How To Detail a Car: Detail Your Car Like a Pro Detailer!
Whether you just purchased your brand new vehicle that you've spent years saving for or maybe you’ve been cruising in the family hand me down, either way I’m sure you want your car looking clean & shiny. The easiest way to make sure that happens is with a quality car detail!
Detailing your car might at times feel like a chore, but this step-by-step tutorial will provide you professional tips & tricks to speed up your detailing process. All while giving your local professional detailer a run for his or her money! Because proper detailing processes are at times extensive, will keep our focus on the exterior of your vehicle. But don't you worry! If you're interested in getting the inside of your car spotless just click here and you’ll become an interior detailing master in no time!
Must Have Supplies: What Do You Need To Get Started?
Contrary to popular belief you don't need the best & most expensive products & tools! You can hand a true professional any “low end” product and they'll still be able to provide pro results! Professional results are based on skill, patience, and a sprinkle of passion!
So don't be discouraged by your choice of product or tools, but if you have the ability to order some quality detailing products it will only make your experience better and speed up your process! We will recommend some killer products throughout this guide that will change your detailing game and make your vehicle stand out from the rest!
1. Decontamination Essentials:
- Tools: 2 Wash buckets, Grit Guard, Quality Wash Mitt, Quality Drying Towels, Clay Bar/Mitt, Detailing Brushes, Wheel Brushes, Safety Gloves
- Products: Car Wash Soap, Quick Detailer/Clay Lube, Wheel Cleaner/APC
2. Paint Correction Essentials:
- Tools: DA Polisher, Polishing Pads, Pad Cleaning Brush, Quality Microfiber Towels
- Products: Quick Detailer, Automotive Compound, Automotive Polish
3. Paint Protection Essentials:
- Tools: Applicator Pads, Quality Microfiber Towels
- Products: Wax, Sealant, or Ceramic Coating
What is The Best Way to Detail A Car? Car Detailing Basics
Professional Automotive Detailing is the process of cleaning, restoring, and protecting exterior & interior surfaces of a vehicle in order to achieve the vehicle's maximum aesthetic potential.
You could ask 10 professional detailers on how to detail a car and you're probably going to end up with 10 different answers, but at the end of the day there are processes that are tried & true.
Step 1 - The Decontamination Process: How To Clean Your Car The Right Way!
A. Surroundings, Conditions, And Safety
Weather Conditions, Shade & Garage
First things first you have to make sure you have the proper weather and conditions to detail your car! Last thing you want is to be applying your wax & you get hit with a thunderstorm!
So take a few minutes and try to find a nice semi-warm day with a slight over cast, you don't want it to be blistering hot. If it’s too hot and your vehicle in direct sunlight It will negatively affect the performance of your products and make your life more difficult. So try to find a shaded area with enough working room, If you have garage space even better!
Pro Tip: Touch your paint with your bare hands, if it is too hot and makes you uncomfortable, your products will probably be uncomfortable too!
Safety Precautions & PPE
Safety is also super important! If a product recommends to wear gloves do it! Professionals glove up anytime they detail, you never know if a solution might affect your skin & cause some kind of reaction.
B. How To Wash Your Car to Remove Contaminants & Grime
The Pre Wash
The Pre Wash Stage is great in removing the large build up of surface contamination from your vehicle prior to you contacting it with your wash mitt. The more dirt you can remove from your car without physically touching it, the safer your wash process becomes.
If you have a foam cannon great! This is the time to make your driveway look like a snow apocalypse! Just take a few oz of your car wash soap and mix it with water in your foam cannon reservoir. Then proceed to foam down your vehicle with your foam cannon, let the foam solution dwell on the surface for a few moments.
If you notice it drying quickly continue to foam it down until the solution has dwelled on the surface for a few minutes then rinse off. If you don't have a foam cannon no biggy, just completely rinse your vehicle with a strong stream of water from your garden hose or pressure washer and move on to the next step.
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's 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. 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.
