Is Doing A “Good Enough” Job Of Cleaning Your Car Actually Good Enough?

Cleaning your car seems to be one of those exercises where many people fall into the ‘all’ or ‘nothing’ camp.

You are either like my wife (who would rather not have a car than have to clean it – either inside or out) or you have to be an enthusiast detailer who’s entire life is dedicated to making your car look better than it did when it rolled off the production line.

Or at least that’s how it can feel.

But is there space on the car cleaning “spectrum” for those who just want to do a basic, decent job on a sufficiently regular basis?

You don’t want to not clean your car (and you want to avoid using things like automatic car washes that can damage your paintwork) but at the same time you don’t want to spend your entire weekend obsessing over which type of sealant to apply to your paintwork.

Can there be a happy medium? And if so, what does that happy medium look like?

In this article, I give my take on the art of just doing “enough” to keep your car clean.

Basic Effort

To do a good enough job of cleaning your car isn’t actually all that hard.

You’ve probably heard of the “80/20” rule, that basically says 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.

This applies when it comes to cleaning your car as well.

The following “regimen” is a 20% effort play in my view, and yields the meaningful 80% of cleaning results:

  • Vacuum the inside of your car.
  • Wipe down surfaces with a microfibre cloth
  • Hose the car off
  • Wash it with a decent car wash product
  • Rinse off
  • Dry with a drying towel

There is so much more you could do if you wanted to, such as using a clay bar, polishing, waxing etc. And if you have the time/inclination to do so, then that’s great.

But don’t feel guilty about sticking to the basics I outlined above – that is still going to result in a good outcome in terms of car cleanliness that puts you ahead of what most motorists on the road are doing!

Basic Products

There’s another dimension to consider when it comes to doing “good enough” car cleaning and detailing – and that is the products you choose to use in the process.

If you ask enthusiast detailers, you’ll probably walk away with a shopping list as long as your arm full of all sorts of different washes, waxes, sealants and other products you need to buy.

However, if you are interested in doing a perfectly acceptable job of cleaning your car, then you actually only need a basic setup:

  • A bucket to hold the water for washing your car. Ideally two, so you can do the “two bucket” method.
  • A sponge/wash mitt.
  • A car wash product. I’d recommend something like Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax or Mother’s California Gold Wash & Wax. Although wash and wax products are a bit of a meme (in the sense that the wax side of the equation is nowhere near as good as a proper wax) you do get the benefit of a full clean plus a bit of extra shine.
  • A drying cloth/microfibre towel

And honestly, that’s enough to do a good job. This entire setup should cost you less than $50 and probably last a year if you wash every couple of weeks.

I can clean my Suzuki Swift (including drying it) in less than 20 minutes using the setup above, and I’m always happy with the results.

Could my car be cleaner? Yes.

Would making it any cleaner improve my life in any measurable manner? No.

Would spending hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars on better detailing products and equipment yield a return that I deem to be acceptable? No.

Once in a blue moon I’ll use a proper wax – my favourite being Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax – just to give that extra level of protection. I do think that an occasional (even yearly) proper waxing of your paintwork is well worthwhile.

In conclusion, don’t feel guilty if you only have the time or inclination to do a fairly basic job of occasionally cleaning your car. It’s better than nothing – substantially better, in fact.

There is nothing at all wrong with being an enthusiast detailer (and good on you if this is an endeavour to which you dedicate substantial time and effort). This article isn’t in any way meant as a dig at bona fide detailing enthusiasts.

Equally, there is nothing wrong with just wanting to ensure that your car is “clean enough”.


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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