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“Are there any tricks for removing exterior vehicle stains?”
by Lexus magazine (

WASHING AND WAXING your vehicle is an art form, and we’ve covered the basics of how to do that for a Lexus in an earlier story. But what about tougher challengers, like tree sap stuck to a hood or normal, hard-to-remove brake dust build-up on the tires?

First of all, many Lexus dealerships offer detailing services—so it’s a good idea to talk to your dealer before trying any advanced techniques to make sure nothing voids your warranty. Recently, we visited a Lexus dealership’s detailing shop to get the skinny on the tips below, but note that this is merely an introduction for those new to spot detailing, and Lexus owners should make themselves thoroughly familiar with any detailing technique before attempting them on their own vehicle.

(Also, the off-the-shelf products described here are offered by a variety of well-known name brands, including Meguiar’s, Mothers, and 3M, but Lexus recommends always talking to your Lexus dealer if you’ve got a special cleaning challenge.)1


Claying is a vehicle-cleaning technique that’s becoming increasingly popular with enthusiasts, due to its effectiveness in removing surface contaminants that are left behind in normal washing. Many feel it is safer than polishing, being less abrasive, while still delivering a fantastic result.

Claying takes its name from the soft clay detailing-bar that is integral to the process. A water-based lubricant is applied to a small area, and then the clay bar is rubbed by hand over the wet surface. The sticky clay is amazingly effective at picking up surface contaminants, bars are usually good for several treatments.

Of-the-shelf claying kits are produced by a number of car-care brands, and they will include detailed instructions. Basically you need to work a small area at a time, use plenty of lubricant, and “work” the bar periodically (kneading or folding it) to expose a fresh area. A major caveat is that large contaminants need to be immediately picked out of the bar so as not to mar the vehicle finish; if you drop the bar, you’ll probably need to throw it away. When finished, follow the instructions regarding cleaning and waxing.


A number of auto-care manufacturers produce good solvent-based spot-care kits for safely removing tar, bird droppings, and tree sap. Denatured alcohol can sometimes work; applied to a soft cloth and rubbed gently, it can dissolve the offending material.

The key is to take care of sticky stuff as soon as possible, says the manager of one Lexus dealer’s detailing shop, as droppings and sap in particular can permanently damage the exterior in a matter of days (especially in warm weather) and will leave a yellowish stain underneath that requires professional-level techniques to remove.

When the offending material is removed at home, you’ll want to “neutralize” the solvent residue. Clean the affected area first with denatured alcohol, then with a window cleaner. Be sure to spot-wax afterward, because the solvent will have stripped away the wax.

Also note that once sap hardens, it can scratch your paint when you try to work it. Lexus dealerships’ pro detailers will carefully buff the sap to remove the hardened surface so the solvent can penetrate, since it’s important to know how much pressure is needed to remove the material and minimize the risk of scratching.


You know that stuff that builds up on your vehicle’s gorgeous wheels? That’s brake dust, a material given off by your brake pads during normal use. If you go a long time between the cleanings, brake dust can get sort of “baked” onto the wheels, and this can stain the wheel’s finish.

A simple way of keeping your wheels looking great is to treat them periodically with any one of a number of specialty tire-and-wheel-cleaning products. With the easier ones you simply spray it on, wait an allotted time, and then hose it off—Charles Hubbard of Lexus College reports excellent results using this type of product.

If this simple method doesn’t work, you’ll need to get more aggressive: working one wheel at a time, spray the wheel with an appropriate wheel cleaner, work it first with a soft-bristle brush and then with a mircofiber cloth; finish by rinsing with a hose. If you’re worried about water spots, you can dry the tire with a chamois. Specialty brushes are available to deal with spokes and awkward angles; on open-spoke wheels you can use a narrow brush to reach through and clean the brake calipers.

A few tips: There is sure to be spattering when you brush and hose wheels, so clean them before you wash the car. Also, if you like to dress your tires to give them a shiny look, use a non-silicone based formula. Silicone-based treatments can get flung onto the fenders and pick up grime.


It used to be common to clean vehicle windows with a capful of ammonia and a drop of dishwashing liquid in a water-filled spray bottle, applied with a bunch of newspapers (it got messy), but today there are plenty of good automotive glass cleaners. These are typically alcohol- or ammonia-based, and note that some people avoid ammonia-based window cleaners out of concern for their potential effects on nearby vinyl, rubber, and leather—so no matter what, be careful when spraying.

Window cleaner can be applied with a clean microfiber cloth; one Lexus dealership detailer I spoke to mentioned that new microfiber cloths can leave fibers on the glass, but after the glass has been washed a few times, the fibers tend to go away.




Finally, a note on headlamps: Oxidation and micro-scarring from airborne particulates can eventually give headlamp covers a “foggy” look. Lexus dealerships’ pro detailers often use a series of increasingly finer grit buff wheels to polish this out, and there are simpler off-the-shelf “restoration” kits for vehicle owners.

The latter typically consists of a drill-mounted buffer and plastic polishing compound—the drill does the work, and all you have to do is apply polish and work the buffer squarely over the light.



Article written by Clark Heideger, Lexus Automotive


Legal Disclaimer
[1] Lexus does not endorse or promote any of the suggestions in this story, nor has Lexus tested the information in this article. Lexus does not endorse or promote any of the products mentioned.

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