The 2 Bucket Wash Method
The Two Bucket Wash Method is one of the best ways to wash your vehicle! Every time you touch your paint with your wash mitt you pick up dirt. When dirt accumulates it acts like sandpaper scratching your paint! To minimize this we use the two bucket wash method.
Fill both buckets with fresh water then take your first bucket and apply the recommended amount of car wash soap via directions on the bottle. You want it nice and soapy. This will be your wash bucket. The second bucket will be left with just water and will be used for rinsing your wash mitt.
Pro Tip: If the car is really dirty, we recommend using a Decon Car Wash Soap. This will strip all contaminants off and any previous waxes or sealants. We offer one here bundled with a microfiber wash mitt. For a maintenance soap we also offer a Ceramic Car Wash Soap.
Pro Tip: Use a grit guard in each bucket, this will help keep any large contamination & dirt at the bottom of your bucket rather in the fresh water at the top!
Top to Bottom
Why start the wash from the top? Well that’s the cleanest part of your vehicle, the last thing you want to do is drag dirt from the bottom of your vehicle to the top!
Start washing your car from top to bottom in straight line motions making sure to rinse you wash mitt in your rinse bucket then get more soap solution from you wash bucket after each panel. If it's warm outside make sure to work quickly so your soap solution doesn't dry on your vehicle's painted surfaces. If it does dry just apply more soap solution from your wash bucket and continue. After you repeated these steps around the whole car rinse of all the soap solution with your hose or pressure washer.
Proper Drying Methods
A high quality drying towel is one of the most popular drying methods in the industry, you also have the option to blow dry your vehicle but you're gonna need a strong blower that can cost upwards of $300! A quality drying towel can be found online for as little as $20 and will do a great job drying your car after your wash. Take your towel, fold it until it's comfortable to maneuver around your vehicle & lightly drag it across all exterior surfaces making sure to pick up as much water as possible. Repeat this process until the vehicle is completely dry.
Pro Tip: You can use a regular leaf blower to remove water from exterior trim pieces and crevices & then dry off with your drying towel!
C. How To Clay Bar Your Car The Right Way
Clay Bar/Mitt & Clay Lubrication
After washing & drying your vehicle take the back of your finger and drag it across your hood, most likely you're gonna feel a rough surface, might even feel like sandpaper! Paint is just like your skin, it’s porous with pits, rivers, & valleys. Over time dirt & contamination gets embedded in the paint. Imagine the clay bar process like skin exfoliation, we need to remove that contamination to make it nice and smooth. If your paint is smooth after the wash process you can skip the claying step.
Take your clay bar or clay mitt and spray some quick detailer or dedicated clay lube on both the clay and the surface of the vehicle. Work in 2x2 or 3x3 sections and lightly scrub the surface in up & down motions with the clay. you'll notice the surface become smoother after each pass, you might even be able to hear the difference! After you feel little to no contamination buff off your quick detailer or clay lubrication.
If you're using a clay bar you’ll physically see the contamination in the clay, make sure to flex the clay to a fresh side as needed. If you’re using a clay mitt make sure to rinse the mitt after each panel to remove the contamination from the clay mitt. Continue this process on both the paint & glass surfaces of your car until complete.
D. How To Clean Wheels & Tires
All Purpose Cleaner vs Wheel Cleaner
All Purpose Cleaners are great on rubber & plastics like tires but can be risky when utilized on wheels surfaces. We recommend getting a quality dedicated wheel & tire cleaner to properly & safely remove brake dust. Spray your cleaner on the surface of your tire & rim and let it dwell as recommended by bottle directions. If your wheels are lightly soiled sometimes you can get away with spraying a quality wheel cleaner, letting it dwell, and rinsing away brake dust with your hose or pressure washer.
*Pro Tip: Work on one wheel at a time if you notice your wheel and tire cleaner drying quickly, this will save you from wasting product!
