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Step-by-step Guide to Detailing Your Car

1. Wash with a high-quality auto soap

Your dad might have washed the family car with liquid dishwashing soap, but it’s not ideal for keeping your vehicle’s finish in top condition. It’s true that dishwashing liquid is great at getting rid of dirt and grease, but the downside to that powerful wash is that it also breaks down your car’s finish, and can cause significant damage to the paint job over time. Skip the dish soap and use a specially-formulated car wash, which you can pick up at any auto parts store.

Once you’ve found a high-quality car soap and you’re ready to get started, fill two buckets with water – one to mix with the cleanser and one with clean water to rinse your sponge or wash mitt. Rinsing keeps your cleaning tools free from any dirt or grit so you won’t accidentally scratch your paint while washing the car.

2. Pick out embedded dirt and grit

Every day while driving down the road your car is hit with countless pieces of dirt and grit. At high speeds, many of these bits of grit can become embedded into your paint job. Washing does a good job of getting rid of the surface dirt, but these embedded pieces can only be removed by plucking them out with clay barring.

Buy a clay bar kit (from an auto parts store or online) that includes a lubricating spray as well as the synthetic clay. Prepare the clay by grabbing a piece and tearing it into four chunks. Simply take a chunk and flatten it with the palms of your hands, then rub the clay over the embedded grit in the paint, moving your hand back and forth until the clay is pressed firmly against the paint. Then fold the clay over itself and flatten again, rubbing until the clay turns grey, which means it’s fully used up. Throw the clay away and repeat with a new piece until all of the embedded grit is removed.

3. Polish the finish

Plenty of long-time car owners think that waxing and polishing are the same thing, but they’re actually very different techniques. Polishing eliminated small imperfections and scratches on the paint surface and gives the finish a nice shine. Waxing coats the finish and protects it from the weather and dirt.

Some people make the mistake of skipping the polishing step because it sounds like a lot of additional work, but in fact polishing is one of the most important steps in getting the best shine from your car. Simply apply a generous amount of a high-quality polish to your polishing pad and begin to buff. If you have an electric polisher, start at a slow speed to spread the polish, then use a medium or high speed to buff the finish to a high shine.

4. Bring out the shine with wax

There are many different types of car wax on the market. Carnauba wax will leave your car with a deep, warm shine. Synthetic polymer waxes, or paint sealants, provide a wet, glossy look. Some of these waxes can be quite pricey, but you get what you pay for – this is not the time to skimp.

To wax your car, simply apply the wax to your sponge or foam applicator and rub smoothly into the finish. Wipe off any excess with a clean microfiber towel.

5. Don’t forget to slide the seats forward

Before you start deep-cleaning the interior you need to slide the car seats forward. You’d be amazed at what gets stuck under the seats, even in what seems like a clean car. We regularly find mobile phones, pens, pencils, children’s toys and tonnes of spare change under the seats, so don’t skip this step or you’ll create more work for yourself in the long run!

6. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum

Never shampoo your car’s upholstery or carpets without first hoovering up all the dirt and dust in your car, or you’ll just have to do it all over again. Start with the top so you’ll suck up any dirt that falls when you hoover the lower areas. Begin with the roof, the dash, console and door panels. Then vacuum the glass, taking care to get into all the nooks and crannies. Use a detailing brush to sweep dirt out of any cracks, and suck it up with the vacuum. Then hoover the seats, the floor mats, and the carpet. Don’t forget the door pockets!

7. Make your car smell nice

If you smoke or regularly eat in your car, there may be some lingering, less-than-desirable smells. You can neutralize cigarette smoke with specialty sprays, or for less tough odors you may want to try an overall small neutralizer such as Febreeze. Spray the headliner, upholstery and doors while holding the can at least a foot away. Take care not to get any areas of plastic too wet, or they may stain. Then turn the car’s fan to recirculate or max A/C and spray a light mist into the intake opening (if you can’t find it, hold a tissue near the blower motor to see where the air is coming in). Run the fan with the windows and doors closed for about an hour to fully get rid of any foul odors. Your car may smell like cleaner for a while, but that will go away.

8. Cleaning leather seats

The key to keeping leather looking nice and lasting for the life of the car is keeping a leather-cleaning kit on-hand. With leather, it’s crucial that any spills are cleaned right away to prevent staining and damage. Many messes, such as lipstick or ink, can leave permanent marks in only a few hours.
Use a leather conditioner to pretreat the area before you begin to clean the stain. Then apply the cleaner and rub it in, letting it sit for at least 30 seconds to a minute before wiping it clean with a clean cloth. Finish with a leather protection cream.

9. Shampoo carpet and upholstery

You can shampoo your seats and carpet by hand, but we recommend using a portable carpet cleaning machine to get up all of the dirt that settles deep in the upholstery and carpet fibres. These machines spray the seats or carpet with a cleaning solution and then sucks up all the water and dirt. You can also rent these machines, but purchasing one often pays for itself after only a few uses.

10. Wash the windows

Many people forget to clean the top of the windows, so their otherwise sparkling car has a line of grime when they roll their window down. Simply wash your windows with a good glass cleaner, remembering to roll them down partway to get to the top.

11. Deep clean the air vents

A car will never look clean with dust covered air vents. A vacuum attachment can’t get these totally clean, so instead take a small artist’s paintbrush and spray on some furniture polish. Use the brush to really get into the nooks and crannies of the air vents and get up all the dust. When the brush is covered with dust, simply wipe clean with a cloth and move on to the next vent.

12. It’s all about the details

People pay for professional valeting so that every nook and cranny in their car will be spotless. If you want to get this look yourself, you have to make sure every tiny detail is clean, from the trim lines to cup holders to the little cracks that catch dust. Spray a plastic-safe cleaner on a clean cloth and then wrap it around a tiny screwdriver. Then use the screwdriver to get into all the trim lines and other tiny grooves to make sure you collect all the dirt. Don’t forget to clean the buttons and controls and other parts of the dash.