Car Detailing Guide
I have been in the car detailing industry since 2018, about 5 years now, and today I’m going to share my knowledge about how to detail a car with you. This blog will be a one-stop guide for beginners, intermediates, and advanced car detailers.
To give you a brief overview of the things we’re going to talk about in this blog post, we’ll start out by giving you a specific order in which to detail your vehicle (It has been battle tested for years).
Then, we’re going to split car detailing into two different categories:
- Interior Detailing
- Exterior Detailing
Car Detailing Order
The most essential part of making sure that your car detail yields the results you’re looking for is the proper order. The most common issue that beginners have when they’re learning to detail as they jump around. One minute they’ll be cleaning the steering wheel, the next, they will be working on cleaning the door jambs.
What is car detailing? Car Detailing is a comprehensive service, meaning that car detailers, no matter where you live, are supposed to clean nearly every inch of a vehicle. Many of these areas can cross-contaminate areas that you have previously cleaned with dust, dirt, and grime.
That’s why this blog is going to give you a professional’s take on the best order to detail in order to remove and eliminate any potential issues we might have with contamination.
If you plan to clean both the interior and exterior of your vehicle then the best place to begin would be the interior.
Typically, the interior of the vehicle takes far longer than the exterior, it also requires greater attention to detail as opposed to spraying soap and foamy water off a car. Attention to detail is not optional in either the interior or exterior of a car if you intend on doing a good job.
However, it is even more important in the interior that small spaces and crevices commonly hold dirt that you have noticed and clean, making it more taxing.
That’s why you should get it out of the way first. Take your time with detailing the interior and do a good job. Below I’ll give you a sequence of steps to complete in order to cover all of your bases in detailing the interior of a vehicle.
Let’s get into how to detail a car.
Interior Detailing Order
- Remove Objects: Remove the mats and large debris: bottles, tissues, umbrellas, or leaves that have managed to find their way into the vehicle.
- Vacuum: Vacuum the entirety of the interior. Remember covering all the bases is important, so vacuum the two front seats, the two back seats, the trunk, and other compartments that have visible dirt.
- Center Console area: Top-Down, clean the Dashboard, screen, buttons, steering wheel, passenger storage, center compartment area, and air vents.
- Doors: Then, you can move on to cleaning the individual doors since there is hardly any risk of cross-contamination. Again, work top-down.
- Other Plastic: While you’re working on the doors and you’re outside of the vehicle go ahead and clean the undercarriage of the driver’s seat, the pedals, the plastic side paneling, and the step-on plastic.
- Seat Cleaning: Cleaning seats will be your last step unless you have carpets that need cleaning.
- Windows: After cleaning the doors and additional plastic in the area clean your windows.
- Shampooing Carpets: Shampooing carpets is optional for those of you who are interested in giving your vehicle this service. There is a nominal risk of cross-contamination, so you can fit it in last. Or directly after vacuuming depending on your choice.
- Engine Bay: if this is something that you’re interested in feel free to clean it at any point before cleaning the exterior. I am including it in this section because it is technically the “interior” of a car.
Exterior Detailing Order
- Door Jams: After cleaning the interior, this is the first step.
- Wheels: Apply the appropriate chemicals to the wheels to make sure they’re clean before anything else. There is a lot of hidden dirt that we want to avoid splashing onto other areas of the car.
- Pre-Rinse: An initial spray of water with a hose or pressure washer is common in the industry to remove surface-level dirt.
- Foam: If you have a foam gun, then this is the time to spray the car with the appropriate solution.
- Hand-Wash: Remove stubborn dirt and grime.
- Rinse: Remove all of the soap from the vehicle.
- Dry: Dry the vehicle, be careful, and take your time with this step to avoid excessive water spots.
- Clay Baring: This would be the time to apply that lubricant and remove the remaining impurities in the vehicle.
- Exterior Windows: After the vehicle is cleaned take your window solution and wipe down all of the windows.
- Optional Black Trim Restoration: This will remove all the wax and protectants from your vehicle so make sure to slip this in before waxing.
- Wax: Apply a wax or polish of your choice to the vehicle. You can choose to apply this to the windows as well to induce water beading.
- Tire Shine: Applying a chemical of your choice to make your tires pop.
How to detail a car interior
Since I already gave the car detailing order, you should complete the full car detail using those steps chronologically. As such, I will explain how to detail a car interior using the same sequence. For the sake of convenience and saving both your time and mine, I’ll omit the simple steps: like removing objects from the interior of the vehicle.
So, let’s get started.
What are the different parts of detailing the interior of a car?
- Clean and protect plastic (in the order I gave you)
- Seat cleaning
- Potentially Shampooing Carpets
- Engine Bay
Well, for this you’re going to need four things.
- A vacuum
- A thin attachment to get into hard-to-reach areas
- A boars hair brush
- An Agitator: A compressor, A brush with firm-wire bristles.
The first step:
Note: By this point, the mats and other objects should have already been removed from the vehicle.
Use your vacuum’s air-blowing function to displace all of the dirt and dust in the vehicle allowing it to settle in a new location. Not many people do this, but it is one of the tactics that I have used throughout my whole career that has gotten phenomenal results.
