How to Detail Your Car Like a Pro
My car is my one of my most precious possessions. I consider it a sanctuary; driving is the only time I have to myself, where I can relax, wind down, listen to music and reflect.
So let’s be honest, people: it’s difficult to keep the interior and exterior of our cars looking clean and nice at all times, especially when you’re on the go 24/7.
I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on those fancy car detailing services. Everything feels so fresh and new, then fast-forward a week or two later and my car is in the same condition (although I’m sure the rainy days and spilt coffee don’t help much).
I made a budget recently, and I was shocked once I realized how much money I spend on detailing my car. I can’t afford to keep taking it to a professional. This made me sad, because I didn’t want to give up the luxury of having a well maintained car – so I made it a goal to learn how to detail just like auto shop does.
Surprise, surprise…there are more things that need cleaned than I was even aware of!
The interior and exterior of your car have tons of parts made from different materials (think windshield, tires, carpet, seats, etc.). All of these materials need to be cleaned with different cleaning solutions – this can get expensive if you don’t do your research first.
Lucky for you, I’ve done the research and tested out many of the tips and tricks that are listed on the Internet for DIY car detailing.
I feel more confident than ever about cleaning my car and keeping it in tip-top shape for years to come.
Caution: Before Cleaning
If you are worried about which cleaning solutions are safe to use in your car, you should refer to the owner’s manual.
The last thing anyone wants is to ruin his or her car, so make certain to check if product you are using is safe to use on the material you are cleaning.
Important: to prevent damage to your car, always test your cleaner on an inconspicuous area first before cleaning the entire surface.
Cleaning Products to Avoid
There are many types of products out there to clean your car. There are also many materials and surfaces inside a car. Vinyl, leather, acrylic paint, rubber, chrome, glass and plastic all clean better when you use the specific type of cleaner made for them.
There are some products you should avoid altogether.
No Strong Detergents/Soap
The strong solvents in most cleaning products can break down and damage paint, vinyl, and leather and rubber material. Laundry detergent is highly alkaline and all soaps leave a film residue which will dull the shine so you should avoid these on your vehicle.
No Ammonia Based Products
Ammonia is used in certain glass cleaners and all-purpose cleaners and should be avoided on your car. Ammonia based cleaners will degrade and crack the leather, vinyl and rubber on a vehicle. It can also damage the tint on tinted glass windows.
How to Clean Car Windows
Cleaning the windows of your car sounds like a no-brainer. However, there are many expert tips and tricks that can make your windows look top-notch.
Tip #1: Put a towel on the dash before spraying any window cleaner.
Tip #2: Roll down the windows a few inches to get the top edge of the glass (where that annoying little dirty line is).
You need to choose a cleaning solution (soap and water usually don’t cut it). Regular window cleaner works perfectly on car windows, however, I like to make my own.
My DIY Window Cleaning Recipe:
In a spray bottle, mix the following together,
- 1 cup rubbing alcohol
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
The great thing about this homemade recipe is that it can be used on any glass surface – windows and mirrors included!
Always make sure to use a lint-free towel when washing your car windows.
Interior Car Cleaning
Okay, it’s obvious that when detailing your car you should vacuum the seats, floor mats, etc.
However, you know how vacuums come with all of those different tools and accessories? They’re more useful than you think!
A simple vacuum hose with a crevice tool attachment will get all those hard to reach places ASAP.
Use your crevice tool when cleaning these areas:
- Edging of windows
- Under the dash
- Cup holders
- Between the console and the seats
- Door pockets
- Instrument panel
Tip #1: For hard to reach areas, use a soft bristle toothbrush or an air compressor (in short bursts) to effectively remove debris.
Now you can vacuum the floors, seats and doors if need.
Cleaning the upholstery in your car can be a tough challenge. There are different types of materials that it can be made out of. Are your seats and upholstery cloth or leather?
Something to keep in mind when it comes to car cleaning is prevention and protection. A coat of Armor All or similar substance can protect the seats and upholstery and make it easier to just wipe clean.
Some stains in leather wipe clean with warm water and some mild soap.
Below are two of my articles which you may find helpful:
- How to Clean Leather
- Removing Leather Stains
Stains in cloth can be more difficult. Use baking soda and water (test in an unseen area) and blot at the stain with a clean dye free towel.
Before I clean my seat belts I place a towel on the seat to avoid dripping and possibly spilling water.
DIY Seat Belt Cleaner Recipe:
- 1/2 cup mild laundry detergent
- 1/2 gallon warm water
Mix the ingredients in a bucket, and then follow these steps:
- Use a soft bristle brush to carefully scrub the seat belts. Dip and re-dip the brush until dirt, dust and grime are gone.
