How to Clean and Prepare Your Ride for Wrapping

For many DIY installers and first-time wrappers, proper cleaning and preparation are the most overlooked steps of the process of vehicle wrapping. Most DIY wrappers buy a roll of film and think they can just unroll it, remove it from the liner and start wrapping. Let us be the first people to tell you: you cannot do this.

Without an adequately cleaned application area (a garage for example) and a thoroughly cleaned and prepared vehicle your chances of getting good results are very close to zero.

Why buy an expensive roll of 3M™ 1080 Series or Rwraps™ film only to ruin it by failing to do the most basic prep work? In the following, we’ll go over the basics of cleaning and preparation as well as cover some of the tips that pro-installers use to get the best possible results.

Recommended Tools

  • Heat Gun
  • Squeegee
  • Lint-free Micro-fiber Cloth
  • Nitrile Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Clay Brick or Scratchless Sponge

Bring Vehicle to Car Wash 24 Hours Before Wrapping

Step 1: Wash Your Ride the 24 Hours Before You Wrap

It may seem overly simple but the single, best thing you can do to prepare for vehicle wrap installation is to bring your car into a car wash the day before you intend to apply the wrap.

It's extremely important that you don’t use any fancy protectants or waxes as they can interfere with the vinyl wrap’s ability to adhere. It's equally important that you wait 24 hours in order to give it the time it needs to dry completely.

How to Dry a Wet Car

If you forgot to wash the car the day before you can always wash it immediately before wrapping and then use these quick steps to get the job done:

Bullet Dry by hand deep inside the body of the car with a squeegee and a lint free towel.
Bullet Use heat gun to dry around the molding, gaps and door handles.
Bullet Open and slam closed the doors.
Bullet It’s only dry when the towel is dry.
Bullet Use an air compressor to blow out water around head and taillights and molding.

Sweep and Mop Installation Area Before Vinyl Wrap Installation

Step 2: Thoroughly Clean Installation Area

In an ideal world you will be installing your vinyl wrap in an area that is protected from wind and rain such as a garage or car port. If you are forced to wrap outdoors you can simply skip this step.

In order to ensure that ambient dust and dirt is not attracted onto the wrap's adhesive during installation. Sweep and vacuum the area and then mop the area.
Bring Vehicle to Car Wash 24 Hours Before Wrapping

Step 3: Remove Hardware and Deep Clean

If your vehicle still has shiny wheels after a wash it means that silicon-based or oil-based protectants have been used on them. Why is this a problem? Simply because the wheels literally spray these substances onto the side panels of the vehicle making your job of cleaning and preparing the surface doubly hard.

As much as you may not want to, you need to go the extra mile and remove hardware where dirt and grease can hide. This means that you want to remove all nozzles, emblems, side moldings and reflectors as a lot of grime holes up in there.

Bring Vehicle to Car Wash 24 Hours Before Wrapping

Step 4: Use Micro-fiber Cloth in Quadrants

Fold up your micro-fiber cloth or towel into quadrants so you can get 8 sides for the price of two.

Proceed to clean each section of the vehicle and flip to the next side when you’re done. Not only will you save time but you can know with certainty which areas have been thoroughly cleaned.

Bring Vehicle to Car Wash 24 Hours Before Wrapping

Step 5: Use Overlapping Strokes

Don’t forget to overlap your cleaning strokes too on wide areas and clean open doors and edges in order to completely cover all areas. You should use both a general cleaner and a degreaser or an all-in-one. There a number of these products on the market so be sure to do a little homework on which you need and which will work best for your application area.

And, as always, be sure to use the proper safety gear like gloves and goggles to avoid potential damage to skin, eyes and mucous membranes.

Wrap Squeegee in Cloth to Deep Clean

Step 6: Clean Crevices with Squeegee Wrapped in Cloth

Use a squeegee wrapped in a towel to get into the areas where your fingers can’t reach. Examples of these areas are the seams between panels, headlights, taillights, bezels, etc.

Bring Vehicle to Car Wash 24 Hours Before Wrapping

Step 7: Re-Clean the Vehicle One More Time

Unless you want to ruin your wrap job clean everywhere. That means under the wheel wells, under the hood and every surface of the car that can be accessed, even if it’s not being wrapped, like the windows and glass. Why risk the wrap being damaged when you can prevent it with a little extra cleaning?

Bring Vehicle to Car Wash 24 Hours Before Wrapping

Step 8: Finish with Scratchless Sponge or Clay Bar

Use a clay or Scratchless sponge (especially on older cars) to remove any remaining blemishes or imperfections. Doing so will give you the best possible results.
Perform Squeak Test

Step 9: So the "Squeak Test"

Squeaky Fingers Your fingers can do the talking for you and will tell if your ride is wrap ready. Slide your index finger across the application surface and if it squeaks, you’re good to go. If it is greasy and slides then you need to re-clean. We’ve covered a lot of ground so let us sum up with a quick list:

Pre-Cleaning for Wraps Recap

Bullet Basic car wash (no waxes or protectants) the day before because it allows for complete drying.
Bullet If wheels are shiny that means they’ve use a protectant silicone-based or oil based which means that it has been splattered along the whole side of the body.
Bullet Always clean your space before attempting to install the wrap. It’s best to sweep and mop before you bring the car into the space, especially in winter due to the electro-static charge of the vinyl wraps that will attract dust.
Bullet Remove hardware and clean it (molding, nozzles, side lights).
Bullet Use a micro-fiber or paper towel folded into quadrants so you can flip it over as it gets dirty.
Bullet Use overlapping strokes when cleaning, clean open doors and edges too.
Bullet Use a general cleaner and a degreaser or an all-in-one.
Bullet After initial cleaning, wrap a squeegee in the towel and dig it into creases and tight areas where your finger can’t reach. Clean under the hood, under the wheel well, clean all of the windows and the entire car.
Bullet Use a clay bar or scratchless sponge.
Bullet Use the “squeaky finger” check. If it squeaks, it's good to go.