Blowing out all of the dirt and debris makes it easier to pick up and makes you more aware of where the highest concentration of dirt is AKA the place you need to focus on.
The second step:
Vacuum the car, picking up all of the dirt and dust from the floor, surfaces, and small joints in the vehicle.
For the air conditioning system of the vehicle, you should grab your boar’s hair brush and agitate the dust in there and vacuum it out carefully. If this doesn’t work then come in with a thin rod and a microfiber towel, removing the dust that way instead.
Many cars have carpet stains and stubborn dirt that just doesn’t want to come out of the carpet. So, this is where you should grab your agitator and try to displace the dirt/stain before coming at it with the vacuum again.
We have a blog on how clean between car seats if you’re looking for a more in-depth guide.
Vacuuming the mats that you had placed carefully outside of the vehicle. For this, you’re going to want to use your agitator even before coming in with the vacuum. Move around in linear and circular motions to get the best results.
Then, vacuum the mats.
If the mats are particularly dirty you can use your boar’s hair brush and an APC (All Purpose Cleaner) or upholstery cleaner to clean out stains and just get higher quality results in general when it comes to the appearance of the mats.
Plastic and Leather Interior
For this section you’re going to need three things:
- Boars Hair Brush
- APC (all-purpose cleaner)
- UV protectant spray or interior detailer
- Microfiber towel
Interior car detailing wouldn’t be complete without making sure that all of the plastic is clean. So, with your APC make 1-2 sprays into the tip of the brush and work the product into the area you’re working on in a circular motion, then in a singular swipe remove all of the product with your microfiber towel.
This is the methodology of cleaning any plastic in the vehicle but remember the sequence of plastic in the car.
- Dashboard/ Steering Wheel
- Center Console
- Center Compartment
- Seat belt Holder
- Step-on plastic
I’m one of the people in my industry that support the use of UV protectants, that is picking and using the right ones. My recommendation? Find a UV protectant that doesn’t make the surface “shiny”. That typically means that it’s incredibly oily and just isn’t that good of a product.
In my area, customers don’t like the fact that the plastic trim in their car is blinding them every time they step in the car. So just get a spray that offers a moderate gloss or even a matt finish.
Now, with your UV or interior detailer spray apply a two-three spray of the liquid onto a new microfiber towel and work the product in a circular motion. Do this until the liquid is dried onto the surface and moved onto another area.
For this step, the order doesn’t matter as much, but if you’re still worried about cross-contamination feel free to use the sequence I just gave you.
Also, try not to spray directly onto the surfaces because the windows can get the product on them and it’ll be pretty difficult to remove if you do get some overspray in the area. Just follow my advice, spray onto the microfiber towel and you’ll be fine.
For this step you’re going to need 3 things:
- An agitator
- A microfiber towel
- An APC, An Upholstery cleaner, or a leather cleaner.
Depending on what type of seat you have you might have to choose between an upholstery or leather cleaner. Thankfully, that’s an easy decision to make.
Alright, so how do I properly clean my seats?
Note: By this step, your seats should be well vacuumed.
Step 1:Apply the cleaner to a soft cloth and gently rub any stains or spots on the seats until they lift.
Step 2: After spot cleaning, rinse the area with clean water to remove any remaining cleaner.
Step 3: Once you have finished cleaning the seats, let them air dry or use a clean towel to blot up excess moisture. Avoid using heat to dry the seats, as this can damage the fabric.
It is important to test any cleaner on a small, inconspicuous area of the seat before using it on the entire seat, to ensure that it does not cause any discoloration or damage.
If you want make sure that your glass is completely streak free you’re going to need:
- Microfiber towel or sponge
- Glass cleaner
- Lint-free cloth or a higher quality microfiber towel.
Spray your glass cleaner directly onto the windows and make sure not to use more than a few sprays, because it can interfere with the drying step.
Use a microfiber towel in order to work the product in. My strategy is to create an outline of the window and slowly move inwards. Obviously, The exact technique that you use to clean the windows doesn’t really matter as long as you’re not contaminating the window with any other products, dirt, or dust.
Wait 45 seconds to 1 minute. If there are any streaks on the glass, then use a higher-quality microfiber towel (waffle weave) to remove any imperfections.
If after this step there are still streaks, you can come in with an IPA (A mix of 50% distilled water and isopropyl alcohol) to clean the window once again.
Repeat the process throughout the vehicle.
Since these aren’t typical parts of the car detailing process I’ll include instructions on these sections in a different resource. Click to learn more.
How do I shampoo the carpets in my car?
How to detail a car exterior
Keeping your vehicle’s exterior in a pristine condition not only looks great but also helps maintain its value. From cleaning the door jambs to adding the finishing touches, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to detailing your vehicle’s exterior.
What You Need:
- Microfiber towels
- Car wash soap
- Clay bar
- Clay lubricant
- Wheel cleaner
- Tire shine
- Black trim restorer
Cleaning Door Jambs:
What You Need:
A microfiber towel and a bucket of water.
