How to detail your car like a pro
Updated 15 Nov 2019
There’s so much more to car ownership than just driving.
You need to refill the fuel tank when it gets low, change the oil and rotate the tyres when service is due, change the fluids and perform repairs when there’s a problem.
But vehicle maintenance also includes detailing your car. Cleaning your ride will remove contaminants and corrosive materials that can deteriorate your car’s finish, or form rust.
Plus, there’s a sense of pride when you drive a spotless vehicle.
Here’s how to detail your car like a pro!
Handwash the Exterior
The pros never take their car through an automatic carwash.
The brushes cause minute scratches in the paintwork that dull the appearance and cause water to sit on the surface instead of running off.
The pros always wash their car by hand.
- To properly handwash your car, you need to start with warm water mixed with a high-quality carwash detergent. Consult the instructions on the soap for the right mix ratio;
- Rinse excess dirt from your car with clean water. It can be from either a regular garden hose or a pressure washer so long as you don’t spray from too close to the car. Soak a microfibre wash mitt in the wash water while you rinse the exterior;
- Using the wash mitt, scrub each panel completely, starting with the least dirty parts;
- When your car is completely soaped up, rinse it fully with clean water. Use warm water if possible to rinse the soap off more thoroughly. Rinse until no more suds form on the surface;
- Dry the exterior with a microfibre cloth or a chamois. Wipe from the top to the bottom, pushing water off the surface. Ring the cloth out whenever it gets saturated with water, so removes water most effectively.
Clean the Glass
The best glass cleaner for the exterior of your vehicle is a foaming glass cleaner. It breaks down any bug residue or tree sap, making your job easier.
Spray the glass, then wipe it clean with a microfibre cloth. Wipe in a vertical pattern first, then a horizontal motion on the second pass.
If there are streaks, re-clean the windows, making sure to use a clean portion of your cloth.
On the inside, it’s best to spray the glass cleaner on your cloth, then wipe the windows with the dampened cloth, so that the spray doesn’t settle all over your interior trim.
Wipe the glass clean in the same vertical then horizontal motion.
Detail the Interior
- Remove any loose items or rubbish. Dispose of refuse and put all other items in their respective place;
- Vacuum your floor mats and your carpets with a wet/dry vacuum. Use the thin vacuum attachment to get into tight spaces and crevices. Vacuum the seats as well;
- If there are soiled spots on the upholstery or floor, use a foaming upholstery cleaner to loosen the stain. Wait for a few moments according to the instructions, then brush the stain with a stiff-bristled brush. Vacuum the spot again, repeating the process as necessary until the stain is removed;
- For extremely soiled upholstery or carpets, you may need to rent a steam cleaner for the best possible result;
- Clean plastic trim, your centre console, and your cup holders with a clean, wet cloth. As it gets dirty, it starts to leave streaks, so rinse the cloth well and reuse it;
- Condition any leather surfaces with a leather conditioner that contains aloe. It will restore the leather’s shine and flexibility.
Clean the Wheels
To add the finishing touch, clean your rims and tyres to a brilliant shine.
Spray wheel cleaner directly onto your rims. Let it sit for a few moments, according the instructions on the cleaner. Rinse the wheels, then wipe them clean and dry with a rag set aside for only your wheels.
: Make sure the type of cleaner is right for your wheels. Some alloy wheel cleaners can discolour or cause pitting on chrome wheels. Chrome cleaner may not be effective on alloy surfaces. And any plastic-coated wheels or wheel covers should only be cleaned with soapy water.
Use a high-grade acid-free tyre cleaner to prevent premature aging and cracking of the rubber. Spray the tyre cleaner onto the sidewall, then scrub the tyre’s surface with a tyre brush. Wipe the excess cleaner off with a clean cloth.
Cleaning your car’s interior and exterior like a pro can take several hours. The longer you spend, the better the result will be. It’s also a great opportunity to look your vehicle over for necessary repairs and neglected maintenance.
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Jason is a Canadian automotive content writer with a background in the auto service industry, but he’s been hooked on cars and mechanics since childhood.
One of his first cars was an ’80 Mazda RX-7 that’s sorely missed to this day. A ’68 Ford Torino GT, a ’66 Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon, and a ’96 Suzuki GSX-R 750 have spent time in his fleet of cars, bikes, and trucks over the past two decades.
Jason’s pride and joy is under construction – a turbocharged ’88 Mazda RX-7 convertible. Also on his resume is CASCAR official certification.