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How to Detail Your Own Car: A Complete Guide

How to Detail Your Car - Man waxing the car
Stacey Martin
Stacey Martin
May 27, 2022

Whether you're trying to sell your car or just keep it looking its best, auto detailing is a key responsibility of car ownership. But taking your car to a professional for full detail can be costly. If you want to save some money and do it yourself, this comprehensive guide will show you how to detail your own car. Let's dive in.

The Basics of Auto Detailing

Man detailing a car

Auto detailing is the process of cleaning and polishing the interior and exterior of your vehicle. This includes everything from washing and waxing the paint to cleaning the upholstery and scrubbing the wheels.

A professional detailer usually uses high-end products and tools, but you can get good results with more affordable options. If you're serious about keeping your car in top shape, you can even invest in a set of professional-level materials.

Safety Precautions

Before you start detailing your car, there are a few safety precautions to take. First, make sure you're working in a well-ventilated area. If you're using strong chemicals, fumes can build up quickly and become dangerous. Be sure to open doors and windows or work outdoors if possible.

Second, be careful with how you use water. If you get electrical components wet, it could cause a short circuit. To avoid this, disconnect any batteries or wires before you start washing.

Finally, always read the labels on any products you use. Some chemicals can be damaging to paint or upholstery if not used correctly.

What You'll Need

You will need to gather a few supplies to start detailing your car.

For the exterior, you'll need:

  1. Soap
  2. Clean water
  3. A clay bar
  4. Car wax
  5. Clean microfiber towels or washing mitts
  6. Wheel cleaner
  7. A brush

For the interior, you'll need:

  1. A vacuum
  2. Clean microfiber cloths
  3. Leather cleaner (if your car has leather seats)
  4. A scrub brush
  5. Compressed air
  6. All-purpose cleaner

You might also want to invest in a car cover to keep your car clean after you've detailed it.

Detailing the Exterior

Once your supplies are ready, it's time to start with the exterior. The following steps will protect your car's paint from the elements and keep it looking shiny and new.

Give It a Good Wash and Rinse

Washing the car

Start by giving your car a good wash with soap and clean water. If you don't get regular car washes or if it has been a while since you last washed your vehicle, you might want to use dish soap to break up any tough dirt and grime. Just be sure to rinse it off thoroughly afterward, so the soap doesn't damage the paint.

If you live in an area with a lot of brake dust or road grime, you might want to use a pre-wash cleaner before washing the whole car. This will help loosen up the dirt and make it easier to wash off.

Wash your car in sections, starting at the top and working your way down with a microfiber towel or pair of washing mitts. This will help prevent streaks from forming. When you're finished, rinse the car off with clean water.

Clean the Tires

Next, move on to the tires. Use a wheel cleaner and brush to remove brake dust or road grime. This will make your tires look cleaner and help extend their lifespan.

Once you've scrubbed the tires, rinse them off with clean water.

Clean the Trim

The next step is to clean the trim. This includes anything made of plastic or rubber, such as the door handles, mirrors, and side molding.

Use a microfiber cloth and soapy water to wipe down the trim. If the trim is especially dirty, you might need a brush to remove all the dirt and grime.

When you're finished, rinse the trim with clean water and dry it with a clean microfiber cloth.

Use a Clay Bar

After you have washed and rinsed your car, it's time to use a clay bar. This step is important because it will remove any contaminants that washing missed. A clay bar is a soft, pliable piece of clay that you glide over the surface of your car. As you do this, the clay will pick up any tiny pieces of dirt, grime, or other material that are stuck to the paint.

To use a clay bar, start by spraying a section at a time with clay lubricant. Then, gently glide the clay bar over the surface until you feel it move smoothly. If you feel any resistance, that means there's something stuck to the paint. To remove it, spray the area with more lubricant and continue moving the clay bar until it slides smoothly.

When you're finished with a section, wipe it down with a clean microfiber cloth. Move on to the next section and repeat this process until you've gone over the entire car.

Polish the Body

The next step is to polish the body. This will help remove any scratches or swirl marks in the paint. It will also make the car's surface smoother, so it's easier to apply car wax.

To polish your car, apply a small amount of polish to a microfiber cloth. Then, rub the cloth in small circles over a section at a time until the polish has been completely rubbed in. Continue until you've gone over the entire car.

Once you're finished, use a clean microfiber cloth to remove any excess polish.

Wax the Surface

Waxing car

Now it's time to wax the surface. This will protect the paint and make it shine.

