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How To Detail Your Car's Exterior Like A Pro (14 Tips & Tricks)

Article Updated: April 3rd, 2020

When it comes to detailing a car it’s all about the little things. That’s why today we’ll take you through the entire process of detailing the exterior of a car including 14 tips and tricks.

Pro Tip: Remember you should start with the interior first and wash the exterior secondly. We'll cover interior detailing in another blog post soon.

1. What is the best place for auto detailing?

In the shade! A cool, dry place is ideal for car cleaning. You want the bodywork to be cool and out of direct sunlight because water evaporates faster on hot cars and that can leave watermarks.

2. What should you use to wash your car?

When most people think of washing a car they think of a traditional sponge. The problem is sponges capture and holds things like dirt and grit in their large pores. Despite your best efforts to wring it out some grit will stay embedded. It becomes like washing your car with sandpaper and can cause small scratches.

Pro detailers use a microfiber car wash mitt because that grit should fall out when you rinse. Plus personally, I’ve found it makes it easier to remove grime and more fun to wash the car. You can work more elbow grease into the needed areas and get into tougher spots (like wheels or wheel wells) more easily. That's why we include a microfiber mitt with our Decon Soap.

3. Why should you use microfiber towels over other materials?

When it comes time for applying your wax or drying your car, you’ll want to use microfiber towels. Why? Similar to the sponge we talked about above other materials (like cloth rags, old t-shirts, standard towels) can have dust or dirt embedded in them. Rough materials can damage the finish.

They are also very helpful for properly buffing the car wax into the car and removing it. They are great for buffing vehicle surfaces, chrome wheels, metal trim, windows and more. Safe on interior surfaces such as leather, vinyl, plastic, metal, wood and more.

Our towels were made specifically for car detailing featuring an edgeless design with no rough edges to scratch your surface. They also have a 2 sided design with longer fibers for buffing and shorter fibers for removing the product.

Chamois towels lack knap and possibly scratch your paint with leftover particles when not cared for properly. We find microfiber towels to be more forgiving.

4. How should you wash and care for microfiber towels?

You’ll want to take special care when washing your towels. Don’t wash them with cloth towels or you run the risk of lint from the cloth towel becoming stuck to the microfiber towel. Wash with hot water, detergent and skip the fabric softener. Fabric softener will reduce the effectiveness of the microfiber towel. Dry them on low heat too. Once dry fold them and put in them a plastic container where they are safe from contaminants.

5. How many buckets should you use?

You want to use 2 buckets. One with the soapy water and the other with water. Soap up your mitt, clean a portion of the car, then dip the dirty mitt into the water bucket so you don’t put contaminants into the soapy bucket. Essentially you are ‘rinsing’ your mitt with the water bucket in between cleanings. The standard bucket size is 5 gallons.

A grit guard at the bottom of the bucket can help remove more dirt from your mitt or sponge. The dirt will then settle at the bottom keeping your wash water clean.

6. What are contaminants?

Contaminants are things like brake dust, bird droppings, dirt and more that pollute and destroy your paint. They sit on top of your clear coat.

Common contaminants include brake dust, industrial fall out, rail dust, iron deposits, bug guts, road salt, tree sap, and bird droppings.

7. What’s the best way to remove contaminants?

First, we recommend using a Decontaminate or "Decon" Soap. This is stronger than regular car soap, as it will help strip your car of waxes and surface contaminants. You can use 1 to 2 ounces per gallon of water. Typically we use 5 ounces for a 5 gallon bucket of water.

Next, you’ll want to remove bonded contaminants on the car with a liquid clay bar. You can use a traditional clay bar to remove things like sap, but a liquid clay bar is quicker and almost as effective.

8. Why can’t you use dishwashing soap instead of car soap?

Dishwashing detergents are made to be very strong because they have to break up grease and food materials. They can strip the polymer off the paint surface and accelerate the oxidation process. You’ll want to use a car soap made specifically for cars.

9. What’s the best way to prevent contaminants?

Using a hybrid wax sealant like Mirror Shine or a ceramic coating like Ceramic Spray will help your car become more hydrophobic and resistant to contaminants. Otherwise, the obvious tip is to be mindful where you park your car.

10. Why should you wax or seal your car?

It helps protect your car’s coat from UV rays that can cause fading and sun damage. It also makes your car look amazing by giving it a high gloss finish. Depending if you’re using a hybrid wax sealant will also make it more resistant to contaminants and can help resist water spots.

The Best Way to Seal and Protect Your Vehicle
The 5 Minute Ceramic Coating Spray

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11. What can I use to clean polish or alloy wheels? What’s the best way to gleam up chrome wheels?

Similar to your car you’ll want to first wash and clean the wheels. If you’ve got thick containments like brake dust or other things you may want to clay block the wheels as well or use an acid based cleaner.

After cleaning you can use Mirror Shine to shine up the wheels while also protecting and sealing them.

Use our High-Gloss Tire Shine to shine and protect tires. It gives it that great slick black look.

12. What should I use on the windows?

There are a few different cleaning products you can use. Turbo Waterless Wash is a great glass cleaner because it doesn't streak. Mirror Shine is actually safe to use on the windows and while provide protection. Ceramic Spray provides a little bit stronger of a hydrophobic water repelling effect.

13. How should you dry the car?

You DO NOT want to air dry the car because that can cause soap spots to foam. You want to rinse off the car and then dry it.

14. Don’t forget the ‘inner’ exterior!

Maybe you’re just washing the exterior and not doing the interior. That’s fine but don’t forget about the inner door jambs and the trunk. Open the doors and trunk to make sure to clean around them as well. Pop the hood and do the hood edge and fender folds too. It’s that last minor detail that can really make a difference.

If you have plastic trim, we recommend a protectant formulated for plastic like Plastic Restore.


We hope this long post helped answer a lot of questions and gave you a good blueprint for detailing a car's exterior. We'll have a follow up post on the car's interior, vacuuming, upholstery and leather seats in a blog post soon.

Want to Give Your Car Showroom Shine & Protection?  

Save 23% on our Pro Detailer Bundle which includes everything you need for the steps above!

Have Questions? Any Tips We Left Out?

Leave a comment below the blog post and we’ll do our best to answer it!

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  • Published on Apr 03, 2020