Should You Clean Car Interior or Exterior First? (Explained)

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should you clean car inteiror or exterior first

The eternal debate in the car detailing community is whether you should clean the car’s interior or exterior first. So today, I decided to give you my opinion on this topic and show you whether you should first wash the car’s interior or exterior.

Key Takeaways:

  • For typical (maintenance washes), wash the exterior first
  • When the interior is extremely filthy, clean the interior first

Factors That May Affect The Washing Order

There are a ton of various factors that can influence the washing order of a car. I’m going to explain each aspect.

Personal Preference:

  • The main factor is personal preference. Most people like to do the exterior first, but if you’re in the 2nd category that does the interior first, you’re completely fine. Always wash cars in a way that you like and that you’re most efficient at. 

Detailing Environment:

  • Another crucial factor is the detailing environment you’re working in. For example, some people work in garages, while others work outside (mobile detailers).
  • If you work in a garage with a well-made drainage system, your floor won’t be wet after washing the car. 
  • Some garages have a typical concrete floor, and it’ll stay wet for longer, which may interrupt your interior washing. 
  • If you’re detailing cars outside, you should also consider whether you have some canopy for detailing or not. Remember, the car shouldn’t be in direct sunlight when you’re washing the exterior.

Condition of The Vehicle:

  • The vehicle’s condition is also essential to determine whether you should clean the interior or exterior first. 
  • Personally, my approach to cleaning vehicles varies depending on their condition (level of dirtiness). I usually start with the dirtiest part of the car. If the exterior is more dirty, I do that first, and vice versa.

Typical Washes: Wash The Exterior First

guy washes the car exterior,

The most common way car detailers clean vehicles is by washing the exterior first and cleaning the interior. 

With such an approach, you can clean a car that doesn’t require some particular work on the car’s interior. You should clean the exterior first if you’re doing some maintenance washes when the vehicle is maintained well and not too dirty on the inside.

Reasons to wash the exterior first:

  • Usually, cars are dirtiest on the outside
  • You won’t drag any dirt inside the car
  • When washing door jambs, you don’t have to worry about getting overspray into the interior
  • If you’re going to polish the car, it’s better to do the exterior first, the interior, and then polish it. That way, all the water from windows and trim will dry, so it won’t bother you while polishing or compounding the vehicle.

So, as you can see, it’s better to start with the exterior if you’re doing some maintenance washes.

Here Is When To Clean The Interior First

cleaning the interior of a vehicle, deep cleaning, car extracting, carpet cleaning

Now I’m going to show you in which situations you should detail the car’s interior first. Again, it’s my personal approach, and you may do it differently. Anyways, I suggest you try different methods (listed below).

1. Very Filthy Car Interior

First, I’ll start with an essential factor, and that’s the vehicle’s condition. So, for example, if the vehicle interior is filthy and requires deep cleaning and seat removal, I’ll start with the interior first.

Here’s why:

  • Seats and carpets will have enough time to dry
  • You’ll do the most complicated part first
  • When they dry, you’ll see some potential missed spots
  • If you need to take the seats out, you’ll have a dry floor to work on

Also, a filthy car interior will take you much more time than cleaning the exterior. That’s also one of the reasons why you should do it sooner. 

2. Your Garage Floor Doesn’t Drain Water Well

If you have a garage floor that stays wet for a long time (the drainage system isn’t the best), you should avoid washing the car’s exterior first. 

In my opinion, cleaning the interior first is better because you’ll have a nice, clean, and dry floor to work on. 

3. You’re Detailing In Direct Sunlight

If you’re detailing cars outside, and it’s a hot day, you should take that into consideration.

If you don’t have a canopy or some tent, you should clean the interior first until there’s some shade to hide a car from the sun. 

Also, by cleaning the interior first, the paint and the brakes will have enough time to cool so you don’t damage them during the washing process.

Final Verdict: There’s No Wrong Approach

I can tell you to clean cars in one way or another, and I showed you some situations in which it’s better to clean the car interior first or the opposite.

But, in the end, it all comes to you. And that’s my biggest advice. If you feel that you’ll do a better job by always cleaning the exterior first, do it that way.

On the other hand, if you usually do the interior first, there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has different approaches to cleaning cars. 

Of course, there are some general steps that you should follow when washing your car’s exterior, as well as cleaning the car’s interior. But which one you’ll do first is completely up to you.

I think that by following the advice in this article, you could get better cleaning results, but I can’t force anyone to follow my methods. 

However, I recommend you at least try out different methods and find one that suits you the best.

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