Vinyl Wrap Cleaning Basics
Before you attempt to clean or polish your wrap there’s a fundamental rule you should consider. A vinyl wrap is vinyl – not metal. Vinyl and metal are two completely different surfaces and what cleaners and polishes work for one will not necessarily work for the other. Non-vinyl products could even damage your wrap. Once you understand your cleaning concerns vinyl and not automotive metal you can start the cleaning and polishing process the right way.
Vinyl Wrap Cleaner
Vinyl wrap cleaners are formulated specifically to remove dirt, grease, and road gunk from vinyl wrap material without damaging it. You can find vinyl wrap cleaner at your local auto parts store, most big box retailers, and online.
Though it’s recommended, vinyl specific cleaner isn’t a must and most vinyl wraps can be cleaned with a mild dish detergent. Only use a microfiber cloth or sponge while cleaning your wrap to avoid scratches and rips.
Vinyl Wrap Polish
Let’s get a refresher on our first rule – vinyl is not metal. Any conventional car polish or wax is made to be applied to automotive metal. While conventional polish will make a normal car look great, they can damage vinyl wraps. This includes any protectants or sealants found at automatic car washes.
Instead of conventional turtle wax or clearcoat polish, use vinyl wrap specific polish to give your wrap the proper shine it needs. If possible, choose a brand-specific polish to match the brand of your wrap like a 3M polish for your 3M wrap. If you’re not sure of your brand, look at your installation paperwork or call the company who installed your wrap. They’ll inform you what brand your vinyl was produced by, and recommended steps to polish your vinyl.
Vinyl wrap polish is applied the same methodical way as conventional polish through a series of applications and buffing. Aim for the thinnest layer possible to avoid buildup and odd reflections.
What to Avoid When Polishing Your Wrap
By this point you know conventional polish is a no-go for vinyl, but there are other cleaning and polishing agents that are harmless to metal but damaging to vinyl. While maintaining your wrap avoid:
Citrus-based cleaners – The acidity will eat away at the wrap causing damage and discoloration.
Oil-based cleaning agents and polish – Oil and grease prematurely age vinyl
Engine degreaser – Great for bare metal but too corrosive for vinyl wraps.
Overdoing it – Use the minimal amount of polish necessary to achieve your desired result.
Vinyl Wraps and Automatic Car Washes
If you’re in a pinch and need to clean your wrap quickly, an occasional run through the automatic car wash is not likely to damage your wrap, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it. Car wash soap formulas are much harsher than dish detergent or vinyl-specific cleaners. Aim for touchless car washes that avoid scrubbing and always say no to any aftermarket protectants or coatings.
How Often Should I Polish my Wrap?
Vinyl likes being clean. Road gunk and grease can prematurely age vinyl so the best way to make your last wrap longer is to wash frequently. If possible, you should wash your wrap at least twice a month, but more is always better.
As far as polishing your wrap, that’s really your decision. By design vinyl is reflective and bright by itself without the use of polish or further protection. Polish and vinyl specific protectant might help your vinyl last slightly longer but you’re unlikely to get several more months out of your wrap from polishing compared to leaving it alone.
Polishing is recommended when you really want your wrap to stand out like brining your vehicle to a local festival to advertise your business or pulling up to an important meeting in a great-looking brightly wrapped vehicle. When you want your wrap to look its absolute best is when you should polish your vinyl.
Making Your Wrap Sparkle
You can wash and polish your vinyl wrap just like you would any other vehicle, but the trick is to use vinyl-specific cleaning and polishing agents. Using conventional solutions can damage your wrap so always take care when cleaning to keep your wrap looking great for years. When in doubt, call the wrap installer but for the best instructions on maintaining your vinyl wrap.