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Should you Clean the Interior or Exterior of the Car First?

Should you Clean the Interior or Exterior of the Car First?

You’ve finally got a free weekend to give your car the deep clean it deserves. The question is, should you clean the interior or exterior of the car first? It’s a debate that has raged for as long as there have been cars and car washes. On the one hand, cleaning the interior first means you can do a thorough job without worrying about messing up your shiny exterior. On the other hand, starting with the exterior ensures you’ll wash away all the dirt and grime before it has a chance to get inside your car.

The Case for Cleaning the Car’s Exterior First

The Case for Cleaning the Car's Exterior First

The case for cleaning your car’s exterior first is pretty straightforward. Your car’s paint and trim

take the brunt of environmental damage, so tackling the outside first prevents grime and grit from being ground into the paint as you wash the inside.

  1. Start with the wheels and tires. Spray them down with a degreaser or wheel cleaner and let them sit before scrubbing off built-up brake dust and dirt with a stiff brush. Rinse thoroughly.
  2. Wash and rinse the body from top to bottom using car wash soap and water, paying extra attention to lower panels where mud and muck collect. Don’t forget door jambs, gas cap area, trim pieces, and badges.
  3. Apply wax or sealant to protect the paint. Let it dry as directed, then buff off with a microfiber cloth to bring out a brilliant shine.
  4. Clean windows inside and out, using a specialized automotive glass cleaner. Newspaper or microfiber cloths work great for a streak-free finish.
  5. Vacuum seats and carpets, wipe down vinyl and plastics, clean door panels and dashboard. Apply a protectant to keep surfaces looking new.
  6. Air out the interior and you’re done. Starting with the exterior allowed you to complete the dirtier work first before climbing into a clean cabin. Your car will look showroom new and you will minimize the mess inside. Talk about a win-win!

Following these steps in order helps you achieve a professional level of detail that protects your vehicle’s appearance for the long haul. Your car is a big investment, so taking the time to thoroughly clean both inside and out regularly pays off.

Reasons to Start With the Interior When Detailing Your Car

The Case for Cleaning the Car's Exterior First

When it comes to detailing your car, it’s always best to start with the interior. Here are a few reasons why:

It’s More Convenient

  • It’s a lot easier to clean the interior when the doors and windows are open and you have full access. Once you finish the exterior, you’ll have to keep doors and windows closed to avoid getting dust inside, limiting your access.

You’ll Avoid Extra Cleanup

  • Cleaning the interior first means dirt, debris, and spills get taken care of before they have a chance to spread to the exterior. Ever had pollen, pet hair or crumbs end up on your freshly washed car exterior? Start inside and avoid the extra work.

Protect Your Investment

  • A clean interior protects seats, carpets, dashboards, and trim from long-term damage. Dirt and spills can stain and scratches or marks may become permanent if left too long. Give your interior a deep clean first to keep your vehicle looking its best.

You’ll Feel More Satisfied

  • There’s nothing like slipping into a spotless, fresh-smelling car interior. When you start with the interior, you get an immediate sense of satisfaction from transforming your vehicle. That motivation will carry you through the rest of the detailing. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something great!

Finding the Right Balance – A Hybrid Approach to Car Detailing

Finding the Right Balance - A Hybrid Approach to Car Detailing

A hybrid approach to detailing your vehicle is often the most efficient and effective. Rather than tackling just the interior or exterior, do a little of both at the same time. This balanced method will keep you from getting burnt out and ensure every part of your car gets the proper attention.

Start with the larger, more time-consuming tasks like vacuuming the seats and carpets, wiping down vinyl and plastic parts inside, and washing and drying the exterior. Get the big stuff out of the way first. Then you can focus on the smaller details without feeling overwhelmed.

Once the interior and exterior have been cleaned, move on to targeted areas like door jambs, trim pieces, dashboard vents, knobs, tires, and wheel wells. These spots are easy to miss but make a big impact. Use a multi-surface cleaner, degreaser, or all-purpose protectant and microfiber cloths to lift away built-up grime and leave behind a protective barrier.

For stubborn stains on upholstery or carpeting, pretreat before vacuuming and then revisit them after to determine if they need spot-cleaning or scrubbing. On the outside, you may need to use a bug and tar remover for stuck-on debris before polishing and waxing. Address individual issues separately so you can give them your full attention.

A blended approach to car detailing will achieve the best results in an efficient amount of time. Start broad, then narrow your focus. Clean thoroughly but don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. Take breaks when needed and remember—a clean car is a happy car! Tackling it in stages will make the work feel more manageable and your vehicle will be showroom-ready in no time.


So next time you’ve got a dirty car and some free time for a wash, think about what matters to you. If impressing the neighbors or your date for the evening takes priority, get out there and make that exterior shine. But if you spend more time enjoying the drive, focus on cleaning the interior first. At the end of the day, keeping your car clean should be about enhancing your own experience in it and making that time special. A sparkling exterior might turn some heads, but a fresh scent and clutter-free interior will make every minute in the driver’s seat feel like a treat. Do whatever puts a smile on your face and makes being behind the wheel feel like a getaway. 


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