car in the driveway or on the street. Storm drains feed directly into rivers, lakes and the ocean — which means all the soapy byproducts of your washing end up there, too. Most people wouldn’t dream of dumping a bucket of soapy water into Puget Sound, but it’s literally the same thing to wash the car in the driveway. If you must wash at home, choose biodegradable car wash liquids or make your own using eco-friendly dish or laundry soaps. And it’s better to wash your car on your lawn than on the concrete — the waste water does less damage filtering down through your soil than flowing into the storm drain.

• Keep your wash mitts and rags clean. If grit and bits of debris build up on the implement you use to scrub the car, you may as well be polishing your car’s paint with sandpaper. It causes visible swirl marks and breaks down wax. Run those mitts and rags through the washing machine after every use.

• Wash early or wash late. Most people know not to apply wax in direct sunlight, but you shouldn’t wash under those conditions either, especially if the weather is warm. It causes spotting from the cleanser that can be damaging and permanent.

• Rinse, rinse, rinse. One of the cautions against home washing is that water pressure from your hose isn’t strong enough to adequately rinse off cleansers, which build up and hurt the finish. Put that sprayer on full blast and give it an extra once-over.

• Test your interior cleaners first. There are so many types of cleaners, and so many kinds of upholstery, leather and plastic, that you can’t assume a product won’t damage your surfaces. Test on an inconspicuous area first, and when using spray cleaners, spray on the rag to apply rather than spraying directly on the surface. Especially when it’s sunny, that can leave spots that are difficult or impossible to remove.

• Remove odors, don’t pile on more. We’ve all known the guy who has a dozen of those little air freshener trees hanging from the rear view mirror of a car that smells sickeningly of vanilla or pina colada. People often do this thinking (wrongly) that it will cover up that the occupants smoke in the car. Piling your car full of air fresheners, or spraying a blast of cherryscent in it at the self-serve car wash, doesn’t make it smell clean. Think of air fresheners like cologne — a little can be complimentary,but a lot just makes you stink.

In general, don’t add “good” scents, work on taking away bad ones.Have the upholstery steam cleaned. Use a small vacuum attachment to get debris, mold and grime out of the air vents. Regularly spray Febreze on cloth upholstery and headliners. If you can’t get floor mats sufficiently clean, consider replacing them. And each time you gas up the car, use the time while the pump is running to clean out any garbage that has accumulated. Moldering food wrappers and soda cans are a big source of bad car smells.

Also, don’t use your car to house wet chinchillas. That’s just common sense.


Dave Andriesen is a former Seattle P-I sports reporter. His stories can been seen on as a contributing writer.

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5 Responses to “Tips for Keeping a Car Clean in Seattle”

  1. car care tips on May 12th, 2011 5:42 pm

    Proper tips on washing cars will really help your car improve its condition. The performance of your car will be improved if given the best care. Once car is clean not only outside but as well as the inside part of it really attracts. Thanks for the informative post.

  2. Detail Doctor on July 9th, 2013 10:09 am

    Knowing the do’s and don’ts when washing a car seems to make a difference. Thanks for the tips.

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