How to Wash Your Classic Car? (Inside & Outside)

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

how to wash your classic car

A luxurious, elegant classic car that stands out on the road can be a pleasure to drive.

But having a unique vintage beauty as your vehicle requires a special approach using the appropriate cleaning kit for how to wash your classic car and clean old car interior.

So if your classic car has gotten dirty, don’t just take it to an automatic car wash. Instead, carefully follow these steps on vintage car detailing. See its pristine beauty restored, as though it came straight out of the olden days once you’ve finished.

Step-By-Step to Wash Your Classic Car

Products to clean car:


  • A pressure washer
  • Snow foam
  • Foam cannon/a pump sprayer
  • Two buckets
  • Grit guards
  • Microfiber wash mitts and cloths
  • Car soap – An ideal classic car soap is pH neutral and abrasive-free to achieve cleanliness without diminishing the vehicle’s rich color and lustrous shine.
  • Wax – It’s important to wax a classic car to preserve its cleanliness, rich color, and shine.
  • Machine polisher
  • Chrome metal coat
  • A tire conditioner
  • Vinegar and water in a spray bottle
  • A vacuum
  • Commercial interior cleaner
  • Mild soap and water

1. Cleaning the Outside

Step 1. Park Your Classic Car in a Shade

Washing classic cars should be done in the shade to avoid the sun’s heat to avoid damage to the paintwork.

The heat can also make water and cleaning products quickly evaporate. As a result, that would leave spots and streaks, which could damage the car if not treated quickly.

Step 2. Pre-Wash the Classic Car


A necessary preventive measure for avoiding scratches and swirl marks when classic car cleaning is pre-washing. It can be done with a pressure washer and foam cannon to apply snow foam or with a pump sprayer.

  1. Firstly, pre-rinse from the top of the car, going down because doing it the other way around would make the lower parts dirty again.
  2. Secondly, coat your car with the snow foam or pre-wash it after pre-rinsing. Just be careful with the window seals, as their water tightness diminishes over time.
  3. After applying the snow foam or pre-wash, leave it on the surface for a few minutes to work on the contaminants, then rinse it off.

Step 3. Use the Two-Bucket Method


The best way to thoroughly clean classic cars with soap without causing scratches and swirl marks is the two-bucket method.

In this method, one bucket is filled with soapy water for washing off contaminants and the other with water only for rinsing off contaminants from the wash mitt. So they won’t be requited and rubbed on the paintwork.

Step 4. Work One Section at a Time – Washing and Drying Immediately

When it comes to the order of parts to wash, work on the wheels first, as they usually have the most contaminants, such as dirt, mud, grease, and brake dust.

Also, have separate cleaning tools for the wheels and paintwork to avoid cross-contamination.

When washing the paintwork, wash it from the top.


  • It would be best to wash and immediately dry one section of the classic car at a time.
  • Also, try not to use excessive amounts of water, and make sure to thoroughly dry each section.

These are important to keep in mind when you clean old cars, as they can be prone to rust.

Step 5. Wax the Classic Car


To apply wax, spread a small amount of it evenly in small, circular motions using an applicator pad, working in one section of the car at a time.

Then let it sit on the surface for a few minutes.

Afterward, buff out the wax in circular motions using a microfiber cloth.


  • Wax provides a protective coat on the paintwork that would help keep it clean for a longer period and shield it from the harmful effects of the sun and other environmental elements while making it shiny.
  • Ideally, the wax must be applied once in six to eight weeks if a car is driven often.

Step 6. Polish Chrome Surfaces


Polishing a car can help fix its imperfections, such as scratches, cracks, and stuck-on contaminants, and improve its appearance. But car paint polishing must be avoided on classic cars because their paint isn’t as robust and advanced as those on modern cars, and modern orbital polishers can cause damage to them, such as burning and base layer removal.

Even hand-polishing classic car paint can be unsatisfactory, as it’s more inconsistent in results compared to machine polishing.

But it’s advisable to polish a classic car chrome if there are chrome parts in your vehicle after every car wash to keep it shining in good condition.

  • By hand, chrome polishing can be done by rubbing the polish on the chrome with moderate pressure using an applicator pad
  • Leave it on the surface for a few minutes, and then wipe off the residue.

Or you may also use a small machine polisher.

Step 7. Apply Tire Conditioner


Applying a tire conditioner will make your classic car’s tires look fresh with a jet-black color and prevent them from degrading. Just dry the tires after washing them and evenly apply it all over the tires with an applicator.

2. Cleaning the Inside

  • Dusting

Dust on the interior surfaces can effectively be cleaned with a soft, contaminant-trapping microfiber cloth.

  • Windows

There are specialized auto glass cleaners that you can use to clean old car windows without leaving streaks.

But you may also create a streak-free cleaner to wipe windows while using household products, particularly with vinegar and water combined at a 1:2 ratio and a few drops of dish soap in a spray bottle.

  • Fabric Surfaces


Cleaning fabric surfaces involves vacuum cleaning with the standard vacuum attachment, followed by the use of an auto cleaner for scrubbing, preferably a volatile cleaner, because it has high solvency and protects fabrics’ color.

Then the fabric surfaces should then be dried and vacuumed again.

But you can also use a homemade cleaning paste with baking soda and water at a 2:1 ratio. Leave the cleaning paste on the stains for 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the severity of the stains.

Add some elbow grease by scrubbing the surface. Afterward, wipe off the excess paste, rinse the surface with a damp towel, and wipe it dry.

  • Leather and Vinyl Surfaces

Leather and vinyl surfaces should be vacuum cleaned using the upholstery attachment to avoid damaging the surface. That would be followed by the application of a leather cleaner and conditioner, which would be wiped off afterward with a soft cloth.

  • Vinyl and Plastic Surfaces


You can clean vinyl and plastic surfaces with a mild soap and warm water solution or a commercial interior cleaner. Next, they should be wiped dry with a cloth.

  • Carpet

Carpet cleaning starts with brushing and vacuuming the carpet, then using a foaming-type upholstery cleaner to clean the carpet one square foot at a time.

For aesthetics, you can do the extra step of blowing compressed air on the carpet to fluff it up. Once you’re done, dry the carpet.

How Often Should You Wash Your Classic Car?

A classic car isn’t like a regular car, so it requires more frequent washing than a modern vehicle, whether it’s driven frequently or just kept for car shows.

It’s best to wash it weekly to keep it in pristine condition and retain its significant value.


As an owner of a classic car, you should know how to wash your classic car to maintain its condition. Make sure to do regular car washing and carefully clean your vehicle to avoid accidentally damaging it, so it will remain good as new and boast high value.

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