Driving your car is a very personal experience, and the same is true when caring for your car. Sometimes the carwash place just doesn’t cut it. Or, you’re stuck at home sheltering-in-place or social distancing and need an outlet. What better way to spend some of your time at home than to make your car look showroom ready? Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new hobby along the way.
The world of washing and detailing goes very deep. Some people are meticulous and have honed their craft. That said, it’s as much art as it is science, so there are many ways to do it. I used to obsess over every inch of my car. There really is no substitute for a sparkling clean car that looks like it’s right off the showroom floor. That feeling is amazing and you even catch yourself admiring your own car.
But, while I wish I could dedicate a whole day to washing and detailing, I’ve come to realize that ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I’ve distilled some of the techniques that I’ve learned from various master detailers into a manageable process for me. Washing technique isn’t all of it, though. You need the proper tools and an efficient system to really get that amazing finish in half the time. Finally, a complete detail isn’t complete without an interior cleaning. Hopefully these techniques are something you can adopt into your own regiment.
Exterior Wash Technique
Step 1: Remove Any Debris In Those Nooks And Crannies
If I park outside, twigs, leaves and other debris inevitably get caught in the drainage gutters of the car. Check these and clear them out.
You’ll want to check the gutters by the windshield wipers and under the hood.
The other major place to check is on either side of the trunk. The plastic nut is very easy to pop out and the plastic piece comes out to clean under it.
Step 2: Give Your Car a Good Rinse
You really don’t want to start washing a completely dry car. Loose dirt can easily be washed away with an initial rinse. If you don’t rinse your car first, you can easily grind that loose dirt into your car paint and end up scratching your car in the process. So, giving your car a good first rinse with water preps your car for the next step.
Step 3: Wash The Dirt Off The Car
With a foam canon: fully soap up the car; make sure to include the wheels and exhaust.
With the two bucket method: take the fresh soapy mitt or sponge and wash the car, taking care to clean the mitt or sponge with the second bucket before getting more soap and continuing to wash.
Whether you’re using the foam canon or two bucket method, the next part is the same. You will want to wash a quarter panel at a time. It doesn’t matter which direction, but I typically start from hood, down to the grille/bumper, and go clockwise around the car, skipping the wheels/tires and exhaust for now.
Once you wash the quarter panels, roof, grille, windows, and mirrors, the next part I tackle is the exhaust. I typically use the power washer to get as much carbon build up off the exhaust before I come back with a rag/sponge/microfiber cloth. I try to take care here and use something that I specifically don’t use on paint just to make sure I’m not transferring the carbon build up to another part of the car. Typically, I try to use a similar rag for the exhaust and wheels.
Step 4: Rinse The Car
This step is pretty straightforward. Rinsing is similar to washing. Start high and wash the dirt and suds down a quarter panel at a time, going clockwise around the car. I usually like to rinse following the drain gutters down to ensure debris and suds are all washed away.
Step 5: Dry The Car
Dry Glass and Dark Trim
The next step is to dry the car. I typically tackle the windows and windshield first, followed by dark trim. That’s because any water spot is very obvious on these parts. So, squeegee the glass and take a microfiber cloth to dry off these parts first.
Dry the Quarter Panels
With that taken care of, it’s time to use a leaf blower to dry off the quarter panels. Alternatively, use a large microfiber drying towel and dry off the rest of the car.
Step 6: Inspect and Remove Any Additional Contaminants
Inevitably there is a spot I missed while cleaning the car. This is where I take something like Speed Shine or other waterless car wash spray to spot clean the areas that I missed.
Further, this is the time that I use something like AutoScrub to remove paint contaminants.
Step 7: Clean The Wheels And Tires
With most of the car washed, it’s now time to focus on the tires. If the suds on the wheels and tires are dry, just give the wheels a quick spray of water and then clean. If you’re using something like Griot’s Garage on the tires, then spray that on and wait a few minutes for it to work.
Use the wheel brush to clean everything, from the rim face, to the brake calipers, and inside the rim where brake dust collects. Make sure to clean your wheel brush in between each wheel if the brush gets dirty enough. Also, don’t forget to scrub the tire rubber. To really freshen the tires, you can use tire shine as well to give it that showroom look!
Step 8: Step Back And Admire Your Work
This is the step where you profit! Admire your work. Your car looks brand spanking new again. Congratulations, your car looks sharp and you did it all in an hour or so. Time to go out on another spirited drive through the mountains again! If you need some suggestions, check out our articles on great drives in the Atlanta area.
You can’t wash a car properly without the proper tools. Those tools can help you make a detailing great, but the system is just as important. In this article, we’ll talk about a car washing system that makes it easier and more manageable to wash your car as well as the tools that will really make your car shine.
