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How to Clean a License Plate

Many of us pay careful attention to keeping the interior and exterior of our cars, but it isn’t uncommon to neglect our number plates. In fact, private number plates are rarely cleaned and are not given specific care, which can result in the condition of your number plate deteriorating over time, creating a bad loom for your car.

As a result, in order to keep your number plate looking as good as new for longer, you must take care of it. But, in doing so, be careful not to use any products that are too abrasive as they may remove the paint from your license plate – the last thing you need! Read this post to hear some of our top tips to keep your number plate looking as good as new.


How to clean a license plate:


1. Get the right equipment

Before you begin to clean your number plate, you must ensure you have the correct tools to complete the job. In order to remove your personalised number plate, you must ensure you have the correct screwdriver to remove the bolts from your car – these differ depending on what model car you have.

To clean the plate, you will need the following:

- A screwdriver (and mole pliers if the screws are rusty)

- A clean towel

- A cleaning brush/toothbrush

- Water

- Car wash soap

- WD-40

- Naval jelly


2. Remove the number plate

To remove your number plate, you will need to use a screwdriver to take off the screws. Generally, you will have to twist the screwdriver to the left to remove the bolts. This may be tough at first – especially if your number plate is old – but after some muscle-power, they will begin to loosen eventually.

If your number plate is rusty, you may be wondering how to get rusted screws off your license plate. In this instance, removing the screws can be incredibly difficult and may require extra force to pry it off your car. Therefore, to do this you may want to use a good pair of self-grip "mole" pliers and add a drop of releasing oil to help ease the plate off of your car too.


Photo credit: Alex_Po / Shutterstock


3. Removing rust and cleaning the number plate

“How to remove rust from your license plate?” – the question on the lips of owners of old cars all around the world. You’ll be pleased to know if you have any light rust on your number plate, you can remove it by simply spraying some trusty WD-40 onto your rusty spots and wiping dry with a clean cloth. (Repeat this if necessary, to remove all rust from your number plate effectively).

However, if your car’s number plate is particularly rusty, naval jelly comes in handy. Simply apply the jelly onto the rust and allow to soak for around 30 to 40 minutes. After this, take the plate out and scrub using a light cleaning brush or toothbrush.

NOTE: Please be careful using naval jelly, as this is a very strong acid and must be used with caution as it can burn exposed skin immediately upon contact. Be sure to wear gloves when handling the product. It’s also worth noting that if it is left on the plate for too long, it may start to remove the paint.

When cleaning your number plate, you will need water and car wash soap or washing up liquid – this will help to remove any dirt. Fill your sink or a bowl up with warm water and add the soap to create a bubbly substance, then place the number plate in the water. Leave this submerged for around five minutes to loosen any dirt on the surface, before removing.

After this, remove the plate and lightly rub with a clean towel in circular motions. If there is still some stubborn dirt remaining, scrub the number plate lightly using a brush. Give your license plate a final rinse in warm water, before drying it thoroughly.


4. Treat the number plate

After cleaning your number plate, you can now apply car polish or shellac to give your number plate new lease of life. This simple trick after cleaning helps to preserve the finish on a newly cleaned plate, thus ensuring the number plate stays cleaner for longer.

Car polish can remove surface marks and some light scratches in the plate, whilst also helping to give the plate a nice clean gloss too. Shellac, on the other hand, can preserve the finish on a newly cleaned plate. It's worth bearing in mind that most car polishes are abrasive and will remove paint if rubbed too hard – especially on number plate characters – so take care.


Photo credit: bbernard / Shutterstock


5. Fit the plate back onto the car

After cleaning the plate and applying car polish or shellac, you can put the plate back on your car. However, before screwing your plate back in, it is a good idea to make sure your number plate and screws are thoroughly dry, to avoid any rust developing.

If your number plate screws were rusty when removing your number plate, it is a good idea to replace them with new ones when refitting it back onto your car. It is advisable to use zinc coated screws, as well as protective caps, to make sure the job is easy next time around.

If your number plate is particularly rusty or in bad condition, you may want to get your number plate reprinted instead. You can get replacement number plates made up at any local garage or Halfords, for a small fee. To do this, you will need to provide the correct vehicle documentation to prove that it is your vehicle. This includes current proof of identity and proof of entitlement (V5).  


Can you get fined for a dirty number plate?

Number plates are important, they let the owner and police know when and where the vehicle is registered. You may be unaware, but if you drive around with a dirty number plate, you are breaking the law and may face a hefty fine if you’re caught by the police.


How much is the penalty for a dirty number plate?

If your number plate is undistinguishable to the eye, the owner of the vehicle can face a fine of up to £1,000.

There are strict number plate rules set out that drivers must follow when driving on UK roads, including layouts, fonts and character specifications. As well as this, there are also general rules on how number plates must be displayed, and if these rules aren’t followed, you are committing an offence and the police are well within their right to stop you.

Some of these rules include:

- All vehicles must have number plates fixed to them

- Number plates must be laid out in the correct size, colouring, font and spacing

- Owners cannot alter or rearrange numbers and lettering on their number plates

- Plates should follow the British Standard for number plates including the trademark of the plate supplier

- No other images should be used on number plates except approved images (such as the Scottish flag, Welsh flag, Euro flag etc.)

- Number plates must be lit during the evenings

- All car registration marks must be readable and not covered by dirt


Here’s a handy guide all about how to replace number plate lights.


Therefore, in order to avoid getting a penalty for a dirty number plate, remember to check your license plate on a regular basis and get your car cleaned regularly.

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