After years of washing, waxing and turning wrenches on cars and bikes, I’ve got a good feel for what works and what doesn’t. The latest “miracle glaze” polish usually doesn’t look as good or last as long as a good-old-fashioned hand waxing, and I’ve given up trying new cleaners for wheels or preservatives for tires. I know the brands I trust, so I stick with them: ironically, sometimes the best products aren’t even designed for use on cars. Below are five things you probably have around the house today that can serve double-duty when cleaning, polishing or wrenching on cars.
Lemon Pledge Furniture Polish
If you have painted steel wheels on your car, especially black ones, you know how hard it is to keep them looking good. One automatic car wash and the paint takes on an utterly craptastic matte finish, and no automotive product seems to make much of a difference. Lemon Pledge furniture polish, on the other hand, works like a champ, is easy to use and leaves your wheels smelling lemony fresh (and really, who doesn’t like lemony fresh wheels?). It holds up pretty well, and one spray can seems to last for a dozen or so washes.
Bon Ami Non-Abrasive Cleanser
If you live in the Northeast, you know what kind of funk builds up on your windshield. All year long, the glass gets covered with oil, dirt, rubber and asphalt, and in the winter you can add road salt to that mix. Over time, the accumulated film renders wiper blades, even new ones, all but useless. Want a clean windshield? Wet a sponge and sprinkle some Bon Ami non-abrasive cleanser on it. Gently scrub your windshield, rinsing the sponge and using more cleanser as needed. When you’re done, flush the windshield with clean water, then add a couple coats of Rain-X and enjoy a windshield you can actually see out of.
Have you ever read the label on a spray bottle of wheel cleaner? I’m fairly certain that new uranium fuel rods come with fewer warnings, which is just one reason I stopped using the stuff (the absurdly high price was the other). Instead, I use Simple Green, which isn’t bad for the environment (at least compared to wheel cleaner), is relatively inexpensive and works as well as the fancy stuff. Start with cold wheels, then rinse well with water to remove surface dirt. Spray a liberal amount of Simple Green on your wheel and let sit for a minute or two. Next, scrub with a soft-bristled wheel brush and flush with plenty of water. Repeat on the other wheels, then use the money you saved to buy a better six pack of beer (remember: think globally, drink locally).
No matter how careful you are, it’s simply not possible to avoid getting car polish into places it doesn’t below. That list is a lengthy one, but it includes car logos, taillight lenses and black plastic trim, to name but a few. The best way to get dried polish off these surfaces? Scrub gently with a soft-bristled tooth brush. A generic brand toothbrush is a lot cheaper than a black plastic trim restorer, and in my experience it works equally well. Just make sure you keep the toothbrush you use for cleaning parts (another handy tip) separate from the one you use to detail your car.
Heat guns aren’t just for removing paint and accidentally setting fire to your eaves; they can be used (with care) to keep you car looking its best as well. Has the once-black plastic trim on your car faded to a dull gray? A few minutes going over the trim with a heat gun on the low setting should restore it to its former glory, but be sure to use a consistent motion and not leave the heat gun in one spot for too long. Heat guns can also be used to remove old decals and bumper stickers from your car, but the same warning applies: a little heat goes a long way.
If I’ve got those five tips, I’m sure you have some of your own. Do you use leftover flank steak to restore your windshield wipers? Brut aftershave as an octane booster? Probably not (and I wouldn’t encourage you to try either one), but let’s hear your tips anyway.