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Maintaining your car’s engine, keeping the tires at the correct PSI, and checking the coolant are all important parts of keeping your vehicle road-ready. But for some, the visual aspects of the interior and exterior are just as important!

Car detailing is much more than a simple wash and wax for car enthusiasts— it’s all about the sparkle and the shine.

For 20 of the best tips and tricks to elevate your next at-home car detailing to the level of a professional cleaning service, keep on reading!

First Things First

It may be tempting to dive right into detailing your vehicle, but it’s essential first to evaluate the state of the car, its cleanliness, and any imperfections that could be problematic during the detailing process.

Cleanliness

What is the condition of your vehicle? Before any detailing work can begin, it’s important to evaluate the state of the car you will be working on. If the paint is smooth and free of contaminants, such as bug stains, tar, or water spots, your detailing job will be much easier!

If your car’s exterior is stained or has dirty spots visible, it’s best to clean it before the detailing work begins. You can either wash it down with a quality detailer spray tool or invest in a clay bar to remove surface residues, which works wonders for deep-cleaning a car’s paint.

Imperfections

Once your car is clean and stain-free, you can inspect the surface for any imperfections.

Look closely and at different angles for the following:

    • Dents
    • Paint Lifting
    • Rust
    • Scratches
    • Swirl Marks
    • Water Spots

If left untreated, these blemishes can cause issues in the detailing process. But thankfully, you can remove the majority of such imperfections (except for rust and lifted paint) by giving them a good polish, especially with an orbital polishing machine.

If you notice deeper scratches on the surface, you can use a special compound polish that works as a scratch remover. It might take longer to buff and polish them out—2 to 5 minutes per scratch—but once this process is complete, you can safely wax your car’s exterior! 

When Should You Detail Your Car?

Detailing your vehicle does not need to adhere to a strict schedule like other motor maintenance routines tend to. Deep cleaning and a full polish job are likely best done twice a year while waxing should be completed seasonally or at least four times every year.

By sticking to a good maintenance schedule, you can ensure that your car will stay in excellent condition for a long time!

Car Detailing Tips and Tricks for the Interior and Exterior

1. Use All the Right Supplies

When detailing a car yourself, it is crucial to get the correct supplies for the job. Many car owners new to at-home detailing use products that might be good for household chores but aren’t adequate for vehicles, including regular dish soap.

Instead, make sure to outfit yourself with the following supplies, among others:

    • Automotive Wash-Mitts
    • Detailing Brush
    • Detailing Spray
    • Paste or Liquid Automotive Wax
    • pH-Balanced Car Shampoo
    • Plush Microfiber Towels
    • Screen and Window Cleaner
    • Wheel and Rim Cleaner

2. Apply a Protective Film

Save yourself some hassle with later cleaning and detailing by applying a protective film that can also help deflect road debris. You can quickly and effectively purchase transparent paint film online and apply it yourself to a freshly cleaned car within a few hours.

Protective films are handy for side mirrors, lowered hoods, and the sides of your vehicle. And while it might take a few tries to get the hang of wetting, stretching, and applying the film, doing it yourself will save you a lot of money in dealership fees.

3. Avoid Cross-Contamination

Don’t let cross-contamination set you back in the entire car washing process. Instead of using the same items such as towels, brushes, and water for multiple areas of your vehicle, allocate goods for each step of the way. Make sure you are not moving dirt from one part to another!

4. Rent a Carpet Extractor for Stains

If your interior carpets are incredibly dirty or stained, you might not be able to clean them with just shampoo and a scrub brush. Applying a degreaser or foaming stain remover are good options, but some stains may refuse to lift.

Try renting a professional carpet extractor to handle the most stubborn parts of your car’s carpeting and watch the dirt flow away. Use in conjunction with heated or non-heated water sprays and a professional degreaser to see the best results.

5. Clean Between the Seams

The surface of car seating can get pretty grimy, and it’s no different when it comes to the cracks. Whether you have leather or upholstery seats, make sure to get the vacuum into the seams and down the cracks between seating to clear away any dirt, crumbs, or other debris.

6. Clean the Hood Latch

Don’t forget the hood latch! With a clean cloth, wipe away the dirt and grease buildup, and apply a spray of WD-40 to keep everything working well. You can even apply a coating of white lithium grease to make it extra smooth.

7. Deodorize the Interior

Even the cleanest cars can get a bit musty inside. Make sure to clean out your vents and the interior of your vehicle to keep it smelling fresh. Circulate deodorizers through the car’s vents using a long straw attached to the can, and spray down the interior with a car clarifier.

8. Don’t Wash in Direct Sunlight

A common mistake in car detailing is to wash your vehicle in the sunshine. This should be avoided because most detailing products perform poorly when applied to a hot surface. Water spots are also more common as the sun evaporates your washing liquid before rinsing.

It’s best to detail your car in the shade and only when all the vehicle’s exterior surfaces are cool to the touch. This will also save you a sunburn or two!

9. Use Electrical Contact Cleaner

Keep the buttons in your car working flawlessly by applying electrical contact cleaner to them. From spills to sticky keys, interior controls can become problematic. But this is resolved by cleaning them out with a straw and aerosol can of special contact cleaner!