Start by applying a small amount of car wax to a microfiber cloth. Then, rub the cloth in small circles over a section of the car at a time until the car wax has been completely rubbed in.

Continue this step until you have gone over the entire car, then remove any excess car wax with a clean microfiber cloth.

Clean the Exterior of Your Windows

Don't forget to clean the exterior of your windows. To do so, use a glass cleaner and microfiber cloth and remove any dirt, grime, or fingerprints.

If you have any stubborn spots, you can use a toothbrush to scrub them away gently. Just be careful not to scratch the glass.

Detailing the Interior

The next step is to detail the interior of your car. This includes cleaning all the interior surfaces, like the dashboard, door panels, and seats.

Start With the Dash and Door Panels

Start with the hard interior surfaces. To clean the dash and door panels, start by dusting them with a microfiber cloth. Then, a vacuum attachment removes any dirt or crumbs from the cracks and crevices.

Next, use a microfiber cloth and all-purpose cleaner to remove any stubborn dirt or grime that may still be present on the interior surfaces. Be careful around any electronics, like the radio or navigation system.

When you're finished, dry the dash and door panels using a clean microfiber cloth.

Detail the Air Vents

Don't forget to detail the air vents! This will help remove any accumulated dust or dirt on them and improve ventilation in your vehicle.

To do this, use a vacuum attachment to remove dirt or dust. Then, using compressed air can blow out any remaining particles.

Clean Out the Cupholders

Cupholders are notorious for being dirt magnets. To clean them, use a vacuum attachment to remove loose dirt or crumbs.

If your cupholders are still not clean, you can use a toothbrush to scrub away any remaining dirt. Be sure to rinse them well afterward, so they're ready for use.

Detail the Steering Wheel

The steering wheel is another area that tends to get dirty quickly. To clean it, start by dusting it with a microfiber cloth. Then, use an all-purpose cleaner and a clean cloth to remove any remaining grime.

Once you are satisfied, use a new microfiber cloth to dry the steering wheel.

Clean the Seats

Let's move on to the seats. To clean the seats, start by vacuuming them with an upholstery attachment. This will remove any dirt, crumbs, or pet hair.

If you have leather seats, you will also need to use a leather cleaner and microfiber cloth to clean them. Just be sure to avoid any electronics, like the seat warmer buttons.

If your seats are fabric, you can use a carpet cleaner to remove any stains. Just be sure to test it on a small area first to ensure it won't damage the fabric.

Vacuum the Carpets

To vacuum the carpets, start by removing any floor mats and setting them aside. Then, a vacuum attachment removes any dirt or crumbs from the cracks and crevices.

For the main area of the carpets, use a back and forth motion with the vacuum. Be sure to go over each area several times to make sure you've removed all the dirt and debris.

Remove Carpet Stains

Start by blotting the area with a clean microfiber cloth, and then use a carpet cleaner and scrub brush to remove the stain.

Be sure to test the carpet cleaner on a small area first to ensure it won't damage the fabric. Once you have successfully removed the stains, let the carpet completely dry before returning the floor mats. This may take several hours, but it's worth the wait! You can keep your doors and windows open to speed up drying.

Wash the Floor Mats

Next, it's time to give the floor mats some attention. Start by shaking them out to remove any loose dirt or debris. Then, vacuum them with an upholstery attachment.

If the mats are really dirty, you may need to wash them. Simply place them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle to do this. Be sure to let them air dry completely before putting them back in your car.

Clean the Interior of Your Windows

To clean the interior of your windows, start by misting them with soapy water. Then, use a microfiber cloth to wipe away any dirt or grime.

Use a clean microfiber cloth to dry the windows for a streak-free finish.

Use a Deodorizer

Car deodorizer

The final step is to use a deodorizer. You can find these at most auto stores.

To use the deodorizer, simply follow the directions on the package. This will help to remove any lingering odors and leave your car smelling fresh and new.

Final Thoughts

And that's it! You've now learned how to detail your own car. As you can see, detailing your car doesn't have to be daunting. Be sure to schedule some time every month to keep your car in pristine condition.

While it's important to keep your car in top shape, don’t forget at some point, even the best-maintained cars will be involved in an accident. And when this happens, bring your car to D-1 Auto Body, where you’ll get the best auto repair service in Los Angeles.

Located near Downtown Los Angeles, D-1 Auto Body is a full-service auto body shop specializing in collision repair. We work on most makes and models, including Tesla, and our talented technicians are here to help you get back on the road as soon as possible. Contact us today to schedule a car repair service appointment.