Debunking 5 so-called household remedies for car-cleaning

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  • Saturday, 09 May 2020

A common household hack for giving dulled headlights back their sparkle is to rub toothpaste on them. It doesn’t always impress car inspectors, though. — CHRISTIN CLOSE/dpa

Newspaper, oven spray, toothpaste and spirits: plenty of household materials can be used to spruce up an old car. Only they come with big drawbacks, if you ask the experts. Try any of these common household cleaning tips and you’ll only make things worse.

For instance: Don’t waste your money on that expensive car polish. A bit of toothpaste will do the trick. Tips like these are traded all too often between motorists.

But the question is: How often do household remedies really solve anything, and how often do they create new problems?

“There’s no general answer to this question, ” says Dieter Thiel, an expert in vehicle preparation. And yet a closer look at some of the most common car-cleaning lifehacks shows they come with significant risks.

1. Toothpaste on the headlights

A familiar household hack for giving dulled headlights back their sparkle is to rub toothpaste on them. Thiel doesn’t think it’s always a good idea.

“This works to some extent, because toothpaste contains polishing substances, ” says Thiel, who imports new and vintage cars from the United States to Europe, and knows a thing or two about what it takes to keep a car clean and well preserved.

However, Thiel doesn’t recommend this method, “simply because it’s illegal”, at least in some countries, such as in Europe. Car headlights, he says, are often strictly regulated and should therefore not be modified at all.

It might seem like a nifty trick at first, but during your next inspection, you might quickly regret it.

Bernd Stuermer, a vehicle testing consultant for inspection agency Tuev, generally isn’t convinced by household remedies. He recommends special cleaning agents instead: the equipment industry has by now developed high-quality care and maintenance products that are perfectly suited to the needs of cars, he says.

2. Oven spray as a rim cleaner

Soeren Heinze, member of Auto Club Europe (ACE), provides an example in which a household remedy can even cause damage: “Oven spray is not a rim cleaner, ” he warns. The acid contained in the spray attacks the surface of the rims, and there is a risk of corrosion damage.

Heinze recommends grat care when using household detergents. There is nothing wrong with using them for cleaning the car’s interior, like the dashboard, for example. “However, they shouldn’t be used on the vehicle’s coating because the surfactants contained in the detergent can attack the paint.”

To prevent the rubber seals on the car doors from freezing in cold temperatures, Thiel treats them with a universal liquid oil, essentially a gun oil.

3. Vaseline on the seals

Stuermer doesn’t think much of rubbing vaseline or fatty substances on worn-out seals. This only adheres poorly and can damage the material, he explains, advising you use a special care wax instead.

4. Spirits as anti-freeze

An equally unsuitable household remedy is using spirit as an anti-freeze product in the windscreen washer system. “Spirits do actually prevent the wiper water from freezing, ” says Heinze. But because it also causes streaks, it’s not really a solution after all.

5. Newspaper for drying windows

Old bits of newspaper are often used to clean and dry window panes, but the experts also warn against doing this. While it sucks up the moisture, there’s a good chance it will also leave some ink stains on the glass.

“Especially at night, you’ll notice blurry circles around the lights through the windscreen, ” Stuermer says, who suggests that you buy an anti-fogging cloth instead.

However, old newspaper isn’t completely useless, at least not according to Thiel. “When the floor mats and the carpet get soaked, the enormous absorbency of newspaper laid out in the footwell helps, ” says the expert.

Bonus: Coffee actually does work against smells

Lingering moisture in the car can also quickly lead to a musty smell. Coffee – whether beans, powder or coffee grounds – provides some relief here. Stuermer, who is not usually a friend of household remedies, has tried coffee grounds himself: “And, lo and behold, it works.”

Even home remedy sceptic Heinze confirms the odour-inhibiting effect of coffee: “Just put a handful of beans or ground coffee in a cup or small bowl and leave it in the footwell overnight. That works.” But don’t forget to eliminate the cause of the bad smell as well – otherwise, at some point, the coffee will stop working. – dpa/Andreas Koetter

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