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How To Detail A Car

How To Detail A Car

Detailing your car is a time consuming process that can range from 30 minutes to several days. Some people will class a “full detail” as a simple wash and polish, whereas others that are more serious about detailing will have several different stages.

In terms of the equipment that is required, it goes much further than a wash mitt and a bucket. There are many complete detailing kits available for those that are looking for a bulk buy option but they can be expensive and not ideal for all vehicles.

In terms of the stages of a complete detail of your car, below are the main steps:

  • Pre-wash
  • Washing the car
  • Wheels and tires
  • Correction
  • Protection
  • Chrome, glass and plastics
  • Interior
  • … And more

Table of Contents

Pre-Wash Stage

Cars that are completely covered in dirt will benefit from a pre-wash before actually washing the car. Simply blasting the car with a hose pipe will not be adequate but using a foam cannon soap is the best option.

All that is required is a pressure washer for cars and a foam cannon, which will softens the dirt ready to be washed away.

Some people may also suffer from a buildup of bug remains if they drive near farms or in the countryside. Using a bug remover for cars before washing your car is highly recommended as some soaps will not be able to remove the tough gunk.

They work by dissolving the remains using a special enzyme formula that is safe to use on automotive surfaces such as paint, metal, chrome and others.

Once the car has been prepared prior to washing it, the chances of you scratching the paintwork is drastically reduced.

Washing The Car

The majority of car owners will own car wash soap and a bucket. However, not everyone has access to a hose for car washing, which can make cleaning your car quite difficult. There is a solution that comes in the form of a waterless car wash, which simply sprays onto your car and then wipes clear with microfiber towels.

In terms of the car wash bucket, you can tell the difference between an amateur and professional detailer fairly easily. Why? This is because an amateur will use any cheap bucket and a professional will use a high capacity bucket with a grit guard installed. This prevents the car wash mitt from picking up any dirt, which may transfer from the mitt to the paintwork of the car thus increasing the chance of scratches.

The drying stage is one of the most important stages of washing the car and improper technique can cause swirl marks, marring and other defects.

Using a car drying towel that is clean over any rag that you find around the house is highly advised. They are made from a whole range of materials but you will want to ensure the one you choose is suitable for automotive surfaces.

Some people even go as far as using a car dryer blower for drying their cars, which is a contact-less method of drying the car.

How To Detail Car

Cleaning The Wheels and Tires

Unlike the paintwork, your wheels have to deal with brake dust and grime. Therefore some dirt may be far tougher to clear, which means that regular car wash soap will be unable to shift the dirt. This can be a big problem but using a wheel cleaner will make your job far easier and remove even the toughest of dirt.

Some wheel designs can involve multiple spokes, which can make cleaning them more difficult. However, you can opt to use a wheel cleaning brush that are designed to be soft, which prevents scratches yet dense to remove stubborn dirt from the wheels.

Once the wheels have been cleaned, you can protect them and fight off the buildup of dirt by using a wheel sealant. This will provide a protective barrier against further contamination.

To finish the job, you can make your wheels really stand out by using tire shine to blacken the tires and ensure the wheels standout.

Paint Correction

Paint correction is a detailing term that refers to removing paint surface imperfections that include swirl marks, fine scratches, bird dropping etching, marring, hologramming and more.

Youc ould use the best car polish in the world but without the proper polishing technique, you will not be able to remove these defects.

Before you begin any form of polishing, you will want to use a clay bar kit to remove any containment’s that are bonded to your vehicle. This will leave your paintwork bare and ideal for paint correction.

You will then require a car polisher machine to work the rubbing compound polish into the paintwork in order to eliminate the defects. There are various aggressive and finishing compounds available but you should choose based upon the paintwork condition.

Not everyone will have the time or expertise to perform a complete detail. However, using a car scratch remover kit that comes with fine sand paper, polishing pads and even touch up pens, you can remove even the deepest of scratches.

Of course, not every scratch can be saved but it is certainly a kit to test before going down the route of having the damage panel resprayed.

Using a car glaze may be a more viable option if you do not have the time or expertise. They work by hiding swirl marks and other imperfections with a formula that fills and cleans the paintwork. It is a misunderstood product but for a show car shine without having to spend hours detailing your car, its the best option.

Paintwork Protection

Once you have spent hours correcting the paintwork so that its free of defects, you will want to lock in the goodness. This can be achieved in numerous ways with a car paint sealant being one of the most popular methods.

For those wanting protection that can last many years, you may want to choose a ceramic coating for cars that can be applied after paint correction. It is a specialist detailing product that provides superior paint protection, which is made possible by liquid polymers that form a chemical bond with the paintwork. The majority of ceramic coatings will last between 12 to 36 months but if you are willing to spend a little extra, some can be permanent.

