How To Deep Clean a Classic Car

Article written by David Zysblat, CEO and founder of Clasiq.

David recently moved to LA with his wife and kids and would love to own a Wildcat concept car and take it for a spin down Madison Avenue. Clasiq is a classic car online community which has accumulated a following of 750,000 fellow classic car enthusiasts within the past four years. 

A topic that is not covered often (which is surprising considering the size of the classic car community) is the cleaning and detailing of classic/vintage cars. Whilst the fundamentals of detailing remain the same, there are certain sections of the process that we need to take extra care to avoid damaging the paintwork. 

Lets first do an equipment check and talk about the techniques we need to use.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Two Bucket Method Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Two Bucket Method

Two Bucket Method

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of this before, but the 2 bucket method is a big preventer for scratches and swirls.

Fill 2 buckets up with soapy water, one for rinsing and one for washing. The reasoning behind this is when you wash your mitt around the car you pick up dirt, you then want to rinse this off into the 2nd bucket so you don't contaminate your clean wash bucket and apply the dirty water back on to your car.

High foam products such as Turtle Wax ICE Foam Wash and Turtle Wax Carnauba Wash can be used to minimize scratches.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - ICE Snow Foam Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - ICE Snow Foam

Microfiber Cloths and Wash Mitts

If you’re still using a sponge to clean your car, throw it away now. Microfiber wash mitts work to prevent swirling and paint damage whereas a sponge drags the dirt/grit around you paint.

Its recommended to use a different microfiber mitt for the wheels due to this being a much dirtier area. Drying is also best done with a microfiber drying towel or waffle weave towel with 1 for the bodywork and 1 for the wheels.

You can use specific wheel woollies for the wheels. In special cases, people even use a 3rd wash mitt to wash the lower half of the car, although I wouldn't say this is necessary unless you have a very valuable and already pristine car.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - ICE Snow Foam Sprayed Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - ICE Snow Foam Sprayed

Pre-Wash

Pre-Wash stage has only really taken off in the last 10 years, as most car enthusiasts now own a pressure washer with access to products like snow foam and citrus degreasers. You certainly didn't see people snow foaming their cars on their driveway in the 1960’s. 

Wetting the car down with a jet nozzle or pressure washer is highly recommended prior to every car wash. Getting rid of any loose dirt and grime is essential in reducing scratches. I’d start with a quick pressure wash all over the car to remove dust and loose dirt, with older cars it's worth taking caution around window seals as these tend not to be as watertight over time.

Following on, coat the car in snow foam such as Turtle Wax ICE Snow Foam and let it drip for a couple of minutes, slowly pulling and loosening dirt from the paint.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Classic Car Engine Bay Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Classic Car Engine Bay

Classic Car Engine Bay Cleaning

There is something untrustworthy about a car with a pristine exterior and a filthy engine bay, has it really been looked after? How do you tell if that oil was a spillage from a top-up, or has it been leaking for the last 6 months and spluttering all over the engine? You get the picture. 

First, you should make yourself aware of the electrical areas, most of the engine bay is water-resistant so you should be okay but it's best not to be soaking down the electricals. Use an engine degreaser for this, such as Turtle Wax All Wheel & Tire Cleaner, leave to foam up and agitate with a hog hair brush to loosen that tough grime.

Take your time and do this all over the bay, you’ll be surprised at how dirty these things can get. With caution, spray down lightly with a hose and finish off with Turtle Wax In & Out Protectant.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Soapy Cloth Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Soapy Cloth

Contact Wash

Using the multiple microfiber wash mitts and 2 bucket method we talked about earlier, make sure you get plenty of soapy water on the mitt, changing microfiber mitts when you come to do the wheels.

Don’t be afraid to use a lot of soapy water here, and wash the mitt frequently in the rinse bucket. Areas that sometimes get forgotten about are the door sills, the mirrors, the trunk lip and door handles.

Guide to Cleaning Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Clay Bar Guide to Cleaning Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Clay Bar

Contamination

The next and arguably the most important step is to free the paintwork of any contaminations embedded into the paint. Contaminations can be anything from loose dirt to road tar and brake dust. If we were to clean the car without taking care of the contaminants that we might not necessarily be able to see, then we could be spreading these around the paint causing further scratching and damage. You can run your hand over the paint and if it feels rough then it probably needs to be addressed.

The best way to get rid of the contaminants is with a clay bar, when working with a classic car it's important to do everything with caution if you use an abrasive clay bar or apply to much force you could really damage the paint. Get a very fine clay bar, and with minimal pressure and plenty of clay lubrication, glide the clay over the paint in straight lines doing sections of a panel working your way around the whole car. This process is quite time consuming so expect this to take a few hours. Clay Bars are the best way to safely remove contaminants but should only be used when needed.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Polishing Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Polishing

Polishing Vintage Paint

The results you can get with a machine polish are mind-blowing, that being said the paint on older cars is not as tough as modern vehicles so avoid polishing and compounding vintage paint if possible. 

You can really do some damage with a machine polisher on vintage paint, such as burning or removing the original base layer. I’d always suggest taking your car to a professional detailer for advice and guidance before tackling your classic car, as they can check the paint depth and tricky areas. Polishing by hand can be more aggressive and result in inconsistent results than machine polishers.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Carnauba Wax Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Carnauba Wax

Applying Wax to a Classic Car

Sealing with a wax keeps your hard work looking good for longer. Turtle Wax has been around since the 1940’s so it's ideal for classic and vintage paint. Again, like polishing, apply by hand taking your time with 1 panel at a time. Spread the wax evenly on your panel with a microfiber cloth and leave to dry for a short period of time until it hazes over, before removing with a clean microfiber cloth. The following waxes are recommended: 

That's it, you’ve got an extra shell of protection which is highly recommended with vintage and classic paint.

Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Leather Cleaner Guide to Cleaning a Classic Car - Turtle Wax - Leather Cleaner

Interior Detailing

For the interior, its dependant on materials. For leather, use a leather restorer, such as Turtle Wax Leather Cleaner & Conditioner for leather, but make sure you wash it off thoroughly as you don't want it to leave a haze finish. 

If the leather is badly damaged and cracked, it is possible to use a leather filler to cover these up and then a leather dye on top to blend it in. Be very careful of this though, and test the dye on a smaller section.

Plastic trim restorer can also be used for dashboards and other elements. Apply by hand and make sure to wipe off any excess with a microfiber towel. Turtle Wax In & Out Protectant for vinyl and plastic trim is recommended for high shine and Turtle Wax ICE Premium Interior Cleaner & Protectant is recommended for low to medium shine.

 

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