How to Detail a Car


Detailing a car requires going way beyond the usual vacuum and wash job. It means paying attention to the tiny details that add up to make the car look show-worthy. Begin with the interior so that you don't have to worry about messing up your exterior while detailing the inside.

Part 1
Detailing a Car's Interior

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Slide the seats all the way forward and then back to thoroughly vacuum the carpet underneath. Start from the top and work your way down. Dust or dirt that has accumulated up top could fall down; dust or dirt that has accumulated at the bottom will rarely fall up.

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Allow it to sit for a few minutes before blotting dry with a towel. If the stain doesn't come out, repeat. After your final cleaner application, wash the area with a damp sponge and do a final blotting.[1] Make sure to try to get as much dampness from the fabric as possible. Any excessive dampness may promote molding and/or mildew, which does not fall in the definition of detailing a car.

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Replace with a piece you've cut from a hidden place, such as underneath the seat. Use a water-resistant adhesive to keep it down. Warning: Always ask the owner of the car for permission before doing this step. If you want, have a sample repair that you can show the owner of the car of what the process will look like. If it's done well, this sample will be reassuring.

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Apply a non-slip dressing so that the driver's feet don't slip and slide while they're trying to do important things like braking.

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Use an interior dressing like Armor All to finish it off.[2]

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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If you're not going to use liquids afterward, your detailing brushes should be a super-absorbant material like microfiber cloth, which picks up dust and dirt efficiently. Lightly mist some spray-on vinyl dressing onto the vent grilles to make them look brand new.[3]

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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Cleaning the seats is essential for a good detail. But different seats require different methods. Note that after cleaning, you may have to vacuum out the seats or surrounding area again, as dirt will be loosened up by this process.[4] Cloth interiors: Interiors with nylon or other cloth can be shampooed with a wet-vac extraction machine. Cloth should be adequately dried after extraction has taken place. Leather or vinyl interiors: Interiors with leather or can be cleaned with a leather or vinyl cleaner and then hit softly with a leather brush. Cleaner can be wiped away with a microfiber cloth afterward.

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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If you've cleaned leather seats with product, now's the time to condition them so that the leather looks visually appealing and doesn't dry out or begin to crack.

Detailing a Car's Interior on How to Detail a Car

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For stronger build-up removal, use 4-ought steel wool on windows. Use plastic cleaner if the gauge cover is made of plastic. Stick with microfiber cloth when you're washing and wiping. If not microfiber, use a clean, lint-free cloth. You don't want to leave fibrous residue all over the inside of the car in the process of cleaning up.

Part 2
Detailing a Car's Exterior

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Hit the wheel rims first, as this is where most of the dirt, grime, and grease accumulates and you may need to leave cleaning product on for a while. Allow product to penetrate wheel rims for 30 seconds to 1 minute before brushing. Acid-based cleaners should only can be used on rough-textured alloy wheels, if needed, but not on polished alloy wheels or clear-coated wheels. Gleam up chrome wheels with metal polish or glass cleaner.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Apply tire dressing. For a glossy finish, let the dressing soak in, or wipe it on and off with a cotton cloth for a matte look.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Spray degreaser on everything, after which spray down with pressure washer.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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For a glossy look, allow the protectant to soak in. For a more matte finish, wipe it off.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Factory tinting is built into the glass itself, so you have to worry less about that, but after-market tinting is more degradable and could suffer from cleaners that contain ammonia and/or vinegar. Check your cleaners before applying to tinted windows.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Park the car in a shady spot and wait until the car's surface is cool to the touch. Use a deep-pile terrycloth microfiber towel which will trap contaminants and not grind them into the car's surface.[5] Tip: Use two pails — one with sudsy cleaner, the other with water — when you clean. After you dip your cloth into the sudsy water and clean a portion of the car, dip the dirty, sudsy water into the pail with water so that you don't contaminate the cleaning pail. Dishwashing detergent strips the polymers off the paint surface and accelerates the oxidation process. Work from the top down, washing and rinsing a section at a time. Do not allow soap to dry. Take the spray nozzle off the water hose before doing a final rinse to minimize spots. Use a chamois or terry cloth towel to dry; do not let air-dry or soap spots will form.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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The glass on newly-detailed cars should shine and reflect, not be dull and grimy. In order to get that reflective polish on the windows,

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Add a vinyl dressing to the wells for a dazzling effect.

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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You can use a traditional clay bar to remove things like sap, but a liquid clay bar is quicker and almost as effective.[6]

Detailing a Car's Exterior on How to Detail a Car

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Rotary buffers should be left to the professionals. Polish is for a glossy look. Wax is a protectant. Use in length-wise sections. Do not move the machine in a circular pattern. Pay attention to doorjambs, around door hinges and behind bumpers, which you will need to do in a circular motion by hand. Let it dry to a haze. Then finish the auto detailing by buffing with the machine. The hard-to-reach areas can be buffed by hand.