How To Spot Clean Your Car Exterior

Most people think that washing their car every couple of months is enough.

The truth is, spot cleaning your car is more important for keeping your paint looking fresh.

When your car gets covered in contamination, the best thing you can do is clean it off straight away.

Bird bombs, bug guts, tar and many other things become much harder to wash off the longer you wait.
Some even become embedded in the paint.

The best products to use for spot cleaning the exterior of a car is waterless wash or quick detailer. You should carry these in your trunk along with some microfiber towels so you can clean contaminants from your car on the go.

What you’ll need to spot clean your car

You don’t need much to spot clean your car. In theory, it can be done with water and a microfiber towel.

I’d recommend buying Meguiars Ultimate Quik Detailer & some cheap microfiber cloths.

All in all, it will cost you about $30 and will give you enough product and towels to clean your car many times over.

That said, you can use homemade solutions, with diluted degreaser, all-purpose cleaner, or even using specialist products such as optimum no rinse.

Just make sure whatever you’re using is safe for paint and easy to wash off your car with limited supplies.

How To Spot Clean Your Car Exterior

Spot Cleaning Car

When you’ve got your products and a cloth sorted, it’s time to spot clean the contaminated areas.

Spot clean bird droppings, plant minerals and water spots from your car on the same day to prevent etching.

A lot of people will call this overkill, but, they’re also the type of people that don’t care for their car at all.

As well as prevent etching, spot cleaning your car will help it to look cleaner for longer.

If you use products with wax based properties, they can even enhance the look and provide extra protection.

Simply follow these steps below to spot clean your car exterior:

  1. Grab 2 Microfiber Towels and your wash product – You’ll always need at least 2 towels to spot clean your car. This is so that you have one for wiping away the contamination and the other will be for wiping away any remaining product.
  2. Apply Product To The Contaminated Area – It’s up to you whether you apply it to the cloth first or the panel. I prefer to saturate the panel, it’ provides extra lubrication and prevents any potential damage or micro scratches from occurring.
  3. Wipe Away Contamination – Use the first cloth to wipe away the contamination, whether it’s bird bombs, pollen, bugs or just simply dirt. If you want to make multiple passes, make sure to fold the towel over and use a clean piece.
  4. Wipe Away Any Remnants – Once you’re satisfied that the dirt is gone, make sure to wipe away any remaining product. If you don’t, it could leave behind a different type of contamination that’s much harder to remove.
  5. Repeat – If you’re not satisfied with the results, repeat until you are.

What To Do If There’s Etching Left Behind?

Unfortunately, if you weren’t quick in removing contamination, there may be an “etching” or outline left behind. This isn’t a huge deal, it can be fixed, but it will take a little bit of effort.

First of all, you’ll need more products.

To remove etching you’ll need an abrasive compound. These are also known as “cutting compounds. They “cut” into your paint, removing the etching that’s embedded in your paintwork.

While that sounds scary, it’s only taking millimetres of lacquer from the car.

Any cutting polish or compound will work, but I personally recommend Meguiars Mirror Glaze Diamond Cut Compound.

To apply polish you can use an applicator pad, or go one step further and get yourself a Dual Action Polisher.

Both will do the job, however, using a machine polisher will speed up the process and get you much better results. That being said, even the cheapest dual action polishers will set you back at least $50.



To remove etching follow the steps below:

  1. Grab your pad – In this case, I’m going to keep it simple and assume you’re using an applicator pad rather than a DA.
  2. Apply Product To The Pad – It’s very tempting to saturate your pad in product, however, doing this will only create more work for yourself. Using too much polish will cake your car in product and you’ll spend hours trying to wipe it off.
  3. Polish your car – Now that you have product on your pad, polish the area that’s filled with etching and scratches. Make sure the panel is 100% clean before doing this. You should also use a circular motion when polishing your car.
  4. Buff With a Towel – Once you’ve polished the area, and can no longer see the scratches or etching, buff the area with a microfiber towel.
  5. Repeat – If after buffing with a towel, there is still some etching or scratches left behind, repeat the process again.

Polishing the car by hand will only get you so far. The same goes for a machine.

Some scratches cannot be fixed without proper paint refinishing techniques, however, 99.9% of etching should be fixable.

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About the Author: JoshWilkins