Advice On How To Detail Your Car


All the tips and tricks you need to know when it comes to car detailing

Read in this article:

What Is Car Detailing?

For those who want their vehicle to look its very best, a thorough car detail is an essential part of the process. This involves going beyond a simple wash or even a valet. This involves deep cleaning and decontamination of the paint, washing all the joints and hinges, and even giving the wheels a thorough cleansing. The interior gets just as much attention; after vacuuming every surface, the carpets are shampooed, while the more sensitive upholstery is wet cleaned. The most thorough and best car detailing takes things to the extreme, with every surface carefully cleaned, brushed, waxed, and veneered, as is appropriate.

Considering how complicated this all sounds, it makes sense that most people making use of professional car detailing services. However, this can be pricey, especially if you're a little OCD and want your car looking its best at all times. Therefore, learning DIY car detailing is a useful skill. This car detailing guide sets out to help teach you how to detail a car yourself and give it that professional, clean car look.

Vehicle Detailing

Detailing Your Car at Home

A full car detail is a lengthy and time-consuming process; whether you want to give your small car some TLC or your pickup truck requires some attention, it can be expensive to have this done professionally. Detailing your car at home helps to offset these expenses, and it also lets you do it more regularly, if that's your desire. However, you will need some special car detailing tools to get the job done right. It also means you can decide how often to detail your car, and you don't have to get stuck without a car waiting for the task to be completed.

Car Wash Detailing
Car Detail

Car Detailing Tools

A variety of different products are used in the process of detail cleaning a car. If you don't want to spend time ticking off boxes on your car detail checklist, you can buy an all-in-one DIY kit that should include all the necessary supplies. But as you become more skilled, you may find that you prefer a different type of cloth or a brush with softer or firmer bristles. Vehicle detailing is a very personal experience, after all. And if you're going to take this seriously, some of the equipment can cost a pretty penny.

To get you started on the road the automotive perfection, here is a list of the tools you'll need to start, and tips on how to get the most out of them:

  • Buckets for the water, a spray hose can be used for rinsing - a power washer is ideal, though you will have to spend some money to get a proper one
  • Sponge and/or hand mitts to get the scrubbing done
  • A foam cannon to rapidly apply the soap if you don't have a pressure washer that does this
  • Car shampoo of your choice
  • Towels and microfiber cloths to wipe down and dry surfaces
  • Clay bars, iron remover, and detailing mitts to pick up grit and other contaminants after washing
  • Polish, pads, and polishing compounds
  • Wax coating or other types of sealant to protect your hard work
  • Brushes are useful for scrubbing the wheels or other non-delicate materials\
  • Degreaser for cleaning up the metal parts and tires
  • Tire shine gel to maintain that just-cleaned look and protect your tires
  • A rolling work seat or a garage creeper so you spend less time on your knees or bending over and hurting your back

For the interior, you'll also need specific tools, including:

  • A vacuum cleaner and/or blower to get rid of dust and debris
  • A wet-dry vacuum and carpet shampoo for the floor mats or carpet flooring
  • Plastic razor blades for removing any stickers, vinyl, or gluey substances
  • Softer cloth or duster for cleaning the dash and other delicate surfaces
  • Leather conditioner to clean leather seats and other applicable materials

Vehicle Detailing Steps

Now that you know what you need, you'll want to know how to use them. You can shake things up by shuffling the order around, where possible, but here are the steps to take when performing total detailing on your vehicle.