Using a plain garden hose and nozzle can do a decent job, but if you really want to step up your game, then you need two major components:
A Water Shut-Off Valve
This tool will connect to the end of your garden hose. It simply regulates the amount of water that comes out of the water hose. Think of it as remote controlling your water spigot. No more getting wet swapping to your power washer or walking back and forth from the spigot. Save time with this tool!
You can also control the water pressure from the shut-off valve. Just need a little water? Turn the valve a quarter way. Keep those suds from building up in your wash bucket. You can achieve all of this with a shut-off valve.
Water Shut Off Valve
This tool will connect to the end of your shut-off valve so that you can quickly swap your garden hose nozzle for a power washer or any other garden hose tool. This is another time saving tool that also saves the threads on whatever tool you’re screwing on the end of your garden hose.
Quick-Connect Fitting for Garden Hose
The Two Bucket Method
If I don’t blast my car with a foam canon, then properly washing a car calls for the two bucket method. This method is where you fill up one bucket with soap and water and the other with just water. The idea here is to only clean your car with clean soapy water. Before you refuel with more soapy water, take a detour and clean off your sponge or microfiber mitt in the bucket of water. This way, you’re not just spreading the dirt and other impurities you just wiped off on to your car and potentially grinding that into your paint.
If I am cleaning with a foam canon, then I take a bucket of water to clean with, and with the suds from the foam canon, use a sponge or microfiber mitt to clean.
Edgeless Microfiber Cloths
I can’t say enough how essential microfiber cloths are, especially edgeless ones, in maintaining your car. I talk more about it below, but quite simply, they are necessary for applying, spot cleaning, and drying. They are possibly the most versatile tool in a detailer’s toolbelt.
The Rag Company (10-Pack) 16 in. x 16 in. Professional Edgeless 70/30 Blend 420 GSM Dual-Pile Plush Microfiber Auto Detailing Towels Creature Edgeless (Black)
To be honest, a microfiber mitt isn’t a necessary tool. You can get away with cleaning with a sponge. However, it’s extremely soft, which is what you want when washing dirt off your car. It is also very convenient and makes washing less labor intensive when you don’t have to hold the sponge or cloth. You just wipe it like you’re wiping dirt off with your hand. Easy peasy.
Chemical Guys MIC_493 Chenille Microfiber Premium Scratch-Free Wash Mitt, Lime Green
Microfiber Bug Sponge
Sometimes you’ll get that one spot on the car that requires a bit more elbow grease to get off. But, you don’t want to scrub too hard as to risk scratching your paint. Quick, what do you do? That’s where a sponge like this helps, because it’s good at getting that tough grime off while still being delicate with your car paint. Perfect!
VIKING 845100 Mesh Bug Sponge Cleaning Wash Sponge – 4 Inch x 6 Inch
A foam canon really makes soaping up your car a cinch. In theory, regular weekly washings with a foam canon can allow you to do touchless washing where you don’t have to wipe the dirt away with a sponge or mitt. The suds pull the dirt off and down by gravity and you can wash it all off with a quick rinse. In practice, I don’t have time for weekly washes so I’ve never seen it in action. For me, I use a foam canon to quickly soap up the car. It’s super quick and I follow up with a wet mitt or sponge.
Chemical Guys EQP_313 TORQ Professional Foam Cannon and Soap Kit (4 Items)
If I have time, one thing I really like to do is take a leaf blower and dry off the car that way. With this method, you’ll have to be sure your work area is clean and contaminant free (here in Atlanta, that means avoiding spring time with the heavy yellow pollen clouds). This makes getting the car dry easier and minimizes water spots on the car. You’ll want to be absolutely sure the car is clean and free of anything that may scratch it.
Large Microfiber Drying Towel
If you don’t have a leaf blower or the area around you is dirty and you’d risk blowing dirt back on your car, you can use a microfiber drying towel instead. In this case, you’ll want a large towel you can use to soak up all the water. Whether it’s the extra water that you couldn’t blow off with your leaf blower or you’re not using a leaf blower at all, you’ll want to wipe all that water away and cut down on those water spots. Larger drying towels are better here.
Griot’s Garage 55590 PFM Terry Weave Drying Towel
This may be obvious, but the best tool for removing water from your windshield and windows is a squeegee. While that may be, it’s amazing how few people actually own a squeegee for auto detailing purposes. It’s also extremely satisfying to squeegee that water off the glass.
Traditionally, clay bars are used to remove paint contaminants. These are typically things that remain bonded to your paint even after a good wash. They may show up on your paint as a faint or ghostly mark on your car. Instead of clay bars, I use a product called AutoScrub. When used with their lubricant spray, the sponge will just as effectively wipe away these contaminants. With that, you don’t have to worry about getting your clay bar dirty.
Nanoskin NA-GLI16 Glide Instant Detail Spray Lubricant – 16 oz.
