You live a busy life. From driving to and from work, dropping off messy kids at soccer practice, and everything else your car endures, chances are it isn’t as clean as it could be. You might spend your weekends rinsing off your car with the hose or driving it through the hands-free car wash, but this isn’t enough. Your car probably needs some serious TLC to get out any long-standing scuffs or marks. Washing alone may remove dirt and debris from your car’s surface but it can also damage the paint and remove wax or sealant. If you have any hopes of keeping your car looking nice in the long run, you’re going to have to fully detail it. Car detailing will have you feeling accomplished and confident that your car’s minor imperfections are taken care of. Here is your step-by-step guide to detailing both the inside and outside of your car:
If you don’t already have these items around the house, go out and buy:
- Vacuum With Detachable Hose
- Glass Cleaner
- Scrub Brush
- Foaming Carpet Cleaner
- All-Purpose Cleaner
- Spray Nozzle For Your Hose
- Spray Wax
- Masking Tape
- Mild One-Step Polish
- Polish Applicator Pads
- Random Orbital Polisher
- Hand-Wax Applicator
- Paint Sealant (Synthetic Wax)
- Lamb’s Wool Mitt
- Tire Shine Gel
- Tire Applicator Pad
- Wheel Scrubbing Brush
- Non-Toxic Wheel Cleaner
- Toothbrush (Do Not Use After Cleaning Car)
- Car Wash Soap
- Leather/Vinyl Moisturizer or Protectant
- Magic Eraser
- Amor All or Olive Oil (To Polish Your Dashboard)
- Spray Bottle and Squeegee (If You Have Pet Hair on Your Car Seats)
- Mason Jar, Essential Oil, and Baking Soda for Air Freshener
Supplies: vacuum, scrub brush, toothbrush, window cleaner, washcloths, olive oil or Armor All, Q-Tips, Magic Eraser, spray bottle, and foaming carpet cleaner.
- First, remove all trash from the car including under the seats and in the pockets behind the seats.
- Then, dust all surface areas (dashboard, radio, air vents, cup holders) with a washcloth and all-purpose cleaner. Use your Magic Eraser to get rid of dried liquids or food on all surfaces. You can use Q-Tips to get inside tricky spots like your air vents or radio buttons.
- When dusting, try to vacuum up the dust as you brush it off, so it doesn’t immediately settle somewhere else in the car.
- If dirt has embedded itself in the textures of your vinyl, use a toothbrush to scrub the dirt out of all the nooks.
- Polish the hard surfaces (like cup holders, dashboard, etc.) with olive oil if you don’t want to use a chemical cleaner like Armor All.
- Consider adding a moisturizer or protectant to help prolong the life of your exterior and prevent stains and spills.
- If you have pet hair that seems impossible to get out of your seats, fill your spray bottle with water. Dampen the surfaces and remove the hair with your hands or with a squeegee.
- Shampoo the seats in your car with a diluted all-purpose cleaner, a scrub brush, and a washcloth.
- Now, remove all carpets/mats and vacuum the floors and seats of your car with the detachable hose of your vacuum.
- After you remove the carpets/floor mats from the car, apply the foaming cleaner and work the scrub brush over them using a back-and-forth motion. If your mats are carpet, use a cloth to remove residual foam, vacuum the carpet, and place them back in your car. If you have plastic mats, spray them down with your hose and let them dry in the sun.
- A lot of people tend to overlook this step but it’s essential to have your car looking spotless. Clean the inside of your windows using a clean cloth and 2-3 squirts of glass cleaner. Rub the inside of the windshield and windows using straight-line strokes (not circles), then use a clean dry cloth to remove any remaining streaks.
Wash & Dry the Exterior of Your Car:
Supplies: bucket, car wash soap, lamb’s wool mitt, spray wax, hose with spray nozzle, and washcloth.
- In your bucket, pour some of your car wash soap in and mix with water.
- After you rinse your car with water, get your lamb’s wool mitt soapy and begin washing all parts of your car. If it’s a hot and sunny day, wash each section of your car separately so soap doesn’t dry on your paint.
- Before moving onto the next section of your car, rinse off your mitt and re-drench it in soap.
- Don’t forget to get the roof of your car and under your head/tail lights.
- Wipe down your windshield wipers with rubbing alcohol to prevent smudging your windshield.
- Once your car is completely clean, apply spray wax and wipe the surface down until it’s dry.
Supplies: mild one-step polish, masking tape, polish applicator pad(s), random orbital polisher, and washcloth.
- Polishing always comes before waxing because it removes small layers of clear coat by buffing an abrasive compound onto your car’s paint. This leaves a smooth, scratch-less surface for you to work with.
- Use the masking tape to protect rubber molding or trim pieces.
- Center the polish applicator pad on your random orbital polisher and add polish to the pad.
- At a low speed, gently spread the polish around the section you’re working on. Remember to work in small sections so you can focus on the detail and not ruin your car’s surface.
- Then, put the polisher on a higher speed to work in the polish using back-and-forth strokes to create a crosshatch pattern.
- Once the polish is evenly applied, wipe clean with your washcloth.
- Repeat for each section of your car until complete.
Supplies: paint sealant (synthetic wax), hand-wax applicator pads, washcloth.
- You can either use your hands or your random orbital polisher on a low to medium setting to apply the wax.
- Apply a small amount of the paint sealant to the applicator pad and then rub the sealant onto the surface using a circular motion and light pressure.
- Once the paint sealant is evenly covering a section of the car, remove it with a washcloth before it dries.
- Continue until the entire car has been waxed.
Wash Your Wheels:
Supplies: non-toxic wheel cleaner, wheel scrubbing brush, washcloth, bucket, and hose, tire shine gel, and tire applicator pad.
- Apply the wheel cleaner to your tires and then wait 3 to 5 minutes before scrubbing all of the loose dirt. Make sure to get in all of the rim’s nooks and to scrub as much of the tire’s surface as possible.
- Use your bucket to rinse the wheel brush and make sure that the cleaner doesn’t dry onto the wheels in the hot sun.
- Rinse your wheels of all soap and suds.
- Apply a small amount of tire gel on the tire applicator pad and rub it into the tire. Use as little gel as possible to avoid getting excess gel on the paint of your car as you drive. This step will have your tires shining for weeks.
Keep Things Smelling Clean:
Instead of using a toxic car air freshener, make your own by using one small mason jar, ¾ cup of baking soda, 5 drops of essential oil (whichever scent you would prefer), and a small piece of breathable fabric to place over the jar when finished.
- Scoop the baking soda into the mason jar.
- Add the essential oil.
- Cut a small piece of the breathable fabric to fit over the jar as a lid and place the lid ring over the jar.
- Place your new air freshener in any cup holder or pocket inside of your car. Voila! Everything will be smelling fresh and clean to match the looks of your car!
This may seem like an extensive process but you should only need to follow these steps once or twice a year. If you continue to regularly wash you car and wax a few times a year, your car will be protected and clean. By following our car detailing tips, you can now go for a drive in style.
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