Wheel Cleaning Tools
Most of the time you need to put in some elbow grease with some quality detailing brushes. Wheel Woolies are a great choice to get in all those tight areas of your rims, while a hard bristle tire brush will be able to scrub down the browning tire. Just like before, spray your cleaner on the surface of your tire & rim and let it dwell as recommended by bottle directions. Then continue to agitate the tire and rim with your selection of brushes until satisfied then rinse away all remaining cleaner and residue.
*Pro Tip: You can use the water from your rinse bucket to rinse out your wheel brushes when they get dirty. The water also helps foam up your wheel cleaner with your brushes. Just make sure to clean out your rinse bucket completely for your next hand wash or dedicate that bucket for tires & rims!
Step 2 - The Paint Correction Process: How To Polish A Car The Right Way!
A. Dual Action Polisher & Machine Polishing
Machine Polishing can be scary at first, but with the right products, tools, and education it becomes a simple process with a rewarding experience! Machine Polishing will eliminate most if not all paint imperfections such as scratches & swirl marks. It also creates a deep gloss and shine that everyone lusts after!
There are 3 main tools on the market that will help you achieve this deep glossy finish; the Dual Action Polisher, Forced Action Polisher, and finally the Rotary Polisher. We will focus our efforts on the DA polisher since it is the most beginner friendly regarding both skill set & price point.
The DA polisher almost eliminates the fear of burning through paint because it rotates & isolates freely! Not only is it super safe to use but it's typically lighter & easier to use compared to its counterparts. Top end DA polishers can cost upwards of $500 but you can find a quality beginner DA polisher from many manufactures under the $200 mark! If you play your cards right you can even catch some killer holiday sales on many polisher options on the market.
B. How to Examine Your Car's Exterior Paint Condition
Scratches, Swirl Marks, & Paint Defects
Most likely your vehicle's paint is not perfect and will require some level of paint correction, but first we have to examine your paint condition. In order to do so we are going to need some light! If you're in a shaded or garage space feel free to use a flashlight, if you're outside try using the sun to your advantage.
Move your flashlight back and forth over your painted surfaces and pay attention. You’ll notice spider webbing otherwise known as swirl marks or maybe even deeper scratches throughout your painted surfaces. Take a photo or mental note of deeper scratches and large paint defects, so when it's time to polish you know what to focus on.
*Pro Tip: If you notice a deeper scratch take your finger nail and drag it over the scratch, if your nail catches the scratch it's highly unlikely that you will be able to completely remove it safely!
C. Two Step vs One Step: What Pads & Polishes Do You Need?
Two Step Paint Correction
If your paint is in really bad shape with a lot of swirl marks & deeper scratches you might have to perform a heavy cut compounding stage & then finish off with a lighter cut polish. This Paint correction process is referred to as the 2 step correction.
Every time you go around a vehicle with your pad & polish combo that is considered a step. Think of your pad & polish combo as sandpaper, the heavier the cut of pad & polish the more scratches and swirls you'll be able to remove. But the heavier the cut the higher the risk of leaving behind hazing, which is the result of an improper finished paint surface.
Because the heavy cut polishing stage leaves behind hazing you would have to finish it with a lighter cut polish. Same concept as starting out with 1000 grit sandpaper and then moving on to 2500 grit. The lower the grit level the rougher the surface, the higher the grit level the smoother the surface! Imagine your Compound as your 1000 grit sandpaper while your polish is your 2500 grit.
The smoother and more level a painted surface is the more light it can reflect causing more gloss, shine, & clarity! A properly performed 2 step correction can remove upwards of 80% of defects & scratches depending on paint type & condition.
One Step Paint Correction
What if I told you a quality medium cut polish with a quality cutting pad can remove over 60% of swirls & defects all while leaving little to no hazing on the paint! This is referred to as the one step polishing process.
The one step polishing process is a great beginner option because you only need one type of pad and one type of polish, allowing you to get great results in half the time! You might have deeper scratches left over, but the majority of swirl marks & light defects can be eliminated with a one step!