Like your shoes, your wheels are easily the part of the car that gets the dirtiest. Between all the road grime and brake dust, it’s inevitable. For most jobs, soaping it up with the foam canon or regular car wash soap is enough to remove the dirt. For more stubborn dirt, Griot’s Garage Wheel Cleaner works wonders, but it’s probably overkill to use it on every wash.
As far as how you get between those spokes, I bought the Wheel Woolies, but I honestly don’t use it. I still use Griot’s Long Reach Wheel Brush that came with the Griot’s Garage Wheel Cleaning Kit. It’s simple, but super effective. I used to use the detail mitts that came with the kit as well back when I had BMW 403M wheels, but I find myself now exclusively use the Long Reach Wheel Brush with the BMW 437M wheels. I also use the wheel brush to wash the tires. This is easy to forget, but it makes a huge difference!
Essential Detailing Tools
These are the essential tools for washing your own car at home. Whether you’re just starting out now that you’ve found yourself with more time at home because of Coronavirus or you need some tips to step up your game, incorporate these tools into your car cleaning regiment.
Second to your home and office, your car is where you spend a lot of your time. This is especially true for those with long commutes or those who are always on the road. It’s important to keep that cabin clean, not only for the hygiene but also just for the longevity of that leather dashboard. These tools are essential to keeping that inside sparkling clean.
Portable Car Vacuum Cleaner
A vacuum cleaner is probably the most important tool to own as a home detailer. There are a million of them out there with all sorts of attachments and accessories.
The key points to choosing a good portable car vacuum are the following:
- It needs to plug into the car’s 12V outlet (as someone in their 30s, I still know it as a cigarette lighter) and have a cord that’s long enough to reach the corners of your cabin and trunk
- It needs to have a nozzle that can reach the nooks and crevices like the seat and center console. A small thin one is effective
- One with a HEPA filter isn’t necessary, but many car vacuums come with this these days
Portable Car Vacuum Cleaner: High Power Corded Handheld Vacuum w/ 16 foot cable – 12V – Best Car & Auto Accessories Kit for Detailing and Cleaning Car Interior
Leather Cleaner and Conditioner
Leather is typically a plentiful material in a luxury car, and you need something to clean and maintain it. Getting a leather cleaner and conditioner is extremely important to getting all the extra oils and debris off of the premium leather. Many of us don’t think about cleaning our steering wheels, even though it is the most touched part of the car. Removing all the extra oils and grime after years of neglect can really rejuvenate the leather in the steering wheel and make it feel completely new again.
Of course, this holds true for any leather surface in your car. In the south, a car’s interior temperature can easily reach 120˚ F. When that happens, the natural oils in the leather can dry out and crack. That’s the worst thing that can happen to leather, and it’s important to protect it with a leather conditioner.
Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner and Conditioner Complete Leather Care Kit (16 Oz) (2 Items)
A car’s interior isn’t made up of just leather. It can contain carpet, vinyl, plastic and rubber. For that, you need an all-purpose cleaner that’s effective enough and removing the dirt, but soft enough to not damage the surface. All-purpose cleaners are great utility workers that you can pull out for the small touch up or for a full detail.
CarGuys Super Cleaner – Effective All Purpose Cleaner – Best for Leather Vinyl Carpet Upholstery Plastic Rubber and Much More! – 18 oz Kit
You need something to wipe the dirt away and apply conditioner with that’s soft enough to not scratch the premium interior. Microfiber cleaning clothes have been the go-to choice for auto detailers for years. These cloths are incredibly versatile and a general workhorse—from being a cleaning rag, to applying conditioner or wax. You never want to scratch the interior surface when cleaning, and microfiber cloths do well at cleaning without harming the delicate surfaces within a car. Make sure you get an edge less microfiber cloth, though, so that the edges don’t end up scratching the surfaces.
The Rag Company (10-Pack) 16 in. x 16 in. Professional Edgeless 70/30 Blend 420 GSM Dual-Pile Plush Microfiber Auto Detailing Towels Creature Edgeless (Black)
You could get by without this and just use your microfiber cloth on your dashboard, but a more convenient solution is to get a dashboard duster. With a padded back, you don’t have to worry about smudging your windshield as you clean your dash. it really makes maintaining your dashboard a breeze.
Relentless Drive Ultimate Dash Duster – The Best Microfiber Multipurpose Duster – Car and Home Interior Use – Professional Detailing Tool – Lint Free – Unbreakable Comfort Handle
A New Tool In Your Belt
These are the top tools you need to keep your car’s interior nice and well maintained. Keeping both the interior and exterior of your car clean is such a critical step to improving the longevity of the car and it is so easy to do yourself. Do you have a must-have tool for an auto detailer? Share with us on social media!