Keeping your car clean can be difficult – especially if you don’t want to shell out for a car wash. Fortunately, there’s a good chance you’ve got the makings of a car cleaning kit on-hand, even if you don’t know it yet. Today, we’re exploring how you can use common household products to keep your car looking its best. 

Best DIY Car Exterior Cleaners: Vinegar &… Cheesecloth?

Let’s start by looking at how some simple household items can help keep your car’s exterior looking spiffy. First things first: It’s important to remember that household items won’t always perform as well (or in the same way) as products intended for a specific use. 

For example, you can use Dawn Dish Soap to wash your car – but it may take longer and remove more paint protectants than a dedicated car wash saop. Similarly, you could use hair conditioner as a faux car wax, but it certainly won’t hold up the same. A microfiber mitt will almost always serve you better than a normal tea-towel. The list goes on.

In this article, we’re straying away from products that are noticeably less effective than using specific products. That said (or more aptly, written), let’s look at…

Picture of vinegar used  in a cleaning solution.

White Vinegar ($3-7): A Powerful All-Purpose Solution for Your Car Cleaning Kit

Combining one part white vinegar with three parts water can give you a handy all-purpose cleaning solution (and a mild de-odorizer to boot). Due to its acidity, you’ll want to use vinegar sparingly, but it’s great for getting off dirt, bird poop, tree sap, and other things that cling to your car exterior (on that note, smooth peanut butter makes another great sap and tar remover!). 

You can also use vinegar to help remove serious stains, like grease, from your interior. If you have leather seats, you’ll want to use a one-part olive oil to two-parts vinegar mixture – cleaning leather with a water-vinegar mixture will dry it out too much. 

Cornstarch ($1-4): Your Catch-All Window-Cleaner

You’ll be hard-pressed to find something better than corn starch to clean off your windshield. Mix one-quarter cup vinegar and rubbing alcohol with two-cups warm water and one tablespoon cornstarch and you’ve got a homemade glass cleaner that will leave your windows glistening. 

Cheesecloth ($2-6) & Dryer Sheets ($4-7): Great for Getting Rid of Bugs

Dyer sheets and cheeseclothes have similar properties in that both are great at trapping small particulates. If you live in an area with lots of bugs, that makes a great addition to any car cleaning kit. 

First, spray down your bumper or windshield with water. Then, drag a dryer sheet or piece of cheesecloth over the area in a smooth line, making sure to avoid wiping in a circular motion. The cheesecloth or dryer sheet should make short work of any bugs, removing them without smearing them. 

Picture of a cheesecloth with coffee grounds.

Toothpaste ($5-12): Good for Pearly Whites & Headlights

If you’ve got a spare tub of toothpaste and notice your car headlights aren’t as bright as you’d like, kill two birds with one stone by using toothpaste as a car headlight cleaner. The slightly abrasive quality helps break down grime and dirt, making toothpaste a good addition for a car cleaning kit. 

First, mask off the headlights with painter’s tape. Then, wash the headlight with soap and water. Afterwards, go over it with toothpaste to remove any remaining dirt or grime. Finally, wash it off with water and spray on a UV protectant after letting it dry to ensure your hard work lasts. 

No toothpaste to spare? Check out our article on driving safely in ice and snow for an alternate headlight and mirror cleaning method using vinegar and water.

Best DIY Car Interior Cleaners: Baking Soda, Rubbing Alcohol & More

You have a lot of options when it comes to cleaning your car interior. Fortunately, unless you’re jumping on trends like using homemade slime to clean air vents, it’s easy to get a lot of mileage out of a few common household items that can easily become mainstays in your car cleaning kit. 

Picture of a baking soda and lemon juice cleaning mixture.

Baking Soda ($1-5): Ol’ Reliable

Baking soda is an all-purpose cleaner similar to white vinegar. Need to deodorize floor mats? Just sprinkle some on and vacuum away. Dirty seat belts, cloth seats, and/or ash trays? Make a past out of vinegar and baking soda to quickly remove grime. You can also mix lemon juice with baking soda to enhance its stain and surface-cleaning power (with a citrus-y scent to boot!).

Isopropyl Alcohol ($1-5): Stain Removal Made Easy

Isopropyl alcohol, also called rubbing alcohol, can be a handy cleaning solution. It can take care of ink stains, wear down tree sap, and remove stickers, making it a versatile product for cleaning car interiors. Applying it to wiper blades can also help stop them from “chattering” against the windshield. 

Essential Oils ($10-20) & Laundry Scent Balls ($10-20): DIY Air Freshener

If you use laundry scent balls in the dryer, you also have a DIY air freshener on-hand. Put a quarter cup of scent balls into a mason jar, lid it with something that has air holes, and you’ll have your car smelling like fresh laundry in no time. 

If you’d like to customize the scent further, essential oils can come in handy. You can drip some onto a clothespin, clipped onto an air vent, for an easy air freshener. 

Picture of a woman smelling essential oils.

As a piece of general advice, it’s always worth double-checking the source if you read about a great hack for car care. Do-it-yourself cleaning hacks that look flashy or fun can get a lot of traction online, but that doesn’t always mean they work as advertised – or won’t have negative side-effects in the future. 

Want more car care tips and tricks, or find yourself in the market for auto industry news? Stay tuned!

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