How to Spring-Clean (Wash and Detail) a Car

When you think of spring cleaning, you probably think of your home. But what about your car? It has served you well all winter long. It’s been through the mud, the snow, sleet, sand, and salt. It needs a good spring clean, too!

young woman washing her car

You could take your car to a professional car detailer and spend $150 or more to get it cleaned up for Spring. Or you can keep the cash and do it yourself.

How to Wash and Detail a Car

You will need:

✅  trash can

✅  full-size vacuum

✅  window cleaner

✅  soft brush

✅  stiff brush

✅  car wash detergent

✅  upholstery cleaner (recipe below)

✅  leather cleaner (as needed)

✅  water hose or pressure washer

✅  sponge

✅  microfiber mitt

✅  microfiber towels

✅  car wax

Step 1

Pick a Location

You want to choose a place for this major car washing event where you will have plenty of room on all sides of the car. The middle of the driveway is a good choice. Or, if easily accessible, the lawn or in another open space. If your only option is to park the car at the curb in the street, it is not ideal, but we can make that work.

Step 2

Open the Doors

All of them—including the trunk, the glove box, center console, too. Exception: You won’t be dealing with the engine so keep the hood closed.

Step 3

Everything out

Remove everything from every nook and cranny. Move everything out! Put all of the safety equipment needed for changing a tire and other emergencies in one area of the lawn or driveway. While you do that, make sure that the spare tire is in good working order.

As you remove things from the interior and trunk, deposit obvious trash into the trash can. In another pile, place things that don’t belong in the car and need to be taken to the house later—ditto for items that should find their permanent storage place in the garage.

Group like items that will be returned and stored in the car in another area. You’re going to love seeing how few things land in this pile.

Limit the items you will keep in the glove box to the Owner’s Manual, vehicle registration (required to be kept in the vehicle), service records, and other pertinent information to the car’s operation. Everything else should go into the trash (if not needed) or in a safe place in the house.

Step 4

Remove the seats (optional)

This is a biggie, and if appropriate for your vehicle, the best thing you can do for this Spring Clean event. With most cars, this is doable. In newer models, while the seats are made to be removed easily, they may have electrical components and sensors. Be careful! Read your owner manual first. If you do not find specific step-by-step instructions for removing the seats and then safely re-installing them, skip this step.

Step 5

Vacuum your brains out

Using a full-size vacuum (as opposed to a car vac that plugs into a 12-volt outlet, or another model that doesn’t have great suction), with its hose and attachments—especially the crevice tool—vacuum the inside of the car like you have never vacuumed before.

Vacuum s-l-o-w-l-y, taking all the time you need to remove every smidgen of sand, salt, French fry, candy, grit, and debris out of that carpet. Empty the vacuum’s dirtbag or container, and give it a second go-round.

Step 6

Clean the carpet

Using your favorite carpet stain treatment and cleaning detergent, scrub clean the carpet in the car and trunk. Use a stiff brush. Work out the stubborn stains. Blot up as much of the dirty water as you can with a microfiber towel, then use clean, cool water to rinse. Blot again until dry to the touch.

Allow the carpet to air dry with the doors open. Follow with another good vacuuming.

Step 7

Wash the interior

Use your favorite all-purpose cleaner to clean the vinyl walls, doors, and dashboard—all but the “headliner” (ceiling). Get into all the cracks, grooves, and crevices.

Use a cotton swab or soft brush around knobs and handles. Wipe dry with a good, damp microfiber towel. This will be so much easier if you’ve safely removed the seats. If not, endure the challenge. Get in there and clean up a storm!

