The Ultimate Guide to Car Detailing: All You Need to Know


To ensure long-term value, a car should be detailed every four to six months. Most people choose to have their car washed instead of detailed. This can lead to interior fading and gunk buildup that leaves a car showing its true age. Detailing a car takes more time and specificity. From cleaning the carpets, seats, and hard to reach places to waxing and polishing the exterior, there is a lot that goes into vehicle upkeep.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re looking for detailing services or want to give it a go at home.

Begin with the Interior

The goal of a car detailing is to make the car look brand new. That means no smudges or cleaner residue. By starting with the interior, you’ll be able to avoid having to re-clean the exterior if there’s spillage or random marks left over from interior cleaning.

Carpets and Floor Mats

You’ll want to start at the bottom of the car and make your way up. This is the same as any other cleaning. Don’t dust before you vacuum and don’t clean the counters before you wash dishes. The order of operation will ensure that you’re not redoing steps of the detailing process.

The first step for carpets is to remove the floor mats and wipe/ wash them down. Make sure to get both sides since grime collects underneath. Once you’ve cleaned up the floor mats set them aside and thoroughly vacuum/ scrub the floor surfaces. A basic carpet cleaner and scrub brush should do the trick. If there are stains or sticky substances that aren’t easy to remove, a steam vacuum will reliably get the job done.

Seats and Interior Surfaces

After the floors are looking great, feel free to place the floor mats back in securely. It’s time to move to the seats, middle console, and dash board. A microfiber applicator and interior cleanser work wonders for hard surfaces. Make sure to be thorough. You can’t spend too much time on any step when detailing. For hard to reach buttons or fragile areas, a soft bristle tooth brush will be your best bet. After scraping away major spots and doing a little finessing, a light polisher will give the shine of a professional detailing. A plastic conditioner or similar product is great as a final coat and will help with UV effected areas.

Interior Windshield and Glass

It’s time to move onto the interior glass and windows. A dedicated glass cloth is an absolute must. With detailing, there shouldn’t be any streaks or residue at the end. Window cleaner will take care of the rest. Make sure not to wipe in hard lines. The circular stroke technique like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid is what you’re going for.

Once the glass work is complete, give the entire interior of the car one final look down. If everything meets your standards, you’re good to move on to the exterior.

Initial Wash Down

Washing the exterior of a car is an art form. It is not simply: apply water, wipe down. Here are a few initial steps that will ensure a great final result. First off, park your car in the shade. Keeping your vehicle’s surface temperature cool will prevent soap spots and water from evaporating too quickly. Next, place carwash soap into one bucket and have a second bucket ready with water. Then sponge up the car and wash it down. Opposite of the interior, start at the top and make your way down.

Quick warning, make sure all windows and sun roofs are closed all the way. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as a beautiful interior detailing being ruined by soap and water stains. Finally, the lower panels accumulate more dirt so give them a little extra love and look out for the places you don’t normally check. Just because you don’t easily see the dirt, doesn’t mean it’s not there. For drying, a microfiber waffle-weave towel is going to be your best friend. It’ll get the job done quickly and leave your car looking great.

Paint Protection and Correction

Once the car is sparkling it’s time to get rid of any little scratches or abrasions. Unlike the rest of these steps, paint correction should be limited to once a year. Paint correction consists of cutting down the thin, clear coat on top of the paint layer of a car. This removes blemishes while not hurting the car. It is heavily recommended that a paint expert works out blemishes on the car since any nicks to the colored paint will result in expensive repairs. Once the touchups are complete, the expert will apply a fresh coating of clear, protective layer. This paint protection will help prevent etching, staining, UV rays, and other damaging occurrences.

Wheels and Tires

After the car has been properly protected it’s the wheels’ turn. Hitting the wheels with high powered water is great, but if that’s not available to you, feel free to bust out a strong rag. Wipe down and apply a wheel sealant to assist with tearing apart dust build up.

For the tires, use a conditioner that is able to break through rubber. This will help with moisturizing the rubber and preventing drying out and cracking.

Under the Hood

The final step is to clean up around the engine. Be careful with this step. Any electronic components should be handled delicately. However, hosing down the engine itself is fairly common. Once again, grab that rag that you’re ready to get rid of and clear away grease from all surfaces. Last but not least, polish all metal surfaces with a soft bristle brush and plastic sealant to correct minor abrasions to metal and plastic coverings.

Car detailing is a time intensive task, but the end result is stunningly rewarding. A freshly spruced up car can look brand new and leave its drive feeling more confident than ever. Whether you’re planning to detail yourself or just want to know what the expect from the experts, hopefully, you’re feeling ready to get your car all spruced up.

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