Car Detailing Guide

So you’ve managed to stumble upon this car detailing guide, presumably because you’ve got hooked from several high-quality YouTube videos showing the depths of car detailing and thought you’d like to give it a go yourself. Or perhaps a friend has shared this link with you – thank them for me. Either way, you’re here. The whole purpose of this blog and this guide here is to help speed up the process for people new to Car Detailing. It has taken me a few months to actually understand what car detailing is, and have a comfortable idea of all the type of products available and their purpose.

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Now a lot of it can seem to be a minefield if you start to dig, and it’s because it’s like everything in this world – people (and companies) are constantly trying to sell you something and it is very hard to tear apart the genuinely good products versus those that are well advertised. It can be very frustrating if all you want to do is just get into car detailing and are prepared to spend the money but at the same time don’t want it wasted. That was my viewpoint anyway. Talking of money, if you are looking into Car Detailing instead of Car Washing – you need to be prepared to spend a good amount of money if you are going to take this seriously. This will be an initial setup, and from that point onward there will be less costly things to purchase. That was just a heads up!

I’ve been searching Google for ages, just tell me what I need!…

Recommended Products
Nilfisk C110 Pressure WasherClick Here To Check Price
Dodo Juice Born to be MildClick Here To Check Price
Meguiars Lambswool Wash MittClick Here To Check Price
EZ Detail BrushClick Here To Check Price
Meguiar’s 920gsm Microfibre TowelClick Here To Check Price
Autoglym Surface Detailing Clay KitClick Here To Check Price
Autoglym High Definition WaxClick Here To Check Price
Poorboys Wheel SealantClick Here To Check Price
Meguiars Tyre Gel Click Here To Check Price
Auto Finesse All Purpose CleanerClick Here To Check Price
Soft, Interior Bristle BrushesClick Here To Check Price
Pack of Microfibre TowelsClick Here To Check Price
Autoglym Leather CleanerClick Here To Check Price
Autoglym Leather Care BalmClick Here To Check Price
Autoglym Interior ShampooClick Here To Check Price
Pressure Washing Car

What is Car Detailing? What does detailing a car mean? How long does it take to detail a car?

All common questions to ask when you first hear about it. To put it very simply it is where your car gets a complete overhaul, both inside and out. You could consider the standard wash to be as follows:

Exterior:

  • Car Panels
  • Wheels

Interior:

  • Floor Mats and general hoover,
  • Wipe down of seats
  • Dashboard clean
  • Window cleaning.

However, with car detailing it looks more like this…

Exterior:

  • Car Panels
  • Car Trim (Seals)
  • Door Jams
  • Detail of the car (e.g. front air intakes, headlight outline, car badge etc)
  • Engine Bay
  • Wheels (Wheel arch, in between all spokes, nuts etc)


Interior:

  • Floor matt (hoover and applying product to clean and freshen)
  • General foot area including pedals
  • Seat rails
  • Boot
  • All interior trim


Essentially, Car Detailing is like taking your car for a Spa Day. Every aspect of it, if done correctly should be treated as its own individual part and thoroughly cleaned with multiple tools and great care taken. It depends on the person, but it could take anywhere between 8-16 hours if it’s the first time and you really want to do a good job. Like with the budget shift mentality from Car Washing to Car Detailing, you really need to treat this as something you will enjoy doing on the weekends or on your day off – it isn’t a fast process.

If you’re still with me reading this, you’ll have realised by now you have two things to adjust to – budget and time. Now I have mentioned budget, it is very hard to say how much exactly but I would say approximately somewhere in the region of £300/$500 is what you should expect as your initial investment. Bare this in mind, there are companies who charge this and will do it all for you for around this price, and that is a one-off job. Spending this sort of money now will mean it will last you ages. So, expensive when you’re used to spending £20/$40 on your standard car wash but quite good value when you put it up against someone who does this as a service – providing you spend as much time after investing in the products you’ll get the same results as them and with an added bonus of satisfaction.

Ok, ok… what do I need?! I hear you say…

What does snow foam do to a car?

