How to Detail Your Car


When you detail your car, you give it a thorough cleaning that hones in on hard-to-clean spots and scrubs even the hardest-to-reach locations on the vehicle. To avoid scuffing up the freshly-cleaned exterior of your vehicle, detail the inside of your car first. Once you’ve finished detailing your car, the result will be a smart, clean car in showroom condition. The whole process should take between 4-8 hours to complete, so plan to set aside a full morning or afternoon to detail your car.

Part 1
Detailing the Inside of Your Car

Detailing the Inside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Go through your car and pull out any fast food wrappers, soda cans, old magazines or papers, and any other junk that’s piled up since the last cleaning. Look under the seats and between seat cushions for trash that may have slipped out of sight. Deposit all of these items in a trash can.[1] Also pull out any items in the car that, while not junk, will get in the way of the cleaning. These may include water bottles, first-aid kits, car seats, bags and clothing, and other assorted personal items.

Detailing the Inside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Pull up the floor carpets and vacuum dirt and grime off of them with the vacuum cleaner. Then, use the vacuum’s broad heads to clean the floor beneath the carpet. Finally, use narrow heads to vacuum up debris stuck between the seats.[2] A wet/dry vacuum is the best tool for the job since it exerts plenty of suction power and comes with a variety of heads that will allow you to vacuum the carpets, doors, door handles, cup holders, and other surfaces within your car. Rent or buy a wet/dry vac at a local hardware store.

Detailing the Inside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Open the doors to your car and spray each of the interior windows with 5-6 generous sprays of a commercial window-cleaning solution. Also, spray the interior of the rear window and windshield with the cleaner. Use a clean cotton rag to wipe the solution across the window surfaces to clean them.[3] Then, use a second clean, dry rag to dry the interior windows. Be sure to thoroughly dry the windows to prevent streaks from forming.

Detailing the Inside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Spray an all-purpose cleaning solution onto a clean rag and clean off the interior plastic and metal surfaces of your vehicle. This includes the dashboard, steering wheel and column, and center console.[4] Avoid spraying the cleaning solution directly onto the car. Instead, whenever the cloth starts to dry out, spray 4–5 more squirts of cleaning solution directly onto the cloth. Once you’ve scrubbed the interior surfaces of the car’s cabin, pop the trunk and scrub out its interior surfaces with a clean rag or sponge.

Detailing the Inside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Many areas within your car’s interior will be too small for your vacuum cleaner and rags to reach. Rather than leaving them dirty, grab a handful of cotton swabs and start cleaning out the nooks and crannies. Dry cotton swabs should easily pick up most of the dust and dirt that’s worked its way into small crevasses in the vehicle’s dashboard and seats.[5] Try using wooden skewers or chopsticks to pry out objects that have become wedged in extremely hard-to-reach places.

Detailing the Inside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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If your vehicle has leather seats, purchase a leather cleaning spray at an auto supply store. Follow the directions on the package and apply the leather cleaner to the seats. Let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe the leather seats clean with a clean, dry cotton rag.[6] If you have cloth seats, spray them with a foaming aerosol cleaner. Let the spray sit for about 30 minutes and vacuum the fabric seats clean to remove dust and dirt. You can also purchase leather cleaning wipes or spray at a large supermarket. Auto supply stores should also sell foaming aerosol cleaners for cloth seats. Never use a cleaning product not intended for leather on leather seats.

