How to Clean Plastic Exterior Car Parts

How to clean plastic car parts

We've talked about how to clean the exterior of your car in the past, and even the leather seats and upholstery. We also covered how to clean your car's interior plastic parts. But what about all the exterior plastic parts that weather the elements?

Your car's plastic will build up dirt and dust naturally just by moving and operating or even sitting there. Your clean natural clean tendencies are simply not enough. By cleaning your car's exterior as well as the interior, you can keep it looking newer much longer. Very good for resale and very good for you as you cruise the strip.

Your car has a lot of exterior plastic (believe it or not), which may require a different approach than the interior of your car. Knowing what to use is key, as plastic can be discolored or adopt a permanent haze if you're not real careful. Many years ago, we had to be careful not to confuse rubbing compound for turtle wax... Well, with today's chemicals and endless options, you'll want to excercise the same caution when clean your car's plastic parts.

Your potential for failure :-)

Your potential for failure :-)

Your car is made of several types of materials, though most of the parts that are for aesthetics or looks are plastic. Plastic is used because it is easily molded to a desired shape and can be tinted to match the vehicle’s color. It can also be painted to match. Plastic parts range in purpose including:

  • Molded plastic parts for door panels or quarter panels.
  • Close-out panels designed to block mechanical parts from view.
  • Smooth, painted components such as bumper covers and trim areas.
  • Textured plastic parts. 
  • Soft-touch plastics for attractive interior/exterior finishing. 
A general rule of thumb is painted plastic on the exterior of your car can be cleaned in the same fashion as the rest of your paint.


Plastic components can (and do) get dirty just like the rest of your vehicle. Common offenders are oil from the road, dust, and debris, and potentially even food, beverages, bugs and more. Plastic may need to be treated differently than the rest of your car depending on its composition and finish.

Clean the textured plastic exterior parts

Textured black plastic on the exterior of your car is typically very rich in color. And whether they are black, grey, or tinted to match the rest of your auto's paint job, they can fade from the sun. Textured black plastic is typically used for parts such as mud guards, unpainted bumpers, windshield wiper cowls and other similar accessories. 

You'll notice when this fading has happened because what used to be deep and rich will now appear to have a white tinge or cloudiness to it. 

Your plastic can be restored.

Materials Needed

  • Clean lint-free cloth
  • Plastic trim cleaner (we recommend a Color Glo product that your local color restoration specialist will use when working on your project).
  • Trim brush or toothbrush
Image: Your Mechanic

Image: Your Mechanic

Step 1:

Apply the cleaner. Apply a quarter-sized drop of trim cleaner directly to the plastic part. Work in small sections just like when you're washing your car. So don’t use a spot of cleaner larger than a quarter and keep your work area tight and controlled.

Step 2:

Brush in the cleaner. Brush the cleaner into the trim with a small, plastic-bristled brush or toothbrush - everybody keeps these around for just this purpose. First spread the cleaner thinly over as large a section as you can with the brush. Then, brush the wetted spot with the brush until the plastic underneath appears un-faded and even. You'll be surprised.. it will come right out.

Step 3:

Wipe the area dry. Wipe the spot dry with a clean, lint-free cloth, removing any remaining cleaner and dirt. And that's it! From here you can read up on how to clean the exterior of your car to bring the entire vehicle back to new.

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