Pre Wash – Snow Foam

Probably the thing that sparked your curiosity into this world, seeing it on the well-edited YouTube clips and thinking what is that! I spent ages researching this, and there is a whole debate around it as to whether it does what it says or just looks cool. I bit the bullet and went for it, and I am glad I did. My experience so far of using it has been excellent, and there is a noticeable difference when cleaning the car if I haven’t used it. The main issue is it needs to be mixed correctly, and diluted properly in the lance. My use, every time, has come out like thick shaving foam and works exceptionally well.

To use Snow Foam, you need a jet washer and a snow foam lance attachment. For the pressure washer, I recommend the Nilfisk C110 which is affordable and does exactly what you need it to do. For the Snow Lance, there doesn’t appear to be an official attachment but I purchased a Nilfisk compatible Snow Foam Lance. I’ll link to the one I’ve purchased here but you may be able to find one on eBay. An idea for the price is around £25/$40, please stay away from anything cheaper than that – there are hosepipe equivalent models which the cheaper version may be (hence won’t work as it should) or you could get one where the water doesn’t flow and produce the foam as it should.

The Snow Foam which I have had really good results from is called Auto Finesse Avalanche. When mixed produces a good shaving foam-like substance, and doesn’t run off the car too quickly. I personally don’t rinse the car with water before applying the foam now as I have found the foam clings better although I guess you could try either way.

What shampoo can I use to wash my car?

There is a whole host of shampoo’s that you can purchase, and it can be difficult as I mentioned in the beginning as they’re marketed so well getting an idea of what is the most genuine product is difficult. My shampoo of choice at the moment is Dodo Juice – Born to be Mild 250ml (500/1000ml linked above). It suds extremely well, and smells great. I went through several which did not do this, and it did frustrate me a lot. More importantly, it is pH-neutral which means it will not strip any wax. Now, I made the rookie mistake and imagine a lot of people have done when I was just car washing and tried to find the shampoo with an all-in-one. These are never going to be as good as dedicated products. Essentially, I was taking off really good wax with these all in one shampoo and wax products and undoing all the time I had spent – if the bottle could’ve laughed at me it would have. A motivator for doing this blog, to save other people this time as the information really isn’t available it is far too scattered.

Best way to wash a car without scratching?

Make sure you purchase a Lambswool / Lambskin wash mitt to clean your car panels. I started off using a micro-noodle wash mitt, but have found the Lambswool to be much more delicate on the paintwork. I use a Meguiars Luxurious Lambs Wool Wash Mitt, but any brand as long as it is genuine will be ok. I went for a well-known brand just to be assured it is genuine and no fake fibres etc. Perhaps too paranoid, but I don’t want to go to the extent of detailing a car and skimping on the very item that will be touching the paintwork.

On top of that, you’ll need two buckets. You can YouTube the benefits of this but it is quite obvious when you think about it but far, far overlooked. Essentially you have two buckets, one with pure plain water the other with your shampoo. You dip your mitt into the shampoo, wash the car in a linear motion (no circles!) then dip it into the pure water bucket – give it a shake and then dip it back into the shampoo bucket. Doing so means you’ll get rid of grit and it’ll settle in the pure water bucket not contaminating the shampoo mix. To step it up a notch (and it is recommended) you will need to grab yourself a Grit Guard which sits at the bottom of the bucket.

How to clean wheels with brake dust?

How to clean wheels with brake dust?

Now, this depends on how dirty your wheels are as to what products you need to use. A lot of detailers will use a wheel cleaner. I do use a wheel cleaner, but I don’t quite like using them – I don’t feel at ease. The only wheel cleaner I have used is Autoglym Custom Wheel Cleaner as it is the least harsh on the wheel’s surface. I do think scientifically, and with car detailing you do need to think microscopically – if you are using something really strong to take off brake dust what is it doing to the lacquer on the wheel. When using it, I feel like I am on a timer and can’t really give the wheels a good scrub. Don’t get me wrong, it cleans and does a good job but I don’t get a satisfying wheel clean feeling.