D. How to Polish Your Paint The Right Way
For the sake of simplicity will be going over the one step polishing process; one type of pad & one type of polish. A medium cut pad & a medium cut polish will be a great balance of cut and finishing!
Take your pad and evenly apply it to your polishers backing plate, you want to make sure the pad and backing plate is perfectly aligned so your machine is balanced. After that apply about 6 pee size drops of your preferred choice of polish, then gently place the pad & polisher on your paint. Turn on your polisher at its lowest setting and spread out your polish.
Work in small 3x3 sections at a comfortable speed, light pressure, using slow straight overlapping passes. After 3 to 4 passes, turn off your polisher while the pad is still on the paint, don't remove the pad & polisher until it has completely stopped. Buff off the polish residue and examine your results, you should see a substantial difference between your before & after. If satisfied, continue the process until the whole vehicle is complete.
*Pro Tip: If you have a multiple of the same pads that's great! Switch out your pads after a few panels, this will make sure you're working clean & getting the best results!
Step 3 - The Protection Process: How to Make Your Car Shine Like Glass with Diamond Protection!
A. Forms Of Paint Protection & The Differences
Congratulations you just finished machine polishing your car to a high gloss shine! Well now it’s time to protect all your hard work! Your first and most traditional option will be a natural wax. Carnauba would be the most popular form of automotive wax and adds amazing depth and a light layer of short lived protection to your car's paint. Most waxes on the market only last a few weeks on your car's paint.
Your next and most popular option would be a polymer based sealant. Sealants are man made artificial forms of paint protection adding more gloss and shine to your paint along with longer lasting protection compared to traditional wax. Most quality paint sealants can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months. For the gloss and protection your vehicle gets, sealants are an easy to use option & very value.
Mirror Shine: Hybrid Wax and Sealant
We developed Mirror Shine as a hybrid wax and sealant hybrid. It goes on as easy as wax but gives you longer protection and shine like a sealant. Just spray on and rub into the surface, then buff. You'll get a diamond like shine in no time. In addition car owner's see 3 to 6 months of protection. Click the link below for your 15% off discount.
Coatings will be your highest grade of vehicle protection besides PPF. The most popular forms of coatings on the market are Ceramic Coatings and they apply a thick sacrificial layer of protection on your vehicle's surface. Depending on manufacture this protection can last anywhere from 1 year to 10+ years!
Like the name states this form of protection is an actual coat of semi permanent ceramic protection, while waxes & sealants are just light layers of temporary film. Along with the amazing protection qualities, coatings provide some of the highest gloss levels & water beading abilities on the market.
This all comes at a cost though, most ceramic coatings are expensive and very difficult to apply compared to waxes and sealants. That's why most coating manufacturers require detailers to obtain certifications through training in order to install coatings. With this said there are a handful of coatings on the market made for DIY enthusiasts that still provide most of the same great coating qualities that you can get from professional installers.
Our Brand New "60 Second Ceramic Coating" Spray
We've been secretly working on a spray on Ceramic Coating that gives you all the benefits of a Ceramic Coating without all the hassle of paint leveling, long cure times and difficult application. Instead simply spray on and wipe off! It's the easiest to apply on the market and provides a minimum of 6 months protection and up to 12 months of protection. Click here to get 15% off your first bottle.
B. Waxing: How To Apply A Car Wax
No Mr. Miyagi here! The proper way to install a natural non abrasive wax is in straight line motions. We recommend a microfiber towel or microfiber applicator. Taking your fresh applicator pad provided with your choice of wax, dab it lightly until one side of the pad is primed and saturated. Apply the wax in a cool and shaded area in straight line overlapping motions one panel at a time.
After applying your wax to a panel wait a few seconds to a minute until it turns hazy or almost a chalky white. After that, it's time for buffing! Buff off with a fresh clean microfiber towel, repeat the process replenishing your applicator pad with wax as needed until the whole vehicle is complete.
