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How to Detail a Car

How to Detail a Car Categories:Car & Maintenance Tips, Car Enthusiast Talk
How to Detail a Car

There’s no question that detailing your car will help boost its overall value.Most car experts agree that regular professional detailing increases the market value of most vehicles by around 15 percent. Of course, it will vary based on the make, model and color of your vehicle. So, if you opted for a bright yellow minivan, you may be kicking yourself right now. 

So, what is car detailing? If you choose to go to a professional, a basic detailing job usually includes a wash, wax, interior vacuuming, interior polish, window wash, mirror and trim cleaning and tire cleaning. This will cost anywhere between $50 and $125 for mid-sized vehicles and $75 to $150 for SUVs, trucks and vans. If you go for a luxury or upgraded package, you could easily spend several hundred dollars or more. This includes a deep clean, such as steam cleaning, mold or spill removal, preventative treatments, upholstery services and a lot more attention to detail.

Detailing your car on a regular basis will help you save time and money. You shouldn’t have to spend over $100 every few months when you can do the job yourself. Car detailing is simple if you have the right equipment. Whether you plan on upping the value of your car or you’re tired of looking at the same stains every time you get behind the wheel, learn how to give your car a proper makeover.

HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Let’s start with the equipment. Go through your garage, kitchen or bathroom and you should find most of these objects lying around the house. 

car cleaning supplies in bucket

  • Cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and long utensils such as skewers, chopsticks and pokers.
  • Leather cleaner, if necessary. It should be dedicated to cleaning leather surfaces. Avoid all-purpose cleaners and those meant for other types of surfaces. 
  • Microfiber towels. They should have some texture as if you’re exfoliating your car, but they should also be absorbent enough to hold in some fluids.
  • Soft-bristled brushes, such as toothbrushes, paint and make-up brushes.
  • Spray-on fabric cleaner and stain removers, if you’re trying to remove certain stains and fluids. 
  • Ammonia-free glass cleaner. Stay away from cleaners with ammonia so you can use it on plastic surfaces as well.
  • Car washing soap or liquid
  • Car wax
  • Clay bar
  • Wool mitt
  • Plastic bucket

INTERIOR DETAILING

First up, let’s take a look at the interior of your car. The inside is much less visible than the outside so it might not get as much attention as the rest of your vehicle. Eating and drinking behind the wheel can also lead to all kinds of spills and stains. Use these steps to whip the interior into shape.

Remove Debris, Car Mats and Anything Else Lying Around

Start by clearing out the interior of your car. Get rid of everything that’s not nailed to the floor, including personal items, drinks and knick-knacks. Take out your floor mats, shake them out in the grass and set them aside. We’ll discuss those along the way. 

interior detailing remove debris car mats graphic

Reaching Crevices, Corners and Tight Spaces

Next, go through and vacuum the interior of your car as thoroughly as possible. There’s bound to be crumbs hiding in tight places. Use the various attachments that came with your vacuum cleaner to reach those tight nooks and crannies, such as between and underneath the seats, corners, inside the cupholder, glovebox and other storage compartments. The flat-edge attachment is great for sliding in between objects and surfaces. 

Some vacuum attachments may be too large to reach these areas. Use compressed air to blast out dirt and dust from the tiniest of crevices. You can also use cotton swabs, skewers, pipe cleaners and other utensils to clean areas that would be otherwise impossible to reach, such as in the vents, inside the seat belt holder and the automatic lock button.

Another Round of Vacuuming

Once you reach these tight spaces, you will likely have to do another round of vacuuming to catch all the loose dirt you just kicked up. Make sure you remove all this debris before heading on to the next step. 

Wiping Down Surfaces

man cleaning car dashboard

Now it’s time to clean the various surfaces around your vehicle. Use aroma-free glass cleaner on a microfiber towel to tackle the inside of your windows, the interior of your windshield and other plastic surfaces, such as the dashboard, cupholders and driver interface. Dip some cotton swabs and pipe cleaners in a bit of glass cleaner to wipe off tiny areas, such as in between vents, buttons and even the seat belt holder. 

Cleaning Car Mats

Installing floor mats is an easy way to protect the interior of your vehicle. These mats are removable so you can clean them off in just a few minutes. If you spill or drop something in your car, the mat will be your first line of defense. That way, you don’t have to worry about permanently staining the floor of your car. Look for all-weather durable rubber mats that will protect your carpet from mud, snow, rain and other types of fluids to give yourself more peace of mind behind the wheel.

If you already have mats in your car, shake them out to get rid of loose dirt and crumbs. Use a hose to blast away dirt on rubber mats and let them dry out in the sun for a few hours. If you have carpet mats, move on to the next section to learn how to clean car carpet. 

