Professional car detailers spend years learning how to effectively use a host of specialized products and tools to make a car look new. They learn how to gauge the thickness of the clear coat finish to determine how much correction to apply to a scratch. They spend countless hours practicing with a power polisher to avoid burning through the paint. They learn the differences between dozens of detailing products and the instances where the use of each is indicated. When it comes to tips and tricks of the trade, there are enough to create several “top ten” lists. If you were to ask a professional detailer for a few pointers for detailing the exterior or your car, a list might look something like this. (Yes, there are ten, but they are not in order of importance).
1. When and where.
One of the first things you might hear when it comes to detailing your car is that it should never be done in direct sunlight. When it is hot and sunny, the water and cleaning products evaporate far too quickly and leave behind a residue that is more difficult to remove than the original contaminants. If possible, wait for a cooler day. If you do intend to wash your car in hot weather, find a shaded spot, preferably in a garage or carport. But you also need to avoid working underneath a tree that is dropping leaves and other debris, or that is raining sap on your car.
Shoot for washing your car every one to two weeks. A professional detailer will tell you that the best option for washing your vehicle is hand washing. That is true, but only if done properly. Washing a car by hand can actually do more harm than good. If you are not skilled with the tools, techniques, and products for proper car washing, it is better to take your car to a soft-touch automatic car wash. Likewise, if you do not have the space or the time.
2. Invest in the right tools and products.
If you are going to detail (or even just wash) your car yourself, make sure to purchase the right materials for the job. A full professional detailing service might include the following tools and products:
- Brushes for wheels, wheel wells, and tires
- Cleaning chemicals (car wash soap, degreasers, wheel cleaner, tire bleach, tire dressing, wheel sealant, automotive glass cleaner, polish, glaze, wax, sealant, et al.)
- Clay bars or detailing mitt to remove contaminants embedded in the paint surface
- Micro-fine sandpaper to remove scratches in the clearcoat
- Orbital and dual-action polishers to buff the paint
- Wax, polymer sealant, ceramic coatings
- Microfiber towels and cloths for drying, glass, waxing, and for interior use
- Vacuum, carpet extractor (and shampoos)
- Leather cleaner and conditioner
- Odor eliminator
- Set of brushes for dusting sensitive areas and crevices
- Vinyl and rubber dressing
- And more
You get the picture. There are lots of materials necessary to do a pro job, and many if not most of those are needed to detail your car at home.
3. Avoid cross-contamination.
If you use the same materials to wash every part of your car – the same towels, brushes, or buckets for example – you will introduce contaminants from one area to another. Abrasive dirt from your wheels should never make its way to the paint on your hood. Grime from your wheel wells should not make its way into your rinse water.
To avoid cross-contamination, designate materials for specific purposes: the wheels, the wheel wells, the engine bay. Washing versus waxing. Drying versus cleaning the glass. The interior. Each category has special cleaners associated with it; use separate tools for each purpose as well.
Also, rather than trying to do everything from one bucket of soap and water, use two or even three buckets. You can designate one bucket of soapy water as your main wash bucket. When you return your dirty wash mitt or brush from the vehicle, rinse it in a second bucket before dipping it back into the first. That way you leave those contaminants behind in a sacrificial bucket without cross-contaminating your soapy wash water. A third bucket can be set aside for the dirtiest parts of your car: the wheels and wheel wells, the door jambs, and the engine compartment.
4. Work from the top down.
As a general rule-of-thumb, work from the top of your car to the bottom. That allows you to avoid bringing contaminants from the dirtier lower regions to the more sensitive upper regions. Let gravity work to your advantage. Rinse top-down. Wash top-down. Rinse again. And work in small areas. Do not try to soap up your entire vehicle at once. Even in a cool and shady location, the soap will dry too quickly.