10. Get Graphite for Locks

Prevent keys from breaking off in sticky locks by purchasing some dry graphite powder. By applying a blast directly into the lock cylinder, you can give your keys more traction and less likelihood of getting stuck!

11. Remove Any Pet Hair

If you have any furry friends that frequently ride in the car, you will undoubtedly be familiar with the problem of pet hair. You can use a special pet hair removal brush to eliminate hairballs from car mats and seating or a pumice stone to scrape out lodged fibers.

12. Apply Lubrication

It’s essential to keep the moving parts of your car interior lubricated and running smoothly. Apply car lubricant to the hood, trunk hinges, and all window and door weatherstripping to avoid anything sticking or jamming.

13. Microfiber Magic

Forego the sponge and invest in a microfiber mitt! Because sponges tend to collect and contain grit, a microfiber cloth is less likely to scratch or damage your vehicle during use.

14. Refresh the Carpet Color

Try a carpet and velour colorant to refresh the interior appearance instead of replacing your vehicle’s carpeting. Apply the colorant to the carpet and immediately brush it out in all directions with a nylon bristle brush before letting it dry.

15. Select the Proper Vacuum Attachment

Choosing the proper hose attachment is a crucial aspect of adequately detailing your car and will save you time and frustration.

Attachments include brush tools for the carpet, crevice tools for between the seats and door jambs, and a variety of adaptors available to turn your vacuum into a car detailing masterpiece.

16. Silence Squeaky Doors

A shot of WD-40 inside the door jambs and hinges will eliminate squeaky or sticking doors.

You can also apply a coat of white lithium grease or motor oil if the hinges are too corroded; just make sure to wipe away any excess when you are finished.

17. Spot Clean or Steam Seatbelts

Seatbelts are often overlooked during detailing, but they can make a big difference to the visual appeal of a car. 

Make sure to use spot treatment on the seatbelts wherever needed, and if they are especially stained, you can use a steamer to get them looking brand new again.

18. Remove Sand

Sand is one of the most difficult types of debris to remove entirely, but thankfully there are a few tricks to eliminating it. Use silly putty or wrap your hand in scotch tape or packing tape, sticky side down, and go to town on the sandy parts!

19. Wash Top to Bottom

Always wash your vehicle exterior from the top down. This allows the flow of water, soap, and grime to travel down the unwashed portions of the car and driveway without ruining your already-cleaned parts of the exterior.

20. Use the Two-Bucket System

Never double-dip! By having a dedicated bucket for rinsing out the sponge after scrubbing the vehicle, and one for soapy water, you can eliminate the issue of transferring grime back into the washbasin.

21. Use a Detailing Brush

Get into all the nooks and crannies with a detailing brush. From dusty vents to the edges of your car radio, this tiny brush can remove debris much easier and quicker than a vacuum can.

A Simple Afternoon At-Home Detailing Checklist

If you want to get the essential portions of your car detailing process completed without worrying about any extra steps, this is the checklist for you!

Follow these steps to detail your car right in the driveway.

      1. Scrub the exterior with car shampoo and use a car washing mitt to get into the crannies. Allow to dry naturally, or use a microfiber towel to soak up and remove all excess water. (approximately 20 minutes)
      2. Scrub the tires and metal portions of the wheels with a soft carwash brush and wheel cleaner. (15 minutes)
      3. Clean and polish the outside of your car windows and side mirrors with glass cleaner, either automotive or household. (10 minutes)
      4. Clean stains or spots from the paint with a clay bar and polish the entire car exterior. (60 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of your vehicle)
      5. Wax the exterior paint with a liquid or paste car wax. (45 minutes)
      6. Polish any chrome trim by applying a chrome and metal polish and buffing. (15 minutes)
      7. Clean out all door, trunk, and hood jambs and hinges with a microfiber cloth. (10 minutes)
      8. Clean and properly dress all rubber seals with a professional rubber conditioner. (10 minutes)
      9. Treat your tires and wheel-well trim with proper wheel dressing. (10 minutes)
      10. Vacuum the car’s interior. (5 minutes)
      11. Remove and scrub floor mats. (10 minutes)
      12. Shampoo interior carpet with a professional carpet and upholstery cleaner, and if the stains are bad, with an industrial carpet extractor. (approximately 30 to 45 minutes)
      13. Clean seating upholstery with the proper product, such as a versatile carpet, leather, and upholstery cleaner. (45 minutes)
      14. Clean and dust the dashboard, console, and glove box. (10 minutes)
      15. Clean and dust all vents using a vent duster, vacuum, or detailing brush. (10 minutes)
      16. Protect the console and any other vinyl or leather interiors by applying a water-repellant leather conditioner. (15 minutes)
      17. Wash the inside of the windows and the rear-view mirror with an ammonia-free glass cleaner, either automotive or household. (10 minutes)
      18. Empty and clean out any knickknack trays, ashtrays, cup holders, etc. (5 minutes)
      19. Deodorize vents, ventilation system, and interior carpets. (approximately 10 minutes)
      20. Apply carpet and upholstery fabric protector spray. (15 minutes)

And enjoy your sparkling, newly-detailed car, completed in less than an afternoon’s worth of work!

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