The Basic Components to Detailing a Car

white car being washed

Detailing a car is quite a bit more extensive than just washing your car. Washing you car could be as simple as soap and water and a vacuum. However, if you’re looking to really deep clean your car for either a sale or an event, follow this guide to learn how to detail a car.

Let’s Start with the Interior

1.  Carpets and Fabrics. 

Remove floor mats so you can thoroughly inspect all of the surfaces. Vacuum all the surfaces including around and under the seats. Assess the damage: a simple carpet cleaner and a scrub brush may be all you need. If a more aggressive approach is needed, steam vacuum the carpeting, be sure to remove excess water and moisture and allow to properly air dry. The same steps can be made for your carpet floor mats.

In the case of minor staining, saturate the surface with a foaming spot cleaner and use a horse hair scrubbing brush to properly agitate the fibers in opposing directions. Repeat as necessary and allow to fully dry.

2.  Interior Surfaces

Use a microfiber applicator and an interior cleanser on hard surfaces. Be meticulous! For hard-to-get-to buttons, crevices, vents, and decorative bezels on the dash, use a brush to properly cover all areas.

It’s important to condition your interior surfaces to prevent fading, drying, or cracking. A plastic conditioner for UV affected areas like the dash keep them looking new. Dress your leather with leather conditioner on a regular basis, especially the driver’s seat which is used the most.

3.  Glass

Properly clean the surface with a dedicated window cleaner and glass cloth. Finish off any detail with a glass sealant to bead away rain while driving to improve visibility.

Move to Exterior Detailing
Here are 6 Basic Steps to Washing a Vehicle Properly:

1.     Wash your vehicle in a shady area so the car’s surface is cool.

2.     Use carwash soap, not household detergent and the Two Bucket Wash Method.

3.     Work in sections, top down.

4.     Give special attention to the lower panels since they traditionally accumulate more dirt.

5.     Dry the surface with a good-quality microfiber waffle-weave towel. 

Paint Correction. Nearly all automobile finishes consist of a 2 stage paint finish: 1 layer of paint, 1 layer of clear coat for protection. Scratches, abrasions, and even the finest micro-scratches on the clear coat, prevent the color coat from shining through as deeply and richly as you would want. The result is foggy, cloudy paint.

Paint correction is the action of removing blemishes from the finish, usually in terms of the micro-scratches. Polishing the surface is cutting into that clear coat to remove the scratches and leave a flat surface again. I wouldn’t recommend polishing more than once a year.

The paint needs to be prepped before polishing, so claying the car with a medium or fine grade clay will rid the surface of any embedded contaminants left after washing the car. Begin polishing with a light abrasive chemical and work your way up to more aggressive chemicals to remove as much of the scratches and as little of the clear coat as possible.

Coatings Once you’ve finished polishing the vehicle, wash (or rinse) the car again. At this time you can apply your coating of choice for a long lasting, durable protective layer. The protectant should last a minimum one year and protect from staining, etching, UV rays, and more.

6.     Wheels

Don’t forget the Wheels! They should be cool to the touch when you clean them with a dedicated wheel cleaner and wheel brush made for this purpose. Give it a sound high-pressure dousing and apply a wheel sealant to protect the wheels from break dust build up.

7.     Under the Hood

By mindful of the electronic components, but feel free to hose down the engine bay. At this point, use rags you’re willing to throw away and wipe down the surface and rid it of grease. Then use a metal polish and plastic sealant to fix-up any metal and plastic coverings.

9.     Tires

The gloss level of your tires is up for personal preference. However, every tire needs to be conditioned inside and out. That means that your tire conditioner needs to be able to penetrate the rubber to moisturize the rubber to keep it from cracking and drying out.

Cautionary Tales in Detailing

DO NOT drive off before your tire dressing dries. It will sling and spatters, and gets kicked up onto the paint!  You can limit that a little by taking a rag and wiping down the tire to remove excess tire dressings. This will also affect the gloss level for those who prefer a more matte finish.

DO NOT remove too much clear coat when buffing or correcting. If you cut too deep or buff too often, you’ll need to repaint the car.

DO NOT attempt to repair scratches that cut through the clear coat and into the pigment. You’ll want to use touch-up paint to keep the exposed metal from rusting.  If you don’t have touch-up paint, use a sharpie to help hide the scratches or chips.


  • Claire Reynolds

    I get my car detailed at least twice a year. I don’t understand when people don’t care for their car and keep it clean — it’s one of the most valuable things that a person owns. Taking great care of the car with maintenance and detailing can make such a difference in how the car runs.

    Claire Reynolds