Sure, running the car through the local Super Suds will get you the quick wash you need before your mother-in-law pointedly side-eyes the grunge. But let’s be real: One upside of having teens is that you can get them to wash your car in exchange for whatever they’ve been nagging you about. Here’s how to make sure they do it right.

Top of Mind

  • Keep the car out of the sun. A hot exterior dries too quickly, making streaks more likely, says Mike Stoops, of Meguiar’s, a car care company in CA.
  • Minimize friction. Think of the car’s surface like your skin: Totally stripping it of wax (or your face of its natural oils!) will weaken the exterior.
  • Wash the roof and hood first, then work your way down. The grit from the lower portion can scratch the upper. 
  • RELATED: Easy Car Maintenance

Two-Bucket Method

Fill one bucket with water and wash solution, another with just water. Stoops advises rinsing the wash mitt in plain water to knock off any dirt and debris before making another pass at the car.


Automotive wash

This will preserve existing wax and add extra shine. Don’t use dish soap on your car. Stoops warns that it’s way too harsh for the paint. 

Microfiber wash mitt and drying towel Microfiber is extra gentle on your car’s exterior but still traps dirt and grime. If a cloth is too rough for your skin, it’s too rough for your car, so skip the ratty old terry towels.

Handheld vacuum Preferably cordless, for sucking up granola bar crumbs, fossilized McDonald’s fries and stray cereal. The Shark Ion W1 kills the spot-suck-up game ($140).

Hack It

  • If your kids decided to write their names in the window’s condensation again, a quick spritz with glass cleaner will do the trick—but try using newspaper instead of paper towels. (It truly makes no sense that something that can leave your fingers so smudgy and dirty can make glass sparkle.) 
  • For the family member who tends to leave their cleats in the car overnight, keep a laundry bag in your trunk, says Katherine Kearney, an engineer at Ford. Toss in dirty socks, wet bathing suits and sweaty uniforms; then you can easily bring it all into the house without getting covered in kid stink. Up the anti-odor ante by keeping a Moso Bag—a little pouch of bamboo charcoal—in the car to naturally reduce odor and allergens (, $10). 
  • If you spend a lot of time at the beach in the summer, fill an orphaned knee sock with about a cup of talc-free baby powder and knot it. Just tapping it onto sand-encrusted feet and ankles removes all the sand, keeping it out of the car.
  • Think of that leaf blower in the garage as your car’s hair dryer. Stoops says it’s super effective for getting water out of places where it gets trapped (side mirrors, window trim, hood and trunk jambs), preventing those dribbles that happen when the trapped water eventually finds its way out. 

Interior Heros

Cleaning wipes, like Method’s All-Purpose Compostable Cleaning Wipes ($4 for 30), are great for the dashboard. And when you’re done, leave the box in the car for come-as-they-may spills. Because you know you’re going to have ’em.

Silicone cupcake liners placed in the cup holders will catch any crumbs, drips and miscellaneous goo. Jenni Newman, editor-in-chief at, says you can clean off the gunk by simply throwing the liners in the dishwasher. 

Baby wipes, Newman says, work wonders for gently cleaning leather seats (and sticky hands!).

Run a lint roller over fabric seats to remove all signs that your furbaby rode in the passenger seat to the park. 

Spot clean small stains, like that morning coffee spill or ketchup packet gone awry, with a teeny bit of laundry detergent, water and a cloth. (Seventh Generation’s Easy Dose Ultra Concentrated Laundry Detergent, $14, works wonders.) Blot, don’t rub—come on, you know the drill!—until the stain disappears.