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How to Detail a Car

Two Parts:

Detailing a car requires going way beyond the usual vacuum and wash job. It means paying attention to the tiny details that add up to make the car look show-worthy. Begin with the interior so that you don't have to worry about messing up your exterior while detailing the inside.


Detailing a Car's Interior

  1. Remove floor mats and vacuum the mats, floor, trunk, upholstery, rear parcel shelf, if you have one, and the dash.Slide the seats all the way forward and then back to thoroughly vacuum the carpet underneath.
    • Start from the top and work your way down. Dust or dirt that has accumulated up top could fall down; dust or dirt that has accumulated at the bottom will rarely fall up.
  2. Clean carpet or upholstery stains by applying a foam cleanser and rubbing it in with a damp cloth or sponge.Allow it to sit for a few minutes before blotting dry with a towel. If the stain doesn't come out, repeat. After your final cleaner application, wash the area with a damp sponge and do a final blotting.
    • Make sure to try to get as much dampness from the fabric as possible. Any excessive dampness may promote molding and/or mildew, which does not fall in the definition of detailing a car.
  3. Repair carpet holes, burns or small permanent stains by cutting the spot out with a razor blade or scissors.Replace with a piece you've cut from a hidden place, such as underneath the seat. Use a water-resistant adhesive to keep it down.
    • Warning: Always ask the owner of the car for permission before doing this step. If you want, have a sample repair that you can show the owner of the car of what the process will look like. If it's done well, this sample will be reassuring.
  4. Wash rubber floor mats and dry.Apply a non-slip dressing so that the driver's feet don't slip and slide while they're trying to do important things like braking.
  5. Use compressed air and detailing brushes to get out accumulated dust from the buttons and crevices on the dash and interior doors.
  6. Wipe hard interior surfaces with a mild all-purpose cleaner.Use an interior dressing like Armor All to finish it off.
  7. Detail car air vent grilles with detailing brushes.If you're not going to use liquids afterward, your detailing brushes should be a super-absorbant material like microfiber cloth, which picks up dust and dirt efficiently. Lightly mist some spray-on vinyl dressing onto the vent grilles to make them look brand new.
  8. Clean or shampoo the seats.Cleaning the seats is essential for a good detail. But different seats require different methods. Note that after cleaning, you may have to vacuum out the seats or surrounding area again, as dirt will be loosened up by this process.
    • Cloth interiors: Interiors with nylon or other cloth can be shampooed with a wet-vac extraction machine. Cloth should be adequately dried after extraction has taken place.
    • Leather or vinyl interiors: Interiors with leather or can be cleaned with a leather or vinyl cleaner and then hit softly with a leather brush. Cleaner can be wiped away with a microfiber cloth afterward.
  9. Condition your leather seats, if necessary.If you've cleaned leather seats with product, now's the time to condition them so that the leather looks visually appealing and doesn't dry out or begin to crack.
  10. Spray glass cleaner on windows and mirrors and wipe clean.For stronger build-up removal, use 4-ought steel wool on windows. Use plastic cleaner if the gauge cover is made of plastic.
    • Stick with microfiber cloth when you're washing and wiping. If not microfiber, use a clean, lint-free cloth. You don't want to leave fibrous residue all over the inside of the car in the process of cleaning up.

