The topics listed below are written in the order I would
Select a Topic of Interest:
A general Overview/Intro of Auto Detailing and Myself
Auto detailing has been around for a long time now. It's rapidly becoming
a multi-billion dollar industry. But you don't want to spend lots-o-cash
now do you? I know lots of auto fan-nat ics out there are into do-it-yourself
mods and would really prefer to wax their own cars.
That's where I come in. I give out a lot of advice almost every day to
readers of the mustang list as well as other USENET groups so I decided
to put it on the web where everyone can access it. The purpose of this
information is intended to educate people who have the motivation but
lack the know-how to detail their own vehicles. It will show a general
"how-to" from start to finish, in the order I recommend proceeding.
Detailing is hard work, an average car will take me roughly 3 hours (not
including the engine). That's just a run-of-the-mill car. Some cars, the
interior is so bad it'll take an hour and a half just to do that! Oxidation
removal is also time consuming, even with experience and power tools.
With oxidation removal you absolutely must seal/glaze the paint. I could
go on and on.
For any specific questions feel free to email me.
First, my name is Scott Wakeman and I own a detailing business here in
southern New York State. I've been detailing cars for a little over nine
years now, and I've been on the Internet for the past six years. By day
I'm an Electro-Mechanical Designer and after 5pm, and on weekends, I'm
out detailing cars. I also try to go out to the auto supply stores to
try out the latest products so I can make sound advice to others. New
products are coming out extremely quickly these days so my ability to
look into every product out there is almost impossible. Generally I can
tell an average product just by looking at the label. You get what you
pay for, but cost does NOT necessarily mean it's good. Some of these gimmick
waxes like Durashine or Touchless cost $30-plus dollars on TV, but in
my professional opinion they offer no benefit over the products I will
later recommend. Professional rumor has it that "Touchless"
is indeed too good to be true and can damage paint jobs. Best advice I
can give is to stay away from low quality products like this and stick
with the known products such as Mothers, Meguiars, Zymo, etc.
In my business I use only professional grade products on my customers
cars which generally aren't available to most people. Typically the quality
of these pro-grade products is higher than retail, but a combination of
the right retail products can still yield excellent results. I'll make
some recommendations as I go on. If you have products you feel work best
for you, go ahead and use them. Some prefer Meguiars products, others
Mothers or Zymol. Whatever it is you use, don't let my advice stop you.
Again, these are just my recommendations.
BTW, I include some tricks to help you out but not nearly all of them.
My fellow auto detailers on the net would have my head on a platter of
I gave out trade secrets!
A few words about clear coat paint.
I get loads of email from people with clear coat questions so I feel
I should include some very basic info at this point that may answer some
questions. First off clear coat is just that, a clear coating applied
over some color (base coat). Clear coat adds the illusion of a shiny finish
even when mildly dirty. Very important to remember is that it is still
paint! It is not something that the dealer applied when you bought the
vehicle. Clear coat is applied at the factory. Just like enamels and lacquers,
clear coat is still vulnerable to oxidation and scratching. Scratches
are clear coats first enemy. Even the smallest scratch will stand out.
Many people think "Well my car has clear coat so it doesn't need
wax". Wrong! It's still paint and will always need proper maintenance
from the elements. Clear coat is very tricky to maintain. You cannot you
harsh compounds on it to remove scratches or oxidation, you must use a
clear coat-safe compound. All the name brands I recommend make clear coat-safe
Okay on with the How-to!
Here are some supplies you will need:
1. Rags/towels. You'll need upwards of 8-12 good-sized clean towels
to do the the job. One or two will be used to dry the vehicle off, others
to remove wax, and still more for the interior windows etc ... Some small
towels are handy also. If you can find the old diaper type cloth use them
because they make excellent rags for polishing the finish to a bright-shiny
glow! They also are great for windows.
2. Brush's. You'll need a few different varieties and sizes. First a
1" soft bristled brush with bristles cut down to 1/2" length.
Next a stiff bristled tire brush. A 1" round semi-firm bristled brush.
A long handled wheel well brush is a good idea. If you have an old toothbrush
you may want that too. For "tough to remove" brake dust, you
may want one of those green scrub pads, but be gentle!
3. Big wash bucket - five gallon type.
4. Spray bottles. The 32oz types are most beneficial here. Fill them
with glass cleaners, etc.
