It starts with an innocent tissue or mask in the cup holder of your car. “I’ll bring that inside,” you tell yourself. Then it’s a sweater tossed on the passenger seat: “Well, you never know when it’ll be cold.” Pretty soon there’s an entire wardrobe in the backseat and the console has become a veritable junk drawer. Even better, a bird has pooped on that one spot on your windshield that the wipers don’t reach. Face the facts: it’s time to get your car detailed.
Aside from how good it feels to have a clean car inside and out, there are actual financial benefits to having your car detailed as well.
Increase the longevity of your car
A proper detailing removes dirt and other contaminants from both the exterior and interior of your car, which can cause peeling paint and rust formation over time when they’re allowed to linger.
Preserve the integrity of the paint
In addition to eliminating dirt, detailers use protectants such as sealants or wax on your car that guard against sun exposure, acid rain, and dust.
Keep the engine running efficiently
While it’s not necessarily standard for car detailing, it’s highly recommended to also have your engine cleaned of dust and debris. When your engine runs efficiently, you can avoid expensive repairs and even get better gas mileage.
Lower your risk of getting in an accident
Car detailing can prevent corrosion on alloy wheels which can be dangerous when air leaks occur. It will also clear haze from headlights and your windshield, increasing your visibility for a safer ride.
Boost the resale value
The better shape your car is in, the more you’ll be able to sell it for if the time comes. A clean car conveys that the owner has been taking proper care of it—and it just looks better.
Let the detailing commence
When it comes to car detailing, you have two options: have it professionally cleaned, or have a go at it yourself. The benefits of a professional include the expertise of an experienced detailer and the convenience of not having to spend the time yourself or buy any extra tools. But detailing it yourself can save you money, be a source of pride in your car, and perhaps make you reconsider stuffing those granola bar wrappers into the console in the future. If you are the DIY type, here are the steps you should take to get your car looking fresh.
Prepare for the detailing by identifying and accruing the supplies and products you’ll need for your specific car and interior fabric, including buckets, dishwashing liquid, a vacuum, carpet cleaner, microfiber cloths, leather cleaner/conditioner, and more.
Clear out the interior
It’s best to start with the inside of the car so you don’t have to worry about redirtying the exterior as you clean. Remove wrappers, tissues, and coins from the cupholders and console. Collect any other items from the seats and floors and set them aside in a box. Dust all the hard surfaces, including the dashboard and door panels. You can use different tools like cotton swabs or a small, thin paintbrush to get into the nooks and crannies. Compressed air comes in handy, too, for stubborn dust.
Restore the interior surfaces
With a microfiber towel and an ammonia-free glass cleaning spray, go over all the hard surfaces in your car, including the dashboard, door handles, door panels, windows, mirrors, armrests, console, and steering wheel.
Clean the seats
First, vacuum your seats, making sure to use a nozzle attachment to get into the crevice where crumbs tend to rendezvous. If your seats are fabric, use an upholstery cleaning machine like Bissell’s Little Green. If you have a leather interior, spray the seats with leather cleaner and wipe them down.
Prep your interior for vacuuming. Remove the floor mats and shake, shake, shake them off (to the tune of Taylor Swift). Slide the seats forward and backward so your vacuum can reach all the way under. And don’t forget to vacuum the trunk!
Clean the floor mats
Hose off rubber floor mats, then let them dry off completely in the sun. If you have fabric mats, use baking soda and water on a stiff-bristled brush and give your mats a good scrubbing.
Wash the carpets
Scrub any carpet stains with a foaming cleaner or use a steam carpet cleaner.
Prerinse your car
Now that the interior is taken care of, it’s time to tackle the car’s exterior. A quick once-over with the hose will make the rest of the cleaning process a little bit easier.
Clean the rims and wheels
Using soapy water and a cloth or sponge, scrub the outside edge of the rims and then the rims’ interior. Rinse wheel wells from the top down to avoid trapping any residue that could etch the metal.
Wash the car
Use dishwashing liquid as detergent is too harsh and can dehydrate your car’s finish, potentially wearing it out quicker. Try a two-bucket strategy: fill one with soapy water and the other with clean water. Soak your sponge in the soapy water bucket, clean an area of the car, and then rinse out your sponge in the clean water bucket.
Instead of washing the entire car at once, give a final rinse after each section. This will prevent soap from drying on your car’s exterior.
Dry it off
Once you are satisfied with your car’s cleanliness level, dry carefully with a microfiber towel.
Use a clay bar treatment
This putty-like material will grab any contaminants still clinging to the paint after washing. Warm up the clay in your hand until it’s pliable, and flatten it into a circle about ¾ of an inch thick. Use clay lube to saturate the area, and then slide the clay over it in up and down motions (never circular) to remove dirt particles. Keep kneading the clay as you go along to ensure a clean surface.
Apply wax, sealant, or ceramic coating
All three options will protect your paint, but ceramic coating is the preferred method for professionals as it offers more longevity, greater ease of use, and a harder protective shell than wax or sealant. Wax is cheaper, though, and still effective. Sealants will last a bit longer than wax and can be more durable. Working in small sections, add wax or sealant to the car with a foam buffing pad. Using small circles, buff the wax or sealant into the paint, and then wipe with a microfiber cloth. To apply a ceramic coating, put a few drops on your applicator and wipe in slightly overlapping straight lines, making sure to cover one small area at a time. After a few minutes, you’ll see it turn hazy and it’s time to wipe it off. Once you’ve covered and wiped the whole car, let it cure for forty-eight hours.
Now that your car has been rebooted, commit to detailing your car at least once a year to enhance its appearance and performance and ensure it runs at peak efficiency for many miles to come.