Part 2
Detailing the Outside of Your Car

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Washing and waxing your car on a hot, sunny day isn’t ideal, since the sun’s heat may dry the soap and wax on the vehicle before you’ve rinsed or polished it sufficiently.[7] So, if you’ll be working outside, check the forecast to make sure you’ll detail your car on a partly or fully overcast day. If the weather forecast shows that the day will be rainy, clean the car in your garage.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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While it’s possible to detail your car while it’s parked in a garage, you’ll find that there’s more room to move around the vehicle if it’s parked outside. Situate the car on a level area so you’ll have easy access to all sides of the vehicle. To avoid full sun, park under a tree or in another shady location.[8] For example, park the car in your driveway or in an infrequently used cul-de-sac.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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It’s important that you use a soap specifically designed for vehicles and not, for example, dishwashing detergent.[9] Pour automotive soap into a large plastic bucket as directed on the label. Then, using an outdoor hose, add water to the bucket until it’s roughly 3/4 full. Carefully carry the bucket to your vehicle’s location, taking care not to spill any of the soap solution. Purchase automotive shampoo at any car-supply shop. Some large supermarkets may also carry the product.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Take a large vehicle sponge and submerge it in the soapy water. Scrub it across surfaces of your car in long, lengthwise strokes, making sure to remove all of the caked-on dirt and grime.[10] If you’re working outdoors on a hot day, spray your car down with a hose before applying soap. This will keep the paint wet and prevent the suds from drying in the sun’s heat. Work section by section from the top of your car downward, so that you don’t end up cleaning any of the same sections twice. Wash the windows, doors, roof, hood, fenders, and rear of the vehicle.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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As soon as all of the sections of the car are clean, use your hose to spray a generous amount of water over the car’s body. Be sure not to let the soap dry on the car before you rinse it off, or it will leave unsightly residue marks across the vehicle.[11] If you’re working on a warm day and are worried that the soap may dry on washed sections before you’ve had a chance to finish washing the whole car, rinse the car section by section.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Dip the brush into the bucket of soapy water and then set to work cleaning out hard-to-reach nooks in the exterior of your car. Scrub inside of the insets around your headlights and taillights, under door handles, and inside the side mirrors. Rinse off the brush as necessary to keep it from getting filled up with grime.[12] While a toothbrush would suffice in a pinch, its bristles won’t be tough enough to scrub out caked-on grime.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Purchase a wheel and tire cleaning spray from your local auto supply store. As directed on the packaging, apply the shine spray to the wheel surfaces and let it sit and soak in as directed on the spray container. While the spray is soaking on 1 wheel, walk around your car and spray wheel cleaner on the other 3 wheels.[13] Then, use a clean sponge to scrub the wheels until all traces of dirt, mud, and grime are gone. Rinse the sponge out with water as needed between wheels. If there are hard-to-reach spots in the wheel arches that you can’t quite clean out with a sponge, use an old toothbrush instead. Once the wheels and arches are clean, dry off the wheels and wheel arches with a damp sponge and buff with a dry cloth.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Once you’ve finished washing the entire surface of your car, dry it by hand before the water evaporates on its own. Use a microfiber cloth to dry off the windows, doors, hood, trunk, and all other surfaces of the vehicle. An efficient hand-drying will leave the car free of smears.[14] If any of the car’s surfaces have dried on their own, give them a quick blast with the hose, then hand dry the area. This will prevent the dried car from having any unsightly patches.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Start by spraying a generous coating of the window-cleaner spray onto all of the vehicle’s external glass surfaces. Then, take a new sponge and wash the exterior of the car’s windows until all traces of dirt are gone. Be sure to also wash the windshield and rear window.[15] Then, roll down the door windows about 3 inches (7.6 cm) and use the sponge to wash the tops of the glass.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Cleaner waxes will both wax and polish your vehicle. Once your car has been washed, a cleaner wax product will both polish and wax the outer surfaces. Follow the instructions on the bottle and apply the product with a clean rag.[16] Car polish keeps a good sheen on the car, even in dry, dusty and wet weather. The wax component of the product will guard the car’s paint from UV rays and small stones. Using a cleaner wax product saves you from having to polish and wax your car separately. Purchase a cleaner wax product at any automotive supply store.

Detailing the Outside of Your Car on How to Detail Your Car

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Don’t buff the car while it’s dry, as you might end up scratching the paint. So, make sure there’s still some wet polish on the car before you begin buffing. Rub the metal surfaces with small, circular strokes to smear the cleaner wax across the vehicle. Work over the entire car’s body with a dry, clean cloth.[17] This should buff out any smears and leave the bodywork looking shiny and fresh. At this point, your car should appear as if it’s ready for a showroom floor. For a professional level-buff you can rent or purchase a rotary buffing tool from a hardware store and use it to buff the car and smooth out its paint.