Keeping your car clean is not rocket scienceMeguiar's teaches me the basics


I love cars.

I hate cleaning cars. The greatest tool in my bag of auto writer tricks is a bottle of Meguiar’s Quick Detail spray. I find some dirt, dust, or dead bugs, squeeze the trigger, and wipe the car into a photo or video ready state. This presents an odd state where it shows that I’m too lazy to wash the car properly, but apparently ready to wipe down an entire vehicle with with Quick Detail spray.

This needs to change, and I need to know how to properly clean a car. To do this, I ventured over to the Meguiar’s HQ, which just so happens to be 15 minutes from my house. I can’t get a car that dirty on the ride over, right?

I pull into the Meguiar’s garage, and I’m greeted by a cheerful team of folks who are about to be shocked by how little I know about cleaning cars.

Meguiar’s: “Have you used clay before?” 
Me: “Is it like, actual clay? It is? Huh…”

Meguiar’s: “So, what sort of wax do you prefer, old school or synthetic?”
Me: “I’ve never even looked in the direction of wax when shopping for car bits.”

This wasn’t going to be easy for them, but they are a patient bunch who are enthusiastic about one of their favorite subjects. Another subject for the morning, however, was the $300,000 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante that I brought over for my how-to-clean schoolin’.


My day starts off in the Meguiar’s classroom. It’s myself in a chair and three teachers up at the front. This is the type of student-teacher ratio that would make many a snotty private school turn up their noses in a jealous huff. I expect to be bombarded with a bunch of ideas and methods that will have my eyes glazing over, my ears searching for different sounds, and my mouth repeating a stay barrage of “yep, uh huh, yes, oh right, sure, yep”.

Thankfully, this is not the case at all. Instead, I am presented with the core concepts of what it takes to get a car clean. It’s a simple recipe that, if followed correctly, makes life easy and helps ensure that a clean car will stay that way throughout the year (unless you live in Coldistan, America of course… sorry).

  • Wash
  • Clean
  • Polish
  • Protect
  • Maintain

Seems like a list of synonyms, but it’s not. Let’s start from the top.

Washing your car is something that should happen once a week. Use mitts, sponges, and that old two-bucket system. Avoid brushes, and definitely avoid automatic car washes and touchless systems. By diving in and washing your car with your own hands and soap and water, you’re setting yourself up to understand the rest of the ladder more closely. If you mess up this initial step, you’ll mess up the others. Start here, touch your car, and dive on in,

Next up is the actual process of cleaning your car. It sort of involves a mash-up of the clean, polish, and protect stages. When you initially wash your car, you should’ve cleaned away the basic surface grime. What’s left is the map of where you should go next. When you rub your hand over the surface of the vehicle, you’ll feel bumps,and you might also feel some depressions. This is where the magic happens…

An above surface issue will be addressed using clay. A below surface issue will be addressed using compound. The clay takes things down, and the compound build things up… it’s.that.simple.


Once the car is clean, you rub your hand over the surface of the paint. You feel it, and you figure out what to do next. If you need to clay stuff off, it’s as simple as grabbing the actual clay, molding it around to soften it up, and gently rubbing it on the car. You can rub it on the paint, the headlights, and even the glass bits. It can be reused rather often, as you simply fold it back in on itself to get a clean swath of clay.

The compound is a bit more involved. Using a dual action buffer, you rub in the compound and turn the bumpy surface back to smooth. In the past, rotary buffers were used which remain scary to this day and could easily burn through clear coat and ruin paint work. Now though, Meguiar’s offers up a dual-action tool that is simple to use and requires minimal use. Spread the compound thinly, then wipe it off with a towel.


Once you’ve figured out the car’s needs and clayed or compounded it, it’s time to protect what you’ve done and that means it’s time for wax. Wax, I learned, is an interesting area though, as there is a hard core group that stands by the idea of old school carnuba wax. It’s natural, as it comes from palm trees, and it’s still considered good. Polymer based synthetic waxes, however, are far superior in terms of protection. People debate this, but per Meguiar’s the synthetic is scientifically proven to be a better product. Still, they sell both because people swear by either.

After the waxing, we dive into maintenance. This is another surprising area. Folks who obsess about automotive cleanliness seem to think they should be waxing their machines every other week. Even the folks at Meguiar’s think that is absolutely nuts. Once you properly clean a car, you only need to do some cleanliness repetition three to four times per year. Essentially, you do the big clean once, and you do minor upkeep throughout the year.

The mantra is “Frequent car care, is easy car care”, which means that if you work hard once… you work easy the rest of the time.


Now… there are many ways to screw all of this up. The easiest way to prevent this is to actually read the label. Meguiar’s state they have a team setup to handle incoming calls simply dealing with folks who put aluminum wheel cleaner on chrome wheels, and other such issues. I saw the call room in Irvine… they really do have the people on the phones.

The number one way folks mess up with cleaning products is by simply using them wrong. It’s completely user error, and it’s an easy thing to fix. Additionally, the Meguiar’s team actually found a strong way to relate to me and get all of this into my head. What we’re dealing with here is basically a recipe for success. I brew beer, and the way to successful beer is a path of following a recipe. If you mess up an early step, you’ll mess up the final product. With cleaning a car, if you mess something up early you will not be happy with the result. You need to set your expectations of what you wan the final product to look like, follow the map to make sure you get there, and you will wind up smiling.

And it’s a whole lot easier than you’d think… I mean, I did it and I’m wildly lazy.


Even thought I’ve been rambling here for nearly 1,200 words, I’ve barely touched the surface of car care. The fun part is that it’s not as boring or scary as I initially thought. In fact, the Meguiar’s team proves just that each week because they run a car care clinic for folks to check out. Cruise by the headquarters and you could be treated to a Learn to Clean clinic. If you don’t live in the area, you can get plenty of good info online. It doesn’t have to be Meguiar’s products you are using either, as long as you’re making sure you follow each step and set your expectations accordingly.

Still, after hanging out with this team, I’m inclined to indulge in what they have to offer. They love cars, they’re passionate about clean cars, and they’re happy to share the craft. Additionally, they also enjoy some fun. After the team taught me about cleaning, they tried to teach me a thing or two about virtual racing. The Meguiar’s classroom features a virtual driving setup complete with a leader board. The game at hand was the console version of the F1 racing game by Codemasters. I had a few laps to learn the virtual COTA track from virtual Button’s car… and I wound up taking the second place spot on the board, behind the guy who LIVES and BREATHES this game on a daily basis (yeah YOU Mike!)

[Disclaimer: Meguiar’s let me come in and learn about cleaning at no cost… but you can do that too, so this isn’t much of a disclaimer, it’s more of a GO DO IT IF YOU LIVE WITHIN 50 MILES-claimer]

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