For the energetic General Aviation Maintenance owner/operator, a good day's work might be all that's required, but be prepared for a physical workout that can range from mildly tiring to overall body fatigue and soreness (not to mention minor cuts from metal contact,etc.). The cost of cleaning materials is of minor consequence and usually less than $30 will cover the direct expenses. Many local detailing businesses may be hired to achieve the desired appearance for summer flying. However, many owners would rather do it themselves--both to save money, but also because taking care of your own personal airplane is one of the reasons men and women first decided to buy instead of rent! If this is you, then take the important obvious appearance items first and the less obvious after that.
A Logical Next Step
The most noticeable parts of the airplane are those in which a passenger might approach and then enter the main cabin door. That side of the aircraft must look appealing! If the airplane is really coated with dust and the effects of not having been flown regularly during winter, the airplane should either be sprayed off with an available water hose or alternately wiped down with a wet, though soft towel first. Air drying always works but toweling the airplane's upper wing and fuselage sides brings instant results. The windows must be cleaned (inside and out) with a high quality cleaner which will both safely remove light dust or grime and then polish the plastic surface to a shine (however, care should always be taken to clean windows in an up and down motion--never swirling, which can scratch!). This first step may only take an hour to achieve and is a good starting point towards taking off for that famous $100 hamburger at a distant airport restaurant as a reward.
The Inside Counts
The airplane's interior must eventually be cleaned and vacuumed to be enjoyed on those longer, overnight trips taken by private plane during the summer month's ahead. Commercial household agents can be used as long as no flammable materials are introduced into the carpet or upholstery. Again, the airplane's windows may be cleaned and special attention given to removing fingerprint grime common to areas of the moldings surrounding windows and door frames.
The Hard Part
The next step is probably the one most owners like the least: cleaning the belly (on single-engine airplanes) or beneath engine cowling and wing to the rear of each of a twin's engines. The right cleaning materials can help take the effort out of removing oil, grease, and exhaust stains, although there's no sugar-coating the physical effort and awkward body positions it usually takes to effectively remove the offending by-products of combustion engines. This step doesn't have to be done the first time out and no casual observer stoops down to look at a plane's belly or landing gear for cleanliness. Wait for another day or weekend if the washing and cleaning of the painted surfaces was more than enough for that effort!
For Lasting Protection
Finally, protecting the airplane's surface is important for both the plane's appearance and for safeguarding the durability of the paint. A glossy airplane can be the most memorable image a guest takes away from an outing but almost the most physically demanding! Therefore, take the advice given earlier in this article and only polish or wax the side of the airplane that is used to enter the airplane; do the other half the next day or weekend. These steps will ensure the desired appearance and utility of every airplane put into increased usage for the summer months ahead.