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09 May 2019
Owe Carter Owe Carter

How to deep clean your van

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Here's how to clean your van so thoroughly you’ll be able to eat your dinner off it.

Cleaning a van with a pressure washer

Even the cleanest-looking van can sometimes be anything but. Our research has shown that vans used by tradespeople can be a hotbed for harmful bacteria, including those that can cause illnesses like endocarditis, pneumonia and acne.

But with a whole host of methods and cleaning products to choose from, there's no end of confusion as to how you get it done properly. This is where we come in. Here's how you give your van a good scrub, both inside and out.

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The van’s exterior

Shopping list:

  • Traffic film remover (TFR)

  • Wheel cleaner

  • Car shampoo

  • Wax

  • Ammonia-free glass cleaner

  • Rain repellent

  • Surgical spirit

  • Eye mask

  • Two buckets

  • Stiff brush

  • Microfibre wash mitt

  • At least four microfibre cloths. Probably best to buy a bundle.

  • Towel

  • A toothbrush or two (yes, really)

  • Also useful: pressure washer; a cloudy, dry day.

Start with the wheels

First things first. Depending on how muddy your van is, it may need an initial hose down.

Do the wheels before the rest of the body, as you don’t want to get muck from them onto already cleaned paintwork. Hose them down, and hose the wheel arches and underside while you’re at it.

If using a pressure washer, don’t concentrate it on seals, or anything easy to damage.

Then spray on the wheel cleaner.

Top tip: If your wheel cleaner needs a little time to work before removing, then this is a good time to wash your mats.

Scrub the tyres with a stiff brush. Get into any smaller grooves with a toothbrush.

Cleaning a van with a wash mitt

De-grit the surface

Even if your van wasn’t caked to begin with, we can probably assume it’s at least a little bit grubby. Cars and vans pick up a layer of dirt and oil that’s difficult to remove, the rather grossly named traffic film.

However, traffic film remover (TFR) should loosen this up without damaging the paintwork or mechanical parts of the van.

It’ll also get rid of most of the grit, which’ll help prevent scratching the van when you shampoo it later.

Unsurprisingly for the job it has to do, it’s chemical based, so it’s a good idea to wear eye protection and cover your skin before spraying the van. Spray the hub caps too.

You won’t need to get TFR at the heavier duty end of the scale, which is best left to the professionals. A lower-strength TFR should do the job. It also shouldn’t be used regularly - only on deep clean occasions such as this.

Don’t let it dry on the van either, as it can corrode the paint. Be sure to rinse off straight away. You’ll get better results washing it off with a pressure washer, which’ll activate the solvents in the TFR.

Don’t expect this to leave the van sparklingly clean, but you’ll at least loosen up the dirt, making it easier to remove in the next stage.

Wash, rinse, dry, wax

Now for the shampoo. Fill two buckets with warm water - one for cleaning, the other for rinsing.

Shampoo the van top down. It’s better to use a wash mitt than sponges or chamois, as it’s easier to scratch the paintwork with these. Avoid getting the mitt gritty by using the rinse bucket before going back to the wash bucket for suds. Likewise, be sure to rinse it thoroughly if you drop it on the floor.

When you’re done with the suds, give it another rinse with a cold hose.

Dry the van thoroughly with a towel. Leaving it air dry will leave uneven patches. This is why it’s better not to do this job while it’s sunny, as the van will dry too quickly.

Now it’s time to wax, panel by panel. Apply in small areas with one microfibre cloth, and remove with another. Wax on, wax off. Again, it’s best not to do this in beating-down sunshine.

Use glass cleaner for mirrors and windows, again using one cloth for application and another for removal. 

Roll down windows when you start washing them, so you don’t miss the tops. Do both sides of the window at this point. If you buff one side vertically and the other horizontally, you’ll be able to see any streaks more easily. When they’re done, apply rain repellent to all outward-facing glass.

When you’ve done the windscreen, rub the wipers with surgical spirit. This’ll prevent smearing.

Further top tips:

  • Soak tumble dryer sheets in warm water and then wipe to get rid of splattered insects.

  • You can de-mist headlights effectively with toothpaste and water.

The van’s interior

Here you’ll need:

  • Interior cleaner (such as Auto Finesse)

  • Upholstery cleaner

  • All-purpose cleaner

  • Air freshener (you can make homemade freshener with baking soda)

  • Household vacuum cleaner with crevice attachment

  • Handheld vacuum

  • Broom

  • Scrubbing brush

  • Paintbrushes - a small one for cleaning, a larger one for painting

  • An undyed cotton washcloth

  • More microfibre cloths

  • A couple more toothbrushes

  • Cotton buds

  • Gloss paint to match the interior

  • Also useful: a can of compressed air.

Start with the mats

First, empty the van of everything - including the floor mats, and anything in the glove box, footwells, door pockets - the whole shebang.

Wash the floor mats first, as they’ll need time to dry. First, give them a good shake. Then scrub them with interior cleaner and hose them down if they’re rubber mats. If you have carpet mats, spray with stain remover like Vanish, then chuck them in the washing machine and give them a short cycle at 40°. In either case, hang them up to dry when done.

Cleaning the inside of a van with a vacuum cleaner

Get into the nitty gritty

Give the van a preliminary brush and vacuum to get rid of the majority of dust and dirt. Sweep the floor in the back.

Now to get really stuck in. Dust the cab before using interior cleaner. Use a small paintbrush or foam brush to get right in the vents, buttons and fiddly corners. You could also use a can of compressed air for this. Use a handheld vacuum cleaner to catch any dust as you brush it off, so that it doesn’t settle elsewhere.

Then use interior cleaner for the vinyl, dashboard and other compartments in the cab. Use a toothbrush to really get into the detail of textured vinyl.

Use a cotton bud for more settled grime in nooks and crannies, such as the steering wheel badge grooves.

Now for the seats. After an initial vac, shampoo your seats with upholstery cleaner, or diluted all-purpose cleaner. Then get to work on them with a scrubbing brush, and toothbrush to get in the seams and folds. Dry with a cotton washcloth.

Run the vacuum over the seats again after shampooing, as it may have unsettled more dirt.

Use all-purpose cleaner for the metal panels in the back. Again, use two microfibre cloths for application and removal.

If you bought your van second-hand, or if you’ve been using it for work, the metal floor is likely to have scrapes. Once cleaned and dried, paint over any scratches to seal them. While you’re at it, paint over any scratches in the ribs and panels.

When it’s all done, squirt with air freshener. Then admire your handiwork, and that fresh van smell.

Other tips for keeping your van clean day-to-day

Before you start working with your van, get fitted seat covers to protect them.

If any furry pals come with you, have a roller handy for cleaning hair. We recommend the ChomChom roller.

This all may seem a little involved, but this deep clean doesn't need to be done frequently. Once you've done this regular cleanliness will be much easier to keep on top of, leaving you with a clean and hygienic van.

See for yourself and explore the hidden germs lurking in vans used across different industries here.

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