Carrying spring cleaning to the car

Eric Zelz | BDN
Posted March 25, 2011, at 11:29 p.m.

Curtains float in the rain-scented breeze entering the house to mute the zest of Lysol. A few dust bunnies have appeared in the sun of a warmer season, but spring cleaning is really just spring freshening.

You’ve been inside with your cleaning supplies all winter. Maybe it’s time to take the hand vacuum outside and offer it a real challenge — one that sits in your driveway.

It’s coated with mud, filled with soda bottles and is there carpeting under that gravel? Apart from the many times you’ve kicked the icicles from the bottom of its frame, your vehicle has been neglected.

Who could blame you for not dusting the dashboard in subzero temperatures? But the sunny days are here — or near, at least.

Clean the exterior

A dirty car isn’t visually appealing to the driver or anyone else. You feel better driving a clean car. But most of all, cleaning the exterior of a car preserves the condition of the paint.

“Salt is the worst. It really dries out paint,” said Randy Tower, assistant manager of Deane’s Car Care in Bangor. “And when the roads are slushy, your car is sandblasted constantly by the tires kicking up rocks and dirt and sand and salt. It just beats the paint down.”

Spring muck is emerging. It doesn’t seem like the best time to wash a car when it will just get dirty again, but that’s similar to saying you shouldn’t take a shower because you plan to go to the gym tomorrow.

“When you’re cleaning the exterior, you’re removing all of the grime and putting on a fresh coat of wax that prevents things clinging to the vehicle,” said Cameron Lynch, head detailer at Bangor Tire Co. “Any time of year is a great time of year [to wash your car].”

In fact, early spring is ideal for hauling out the soap bucket and hose because the surface of the car is usually cool. If the car’s surface is hot, the soapsuds will dry too quickly, staining the surface and requiring another wash.

First, make sure to soak your vehicle to remove heavy contaminants. Then, using a mild, diluted liquid soap or an automotive cleaner, wash the vehicle in sections with a sponge or car wash mitt, starting from the roof and working down to prevent rinsing dirt onto clean sections. And rinse the vehicle more than you think you should.

Use a different mitt or sponge to clean tires and rims in order to reduce the chance of scratching your vehicle’s paint with dirt you might pick up from those areas.

Dry your car with a chamois to prevent water spots. Then it’s time to add a coat of wax to make the paint shine like new and protect it against Maine’s muddy spring roads.

“Everyone should have a good wax or paint sealant put on their car a couple of times a year,” said Tower.

If the prospect of waxing doesn’t appeal to you, a full exterior detail at Deane’s Car Care and Bangor Tire Company costs about $100, and other auto shops offer similar prices. They wash the car with soap, run a clay bar over the surface of the car to decontaminate the paint and remove tar, buff out the fine scratches and coat the surface with polymer sealant or carnauba wax.

Clean the interior

A green, pine-scented cardboard tree swaying from your rearview mirror doesn’t equal a clean (and healthy) vehicle interior. Drivers usually are looking at the road — we hope — so passengers probably are the most bothered by clutter and grime. Spare them.

First, get out a trash bag — or two. Separate belongings in your vehicle from trash. You would be amazed at the items hiding in the 6-inch-high space beneath your seats. Empty every compartment. Look over your belongings and decide whether a tent, five pairs of shoes and sparklers from last Fourth of July are necessary vehicle inventory. It makes sense to keep a blanket, flashlight, jumper cables and roll of duct tape in the trunk, but a vehicle isn’t an extra closet.

“Most people don’t have the facilities and the time and the energy to clean their cars right,” Tower said. “People say they can do it, but when it comes down to it, do you want to spend your whole Saturday and Sunday to get your car nice and clean?”

Good question. Some advice: Whatever music you listen to when you work out, listen to when you give your four-wheeled pal a deep clean, because it’s going to take some elbow grease. A toothbrush just might be the best tool to get at those hard-to-reach places.

Deane’s Car Care is confronted with a lot of coffee stains, and they’re tough to get out, especially if the customers take their coffee with cream, said Tower. Black coffee comes out a lot easier. That’s just one of the things you learn in the detailing business.

Melted chocolate is also a detailer’s bane, according to Lynch of Bangor Tire. And dog hair is tough to remove as well.

Gum remover freezes gum and waxy substances, so they can be scraped off easily.

It’s nasty but makes sense: the dirtiest places in your vehicle are the places you touch most often: the steering wheel, seat belt, shifting knob, door panels and seats. You can clean your seat belt with diluted laundry soap and the dashboard and panels with diluted all-purpose soap, according to cartalk.com. Heavily diluted vinegar eliminates smells.

Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum

If you’d like every crack and crevice power-blasted with air, the seats and carpets shampooed with an industrial cleaner and the plastics conditioned with protection from ultraviolet light, pay for interior detailing, which usually ranges from $25-$150 at a professional detailer.

“The car has become an article of dress,” said Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) in his book “Understanding Media,” explaining how technology has become an extension of the human body. A vehicle isn’t just a tool for travel. For many people, it’s a medium in which to express themselves, just like in the way they style their hair or choose their wardrobe.

So, rather than wearing a shirt of road salt and a soda bottle hat, start spring wearing (driving) something shiny and fresh.

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