5. Wash the wheels first.
It might seem like a contradiction to start with the wheels (since they are clearly not at the top of your car), but most detailers prefer to treat the wheels, the wheel wells, the engine bay, and sometimes the door jambs before anything else. That is because they hold the worst of the dirt and debris. So, consider it a pre-cleaning. The rule-of-thumb is to wash from the top down, but first, take care of cleaning the really grungy parts. That might include the lower body panels too if they are caked with mud.
If you are serious about detailing your car, you will actually wash it in stages. Those might look something like:
- wheels, wells, and engine compartment
- pre-wash entire vehicle
- pre-treat contaminants like road tar, bird droppings, and bug residue
- paint correction with a clay bar or detailing mitt to remove embedded contaminants
- buff and polish if necessary
- re-wash exterior and dry thoroughly
- add paint protection; clean glass
6. Smooth equals shiny.
When you look at the paint on your car, you probably expect or hope to see gloss. But what is gloss? What makes a car shiny? Gloss is simply what we see when light reflects evenly off of a surface. If the surface is extremely smooth, like glass, we perceive it as shiny or glossy. If, on the other hand, the surface is rough, the light bounces off unevenly (becomes diffuse) and we see it as dull.
Over time – due to the effects of the elements and poor wash techniques – your paint receives tiny micro-scratches and swirl marks that cause light to reflect unevenly and make your paint look dull. The buildup of embedded contaminants can do the same. The only way to restore the luster is to remove the contaminants and repair the scratches.
This process to a detailer is known as paint correction. Paint correction involves anything from using a clay bar to remove embedded dirt, hard water spots, and rail dust to sanding and buffing in order to get rid of oxidation, swirls, and scratches.
Here, care must be taken to prevent more damage from occurring in the process of trying to make corrections. Claying the surface might be attempted at home; sanding and buffing your clear coat might best be left to a professional (removing too much clearcoat or “burning” the clear coat can lead to expensive repairs at a body shop).
7. Keep it wet.
Another guiding principle when cleaning your car is to avoid letting the panels dry out too soon. Better to keep everything wet as long as possible, especially if those panels are coated with cleaning products. Dried soap or other chemicals – even water – can lead to spotting that requires more intense removal later on. They can even damage your paint. So, keep your car wet until it is time to dry. In fact, many detailers rinse the entire vehicle just before bringing out the microfiber drying towels or chamois.
8. Dry it quickly.
Once you finish washing your car, dry it off at once. Do not let it air dry or water spots will develop. Use a clean chamois (designed to be used wet, not dry) or a few quality microfiber towels. Cotton terry cloth bath towels are too coarse and will leave swirls and scratches – the kind you are trying to avoid.
9. Take preventative measures.
Once your car is clean and the paint has been corrected, it is time to take steps to prevent contaminants from sticking in the future. Everything to this point has been done to address the surface of the car. This next step is intended to add to the surface.
Waxes, polymer sealants, and ceramic coatings all serve to repel water and provide a protective barrier against chemicals, contaminants, and ultraviolet rays. Rubber dressings help your door seals and other rubber components to remain clean and supple. Trim protectant rejuvenates black trim parts and helps to prevent wax from staining them.
10. Finish up with the interior.
Once the exterior is complete, it is time to tackle the interior. For that, you will need (at least) a vacuum, brushes, carpet and upholstery shampoo, a gentle all-purpose degreaser, and a mild detailing spray that is safe for use on all surfaces (some cleaners will stain or bleach your dashboard and trim panels). And don’t forget the glass. Use an automotive glass cleaner (household products contain ammonia that should not be used on your car) and clean the glass inside and out. Avoid streaks by using either clean microfiber towels or newspaper (without too much ink). Apply the glass cleaner to the rag or wadded paper and buff the glass in multiple directions to avoid leaving streaks behind.
It is not unreasonable to take your car weekly or bi-weekly to an automatic car wash to make sure it stays clean, including the underbody. But once in a while, it needs a bit more: detailing. Of course, professional detailing goes beyond what most auto owners are going to accomplish at home. But with a bit of time and care, you can make or keep your car looking new.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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