- Get a clean rag and dunk it in warm water. Wipe down the seat belts to remove any soapy residue. Re-wet as needed.
- With a dry towel, wrap each seat belt and press firmly together to remove any excess water.
Exterior Car Cleaning
I never paid attention to the car washing process the auto shops would go through when cleaning my car. Well, after multiple trials and errors, I am confident to say that I have figured out their secrets and I am an expert at washing cars now.
Here are my top tips for washing the exterior of your car:
Tip #1: Always wash your car in a shaded place. If the surface of the car is hot, the soap will dry and cause spotting – which means re-washing (not good). If you can’t get out of the sun while washing your car, wash in sections to avoid soap drying on the paint. The sections are already laid out for you – front panel, front door, back door, rear panel, etc.
Tip #2: Always pre-soak your car. By pre-soaking, I mean hosing it down for a good five minutes. This helps to get rid of any heavy dirt particles, ground in road tar, caked on mud, etc.
Tip #3: There is absolutely no need to spend money on those expensive car washing solutions. A squirt of liquid ivory into a five gallon bucket of water will do the trick.
Tires and Rims
To clean your wheels, rinse off all excess dirt and grime. Pre-wetting will help remove some (but not all) of the dirt and grime.
Next, I use a solution that consists of a squirt of liquid ivory soap in a five gallon bucket of water to really get your tires and rims clean.
Tires and rims are usually the last thing I do when washing my car.
I know many detailing experts will have you wash them first to avoid overspray on the panels you have already cleaned – but I always work top to bottom for best results.
Also when washing tires, wash and clean one at a time.
Dip a scrub brush in the ivory solution and get to work! Scrub all around the tires getting the dirt off. Be careful to not scrub the rims, as this may cause them to scratch.
Spray with a tire shine product best to get your tires shiny black again. Wipe off any overspray from the rims.
Instead of using the scrub brush on the rims, dunk a wash rag in the wash solution and give them a good cleaning. I wipe my dry after rinsing to avoid spotting.
If your rims are in need of an extreme cleaning – there are products on the market you can use for the type of rim you have.
10 Steps to Achieving a Clean Car
When it comes to washing and waxing, here are some tips to help you keep your car clean.
- When I’m ready to wash my car, whether I’m in the sun or not, I work in small sections. I like washing my car so I don’t mind if this is a little more time consuming.
- Wash the car from top to bottom. Just like cleaning the house.
- I use a separate sponge or mitt to wash along the bottom edge of the car. This is one of the places you’re more likely to run into caked on dirt and road debris. I don’t want to scratch my car with any leftover gunk that may not have gotten rinsed off, so I prefer the two mitts (P.S. you may need to rinse the sponge often to prevent scratches under the edge).
- Work the sponge or mitt in a back and forth movement for each section; then go over that in small circles, this helps me from missing any spots.
- Rinse the area you just washed really well.
- Move on to the next section and do as you did with the previous section and rinse.
- I will typically do the tires and rims after washing the whole car. This way my water stays cleaner and I don’t have to worry much about possibly scratching the car.
- Rinse the tires and rims and walk around the car to completely rinse it again, and when you think you’re done – give it one more good rinsing for good measure.
- To give your car a finished look, go over the tires with tire dressing to spiff them right up.
- Use a clean, soft, dry towel to carefully dry your car, this prevents spotting or take it for a quick spin down the road, around the block, or on the freeway to blow away any remaining spots.
How to Keep Your Car Clean
Now that I’ve covered all of the basics to detailing your car like a pro, you may be wondering: how am I supposed to keep my car looking clean?!
Good news! It’s much easier that you would expect.
Tip #1: First, don’t treat your car like a trash can (empty coffee cups, food wrappers, etc. don’t belong in your car). If this is difficult, then I suggest keeping a stash of plastic bags in your car. Plastic bags make it easier and more convenient to remove the garbage. Preferably take the trash out of your vehicle daily.
Tip #2: Remove the mats from your car weekly to give them a good shake. This helps to cut down the time spent vacuuming upholstery in the future.
Tip #3: Take advantage of the squeegees gas stations offer. When you visit the gas pump, squeegee your windshield (back and front) while waiting.
Tip #4: A rule of thumb is to clean the interior of your car monthly, and the exterior of your car bi-weekly. This may seem extreme, but trust me: this not only makes future cleanings take less time, it has also been proven to increase the resell value of your car.
Keeping your car well maintained is of utmost importance. Remember all of my tips and you’ll be set for life!