How to Detail Your Car
by: Stuart Barrett
"Not to rub you the wrong way..."
you ever desired to see that certain vehicle of yours "shine" better
than the day it rolled out of the factory? Do you peruse the car care
isle of your local auto parts store with the intent of taking home the
"highest quality" products to bathe that set of wheels in? When you last
evaluated your vehicle's appearance, have all of your "Rubs with love"
left you a little broken hearted at the lack of sparkle in that car's
eyes? Er, headlights? What you may not know is that your current car
cleaning habits could be damaging your dream machine...
Detailing is a practice which involves various cleaning techniques that
when done correctly, restores or exceeds the original condition of the
car's paint surface finish, various trim, windows, wheels, tires, as
well as other visible components on a vehicle's exterior (and interior).
Commonly referred to as the car's shininess, the duty of a professional
detailer is to achieve this "better than showroom" appearance with the
utmost consideration of the vehicle's composition. They are obsessive
about the performance results made by their tools and products while
employing the least intrusive application to the surfaces being
That said, I have had a lifelong pursuit of automotive perfection for as
long as I can remember. Passion and experience that encompasses not only
the breathtaking hues that adorn beautifully sculpted bodywork, but also
the mechanical marvels which reside beneath such attractive sheet metal
and the exquisite engineering attributes that moves its owner far beyond
"A-to-B". It is my sincerest hope that I am able to cultivate long
lasting relationships with those who are passionate enthusiasts and that
I may be able to provide them a solution that enriches their enjoyment
Upon completing some rather extensive corrective work on the Young's
newest addition to their Jaguar collection, I was generously offered by
Linda the opportunity to create this column. If you were at the recent
Euro-Expo Car Show you might've seen the results on "Prince", as Linda
has affectionately named this purple XJS number. Upon complementing its
appearance you may have been enthusiastically entreated to "RUN YOUR
HAND OVER IT AND FEEL HOW SMOOTH IT IS!!!" (Detailers cringe when they
hear an offering to run hands on paint as the vision of sharp nails,
loose rings, or a robust wristwatch damaging the paint flashes across
their mind...) As we soaked up the sun on what turned out to be a
fantastic day, we sussed out the format of this new addition to the
newsletter. The aim for this new column is to showcase, inform, and
explore the contentiously evolving techniques and technology that reside
within the car care sector so that you can ensure the care going into
your vehicle is the proper kind.
If you have any specific car care questions you may contact Stuart
directly at firstname.lastname@example.org;
"The proper steps towards a "love rub" free paint finish. From a 30,000 foot approach."
Full disclosure: I could write 25,000 words on each area we are about to go over so please read the following in a "large rocks
in the jar" format and if you would like more specific details or questions on where to source products/equipment etc.
please email me: email@example.com
Assuming this car needs the "full treatment" let's say you went on a month long rally and it's in need of a rather thorough cleaning.
Here is how I would approach the job at hand: Objective is to remove any and all contaminations from the
vehicle by the fewest physical touches from our hands, brushes, towels, and mitts. Anytime we are physically interacting with the
surface we are at risk of marring its finish.
Park in a well shaded area. Inspect car for level of cleaning needed (note any bird bombs, tar, or other contaminants that may require
special attention) once you've assessed the vehicle and plotted your plan of attack, grab the equipment you'll need and set it up within
reach of the area you're working in.
- 3 five gallon buckets (label them, wash, wheels, rinse)
- Grit guards for each.
- High quality wash mitt (No parts store mitt)
- Wheel brushes
- 2-4 New/Clean microfiber towels
- 2-4 Old Microfiber towels
- Foam gun (hose or pressure wash)
- Water sources w/ filters & nozzle
- Dry using compressed air, waffle/drying microfiber towels, (can cheat and use leaf blower also)
- Vinyl, rubber, trim applicator pads
- Powder free latex gloves
Cleaning products needed:
- High quality, high foaming car soap
- Non acidic wheel and tire cleaners
- Bug and tar cleaners
- Ammonia free glass cleaner
- High quality detail spray
- Vinyl, rubber, dressing
Begin your wash by cleaning the wheels, tires, and wheel arches first. Knock off any loose dirt/debris by rinsing said areas thoroughly.
Working on only one corner at a time, apply your wheel cleaner to the wheel and follow the manufacturers suggestions,
agitate cleaner with brushes and soapy water for best results. Label one of the 5 gallon buckets for wheel use only.
Rinse and repeat these steps until all wheels have been cleaned.
Revert back to your inspection and begin addressing any bugs, tar, and/or bird bombs that could become embedded within your wash mitt. THESE ARE NOTORIOUS FINE SCRATCH CULPRITS SO DO NOT SKIP THESE STEPS. Let's begin with the front of the vehicle as that is most likely the area needing attention in the bug removal department. Similar to the wheel approach, knock off loose contaminates by rinsing. If you're using a pressure washer proceed with caution as dried on bugs can bond to the surface with great adherence. Remember, we are just knocking off the loose ones at this point. Once rinsed, apply bug removal spray and follow manufacturers suggestions. Some might need agitation, do so once you've made 2 attempts with a "no touch" apply and rinse. Approach tar and bird bombs the same way before the actual washing of the paint surface begins.
Grab the two remaining buckets and label one the "wash" bucket and the other as the "rinse" bucket. Fill them up accordingly and begin your rinse process on the entire vehicle.
Once you've gone around the entire car you may now grab your wash mitt and dunk it into the soapy wash solution. I like to add a bit of soap directly to the mitt to get as much lubrication possible. Wash the vehicle from the top down with a back and forth motion with little to no surface pressure. This isn't the kitchen floor we are scrubbing, so remove the circular motions with 55-gallons of elbow grease approach out of your practice. Periodically dip the mitt into the rinse bucket before dunking it back into the wash solution.
After a thorough wash and rinse we are ready to dry. IMPORTANT: Your drying method is another main culprit of those "love rub" marks. Compressed air or a leaf blower works best as it is again, a no touch approach. Those few pesky water retention spots now remain for you to treat with a drying microfiber towel. Waffle weave are highly absorbing and require a little to no pressure approach and should be used if no air is available. All that is left now is to treat the tires with the desired gloss level dressing, a once around with a high quality detail spray on the painted surfaces (pro tip: spray product onto the microfiber towel and work onto the surface) and last but not least, a quick in and out wipe down of glass on the vehicle.
Now clean up, sit back, and admire the fruits of you labor! I would love your feedback on what you'd like to learn more about and thanks for reading!