Recently, I have used the pressure washer and shampoo combo to clean my wheels. I use the same shampoo I use for the car (at the moment Dodo Juice Born to be mild) and a dedicated bucket for wheels alongside a good wheel brush. The wheel brush is a recent addition to my toolbox because, for a brush, it was quite expensive (alongside all these other items) and I was getting by with the wheel cleaner. However, the purchase hasn’t been a regretful one and you can really give the wheels an excellent clean. It’s the EZ Detail Brush (Large). I only bought the large, in hope that it would suffice and so far it does. These are fairly expensive but I am thinking of buying another brush or two for true perfection – but that’ll have to hold on for now. With this, I got to the ‘Spend Check’ crossroads.

How to dry a car without scratching it?

One you’ll definitely hate. I can’t say how much I used to hate doing this with a Leather Chamois and now when I think about it can’t believe I used such an abrasive item to dry paintwork. Please, do not skimp on this. Skimping on this can mean the difference of the car taking you 20-25 minutes to dry to over an hour. Get yourself an Ultra Thick Microfibre towel, I use 720gsm which soaks up the water really well and I only have to squeeze the water out once for the entire car. There isn’t a brand in particular, just remember to get one which is 720gsm or higher to make sure it will do the drying for you. I simply lay the towel on the car and dab it, then pull off. To dry the wheels after washing I used a good quality, but generic Microfibre Towel that are sold in multiples.

What do I need to polish my car?

For now, this is an area which I have yet to venture into. I have used AutoGlym’s Super Resin Polish on a few plastic trims with success however the thought, for now, of using a Dual Action Polisher on my car to get rid of very few swirls marks just isn’t necessary. I would strongly advise you to do as much research as you can and not just take any old advice. To make you realise, you are essentially sanding the lacquer on your paint so do your research. Plus, the additional cost of this stage put me off too. Haha, I know what you’re thinking about me… keep it to yourself.

Is clay bar good for your car?

Is clay bar good for your car?

Before applying wax on your car, you need to and you must make sure the car is as clean as possible. Taking all the steps that you have done before, you would think it’s clean enough. Again, this was a bit like the snow foam scenario – I thought is this a gimmick and another £25/$40 to spend on an extra stage just for the sake of it. It isn’t. This stage will take a good hour to two, but you’ll see the results for yourself. The paintwork must feel smooth, glass-like to be considered contaminant free. If you clay a small area and test a place which hasn’t been you’ll immediately feel the difference. Being the first time to use clay, I went with a brand I felt safe with (like the wheels) and that was Autoglym. I got the Autoglym Surface Detailing Clay Kit, which included the Super Resin Polish I was just talking about but apart from the trim I skipped doing that on the car as the paintwork is pretty good. After claying the entire car, it was ready to put on the wax.

Note: I use the Autoglym Detail Spray (included) after the car has been rinsed after it has been washed. After claying I then re-rinse and dry using the Microfibre 720gsm towel. I do not clay every time I wash the car.

Is it good to wax your car? How many times do you need to wax your car?

Car panels and windows are as smooth as a baby’s bum ready for the wax to be applied and adhere to for as long as possible. As with the shampoo’s (and other items), there are just so many to choose from. I went with Autoglym High Definition Wax mainly due to seeing its name pop up consistently and seeing videos/images of its beading ability. There are others half of its price, and me being me was really tempted to save a bit of money but I thought I have gone this far – the wax is the final stage so it just pushed me over enough to buy it. I am pleased to say that it beads extremely well, and I am glad I purchased it. I would have been in an extremely bad mood if it wasn’t good – nothing worse than paying that little bit extra and it lets you down. Just a heads up, there is a lot of talk of a wax that is <£10 and in a gold tin. Stay away, despite what people say the stuff is a complete nightmare to buff off and I hardly put any on. Believe me, when I heard all the rave about it, my eyes lit up and I was excited about saving £30… don’t do it – I have and had that “I knew I should’ve…” which is why I did on my most recent splurge.

What is wheel sealant? Does wheel wax really work?

What is Wheel Sealant? Does Wheel Wax really work?

