Most of us are accustomed to dealing with the biggest car wash challenges—bugs that stick to the bumper and windshield, harsh chemicals kicked up from winter roadways, and sap and pollen falling from trees. However, there’s another unlikely culprit you need to watch out for: leaf stains.
The beautiful autumn foliage might look great as it falls from the trees, but when they land on your car, there’s a chance you could end up with a dirty, leaf-stained exterior. This is especially true if the leaves have been on the car for some time, as the natural tannins in the leaves can transfer to your paint and leave difficult-to-remove spots.
- Step One: Remove the leaves. Don’t brush them off (or even turn your leaf blower on the car and remove them that way). Instead, pick them off by hand to reduce the chances that they’ll cause further staining or scratching.
- Step Two: Perform an initial clean. Mild leaf stains may come off in your regular wash, so it’s always best to start here. Go through the traditional cycles of rinsing, scrubbing, and drying, but skip the wax (for now). Once the car has been fully cleaned, you’ll know whether or not the leaf stains will need more intensive work.
- Step Three: Use a leaf stain remover. Specialty products exist to help break down the leaf stains without damaging your paint, but you don’t necessarily have to invest in these. Heavy-duty stain removers and car-specific products can often do the trick (especially if you invest in elbow grease to go along with them). The most important thing is to pick a product that won’t damage your car’s clear coat and to scrub with a non-abrasive pad.
- Step Four: When necessary, go deeper. If the leaves have been on your car for quite some time, the tannins may have worked their way through the clear coat. If this is the case, you have no choice but to remove the top layer of coating and possibly even part of the paint. By following the same steps required to remove scratches and scuffs, you can eliminate these stains without having to invest in a whole new paint job. Just make sure you reapply the clear coat once you’re done.
- Step Five: Wax the car. Once you’re certain the leaf stains are gone, it’s a good idea to add a protective wax layer. Not only will this give your car a glossy shine, but you’ll be better protected against future leaf stains—not to mention all the other common offenders.
Like most car maintenance issues, leaf stains are the least amount of hassle when you take care of them immediately. Get a regular wash, apply a protective wax coat, and if your car is an older model, you may want to look into a new application of clear coat so future leaf stains will be less likely to work their way through to the paint.