A Complete Car Cleaning Guide From the Pros


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So you have your precious car and want to detail it yourself. Below are four steps to walk you through the whole process. Ready?

The four processes are:

  • How you properly prepare your car for detail
  • Interior detailing
  • How to apply a ceramic coating
  • Paint polishing

While going through the whole process, we’ll tell you the processes, the tips and tricks, and all the tools and the chemicals we use.

Let’s get started.

1.    Prepare Your Car

Preparing a car for detailing and paint correction is different from a normal car wash.

A car wash is a maintenance service to remove the brake dust, dirt, mud, and salt from the surface of your vehicle. However, iron particles, tar, and a number of other things can build up and embed themselves onto the surface of your vehicle over time. Most of these will not come off with normal washing, which is why you need detail to take care of all the problems.

Materials needed:

  • Car wash mitt
  • Car wash soap
  • Drying towel
  • Wheel woolies
  • Super degreaser
  • Wash mitt for wheels
  • Citrus power plus
  • Iron decon
  • W7 tar remover
  • Am clay
  • All-purpose microfibers
  • 1″ detail brush
  • Gloves
  • Wheel stand

First, the Wheel

The best practice is to start with the wheel and wheel well suspension area. To get access to all the parts behind the wheel well and the suspension, take off the wheels of the car. You don’t need to, but it makes things easier. Additionally, when you’ve removed the wheel, you get a chance to clean it well before the next step.

Once the wheel is off, the first step is to apply a degreaser. Watch out! A concentrated degreaser may damage your car paint. It should be safe to use it diluted, either in a four to one dilution, or as officially directed by the particular degreaser you are using.

Initial cleaning will start from the fender well, then the suspension components, and lastly the wheels, which means from deeper inside to gradually outer parts.

Here, you might need 1” brush to get into all the tight areas. An all-purpose microfiber towel may be of use here. After brushing and scrubbing, rinse everything out with a pressure washer. A garden hose also does the same thing, but the pressure washer saves a lot of time.

Repeat the whole process a couple more times to ensure everything is super clean.

Rinse the wheel and spray it down with a super degreaser. Use another all-purpose microfiber cloth and a stiff bristle brush to clean off all the road dirt, brake dust, and any type of adhesive or chunk of tar that is stuck inside the wheel.

The Whole Body Surface

The next step is just to do a normal wash to get all the standing dirt and dust off the vehicle surface. Rinse the car, and spray it down with car wash soap.

Remember, never use dishwashing liquid. The detergent is too harsh and can suck certain kinds of oil out of your car’s finishing.

Door Jam

It’s often missed out during the detailing process. It’s so simple.

Apply chemicals like Citrus Power Cleaner and use a 1” brush. You can also use a microfiber or a dedicated wash mitt for this.

Now rinse.

Get it dried using a towel. Also, wipe off any chemical that sits on a seat.

To remove SAP, the best thing is not the iron DECON but isopropyl alcohol.

If you have tar on your car, you should use a tar and glue remover.

Clay Bar

Now is the time to use your clay bar to exfoliate the paint and get the rest of the contaminants off, which makes your car super smooth. Spray the car down with soap to use it as a lubricant so that the clay bar can easily glide along with the paint.

You can use the clay bar on all the surfaces except any porous plastic.

Finally, do a quick rinse and then dry the car with a microfiber towel.

2.    Interior Cleaning

The tools that you need:

  • a 1” brush, a toothbrush, and a carpet brush
  • a liquid chemical: There are dedicated chemicals for leather, fabric, and other things, but any all-purpose chemical is quite enough.
  • some microfiber cloths
  • some gloves
  • An air compressor is also recommended. This would significantly cut downtime.

The first tip that a pro would offer here is to use a vacuum for car detailing as you dry brush.

a.      Remove Personal Belongings

Let’s start with removing any personal belongings so that we don’t ruin any of them during our rigorous cleaning.

b.      Use a Blower

Use the air hose to blow in all the cracks and crevices in between the seats, then suck the dust and dry particles simultaneously.

c.      The Process in Detail

Suck up all that is in-between and under the seats. Take out the floor mats.

When you’re at the trunk, remember to remove the spare tire and any other items.

Clean everything you can touch: anything that is made up of leather, rubber, or vinyl with the liquid and your 1” brush and toothbrush. Don’t apply any chemicals to the navigation screen.

An airgun is really essential during cleaning the interior. Use it after you wipe up everything with the microfiber towel. Be careful not to damage the sensitive electronic equipment.

Now work your way over the dash, the steering wheel, and the instrument cluster. Look up and clean the visors and any plastic on the ceiling. Gently clean the roof liner.

Now the leather seats. Most of the time you’ll need only your all-purpose liquid and the microfiber towel. Use the toothbrush to gently pull the seat sections apart and clean the stitching.

The last step is cleaning the fabric and the carpets. Warning: Don’t get the carpets and fabric seats too wet with water or chemicals as it can soak through the carpet.

3. Ceramic Coating

Things you need:

  • Crystal Serum Light
  • Exo V4
  • ButterSoft suede microfiber applicator cloths
  • Autofiber thin saver applicator terry microfiber coating applicator sponge
  • Panel wipe
  • C5 wheel coating
  • C4 trim coating
  • Rupes polishers
  • 3M yellow tape
  • Oberk polishes
  • Meguiar’s polishes
  • CarPro polishes
  • Microfiber towels
  • Gloves

There are a lot of polishing materials that you can use, and there is no indicator to see which one is the best.

The first step is to wipe the surface to remove all the oils. The paint should be perfectly clear of any contamination. For this step, use penal white. Start with the hood of the car and work your way around the car. Be careful to wipe off the coating with the towel. If you miss out on any portion of the coating, you’re going to mess up your end result. Ceramic coating is a little thick and tends to streak a little bit.

You may have to repolish in some places where you might have missed out or where you find it’s not exactly glossy.

4.    Paint Polish

The first thing about paint polish is that you don’t need to get intimidated because there are a number of options and processes to do that. There is always a simple and easy process.

Products to use here:

  • Microfiber cutting pad
  • Foam finishing pad
  • Rupes yellow polishing pad
  • Rupes polishers
  • 3M yellow tape
  • Oberk polishes
  • Meguiar’s polishes
  • CarPro polishes
  • Microfiber towels
  • Gloves

First, cover up anything (plastic or rubber trim) you don’t want to get polishing residue on. You can use a 3M masking yellow tape for this.

Now is the time to set the polisher to work.

Remember, this process will work only if there are no deep scratches.

Keep control of the hand speed of how fast you move your polisher and pressure that you apply on the car body.

Set an imaginary area to work at a time, preferably, a 2’ x 2’ area.

Final Words

The whole process is not at all a whimsical and do-somehow job. What you need is the utmost care to make your car super shining.

Have a nice time cleaning your dear car.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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