It’s the portion of your vehicle you see the most while you’re driving, as well as the portion that is most exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays. In this part of our “Difference Between DIY and Professional Detailing” series, we’re going to discuss cleaning your dashboard. In particular, we’re going to look at how most consumer and car washes clean your dashboard, versus how a professional detailer takes your dash to the level.
DIY Dashboard Cleaning
Like most of you, when I got my first car, I was so excited to clean it and make it nice looking. Cleaning my dashboard was no exception! I wanted it to be dust free and to have a nice shine as I drove down the road. I can still smell the Armor All from here as I sit typing! I’d spray it all over every bit of plastic and wipe it away with some paper towels and bask in the awesomeness. That was about the extent of it for me personally and that’s about the extent of how a drive-through car wash center cleans your dashboard as well. Spray a cheap general-purpose product on, and wipe it off. This method works well because it’s quick and easy and it’s really hard to go wrong.
But this method does have some drawbacks, especially compared to the results a professional detailer can have cleaning your dashboard. Vehicle dashboards are not smooth surfaces. They are typically textured to some extent, they have holes for vents and/or speakers, they have cracks where different interior panels and components meet and they are greatly exposed to the sun. Each of these issues gets ignored to some extent when cleaning your dashboard at home with the old spray and wipe method. Conversely, each of these issues are areas where a professional detailer excels compared to the typical consumer cleaning or drive-through dash wipe down.
Professional Dashboard Detailing
A professional detailer has the chemicals, time, tools, techniques, and knowledge to make even the most worn-out car dashboards spring back to life. Let’s break each of these down and see what a professional does differently when cleaning your dashboard. To begin cleaning your dashboard, a professional detailer begins by removing any heavier dirt or dust with a quick wipe of a microfiber towel. We prefer a microfiber in the 200-300 GSM (grams per square meter) range, as these are great for cleaning hard surfaces. Anything over 300-400 GSM is much plusher and used primarily for drying the exterior as it’s much more absorbent. Once the large surface dirt is gone, we begin deep cleaning. Working in small sections, we spray the dashboard with a pH-balanced cleaning agent, then thoroughly scrub every square inch with a boars hair brush. This creates a foaming action that emulsifies potentially years’ worth of dirt, dust, and grime that gets embedded in the dashes textured surfaces and crevices.
After thoughtfully scrubbing every nook and cranny, we’ll wipe away with a clean microfiber cloth. (Fun fact: professional detailers have a coloring system for their microfibers! For instance, our yellow microfibers are only for interior hard surfaces, green for painted surfaces, blue microfiber for glass, tan for leather, gray for shiny metal surfaces, black for tires, etc. This keeps us from cross-contaminating and getting potentially embedded brake dust on another surface, causing scratches and swirls!) Our next step is to use an air compressor and a Tornador tool to blast away any remaining cleaning solution and dirt from the cracks and crevices of your dashboard, and wipe down once again with a clean microfiber to dry the surface. Finally, as the last step, we’ll apply a UV protectant that will offer a level of shine that the customer likes, while also protecting the hard surfaces from fading and cracking under the sun’s relentless UV rays. Some people prefer high gloss shines, some prefer a Satin OEM look, and others still prefer a matte finish.
What’s the Difference?
If you’ve ever sat inside a professionally detailed vehicle, the difference between DIY and Professionally cleaning your dashboard is a stark contrast. It’s cleaner, the colors are deeper and brighter, every single surface, crack, button, and knob is flawless, and the surfaces are all protected with products designed especially for that exact material. You simply can’t get this level of clean with dash wipes or a quick spray and wipe. Professional interior detailing takes considerably longer than cleaning your dashboard yourself at home. So there is certainly a time consideration as well.
How to Close the Gap?
This doesn’t mean you can’t get stellar results by cleaning your dashboard yourself. You may be asking yourself, “how do you clean my car dashboard at home without breaking the bank? One simply needs to take the principles we learned above and improvise a few of the tools and you can get quite close! It will perhaps just take a little more time. For starters, a boars hair brush is under $10 and will last a very long time, especially when you care for it properly. These brushes are stiff enough to scrub the hard surfaces but gentle enough to not scratch or mar. Combining this with a quality chemical such as Chemical Guys Invisible Clean gets you halfway there! Using microfiber will give a superior result over using paper towels, and they’re even reusable if cared for properly! Instead of hundreds for an air compressor and Tornador tool, a couple of cans of compressed air can offer an inexpensive alternative that will at least mildly blow out cracks and crevices of debris. For a bit more money, you could invest in a rechargeable blower that can be used while cleaning your car dashboard or even around the home or office (crumbs in the keyboard perhaps?). Finally, even with the brushes and compressed air, protecting the interior hard surfaces of your vehicle is paramount to preventing UV damage and preserving your vehicle’s resale value. There are hundreds of products on the market. You’ll want one that is safe for your dash surface, one that offers a level of shine that you prefer (matte, satin, or high gloss), and one that is dry to the touch. You want to avoid anything oily or greasy. This attracts dirt and can even be dangerous if it gets on your steering wheel or pedals. There are even Ceramic infused options that offer the ultimate in dashboard protection, albeit with a considerable extra cost. In no case do we recommend using household products to clean car dashboards!
There is a stark contrast between the results you typically see at home and the results a professional detailer can get while cleaning your dashboard. But unlike other areas of the vehicle (such as paint correction), there are few barriers to entry, a shallow learning curve, and not too large of an investment to take your dash cleaning game up a few notches. This one is worth investing in, as you’ll notice it every single time you get in your vehicle, and you’ll be sure to get compliments from passengers too! Good luck and take care.