Life isn’t always a beach when it comes to taking care of your car during the summer months. It's sad but true: one of the best places – the beach – will ruin your car over time if you don’t maintain it correctly. Studies show that moist, salty air corrodes metal ten times faster than dry, salt-free air. The corrosive air, combined with more intense UV rays and heat, makes cleaning your car crucial after any beach trip. This article explains how the beach damages your vehicle and explores several post-trip steps to mitigate seaside harm.
To clean your car post-beach trip: spot-clean any large items in the interior, dislodge sand and debris with a stiff-bristled brush and vacuum, detail upholstery, clean trim pieces, rinse off the exterior, follow with a coating wash, then apply a final protective layer to the vehicle's exterior.
How the beach damages your car
Even a short beach trip may result in unseen damage to your vehicle. Saltwater weakens your outer components over time. Be warned: keeping your car out of the surf is not enough. When seawater evaporates, its molecules travel easily onto your car's exposed surfaces.
Surprisingly, airborne saltwater can travel up to 50 miles from the coastline. Therefore, this silent exposure could damage your car even if you don't see the beach. Salt-based corrosion affects any metals exposed to the elements, including your car's frame, body panels, and undercarriage.
The first noticeable signs of salt corrosion often occur on a car's flat and horizontal body panels. These areas get the most sun exposure and provide a natural surface for salt to accumulate.
Corrosion is not the only danger your car faces at the beach -- the sun's UV rays cause even more damage to accumulate. On a warm day, temperatures reach over 150 degrees Fahrenheit on your car's exterior and above 170 degrees Fahrenheit in its interior. In addition to fading your paint and trim, excessive heat wears away your car's mechanical materials and can even make your airbags inoperable.
The combination of salt, water vapor, and heat can spell trouble for your vehicle. A thorough detailing inside and out will go a long way in protecting you and your car.
Tools and Materials
Here's the complete list of tools and materials you'll need to clean your car after a beach trip:
- Vacuum cleaner
- Interior Detailer (optional but highly recommended)
- Two buckets
- Coating wash/car shampoo
- Wax or a protective sealant
Cleaning your car post-beach
Routine, basic cleaning procedures go a long way in protecting your ride. These steps won’t take up too much time and they’ll even save you money in the long run. Now that you know the damaging effects that the beach can have on your car, we’ll address how to prevent future problems in our step-by-step cleaning instructions:
Spot-clean any large items in the interior
Start with your vehicle's interior. This area is arguably the most challenging place to detail, as you will be working in a tight space. Beginning with the interior and moving outside gives your car seats and carpets time to dry if you clean the upholstery first.
Spot-clean any large debris found throughout the cabin. Trash and other loose items easily get tossed around the interior on long road trips. Cleaning out any large items simplifies the vacuuming step.
Dislodge sand and debris with a stiff-bristled brush and vacuum
The odds are good that sand crept into your car during your beach trip. Sand is challenging to remove, even with a standard vacuum cleaner. There’s over 5 sextillion (21 zeros) grains of sand found on Earth’s beaches; and it doesn’t take long for hundreds or thousands of grains to get inside your car.
First, remove all floor mats from the vehicle. As you remove them one by one, flip them over and hit them to dislodge most of the sand. Next, take a stiff-bristled brush and agitate all carpeted areas. Sand is small and can get buried deep within carpet fibers. Combing the carpet with stiff bristles brings sand and other debris to the upholstery's surface.
To remove loosened debris, go over the cloth areas with a vacuum. We recommend using a small vacuum tip for hard-to-reach areas. Bristled hose attachments effectively remove any small grains or debris.
A beach trip is the perfect excuse to detail your upholstery. Cloth and leather absorb moisture that may smell or create mold over time. For a detailed how-to guide on cleaning cloth upholstery, check out our blog post.
We always recommend a spot test before using any new cleaning product. Apply a small amount of cleaner in an inconspicuous area and observe its absorption to ensure it won’t damage your upholstery.