*Pro Tip: Split large panels like hoods and roofs into 2 or 3 sections, this will make the wax easier to apply & buff off!!
C. Sealing: How To Apply A Sealant
Most polymer based sealants are applied the same, but make sure to read the recommended directions from the manufacturer prior to application. Using two fresh microfiber towels, take your initial application towel and prime it with a couple light mists of your sealant. Then lightly but evenly spray the sealant on a panel and massage the solution into the paint with your primed applicator towel. Then take your second buff off towel and buff any remaining residue to a high gloss shine. Continue this process around the whole vehicle until completed.
Proper Cure Time
Some Sealants do have cure times that allow the sealant to properly bond to the paint so make sure to check your product labels or ask the manufacturer for proper cure times. If cure times are ignored it might affect the performance of your protection.
D. Ceramic Coating Application Overview
Ceramic Coatings are very technical to apply and we'll cover them fully in another blog post. We'll provide a more brief over here.
Most coatings are applied in small 3x3 sections, left to bond with the paint for a few moments, and then buffed off. But again every coating is different & very complex compared to sealants & waxes, so check with your products manufacturer for recommended application processes.
If coatings are improperly applied you can actually cause damage like high spots! High Spots are improperly leveled ceramic that permanently bonds to your vehicles paint. High spots are very noticeable and cause a strange and uneven look on your car's paint. The only way to remove a high spot is to polish it off along with the rest of the pricey coating.
Proper Cure Time
Because coatings are so much thicker than your wax or sealant, most if not all require a proper cure time. Some require a day while others can require a full week! During this time the vehicle should not be driven, avoid dust, and avoid water. If the proper conditions are not provided during the cure time the coatings performance and durability can be negatively affected!
*Pro Tip: Clean your glass for your last step with an automotive glass cleaner! This will allow you to remove any polish, wax, sealant, or coating residue living a perfect finish on your glass!*
Step 4: How to Maintain Your Car's Shine & Protection
- Wash your vehicle at least twice a month or as needed with the two bucket wash method.
- Use a quality PH neutral car soap with clean quality microfiber mitts & towels.
- Waterless washes are a great option for touch-ups in apartment complexes or areas with water restrictions.
- Air dry or use a clean quality drying towel after your wash.
- Use quick detailers or polymer sealants quarterly or as needed to boost your vehicles protection throughout its life cycle.
Auto Detailing & Car Care Common Mistakes
- Using Dawn Dish Soap: Dish Soap is too strong for your car's paint and can easily strip or degrade your waxes, sealants, or coatings. And if used too frequently dish soap can damage your vehicle's trim pieces & paint!
- Using Improper or Dirty Towels: Using the wrong towel on your paint can permanently damage your car, furthermore if your quality towels are dirty they can affect your product application & also cause further damage to your paint. We recommend microfiber cloth towels made specifically for auto detailing. Using low quality towels is one of the biggest mistakes we see and often leads to scratches.
- Forgetting the "Inner Exterior": We like to use a quick detailer or waterless wash to clean the inner exterior areas like inside the door jambs, under the trunk and under the hood.
- Using One Bucket: Using one bucket can accumulate dirt in your wash mitt causing it to scratch the surface of your vehicle. The 2 bucket wash method is always recommended, and if you can have a 3rd bucket for wheels and tires that would be even better.
- Using Windex On Glass: Most household cleaning products like Windex contain harsh chemicals like ammonia that can permanently damage plastic and paint surfaces on your car.
- Automated Car Washes: Be careful with car washes! Sure they are easy and quick but they tend to be very abrasive and have a high risk of scratching the surface of the car.
How To Clean A Car Interior: Detail A Car Interior Like A Pro!
Now that you know how to detail the outside of your car like a pro, check out our next step by step how to!
We cover how to clean the car's interior including upholstery, floor mats, leather seats, proper vacuuming, and how to clean air vents, nooks, crannies & crevices.