I’ve gone for the Poorboys Wheel Sealant to make my job of cleaning the wheels on a regular basis. Now, technically, you are supposed to clay bar each wheel before applying this but I haven’t got the tools to jack up my car – plus the neighbours already look at me weirdly enough spending 8-16 hours on my car over two days. I haven’t had the “you’re washing it away” comment just yet. A good scrub with the wheel brush and dry is good enough for me at the moment. I’ve applied this sealant once so far, and even though it is recommended to do several times I am quite impressed with it already. On a recent wash, I only used the pressure washer as I was heading out and wanted the wheels to look nice and clean and I do think this stuff has made it harder for brake dust to stick to the wheel. I’m still researching as I get the impression there are other products out there which are better but this will definitely do for now.

What’s the best tyre blackener? What do car valeters use on Tyres? How do you apply tyre gel?

Final treatment for the wheels, normally a focus point especially when they’ve been cleaned thoroughly. I’ve tried a few but my tyre gel of choice at the moment is Meguiar’s Endurance High Gloss Tyre Protection Gel. It lasts a decent amount of time, I am not so sure on it lasting 4 weeks – but I would say it lasts 2 weeks comfortably. To apply you don’t have to use anything fancy – I have been using a 50p/$1 sponge. I’ve tried microfibre towels but it doesn’t apply well. I have recently purchased Meguiar’s Tyre Dressing Applicator Pad which makes it much neater to apply (gel goes all over your fingers/hands).

How to do you clean a dirty car interior?

Phwar! I thought I was about to wrap it up… but then I would have forgotten the interior.

How do you clean a dirty car interior?

Luckily, the interior isn’t as extensive of a list for me at the moment so I’ll just include what I have the knowledge on and I am quite happy with. One thing that drove me crazy for a while was all the different products available for inside. I know I am emphasising the detailing route, but I am doing it myself and haven’t got a fully-fledged garage setup with labels of products organised on shelves. Why oh why I didn’t think or come across this earlier is a mystery to me. I have found the gold mine (or it feels like it to me) of the Auto Finesse All-Purpose Cleaner. One bottle can be split between 1-3 sprayer bottles and mixed in different ratios. Hurrah, this covers me for interior dash/steering/vent cleaning, door jam areas and engine bay cleaning. You can see why I find it a jackpot.

What essentials are needed to clean the interior of a car?

I use high-quality Microfibre Towels which are sold in packs for the inside, followed by a combination of interior brushes with soft bristles. These really do add the edge onto cleaning the interior of your car. It allows you to get into the vents, around the edges of buttons – you know, all the areas, if someone was being picky, would look. Knowing that you’ve thoroughly cleaned these areas gives great satisfaction and things like these are what separate detailing from a normal wash and wipe. I haven’t got a particular brand to recommend, but find something along the lines of Soft Detailing Brushes for Interior (brushes for the external of the car exist and aren’t necessarily as soft as the interior ones). These Soft Natural Hog Hair Detailing Brushes are what I currently use.

What is the best way to clean leather/cloth seats in a car?

My car has leather seats, and they’re in good condition but thought I am going this far so I’ll do a full detail on the seats too. Being cautious about messing up my leather seats and due to the massive product selection, I opted for Autoglym, again. I went for the Autoglym Leather Cleaner and Autoglym Leather Care Balm. I then squeezed my wallet further (poor thing) to buy a good quality leather cleaning brush. I know there are some so-called 2-in-1 leather and conditioners but I really didn’t want to mess around with my seats and figured Autoglym is a trustworthy brand to go with and hence went with them. There are YouTube videos highlighting the difference between dirty leather and clean leather seats and I had that same effect. My seats looked clean, but after giving them a good scrub it was evident that they weren’t. I never realised there were so many parts to a seat, my goodness. I followed instructions to the T to make sure I got the best and safest results as possible. (The whole wheel cleaner product has heightened my awareness of all ‘cleaning’ products and the time spent into contact with the surface). If you are cleaning cloth seats, I have had success in a previous car with Autoglym’s Interior Shampoo or Auto Finesse All Purpose Cleaner and a Microfibre Towel.

That’s it, for now at least. I’ll continue to add to this post as my journey continues. Hopefully, you found it useful, if you did share it with your friends or via social media would be awesome.

Comment down below too, I’ll reply when I can. Plus if you have any recommendations on products I am eager to give them a go and may even change recommendations here if I am happy with them.