5. Large, soft cotton wash mitts. (never use a dirty wash mitt!)
6. Synthetic chamois. (Such as the "Absorber")
7. Bug sponge and regular sponges. Available in your local super market.
8. Power Washer. Karcher makes a nice 1100psi unit. (not mandatory but
nice if you have one) These are getting very affordable now. Check www.northern-online.com
9. Wet/Dry Shop Vac or equivalent.
10. Rug steam cleaner. (not mandatory but you can rent this if you want)
11. Orbital Buffer. (not mandatory - not always recommended)
Engines can be tough to clean, especially today's cars with all their
computer systems and hoses all over. It make's it real tough to get in
there with your hands. My hands are constantly cut up from trying to get
Before your get started, cover any sensitive equipment with heavy-duty
aluminum foil. If you're using a pressure washer don't spray them directly,
you'll might blow them right off or blow a hole in the foil!
For at-home cleaning a pressure washer may help but isn't necessarily
needed, a hose will do just fine. If you can't find a heavy-duty de greaser,
use kerosene mixed 50/50 with water as a de greaser. With the engine warm(not
hot!) apply the kerosene mix to stubborn grease deposits before you wet
it down - water will dilute the mix and reduce the cleaning strength.
Use a pointy brush to get any stubborn deposits off the valve covers,
etc. You may want to repeat this step a couple times. Let me add that
this kerosene mix can also be used to degrease door jambs, as well as
a pre-soak for tar & bug removal. Nothing like high speed bug splatter
on the front end of that bird!
Once you're satisfied with the degreasing and have rinsed well, start
up the motor and let it run for a while with the hood down. The heat will
evaporate a lot of the water. Use your shop vac to blow off any remaining
water, have a rag handy to degrease the parts you had covered earlier.
Lowering the hood will help speed the evaporation process.
Now it's degreased and ready for rubber dressing. Silicone will work
best here. Spray everything really well (except the belt). You may want
to apply some wax to the painted areas. If you don't want a shiny look,
you can wipe the silicone down, just let it soak in for a while first.
STP protect ant liberally applied works well here. Some detailers actually
repaint certain parts of the motor, and then Clear coat everything, but
I'm not in favor of this. This paint starts to flake off after a short
while and anything you do to remove it later won't be enough, short of
pulling everything out! The silicone leaves a new-car look. This is just
my style though!
If you're weary of using the kerosene, see if you can find a heavy-duty
de greaser, except gunk - it stains things white. Sometimes auto body
supply shops have some really good de greasers, you just have to hunt
them down. A company called "Malco" makes some really good degreasing
chemicals. Any place that sells heavy-duty pressure washers is bound to
sell de greaser too. Places like Sears or a hardware store like True Value
Also, some guys like to get out steel wool and brass brushes. This is
usually done on motors that are for show, and these guys sometimes pull
the motors before every show! It depends how far you want to go.
Before you can wax it, you have to wash it! Use a soft, CLEAN wash
mitt and a pH balanced car wash such as Mothers or Meguiars, or your preference.
But don't use anything harsh!
FLASH! Mothers now has a Web page at www.mothers.com Check it out! I highly recommend
any of their products! Another site to check out is Car
Never use dish washing detergent or a wash brush on your car! The dishwashing
detergent damages the finish, stripping it of vital oils causing it to
dry out. The wash brush scratches the paint leaving millions of hairline
Hand washing is MUCH preferred over a car wash (unless it's the touch
less type - no brushes).
Wet the car down first to knock any of the big mud off. Also remove
any bug grime at this time using tar & bug remover with a sponge.
You can also presoak the door jambs and hatch/trunk areas now using an
all-purpose cleaner such as Simple Green or mix kerosene 50/50 with water
in a spray bottle. Scrub if you have to with a bug sponge, but not too
hard, rinse areas before you wash the vehicle.
The rims should be done first, before the body. The rims collect brake
dust very easily so you'll need a small brush and a cleaner appropriate
for your rims, by this I mean you'll need to know if your rims are clear
coated or not. Remember the brake dust that's deposited is extremely hot
and bonds very strongly with the irregular surface of the rims. Don't
wet down the rims/tires first, you want to make sure the chemical is strong
and not diluted with water. Eagle One has several good products for rim
cleaning, just read the labels closely when you make your selection. Don't
overlook the under side of the vehicle, and the gas cap lid as well! Simple
Green works well for cleaning rubber surfaces.