Detailing a Car's Exterior

  1. Brush the wheel rims clean with a wheel brush and wheel cleaner or degreaser.Hit the wheel rims first, as this is where most of the dirt, grime, and grease accumulates and you may need to leave cleaning product on for a while. Allow product to penetrate wheel rims for 30 seconds to 1 minute before brushing.
    • Acid-based cleaners should only can be used on rough-textured alloy wheels, if needed, but not on polished alloy wheels or clear-coated wheels.
    • Gleam up chrome wheels with metal polish or glass cleaner.
  2. Wash the tires with whitewall tire cleaner (even if you have black-walls).Apply tire dressing. For a glossy finish, let the dressing soak in, or wipe it on and off with a cotton cloth for a matte look.
  3. Wrap electronic components in plastic under the hood.Spray degreaser on everything, after which spray down with pressure washer.
  4. Dress up non-metal areas under the hood with vinyl/rubber protectant.For a glossy look, allow the protectant to soak in. For a more matte finish, wipe it off.
  5. Be careful about tinted windows.Factory tinting is built into the glass itself, so you have to worry less about that, but after-market tinting is more degradable and could suffer from cleaners that contain ammonia and/or vinegar. Check your cleaners before applying to tinted windows.
  6. Wash your car's exterior with a car wash soap, not dish detergent.Park the car in a shady spot and wait until the car's surface is cool to the touch. Use a deep-pile terrycloth microfiber towel which will trap contaminants and not grind them into the car's surface.
    • Tip: Use two pails — one with sudsy cleaner, the other with water — when you clean. After you dip your cloth into the sudsy water and clean a portion of the car, dip the dirty, sudsy water into the pail with water so that you don't contaminate the cleaning pail.
    • Dishwashing detergent strips the polymers off the paint surface and accelerates the oxidation process.
    • Work from the top down, washing and rinsing a section at a time. Donotallow soap to dry.
    • Take the spray nozzle off the water hose before doing a final rinse to minimize spots.
    • Use a chamois or terry cloth towel to dry; do not let air-dry or soap spots will form.
  7. Clean the outside of windows with glass cleaner.The glass on newly-detailed cars should shine and reflect, not be dull and grimy. In order to get that reflective polish on the windows,
  8. Get the caked-on dirt and mud off the wheel wells with an all-purpose cleaner and high-pressure water spray.Add a vinyl dressing to the wells for a dazzling effect.
  9. Remove bonded contaminants on the car with a liquid clay bar.You can use a traditional clay bar to remove things like sap, but a liquid clay bar is quicker and almost as effective.
  10. Apply polish or wax (if using both, apply and remove polish first) with a dual-action polisher or orbital buffer or by hand.Rotary buffers should be left to the professionals.
    • Polish is for a glossy look. Wax is a protectant.
    • Use in length-wise sections. Do not move the machine in a circular pattern.
    • Pay attention to doorjambs, around door hinges and behind bumpers, which you will need to do in a circular motion by hand.
    • Let it dry to a haze. Then finish the auto detailing by buffing with the machine. The hard-to-reach areas can be buffed by hand.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Will detailers take care of minor scratches?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    They may, but all are different. Ask the detailer if they could touch up the minor scratches. They most likely will do this for you.
  • Question
    Are there any new methods besides dog hair brushes or the stone to remove dog hair?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Use a latex glove that can be bought at dollar store. Just put them on and wipe away. I have six dogs and I use them all the time. It is a great inexpensive method to use on almost any kind of material, and it works best on cloth.
  • Question
    Does a buffing machine dull the finish of the color or take away the clear seal coat?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, it can. This is called burn through. It can also leave permanent tiny swirl cut marks in the clear coat. This is easily avoided by moving the buffing pad constantly and not holding it in one place for too long.
  • Question
    Do I polish and then wax, or wax and then polish?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Polish, then wax.
  • Question
    On the exterior of my car I see whirling patterns as if from car wax but it can't be removed by just washing. What can I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You will need to buff it out with a micro-fiber cloth. If its still there, try re-waxing the whole panel and letting it completely haze, then buff off.
  • Question
    Is it worth putting on two coats of wax?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes. You can also apply two coats of polish.
  • Question
    How do I get a smoke smell out of a car's interior?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Shampoo the seats, air out the car on a warm sunny day, and always use an air freshener.
  • Question
    What is a good machine to apply wax, and then buff it off?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Porter cable orbital sander/polisher works great. Use a microfiber bonnet on the polishing pad; this seems to do the trick.
  • Question
    How can I clean velcro glue from inside the windshield?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Olive oil can do a great job at removing adhesives. There are also commercial solvents that may work well.
  • Question
    Does waxing a car a lot ruin the paint job?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Waxing a car can only do it good, but there is no need to over-wax a car. I would recommend waxing and polishing about once or twice every two months. As for waxing right after a paint job, I would be sure to ask the person who painted your car before you do any detailing.
Unanswered Questions
  • How can you clean seat belts? They seem to be uncleanable!
  • How do I clean the exterior rubberized parts of my car?
  • How do I clean juice stains out of my car
  • How do I clean rail dust?
  • How do I get the best ceramic coatings to detail cars?
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Quick Summary

To detail the interior of a car, remove the floor mats and thoroughly vacuum out the inside. Next, get rid of any stains you see on the upholstery or floor carpeting with a stain removal product. Then, use compressed air to blow out dust in the dashboard's buttons and crevices and use detailing brushes to dust the air vents. Wipe the hard surfaces down with a mild all-purpose cleaner and don't forget to clean the interior window glass with glass cleaner!

Did this summary help you?
  • A professional will have to repair scratches that go through the clear-coat into the pigment.
  • Fix ripped or worn sections of vinyl seats with repair kits you can find at most auto parts stores.


  • Don't use cleaning products that contain ammonia or vinegar on glass that has aftermarket window tinting when car detailing.

Things You'll Need

  • Vacuum
  • Foam carpet cleaner
  • Sponge or towel
  • Razor blade or scissors
  • Water-resistant adhesive
  • Non-slip rubber or vinyl dressing
  • Mild all-purpose cleaner
  • Compressed air
  • Cotton swabs
  • Leather or vinyl conditioner (if needed)
  • Glass and/or plastic cleaner
  • Vinyl/rubber protectant
  • Car wash soap
  • Deep-pile terrycloth microfiber towel
  • Drying towel or chamois
  • Wheel brush
  • Metal polish
  • Whitewall tire cleaner
  • Tire dressing
  • Clear-coat-safe cleaner
  • Buffer
  • Clay bar
  • Polish and/or wax

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