Step 1: Open each door and wipe down the door jamb with a damp microfiber towel to remove any dirt or grime. For this, you can use your APC to wipe down the door jamb. Make sure to take your time and not leave any streaks in the door jamb in order to get the best results.
This is a super important part of exterior car detailing because as soon as people open the door it pops. The contrast between the clean interior and the still dirty door jambs. Prior to the car’s interior detailing, the owner probably never noticed it, but after cleaning the interior properly there is no way the owner won’t notice.
Step 2: Dry the door jamb with a clean, dry microfiber towel. this step is mostly to remove the remaining dust and streaks in the door jamb. Especially with glossier coats of paint, these streaks tend to highlight themselves.
What You Need:
- Wheel Cleaner or degreaser
- Wheel Brush
- boar’s hair brush
- microfiber towel
step 1: Spray the wheel cleaner or degreaser onto the wheel and work it into the surface with your detailing brush. This is to allow the product to make the dirt, rust, iron, and general grim become more malleable and easy to remove. Learning how to leaning wheels is absolutely essential and learning to do it to perfection is equally important.
The best practice is to take your time in the beginning, learn to get the best results, and then slowly speed up your process.
step 2: Use the wheel brush to scrub the wheel and remove any brake dust or dirt. If you have any other tools or brushes feel free to use them at your discretion. But, apart from detailing the exterior of a vehicle to clean the wheel wells, you need a longer brush for that.
Make sure to have that available if you’re trying to detail your own car to professional quality.
step 3: Rinse the wheel with a hose or pressure washer
step 4: Dry the wheel with a clean microfiber towel. Get rid of any stubborn dirt or rust with this step.
step 5: After you have finished the entire process of cleaning the wheels and the vehicle in general. Come back to the wheels and apply your tire shine in order to give your car an extra boost in appearance.
Washing the car
What You Need
- Car Wash Soap
- 2 Buckets with grip guard
- Microfiber Mitt
- Hose or pressure washer
- Drying towel
Step 1: Pre-rinse the surface of the vehicle using either an IPA, hose, or pressure washer. Getting rid of a lot of the surface-level dirt makes the process of detailing the outside of the vehicle a lot easier.
Step 2: Use a foam cannot or wash mitt to apply a round of soap onto the vehicle. After getting it on all the panels and areas on the exterior of the vehicle, wait 1-2 minutes for the soap to set in and loosen any remaining dirt on the exterior of the car.
If there is a lot of sun on that day, then lower the amount of time in between each of the steps in order to reduce water spotting.
Step 3: Work around the car with your two buckets with grip guards and your wash mitt. Clear all of the soap off of the vehicle.
If there is any major dirt or stains try to get them off during this step, clearing past clean areas and focusing on the areas with the most visible dirt.
Step 4: Dry the vehicle. In this step remove the water on the windows first because water spots on windows are much more difficult to remove as opposed to those on the body of the vehicle.
What You Need: A clay bar and clay lubricant.
Step 1: Spray the clay lubricant onto a small section of the car.
Clay barring is also a great option if you’re trying to remove overspray from a car.
Step 2: Rub the clay bar gently over the lubricated area to remove any contaminants that the washing and drying process missed.
Step 3: Repeat the process on the entire car.
What You Need:
- Glass Cleaner
- Micro Fiber Towel
- Bead Maker
Glass cleaner and a microfiber towel.
Step 1: Spray the glass cleaner onto the window and work in the product in straight lines from the top down.
Step 2: Wait for the cleaner to dry out and check to see if there are any streaks that are visible on the surface of the glass.
Step 3: Once all of the streaks are removed, move on to the bead maker. Apply a generous amount to the surface of the glass and work it well in a circular motion. If there are any streaks make sure to remove them with a dry microfiber towel.
If you’re struggling with removing water spots anywhere on the vehicle read our blog on removing water spots.
Black Trim Restoration:
What You Need:
- Black Trim Restorer
- Micro Fiber Towel
Step 1: Apply the black trim restorer to the microfiber towel.
Step 2: Rub the towel onto the black trim to restore its color and shine.
Step 3: Wipe away any excess product.
Black trim restoration is a simple and easy take to do on any vehicle and it has great results. The process is very intuitive and to be honest almost too undemanding.
What You Need:
- Wax or Polish
- Application Pad
- Fine- Microfiber towel
step 1: Apply a small amount of wax to the applicator pad. In a circular motion work the wax of our choice into the surface of the vehicle. Try and make sure that you aren’t applying the wax in direct sunlight for the best results.
If you choose to apply the wax in the sun be more generous with the wax, and be prepared to wipe off streaks and excess later with a fine microfiber towel.
step 2: Let the wax dry and then buff it off with a clean microfiber towel. Wipe until you the streaks of wax aren’t visible.
Also, do not apply wax anywhere where this is plastic trim or metals. In some cases they can stain the plastic or metals, making them nearly impossible to remove.
Car Detailing Complete
As you can tell car detailing is a pretty all-inclusive service. It goes way more depth than just a regular car wash, and by now, you should be seeing the effects of it in your own car. I hope that this car detailing guide helped you out and if you have any questions I would love to hear them in the comments. Thank you.
If you’re looking for another guide on car detailing check out Avalon King’s guide.