When washing, start from the top and work your way down. Rinse the vehicle
a couple times as you work your way down. Don't forget to wash those door
jambs too! Don't forget - always wash/detail your car in the shade and
to a cool surface!
When drying the vehicle off, you can use a synthetic chamois to get
the bulk of the water, but finish it off with soft cotton towels. You
don't have to do a perfect drying job if you're planning to do the interior
as well, it'll be dry by the time you're done. You just want to avoid
any water beads from damaging the paint surface - especially of you have
When you're done washing and the car is mostly dry, apply your rubber
dressings to the tires and bumpers. Tire Wet is a good product for this
- also No Touch. I recommend doing this now because if you wax the car
first, then spray the dressing on the tires, all the little air born droplets
will get on the fresh wax, though you can also apply it to a sponge but
many dressings are meant to sprayed on directly. You can also spray the
plastic parts with silicone now too, like the grill by the wipers for
A note about Armor All I'll leave it up to you to decide, but I recommend
you not use Armor All as a protect ant. It's not very good, and has been
known to actually do damage from time to time. Use other products such
as STP, No Touch, or Tire Wet - they're much better and cost the same.
Any product with formaldehyde or harsh preservatives is no good for that
The interior is really where you make or break a detailing job.
This is what my customers look at all the time. It has to be great looking.
Most people don't realize the level of detail I go into when I clean a
car. All the nooks & crannies where dirt can build up!
If you're doing a full detail (3-5hrs), wash and dry the car (mostly)
first then move to the interior. This way the exterior is fully dried
when you finish up the interior and are ready to wax.
To start, you'll need to vacuum the car out. Get anything that's not
nailed down out of the car, floor mats etc.
A good wet/dry vac is necessary for this. While you're vacuuming have
a pointy semi-firm brush at hand to get the junk out of the cracks of
the console and dash or whatever. A firm bristled brush is good for stirring
up the carpet matt so you can get most of the junk out of the carpet.
Don't worry about getting absolutely everything at first, you'll be vacuuming
again after the shampoo.
Once you've vacuumed out the vehicle, use an all-purpose cleaner to
get the stubborn stains off the vinyl etc. Don't forget the stirring wheel,
this is where lot's of gunk builds up! Use a window cleaner sprayed on
a rag to get the headliner clean. There are several good all-purpose cleaners
on the market, such as Simple Green in it's strongest form. For caked
on grease stains get a fabric stain remover from a grocery store. Kerosene
mixed 50/50 with water is good too, but is can bleed the color from fabrics.
Use it carefully. Don't forget the trunk/hatchback areas as well!
Once the car has been vacuumed, you're ready to shampoo. Carpet stores
sell carpet shampoo (go figure) that work well in cars. Also, a stiff
tire brush is needed here as well. Mix in the shampoo with water, you'll
want a lot of nice foam. The foam is what you'll use. Using the foam,
start with the carpets on the drivers side, then the seats. This keeps
the water to a minimum. Move around the whole car until you're done. If
the carpet isn't too dirty you don't have to scrub every square inch,
just get the dirty areas. As for the floor mats, wet them down real good
(this an excellent opportunity for the power washer) and spray the all
purpose cleaner on them. Scrub them real good, then rinse very well. Hang
them vertically and they'll dry off pretty quick. Also, grocery stores
sell fabric dyes that can be mixed with water in a spray bottle. For carpets
that are sun faded, dyes can bring back some life.
With the shampooing complete, you have two options. One, you can vacuum
up the shampoo residue which will pull up the dirt, or you can use a carpet
steam cleaner (you can rent these or even buy one for a fair price at
sears or where ever). Steam cleaners really pull up the gunk that's been
imbedded in the fabric matt, but they'll leave the carpet slightly damp
for a short while. Most of the time I only use them on carpets that are
so dirty. I could do it three or four times and still be sucking up dirt
(the water turns really black!).