  1. Once you've got all your supplies gathered together, it's time to begin the pre-wash process. You should be wearing sensible clothing for getting down and dirty, and remove any jewelry that might accidentally scratch your car when you get up close and personal. Also, ensure that your vehicle is out of direct sunlight.
  2. Using your bucket, hose, or power washer, get the car nice and wet. The latter may even dislodge some of the grime and make your job easier further down the line. You might even get some of the icky bug stains off the windshield.
  3. Cleaning the tires first often makes sense, as these are generally the dirtiest parts of the car. Be sure to get into the crevasses and don't neglect the rims. This is where you'll be using your hardier brushes.
  4. Get it nice and soapy. Don't use an overly strong cleaner that may damage the paint, but ensure you have a proper car shampoo. Use a non-scratch sponge or mitt to do the actual washing - use straight lines rather than circles (you aren't training to be the next karate kid), and start at the top.
  5. After you've gone from top to bottom, give the car another rinse. You should be able to make out any particularly stubborn stains or tar spots that will require a firmer hand. Even when scrubbing a little harder, be sure not to scratch the paint job. Be sure to give the headlights a good once over, too.
  6. Once you're certain you've dealt with every spot, you can begin the drying process. To avoid unwanted watermarks and streaks, you will want to do this by hand using a soft cloth, preferably microfiber.
  7. Make use of iron remover if needed, but be sure you follow the instructions or learn how to use this without causing damage to your paintwork. Run your clay bar or detailing mitt over the now-dry surface to give it an even cleaner look and pick up any grit you may have missed in the wash. You should pass over the same area as many times as it takes until the sliding motion feels totally smooth. This will guarantee that you have not missed any of the debris.
  8. If you see any scratches or damage, this will require a bit more attention with polish, polisher pads, polishing compounds, and specialist tools. If there are deeper scratches to remove, follow our specific step-by-step guide.
  9. Once clean, dry, and smooth, it is now safe to polish the paint and give it that perfectly clean look. This can be done by hand or using a buffing power tool. Don't be too rough here, or you may damage the paint.
  10. The final step in a full detail car wash is the sealing process. Waxing is the easiest way to do this, but you may wish to apply a ceramic coating or paint protection film for longer-lasting protection. Apply protective layers using a non-abrasive cloth. It would suck to cause unwanted damage so close to the home stretch.
  11. Don't forget the glass. Many people often make the mistake of overlooking the windows and windshields. Luckily, they're super easy to clean. Don't forget these can be coated with a protective layer, too.

Convertible cars require a little extra love, especially if you have a soft top that requires special attention. Check out our guide on cleaning your convertible top here.

Car Detailing
Detail Cleaning Your Car

How to Detail the Interior of Your Car

Once you're done with the exterior car detailing, you will want to give the inside some attention. Professional car cleaning for the interior is the easiest way, but you can do the job yourself if you have the patience.

  1. First things first, remove all your personal belongings from the car, along with any removable car mats. Then use your duster to clean the dash, center console, and door panels.
  2. Next up, whip out the vacuum. You can set it in reverse to blow any loose dust out the door if you like, before starting the proper vacuuming. A wet-dry vacuum is nice if you have carpeted floors, and it can be used on the floor mats and rear cargo area, too. If you want to give them proper shampooing first to remove any deeply embedded smells, now is the time.
  3. For the seats, it all depends on your upholstery. Cloth and vinyl are safe for foam cleaners, but leatherette or leather will need need to use special products and wet-clean the surfaces. The same is true of the headliner, though most are composed of synthetic materials. A proper detailing requires you to remove the seats for a thorough wash and dry out in the sun.
  4. Be sure to give the interior glass the same treatment as you did for the outside. You can also apply some polish and protection to the dash and door panels. If your car has wood finish trim, you can use wood polish or a similar product.
  5. Once you're done, you may want to leave the car standing with doors open so everything can dry properly and that damp smell dissipates.

There are some other steps you can take when performing an interior car detail, such as replacing a dirty air filter, or putting in new lights, assuming your car doesn't have fancy LEDs. Whether your ride is the family Chrysler Pacifica and is prone to messes and spills, or your prized Ford Mustang that you just want to take care of, you can do basic car detailing yourself. We certainly hope these car detailing tips will help you take the greatest pride in your most valued asset.


Where can I get my car detailed?

Any reputable auto shop should offer detailing services. However, there are also specialists who do nothing but detail cars for a living, and they may be the best choice. Each state will likely have its own selection of fine businesses, as these are seldom chained franchises. Thus, your best bet is to search online in your specific area.

What does car detailing include?

A comprehensive car detailing should include a full exterior wash and polish, wheel and tire cleaning, as well as door jamb and windows. It also includes special attention given to polishing, removal of superficial scratches, and a sealant coat over the top. On the inside, a full detailing includes vacuuming, wiping down the surfaces, and washing the upholstery.

How long does car detailing take?

If you hire a professional to do the job for you, expect to be without a car for at least a day, though probably two, depending on scratches and polishing work that needs to be done. The most comprehensive detailing can take longer even. However, if you do it yourself, be sure to set aside the better part of a day, and don't be discouraged if you only manage to finish the exterior in that time.

How much does car detailing cost?

A basic detail can cost anywhere from $50 to $150, depending on the size of the vehicle. But, if you want the whole shebang, you should expect to pay upwards of $200.

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