Beginner’s Guide To Detailing: Car Care Products

What to Wash Your Car With

This is the first piece of our latest series where we will be outlining car care concepts for beginning detailers. The goal of Behind the Detail’s “Beginner’s Guide to Detailing” is to educate and enthuse car owners who are interested in learning the basic principles of car care so that they can begin to maintain their cars by hand. Today we’ll be discussing car care products, what the different kinds are, what you should look for when selecting the best ones, and where to start. Check it out and tune in regularly to beef up your detailing IQ.

Car Care Products & Detailing Supplies

In the past I’ve heard of beginning detailers starting in one of three (ill-advised) places: claying, polishing, or waxing. The problem with jumping right into these procedures is that as a beginner you may not understand what each is used for. Just the other day someone called in and wanted to clay their car and had no idea about polishing or protecting their paint – when we eventually get to claying I’ll fill you in on why this is important. Anyway, without the proper product knowledge your detail will be headed south in no time. To give you a deeper understanding of the types of car care products there are and what you’ll need, I’ve outlined the ‘big four’:

Car wash soap
Wheel cleaner
Carpet cleaner

Tire conditioner
Leather cream
Trim conditioner

Carnauba wax
Paint sealant
Wheel sealant
1000 grit polish
Finishing glaze


The first thing you want to wrap your head around is that not all car cleaning products are created equal. A lot of what’s out there is formulated to “clean at all costs,” meaning you may lose a protection layer or dry out the surface during the process. This is what we refer to as over-cleaning. Always be sure you’re using pH balanced formulas and avoiding aerosal cleaners when possible.


One of the best ways to make your car stand out is with vibrant, rich looking surfaces. I’m talking, of course, about your tires, seats, and trim. All too often we see cars with beat up rubber, faded interior trim, and leather that looks like it’s been through a washing machine. It just looks terrible. A quick and easy way to reverse and prevent this is by conditioning. Conditioning replenishes lost nutrients and revitalizes the surface, much like a moisturizer does to your skin. Often consumers will get tricked into buying “dressings” that simply coat the surface instead of being absorbed – you’ll want to avoid these entirely (read why).

Polishes & Glazes

Over time you’ll notice your paint losing some of its original luster, and while protecting regularly can prevent this, the best way to refinish the surface is with a polishing procedure (don’t get confused between a polish and a wax, they’re very different things). As a beginner you must know that polishing is an abrasive process and should only be used as necessary – over-polishing can lead to premature clear coat damage and discoloration. Before polishing, always clay the car to remove embedded contaminants from the paint. Polishes work to smooth and round-off the edges of scratches in your clear coat, making them less apparent (Read: Surface Science). Typically after the polishing is complete, glazes are used to fill and further smooth out any hairline scratches that otherwise would be left unpolished. The end result is a crystal clear finish with little to no imperfections. Unfortunately many detailers have become addicted to polishing – many people think that you’re not really detailing unless you have a high-speed machine, but that’s simply not the case. Machines are actually the cause of most holograms and swirl marks on the road and most polishing procedures can be done by hand or with a (much safer) orbital buffer.

Paint Sealants & Waxes

Premium Liquid Paint SealantThe most important of all the product types are those that provide your car with a protective barrier against the elements. Sealants work in many different ways; some are polymer based while more traditional formulas utilize wax. The main difference between the two is that wax is natural and polymer is synthetic, causing both to have unique advantages over the other. Polymer based paint sealants, for example, will last a lot longer than your typical carnauba car wax will due to its stronger bond and added durability. Carnauba, on the other hand, tends to produce a more lustrous shine, although some paint sealants have closed the gap in the shine category. Bottom line here is that there’s a protective sealant for just about everything on your car’s exterior and you should make good use of all of them. For beginners I recommend this instand bonding liquid paint sealant that goes on in minutes.

Where To Begin

The key here is to start simple – don’t dig yourself a hole right out of the gates. Start by mastering your car wash skills (learn how) and protecting your car. Now that you know what to look for, grab a quality car wash soap, an easy to use paint sealant, and the necessary detailing supplies associated with each process (ie. microfiber towels, wash pads, buckets, foam applicators). Set up one evening or saturday afternoon and jump on in. As long as you follow proper procedure – all of which can be found right here at Behind the Detail – you’ll be off the ground running in no time.

And remember… we’re always here to help. Stay tuned regularly for Behind the Detail’s “Beginner’s Guide to Detailing,” and if you need anything at all let us know. We are happy to help you navigate through any detailing situation.

Stay tuned for our next segment on car wash preparation!