With the carpeting cleaned, it's time for the leather and vinyl. I recommend
Liquid Glass' Leather treatment/conditioner - even for vinyl. It has mink
oil and lasts quite a while. Just don't get it on you're speedometer cover,
it'll stain it. What I do is spray the areas directly and let it soak
for a minute or two, and then I wipe it. I spray it on a rag for tight
or sensitive areas. Again, AVOID ARMOR ALL! Sometimes I spray all
the vinyl and leather before wiping it down, it depends on the vehicle
though. On some cars it's better to just apply it to a cloth first so
you don't stain any clear plastic. If you can't locate the Liquid Glass,
try to find Lexol and/or Vinylex. I was just at one of those bed and bath
stores, the type of store your Significant Other drags you out to so you
can buy towels only the guests are allowed to use. Anyway, in the cleaning
supply section they had Lexol, Vinylex, and leather/vinyl cleaner.
Next, the windows. This is straight forward. Don't spray directly on
the window, but onto a rag. All the little droplets will mess up the nice
and shiny dash! Have a dry cloth ready to wipe it dry. Coat the windows
thoroughly with cleaner. You can even use newspaper to wipe it
dry, the abrasiveness acts like a polish and it won't leave any streaks.
With all this said and done it's time to add the fragrance. I use commercial
products that leave a fresh, clean smell. I spray the carpets, seats,
and directly into the vents. This way when you turn on the air - mmm a
nice and clean smell comes out again. The air conditioner is a trap for
bacteria. Many people get sick and they can't figure out why, it may be
these vents. A citrus type fragrance will disinfect the air vents (so
will Lysol but I don't think you want that smell coming out of your vents!).
Intro To My Three Step Method
I prefer a 3-step approach to detailing. This is almost mandatory for
cars that haven't been waxed recently. Cars that have been waxed, or are
somewhat new, can use a good one-step product, such as Meguiars cleaner/sealant/wax.
If you wax the car often (every 2-3 months) you can just use a good carnauba
wax, such as Mothers Pure Carnauba Wax or Zymol, or a quality cleaner
wax such as those made by Meguiars.
On the retail market today most waxes aren't very durable or long lasting.
If you just use a run-of-mill wax you're not really protecting your vehicles
paint finish very well. This is because most of the waxes actually have
small amounts of wax and a lot of petroleum- distillates. The petroleum
is a by-product from the processing of the carnauba/palm/montan (sp?)
waxes. There's no real gain from it except that it will aid in stripping
some grime off the finish but that's about it. With very little wax in
the product your hard work won't last much more than a month realistically.
3M and DuPont did a study on waxes and found that many waxes on the shelves
today won't last more than 22 days on the paint finish. 3M by the way
makes some excellent wax/compound products. If you can find them, substitute
them where appropriate.
Watch out for those infomercial's! Let's remember it's TV and they are
just hardcore salesmen trying to make a buck! Every wax I've seen on TV
so far is junk, just a waste of your good money. The latest one shows
a wash/wax product that goes on with water. Well guys, if it go's on with
water, what do you think it comes off with? Sure it might give some protection
for a day or two but nothing like the protection of a good carnauba wax.
Prepping is necessary to get a clean, smooth surface ready to receive
sealer/glaze. This also removes mild oxidation, some that you can't even
see with the naked eye, as well as some swirls and very minor scratches.
There is a rule of thumb with scratches "if you can feel it with
your fingernail, it's permanent short of re-painting". I recommend
Dark Magic by The Wax Shop. It's mildly abrasive and clear coat safe.
Apply this just as you would wax. Meguiars also makes a good prep product.
A note about oxidation. Essentially you can think of oxidation as dead
paint. The sun and other natural elements have reacted with the surface
of the paint causing a chemical chain-reaction called oxidation. This
is THE most common flaw on paint, but happily it's almost always curable,
some restrictions apply. Basically my 3 step approach will remove mild
oxidation, but many people are faced with a more serious problem. Not
to worry. Clear coat oxidation can be removed with a clear coat-safe compound,
such as those made by Meguiars or 3M. For standard finishes you can step
up to some more serious compounds such as polishing compound, which is
mild but still too harsh for clear coat, or just regular red compound
which can do damage in the wrong hands. If you feel this oxidation is
too much for you to tackle, I strongly advise you to take it to a professional
to be safe. 3M and Number 7 make some good compounds. Whenever you compound
you MUST seal the paint after. Wax alone is not good enough. You commonly
see most oxidation on the tops of vehicles since that's where the sun
hits direct. Other flaws in the paint can cause similar problems such
as oxidation which may not be curable. Also, sometimes oxidation can be
so severe, so deep, you cannot remove it without going down to bare metal.
