We Know: How to Detail Your Car

What does it mean to detail a car?

Detailing a car is the process of cleaning, waxing, and/or shining it up to the tiniest detail, in effect, making the car look as good as it possibly can. It takes time to detail a car, and you can pay a lot of money to a professional car detailer to do it for you. Or, you can save money by investing in your own time and effort to detail your car yourself.

A general rule of thumb with cleaning is top to bottom. The idea is that if you start at the bottom then work your way up, any dirt, dust, or grime will settle back down to the area you already cleaned.

Cleaning Supplies

Have these items handy because you'll need them to detail your car:

  • Vacuum.
  • Bucket of warm water mixed with carwash soap.
  • Rags and sponges for washing.
  • Q-tips.
  • Carpet cleaner.
  • Upholstery cleaner.
  • Vinyl polish.
  • Glass cleaner.
  • Seltzer water for after-market window tinting.
  • Terry cloth towel or chamois.
  • Metal or chrome polish.
  • Automotive wax.

Steps to Detailing Your Car

  1. Empty out the car of everything that's not permanently installed. This includes the ashtray, coin cup, floor mats, etc.
  2. Scrub these items then put aside and leave to dry. For smaller items like the ashtray, use a Q-tip in the corners if it doesn't come clean with a rag. The floor mats will need a carpet cleaner solution, or if they're not carpet, use soap and warm water. You can shine the rubber with rubber polish, but make sure it's not the slippery kind.
  3. Wipe down the dashboard from top to bottom with a cloth dampened with warm, soapy water. If the water isn't completely clean, you'll see the dirt residue on the dashboard as it dries. Detail the crevices and corners, especially the air vents, using Q-tips. Don't use ammonia-based glass cleaner on the console behind the steering wheel unless it's glass. Instead, use a damp cloth or plastic cleaner. When the dashboard is dry, lightly spray it with a vinyl polish. Avoid areas of the dashboard like the console behind the steering wheel.
  4. Vacuum the interior. Spot clean any stains, and use carpet cleaner for the remaining carpet.
  5. Clean the upholstery. Use vinyl cleaners on vinyl, leather cleaners on leather, etc.
  6. Patch upholstery, dashboard, and carpet holes, cracks, and tears. Patch kits are available from automotive stores to help you with this.
  7. Clean the interior windows with a glass cleaner. You can avoid streaks by using crumpled newspapers. Don't use ammonia-based glass cleaner on after-market window tints. You can wash these with Seltzer water.
  8. Wash the car's exterior (and wheels) with the carwash soap and water. Make sure the surface is cool beforehand.
  9. Dry the exterior with the terry cloth towel or chamois.
  10. Use a vinyl polish on the sidewalls, but make sure you don't get any on the tread or you may skid when driving. Polish the wheels with a chrome or metal polish.
  11. Wax the exterior. Remember to clean and wax the door jams, running board if there is one, the bumper, etc. Plastic chrome should be waxed. Avoid rubber areas as the wax can stain them.

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