Simple Car Cleaning Solutions

Common cures for cleaning your car

Car-care product guidelines will tell you how to get road tar, bird droppings, brake pad dust and other automotive-related crunk off your vehicle. But for the things we spill, the food our kids smear, and annoying pet by-products, some the best sources for removal are adaptations on simple household tips.

Sticky Situation

One of the more ridiculous messes is chewing gum on windshields. Yes, there have been such documented cases. The gum molecules seem to bond permanently with the glass, especially on a hot day. And, face it, if a kid is going to see how far his gum will go, it's going to be on a hot day.

A simple remedy is to rub ice cubes across the gum smudge that remains after you manage to remove what you can by hand. The gum hardens and can be chipped off the window with a razor blade, much like cleaning up windows after a paint job. For more conventional window problems, such as filming on the interior glass surfaces, try water mixed with white vinegar.

Glass Act

This interior film builds up over time, often the result of smoking in the vehicle or fumes from new-car upholstery (affectionately called "new car smell"). You're usually not aware of it until you try to wipe away interior fogging on a chilly night. The household manuals suggest soaking glasses in warmed vinegar, but that, obviously, isn't an option here. Misting the solution onto the window and letting it stand is the closest thing.

The next step is scrubbing the window surface with a nylon-net or plastic scrubber often used to clean dishes. Window cleaners are usually adequate for auto windows (as long as they don't have tinting on them), then use an automotive glass cleaner instead.

Knock on Wood

If your vehicle is in the luxury or classic category and has an actual wood dash or trim, note that just like real wood furniture, they are susceptible to water stains. In a vehicle, the stains may come from condensation off the windshield, or a variation of the way furniture is water-spotted-from missed attempts at hitting the cup holder. To gently buff them off, mix baking soda and white (non-gel) toothpaste, in equal parts. Take a soft cloth, dampen it with water and dip into this pasty concoction. Buff the marks in a gentle, circular motion, just as you would a coffee or dining table. Wipe clean and buff with a clean cloth and your wood trim will look as good as new.

Fuel Spills

We're a nation of coffee drinkers. Gallons are consumed during early-morning and late-night drives. Spilling that coffee is inevitable, but there's a solution to the problem short of reupholstering your vehicle with coffee-colored material. Obviously, vinyl upholstery cleans up with water and mild soap, since the surface doesn't absorb the liquid. For cloth seats, start out with an application of cold water. Work a drop or so, depending on the size of the stain, of white dishwashing liquid into the wet stain. Rinse the area again with plain water to remove any detergent residue. If this technique still leaves a coffee shadow, mix one part white vinegar to three parts water and go after the stain again.

Cocoa Butter

Our next favorite thing: chocolate, usually in the form of a morsel that missed the mouth. Again, start by blotting the stain with cold water. Next try treating the area with laundry detergent that includes dirt-fighting enzymes. If the chocolate and your fabric upholstery have truly bonded, try going after the stain with ammonia and water in a ratio of one teaspoon of ammonia to a cup of water. Blot the area again with clear water and the stain should be gone.

Signature Style

Ballpoint pens can explode on your car seat as easily as in your breast pocket. The household tip for clothing suggests working from the back of the fabric, allowing a clean paper towel to absorb the stain. This isn't do-able on upholstery but, to at least reduce the impact of the stain, try removing the stain with cleaning fluid or dry-cleaning solvent. Keep moving the fluid-drenched towel around so the ink has the chance to absorb into a clean area.

Puppy Love

Now, the basest of all stains: pet panic. The first car trip for a young puppy and inevitably for a cat often results in vomiting, urination, or both. Pray for vomiting (which makes sense from a housekeeping standpoint). It's not much fun to clean up, but once it's gone a car deodorizer deals quickly with any residual smell.

In marked contrast, the residual odor from urine is a gift that keeps on giving-especially on warm, damp days. If Spot is kind enough to hit your rubber carpet mats, you're in luck. If he hits the upholstery or the carpet, blot up the urine with paper towels. Mix dishwashing detergent in warm water, a ration of one-teaspoon detergent to one cup water. Dab away at the stain, working from the outside in.

Do not over-saturate the area with water. Go back over the area with a clean towel and fresh water, then blot dry. Mix white vinegar in water in a one to two ratio and dab at the stain one more time, repeating the fresh-water-clean-towel rinse step and blot up as much of the moisture as you can. Let the area dry, as long as 24 hours if the stain is on the vehicle carpeting. Sprinkle with baking soda or a rug deodorizer. Let this stand on the area for a few hours then vacuum.

Chances are, your puppy will not repeat this indiscretion and will grow into a car-loving adult dog. The bad news, most cats never do and are best transported in a special carrier lined with newspaper.

Your own family transportation has probably seen stains not mentioned here, but these simple housekeeping tips should come in handy for most cleanups, so your car's interior is kept as tidy as your home.

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