Step 8

Wash the inside windows

Clean the windows inside with a good window cleaner and a clean, damp microfiber cloth or paper towels.

window cleaning
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
5 from 4 votes

All-Purpose Homemade Window Cleaner

You won't find a better window, glass, and mirror cleaner than this recipe for making it yourself. Bonus: It's super cheap!
Prep Time5 mins
Total Time5 mins
Course: DIY Household Cleaners, Make Your Own
Cuisine: Housekeeping
Servings: 20 ounces
Author: Mary Hunt


  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • ¼ cup isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol See NOTES
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 5 drops dishwashing liquid See NOTES
  • 2 cups water


  • Combine all ingredients in a good 24-ounce (or larger) spray bottle.
  • Label clearly.
  • Shake well before use.


1. Can't find rubbing alcohol? You can substitute with denatured alcohol, which you can find in the paint aisle of any good home improvement store. Can't find that either? You can substitute rubbing alcohol with gin or vodka.
2. Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid is the best because of its grease-cutting attributes.


Step 9

Clean the upholstery

Tackle the upholstered seats by vacuuming them thoroughly. If your seats are leather, use a leather cleaner or conditioner recommended by the manufacturer or my favorite, KevianClean. If cloth, use a good upholstery cleaner or make it yourself.

Step 10


If removed, reinstall the seats. Return the emergency equipment to the trunk, the instructional books, and required documentation to the glove box.

Spray your favorite air freshener, and close the doors and windows.

Step 11

Wash exterior

If you have removed floor mats, now is the time to scrub them clean. If yours are vinyl and now covered with winter’s salt stains, remove that with a 50-50 solution of water and white vinegar. Rinse well and allow to air dry.

Wash the outside of the car using a bucket of warm water and a tablespoon or two Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. Use a microfiber mitt to get all the dirt loose. Clean the wheels with a brush and or sponge.

Using the hose or a pressure washer, rinse well and wipe dry with clean, damp microfiber cloths.

Last, clean the outside windows with your favorite glass and mirror cleaner. Polish dry with a damp microfiber cloth.

Step 12

Wax the exterior

If you’re up to it, now would be a great time to wax the car with your favorite brand of car wax, following the instructions on the container.


There you go. A fresh, beautiful, Spring-Cleaned car!


Print Recipe Pin Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Homemade Upholstery Cleaner

You could go to the store and buy a good upholstery cleaner, or keep the cash and make it yourself! This quick and easy recipe is surprisingly effective. Use it to hand clean or machine clean spots and stains on upholstered furniture.
Cook Time15 mins
Cooling down30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Housekeeping, Upholstery Cleaning
Cuisine: How-To
Servings: 8 cups (approx)


  • 6 tbsp grated Fels Naptha Laundry Bar Soap
  • 2 tbsp borax
  • 2 cups boiling water


  • Place the Fels Naptha, borax, and boiling water in the mixing bowl.
  • Using the egg beater to whisk, carefully mix until all ingredients are dissolved and well incorporated.
  • Allow to sit on the counter for about 30 minutes, or until cool enough that the mixture begins to gel.
  • Using an egg beater, whisk, or electric mixer, whip the mixture until it looks like whipped cream or shaving cream. It will start out bubbly but then become foam.
  • Transferred the remaining amount of foamy cleaner to a food storage bowl with a tight lid and store in a cupboard.


If you don't want to make more cleaner than you need for a specific job, you can easily cut this recipe in half: 3 tbsp grated Fels Nathpa, 1 tbsp borax, and 1 cup boiling water.



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4 replies
  1. Robin Lundy says:

    A question for Mary: In the “list of items needed,” car wash detergent is listed. In the list of steps, it says to make the exterior detergent using water and Dawn. We have often wondered if Dawn was safe to use in a car wash solution. It looks like it is, but you could you please confirm that? Thank you!

  2. Michael J Schwietzer says:

    5 stars
    One thing to add is to clean the wheel wells. If you live in a northern climate or a dusty environment, they can get really dirty. A spring cash wash, once the salt is gone, can help with the underbody.

  3. Cally Ross says:

    I duct tape a sturdy drinking straw to the vacuum hose and get in those tiny nooks and crannies, using an old toothbrush to loosen anything stuck on. just a teeny OCD… 😉


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