If the paint is crazed, many hairline cracks going in all directions,
don't bother compounding or waxing because the paint is shot. Places like
Maaco can be a cheap fix but you have to use your best judgment. Many
people have had mixed results with them, but it depends on how much prep
you do cause they don't do much at all - that's a whole other story. A
good paint job relies on excellent prep work, and skill with a paint gun
of course. You can be good with a paint gun, but bad with prep. Bad prep=bad
Sealer/glaze is just what sounds - almost. Since the surface is ready
and the paint is basically exposed you'll need to seal the pores of the
paint. I recommend Meguiars glaze/sealer for this. Apply this just the
same as the prep. Use soft towels to remove it after it has hazed over,
5-10 minutes. 3M makes a good glaze also. It's just hard to find! Many
times a glaze will contain some silicone/wax as well as clay powders and
can be used as a cleaner wax. A sealer will usually contain no wax/silicone,
or at least very small amounts.
The paint is sealed and prepped, you're ready for wax. The wax will
add depth and shine to the paint, and even more durability. I recommend
Mother's Pure Carnauba Wax for this. This has some of the most carnauba
wax in it than anything else on the retail market. After applying this,
don't let it sit more than 5-8 minutes before removing, it's tough after
more than that! Two thin coats of this is much better than one thick coat,
and apply it with a side to side motion instead of circular to prevent
swirls. I haven't tried the newest Zymol product yet but Todd from DETAILS
(another shop owner on the net) tells me it's pretty good too. Todd also
recommends a new product called Finish First, a synthetic product. I haven't
tried it yet (I've been too busy) but from the literature I've read, it's
worth a shot. Again, only apply to a cool surface. A hot surface causes
rapid evaporation of the wax and cause it to bond to paint leaving nasty
streak marks. Also, pre-dampen your applicator pad before waxing. If you
do get some streak marks, go over the surface with a damp cloth and then
buff it up.
After removing it all, go around and remove any excess from the cracks
and emblems using the 1" brush and a towel, buff it up with a real
soft towel and you're almost done! Cloth diapers are excellent for buffing
up a shine!
Avoid detailing in the sun, especially on a hot surface.
You can also wax the side and rear windows if you want, and don't forget
those door jamb/hatch lid areas!
Here's another thing you can do. Apply RainX to the windshield. I always
finish every vehicle with this. When applying this, pour it onto a paper
towel and then buff it in, up and down, side to side. Repeat until thoroughly
coated. Let it dry to a haze then remove it with a very soft towel. If
the window happened to be extra dry you may have to apply it twice because
it soaked in. This step may leave the windows slightly hazy, but
very minor. Feedback I've gotten from my customers has been very positive.
Here's another tip: break the car down into 6-8 equal sections. Apply
the prep/sealer/wax to one section at a time before moving on to the next.
This let's you concentrate your efforts on small areas at a time. Also,
make certain you're doing all this in the shade to a cool surface, the
same goes for washing.
Pick up some chrome polish if you need it. Most chrome polish is essentially
A "california duster" is good for getting the dust that some
products leave behind. Rotaries should be used only by experienced users
and not by your average at-home detailer. Severe paint damage can occur!!!!
Rag tops need extra special care. If you have stains on it and it's
white, soft scrub w/ bleach should get them out. For darker colored tops,
a good degreaser such as Simple Green is good. Follow up with your vinyl
protectant. Use a firm bristled brush to agitate the stain.
A word about electric buffers, rotary and orbital: An orbital buffer
is safest for the inexperienced user and can achieve the same results
as a rotary. An orbital is heavier than a rotary though. The rotary buffer
is much faster than orbital's but in the wrong hands can easily damage
paint. I mostly do all my waxing my hand, and heavy oxidation removal
with a buffer.
Rotaries should be used only by experienced users and not by your average
at-home detailer. Severe paint damage can occur!!!!
One last note. There is another detailing book available from your local
bookstore. It's called "Auto Detailing: The Professional Way".
I recommend it, it's published by Chilton.