To freshen and clean your car's upholstery, we recommend our solutions for cloth and leather upholstery. These are safe beats for beginners and experienced detailers alike. Our upholstery cleaners feature foaming action engineered to easily remove dirt, spills, or stains. In addition, our leather cleaner is a three-in-one product; just one application cleans, protects, and conditions – saving you time and money.
Clean off interior trim pieces
Interior trim is found on the dashboard, doors, and center console. These plastic surfaces are susceptible to dirt, sticky fingers, muddy shoes, and dust. Spray down the trim with an interior detailer. Not only will this improve your trim aesthetically, but it’ll also prolong its life. Interior detailers have built-in protection that’ll prevent fading or cracking.
Avoid interior detailers that leave a glossy finish. These products reflect sunlight, making them potentially hazardous if applied to the top of a dashboard. Consider Power Clean if you need an interior detailer. Power Clean is a two-in-one product that cleans and protects interior surfaces.
Rinse off the exterior
Move on to the vehicle's exterior. Start with a thorough rinse down, moving from top to bottom so that loose debris and dirt run down the vehicle. The car's roof rarely gets cleaned, even though it's a prime area for UV or corrosion-caused damage. Make sure to focus on this area as you clean your vehicle.
Once you move down the vehicle, spray the undercarriage as thoroughly as possible. This area rarely gets washed, and if salt particles cling here, they can cause costly damage. Though the undercarriage is difficult to rinse, even a basic splash helps to prevent corrosion. A handy tip: Try sliding a garden sprinkler underneath the vehicle for an effective rinse.
The primary rinse-down aims to remove loose particles and dilute any salt residue. Now get ready for your paint to shine in the next step.
Prepare a two-bucket wash system
Prepare a two-bucket wash system using some soap and water. Use one bucket to rinse dirty wash mitts and the other for clean water to prevent the reapplication of contaminated water.
Wash with coating wash
Dip your wash mitt in soapy water and begin scrubbing the exterior. Use the same method as the initial rinse down, washing from top to bottom. If you're working in warm conditions, read our blog post for tips and tricks. Be liberal with your cleaner and focus primarily on the open flat spaces. Saltwater vapor can get anywhere, which you must consider throughout cleaning. Areas behind the gas cap, door jams, or minor cracks become susceptible to future corrosion without proper care.
Apply a protective layer
Although your car's surface should now be free of saltwater vapor and its harmful effects, it is not safe from further buildup, which is inevitable if you live near the coast or are planning another beach trip. Adding an additional layer of protection to prevent future damage is recommended.
A variety of professional products exist to protect your car’s finish, but we'll focus on two common options: wax and synthetic sealants. Below are the essential benefits of each product:
|● Natural ingredients
● Main ingredient is typically Carnauba wax, derived from Brazilian palm trees
● Provides a deep, warm shine
● Gives underlying color depth and vibrance
● UV protection degrades over time
● More susceptible to wear over time
|● Synthetic ingredients
● Made from petroleum derivatives, polymers, and resins
● Stronger and more durable than most waxes
● May last up to a year
● Greater resistance to UV rays and chemical erosion
● Higher surface tension
● Forms a hard, glass-like shell
● Glossy shine
Regardless of preference, we recommend you take this additional step to protect your car from future damage. Both products provide a temporary buffer between your exterior and any outside contaminants.
Enjoy the beach stress-free!
A beach is a happy place, and you should be able to enjoy it without worrying about your car. Some routine, basic upkeep goes a long way in preventing corrosion or any other damage caused by the sea. Remember to follow these steps: spot-clean any large items in the interior, dislodge sand and debris with a stiff-bristled brush and vacuum, detail upholstery, clean trim pieces, rinse off the exterior, follow with a coating wash, then apply a final protective layer to the vehicle's exterior. Now that you know your car is protected, sink your toes in the sand and enjoy the beach!