To some people, car detailing can be a real pain. But for many people, detailing their cars is a source of pride and satisfaction. Lets face it, we all want our cars to look as good as the ones parked on showroom floors.
That's where auto detailing comes in. It goes further than your typical car wash, with the goal of restoring your car's finish (inside and out) to near as new. Quite predictably, there are a lot of opinions floating around the internet on how to properly detail your car.
That's what this car detailing guide is for. We've cut the BS and boiled down car detailing into simple tips that anyone can follow (as long as they're willing) and get professional results.
A word of advice before we start, car detailing isn't just about giving your car that shiny and glossy look, but also for protection (paint, interior finishes and so on).
In this guide, we'll be focusing on detailing a car's exterior, since it's more vulnerable to degradation from neglect and improper detailing techniques.
Car detailing goes beyond just a simple wash and wax. It involves completing a 'detailed' cleaning or restoration of your car to produce a better shine. Detailing products also aim to protect your car's paint and plastics against exposure to UV rays, contaminants and stone chips.
Something as simple as washing your car can do more harm than good if you don't know what you're doing. For example, using a dirty cloth to wash your car's exterior surface can result in micro scratches which will ruin its gloss and shine.
This might be a bit strange, but the location you're in will also affect how you detail your car. For example if you detail your Benz in Portland, it's going to be different than detailing the same car in Cincinnati. Differences in climate and the environment should dictate what detailing practices you carry out.
If you own cleaning cloths which aren't made out of microfiber then do yourself a favor and throw them in the trash. These are absolutely horrendous for washing cars and will ruin its gloss and shine. Do not use cheap cleaning cloths to wash something that costs tens of thousands of dollars!
Most car detailing products won't perform optimally under direct sunlight. We totally understand the allure of washing your car in the sun - you might even get a nice tan out of it.
But seriously, don't. Your car wax for example, will dry quickly on the car's hot surface and won't get the time it needs to work properly. It's also going to be harder to wash off. Work indoors or in the shade for best results.
Using the same washing cloth for all your car's different surfaces will result in cross contamination. Using the same cloth for washing your car's rims and its painted exterior is not a good idea.
If you're washing using a bucket, keep separate buckets for clean and dirty water. We understand these might come off as basics for some people, but they're still important to mention.
Never use regular shampoo to wash your car. It might seem harmless, but shampoo provides no lubrication between your washing mitt and the car's surface. This will result in micro swirls and scratches which might be indiscernible to your eyes, but will add fade to your car's finish.
You can always take your car to a professional detailer if you're afraid of making the upfront investment in detailing supplies. But the investment will probably be the same amount of money a pro detailer will charge (for one detailing session). The choice is yours.
To give you a ballpark figure, expect to shell out between $70 to $150 on exterior detailing supplies, but keep in mind you'll be able to use them for quite some time. You may choose to detail your car frequently too, as you won't need to use much product if your car is cleaned on a regular basis.
Here's a list of detailing supplies you'll absolutely need:
● Car shampoo / soap: $10
● 2x microfiber wash mitts: $12
● 2x big buckets: $20
● 12x microfiber towels: $20
● Detailing mitt: $45
● Claybar: $13
● Detailing wax: $20
● Ceramic coating: $70
We won't delve into what brands you should buy, there are plenty of articles on the web covering that topic.
For starters, park your car away from the sun. Next up, fill two buckets with clean water (one for washing and one for rinsing dirty cloth), plenty of microfiber towels, wash mitts, and a scrubbing brush for your tires.
Wash your car using a decent pressure washer to force all the dirt and grime off the surface. You can also use a foam lance at this point. The foam helps soften the dirt and grime so it can be washed off more effectively.
Next up, it's time to get dirty. Put some car shampoo into one bucket, soak your wash mitt in it and get scrubbing. Don't scrub your car's surface too hard. Since you've already given it a wash before, there's no need to force the issue.
Wash one section of the car and then hose it with clean water. Don't wash all of the car at once, you don't want the car shampoo to try before you hose it.
You can dry your car pretty effectively by hitting the highway at over 150mph. Just kidding. For drying, use a clean microfiber towel and gently wipe away all remnants of water.
After washing and drying your car properly, it's time to add some protection. You can go for either a waxing or ceramic coating.
The main differentiator between these is that waxing has to be done almost monthly and a ceramic coating can be done annually or bi-annually.
Waxes are quite cheap and easy to apply, so this method is recommended for beginners. The downside is that waxes don't last very long, so you'll have to wax your car every month.
Ceramic coating is unparalleled in the amount of protection and gloss/shine it adds to your car's finish, but it takes longer to apply.
Choose whatever you feel more comfortable with. We'd like to remind you here that whichever method you choose, do not do it while your car is under direct sunlight.
Car detailing is a very enjoyable way of spending your Sunday mornings. Anyone can do it, and can achieve professional results through practice and following best practices.
Even if you aren't interested in doing this yourself, you should know how it's done so the 'professionals' don't mess up your car's finish!