How to Clean Car Carpet

Carpets almost always fill up with all kinds of tough stains and debris. You can spray fabric cleaner and stain remover onto the affected area. Rub the product into the stain with a damp microfiber towel and then let the interior of your car air out for a few hours. Avoid using too much water or soaking your seats or floors as this could lead to the spread of mold. Make sure the interior is completely dry before closing it up for the night.

interior detailing clean car carpet graphic

You can also shampoo your car carpet if you want every inch to be as soft and smooth as a fresh load of laundry. Choose a specially made car shampoo and rub it into the fibers of the carpet with a soft-bristled brush. You can also use basic laundry detergent in a pinch. Go slow and reach every nook and cranny. Let the shampoo sit for around 10 minutes and then soak up the shampoo with a moist rag. Finally, let your car air out for a few hours to prevent mold.

Carpet can easily be the dirtiest part of your vehicle, especially if there’s nothing in between your feet and the floor of your car. Use car and truck seat covers to protect the interior of your vehicle. If you spill some coffee or track in a bunch of mud, just unzip the seat cover, throw it in the wash and you’ll be good to go. Extend the life and value of your vehicle with protective covers and mats.  

EXTERIOR DETAILING

Now let’s turn our attention to the exterior of your vehicle. We’ll go above and beyond the traditional driveway wash to make sure your car looks as good as new.

scrubbing car exterior with sponge

Cleaning Out the Truck Bed

If you have a truck, the bed will need some special attention. Start by removing everything from the bed of your truck. You can use a shop vac or broom to sweep out all the dirt that’s been collecting in the back of your vehicle. Use compressed air or a high-pressure hose to dislodge dirt and debris that’s hiding in between the cracks. 

Once the surface is free of dirt, you can use a mixture of vinegar and water to wipe down the lining of the truck bed. You may need to use a wool mitt or a scouring tool to get rid of tough stains. You can also let tough stains soak up the cleaning fluid for a few minutes to make these areas easier to clean. Save your elbow strength for another time. 

Finally, wash away any excess cleaning fluid and let the truck bed dry out before loading in your materials and equipment. 

exterior detailing cleaning out truck bed graphic

If you’re constantly putting your truck bed through the wringer, consider installing a truck bed cover or liner to protect the surface from tough stains and dirt.

Washing the Exterior 

When washing the exterior of your vehicle, it’s best to do it in the shade or on a cloudy day. Direct sunlight will increase the temperature of the surface of the vehicle, which could damage the paint job. It’s also best to start at the top of the car and work your way down. The bottom of the car tends to be the dirtiest, so try to keep your mitt clean until the end. 

Fill up a bucket with some water and car washing fluid to really get some suds going. Go slow and move your wool mitt in circles to wipe away dirt and stains. Bring along some knee pads or some padding to make yourself more comfortable when you have to get low to the ground. 

Rinse off your car. Use a microfiber towel to soak up any excess fluid. Finally, use a clay bar to remove any superficial scratches, streaks, loose particles and other slight imperfections.

Waxing

Read the instructions on your car wax to apply it correctly. It should come with a pad for applying the wax to your vehicle. Use a small amount of product at first to prevent clumping. The pad should fill up with product as you go, helping you reach every square inch of your vehicle.

Use a circular motion to apply the wax. The wax should dry after a few minutes. Use a dry cloth to carefully remove the dry wax from the car. If you leave the wax on for too long, it will harden, making it much more difficult to remove. Go slow and focus on one area of the car at a time.

Finishing Touches

You’re almost at the end. Don’t forget to clean off your windshield and side mirrors with some aroma-free glass cleaner. The same goes for plastic areas and accessories. 

wiping car with microfiber cloth

As a finishing touch, spend some time scrubbing down the wheels of your vehicle. Use a special wheel-cleaning material to bring out the shine. Avoid using dish soap and caustic cleaners. Look for nonabrasive cleaners when in a pinch. Use a sponge or cloth to scrub away at tough stains and dirt. Let the wheels dry out for a few hours before taking your car back on the road.

Washing and detailing your car on a regular basis is one of the best ways to add value to the overall price tag. It’s best to repeat this process every three to six months if your vehicle tends to see a lot of action on the road. Don’t wait until the last minute if you plan on selling your car. It’s best to make cleaning a regular habit if you want to see lasting results. 

If you love to go off-road with your vehicle, or you can’t stop drinking coffee on your way to work in the morning, it’s better to line your vehicle with mats and covers so you don’t have to spend as much time cleaning out the interior. From mud and sand to snacks and drinks, keep everyday stains from ruining your vehicle. In just a few minutes, the interior of your car will look and feel as good as new.

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