However using the best car wax on the market will provide a durable and more natural finish. On top of this, waxes are far easier to apply and need less time to bond to the paintwork. Both the sealant and ceramic coating can require up to 24 hours to cure some cases. Application of the wax can be achieved using a paste or liquid form but it is also available as a spray wax, which is ideal for topping up the wax between washes.

In order to keep the shine and protection topped up between application, we advise that you use a quick detailer. They are highly lubricated formulas that are designed to remove light dirt, dust, fingerprints and water spots.

Detail A Car

Polishing Metals

Uncoated metals such as chrome, aluminum and stainless steel require a specific type of metal polish. Unlike coated painted surfaces, they will need a polish that will react with the metal surface in order to increase shine and remove defects.

Chrome is often coated onto other automotive components and is often the softest metal. Due to the softness, by using a chrome polish, you can easily achieve excellent results without too much effort required.

Aluminum is another metal that is commonly found on cars and can be transformed with a quality aluminum polish. Although it is not as soft as a chrome surface, you can achieve great results by hand or using a buffer. For heavy oxidation or tarnish, you can even use sand paper to ensure the surface is smooth before polishing.

Glass and Plastic

Other than the cars paintwork, the two other components are usually glass and plastic. It’s important that these parts get as much attention as the paintwork otherwise they’ll standout from the rest of the car.

Using a trim restorer on plastics that have become damaged by the UV rays is one of the best options. They transform the dull finish back to the original finish in a matter of minutes.

It is not just the plastics that suffer badly from the UV rays but the headlights do too, which has the result of causing cloudiness to the lens. Many car owners attempt a DIY fix with either toothpaste or WD40 but it does not always work.

The most effective option is to use a headlight restoration kit that comes with a rubbing compound, sanding and polishing pad. The majority can be applied manually or via a power tool if it’s a heavy duty kit.

Glass is slightly different as it requires cleaning from the in and outside of the car. Rather than using a soapy solution, it’s recommended to use an auto glass cleaner and a clean microfiber towel. To maximize the effectiveness, it’s advised to have one microfiber for application and another towel for drying.

Once fully clean, you may notice fine scratches in the glass and if this is the case, you can use a car glass polish to remove these defects.

Car Detailing Guide

Interior Detailing

Many people will have their vehicles paintwork looking perfect and free from defects but avoid detailing their interior. Simply using a vacuum cleaner for car detailing and going through the car isn’t enough.

Going the extra step and using a car steam cleaner can make a huge difference and not only cleans the interior but also remove the bad smells too.

We also recommend that you use auto upholstery cleaner as opposed to the domestic alternatives. This is due to the strength of domestic cleaners and they can damage the cars interior, which could be an expensive repair.

If the dashboard is your main objective to clean, you may want to check out a dashboard cleaner for cars, which also provide protection. The dashboard is exposed to UV rays on a daily basis and the protectant helps it maintain the factory finish.

If you are tackling the carpets, seats or mats, using a dedicated car carpet cleaner will provide the best results. They are designed to eliminate dirt from the bottom up for a truly deep clean.

For tackling deep or tight spaces, you should look at investing into a quality set of car detailing brushes. These are specifically designed to provide scratch-free cleaning with ultra-soft bristles. They can also be used on interior or exterior surfaces.

When it comes to leather, it needs special intention to ensure that it is long lasting. If not maintained appropriately, leather can begin to fade, crack and harden but luckily they can be restored with ease. By using a leather conditioner for cars, you can safely apply the product to help rejuvenate the leather. However, before conditioning the seats, you will want to use a car leather cleaner to remove dirt, grime and other dirt beforehand.

Extra Detailing

Convertibles will require an additional detailing step with a convertible top cleaner, which removes algae and other dirt. Avoiding this type of cleaning can ruin the look of your convertible and makes it harder to remove at a later stage.

In terms of improving the look of your car and instantly adding value, we highly recommend using the best engine degreaser. It turns an engine bay from looking like its traveled around the world to factory fresh finish in minutes.

Small detailing finishes like this can make a huge difference to your car and are a worthwhile investment of your time.


Detailing comes in a range of forms and can be perceived different by people. Some assume detailing as a simple car wash whereas others will assume you spent 12 hours cleaning your car from top to bottom.

Regardless, it is highly recommended to take care of your cars exterior and interior because neglecting it will ultimately devalue your car in the long run.

procarreviews author

Written By Dan

About the Author

Dan is an automotive journalist and owner of over 10 cars ranging from supercars, tuned cars, classics and your good old beater cars. He always likes to get his hands dirty with nut and bolt restorations or detailing sessions using the best products on the market.

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