Jun 29, 2011
If you want to learn how to detail a car you’re in the right place. This page is the starting point and provides the basics on car cleaning and automotive finish care. Experienced Car Detailing Knowledge in Melbourne.
Detailing your own car is not difficult, and many find it rewarding to do it themselves. To do the job right, you need to use the correct car detailing supplies and car wax supplies. By understanding the tools, products and methods, you can detail your car faster and with better results.
- Car Detailing Introduction – Many people mistake car washing with car detailing. This Car Detailing Introduction provides an overview of car detailing and how it is different that a simple wash or wax job on your car.
- Car Detailing Supplies & Chemicals – As we all know, to do any job well you must have the right tools. In car detailing, the right tool often means the right chemical. In Car Detailing Supplies & Chemicals you will discover the basics of the cleaners, polishes and protectants needed to properly detail a car.
- Car Washing and Drying – If there is a single maintenance activity that offers the biggest benefit to your car’s appearance, it’s keeping it clean. In Car Washing and Drying you will learn the correct way to wash and dry a vehicle and discover how selecting the wrong products can do more harm than good.
- Clay Bar Detailing – When dirt, crud, overspray and pollution get a solid grip on your car’s paint, washing alone will not be enough to make it clean. In Clay Bar Detailing you will discover how safe and easy it is to clean, shine and make your car’s paint slick again.
The term car polishing describes many different tasks in car detailing. As a result, it is often confusing and misunderstood. In Car Polishing I break it all down to give you a better understanding of when polishing is necessary and the tools, products and techniques needed to do the job right. See Paint Repair Clinic for our various car polishing articles.
- How-To Wax a Car – Waxing your car protects the paint finish from a hostile environment. Waxing also makes your car, new or old, look better. In How-To Wax a Car, you will learn how to do it the right way.
- Car Interior Cleaning – After reading Car Interior Cleaning you’ll know how to keep the inside of your car looking good without a lot of work. It is not necessary to fully detail the inside of your car each time you wash it.
- Cleaning Car Windows – Cleaning your windows is one of the most tedious tasks you will face, but it is definitely worth doing. Come discover how to do it the fast, easy way.
- Detailing and Treating Trim – Over time, car trim that is not maintained will become dirty, dull and worn, making your whole car look bad. In Detailing and Treating Trim you’ll learn how to keep your car’s trim looking great, or restore trim that’s a little under the weather.
- Maintaining Your Convertible Top – Unlike coupes or sedans, soft top convertibles have special requirements. Where the convertible’s fully enclosed brethren sport steel and glass, the soft top convertible has canvas and vinyl. In Maintaining Your Convertible Top you will learn how to properly car for your car’s soft top for years of beauty and top down driving.
The term car detailing has many meanings. To some, it’s a simple car washing and wax job. To others, it’s a full cleaning and protection service, including having the car interior shampooed and the engine steam cleaned. To car enthusiasts, a freshly detailed vehicle is a work of art to be displayed.
Whatever your intentions for detailing your car, this page will introduce you to the basic process and terms commonly associated with detailing a car.
Evaluating Your Car Before Detailing
The most difficult part of any new skill is knowing what to do first. Detailing a car is no different. Ask any three professional detailers what to do first, and you’ll get three different answers. So, perhaps the most important step of all is to evaluate the work required.
The first step n any detailing program is the evaluation of your car’s paint. Take a quick walk around your car. Do you see bug stains, water spots and tar spots, or is it completely free of contamination? How does the paint feel to your hand? Is it rough (small bumps), or is it smooth like glass?
If your paint is smooth and free of contaminants, the only cleaning maintenance it needs is regular washing (30 to 45 minutes a week). If the paint is stained and rough, it needs a good cleaning. Clean paint feels like silk. Cleaning your paint can take 30 minutes or 3 hours, depending on the level of perfection you want to achieve.
Most auto detailers use a paint pre-wax cleaner (a special cleaner/polish) or a paint-cleaning claybar to remove surface contamination. It’s like exfoliating your skin to deep-clean the pores. It’s a necessary step because bonded contamination starts the oxidation process.
Once your car’s paint is clean, you can more closely inspect the paint for scratches, swirl marks and water spots. All of these minor imperfections can be fixed with a good polish and some elbow grease (1 to 2 hours), and should be taken care of prior to waxing. If you prefer, use a good orbital polishing machine for faster results.
If your paint has deep surface scratches (not scratched through to the primer or metal), you may need to use a scratch remover polish formula. Most scuffs and scratches can be polished so they will no longer be seen or noticed (1 to 5 minutes per scuff or scratch).
When your paint is contamination-free and polished to a high gloss, it’s ready to be waxed (45 minutes to an hour). Most cars will require deep-cleaning and polishing twice a year, whereas wax should be applied at least four times a year. With proper care, the paint finish will remain in good condition for many years.
Tire & Wheel Evaluation
Neglected tires and wheels take a lot of care to bring back to life. If tires don’t receive regular washing and treatment with tire dressing they will quickly turn brown and dull. Likewise, without weekly washing and periodic waxing, fine wheels will become pitted and develop black stains from brake dust and road tar.
The effect of long-term neglect of wheel maintenance is permanent damage to the finish. For any modern luxury or sports car, the cost of repair or replacement can be thousands of dollars
Evaluate your tires and wheels. Are the tires brown and dull? Do the wheels have brake dust buildup? If so, plan on spending 15 to 20 minutes on each wheel with brushes, tire and wheel cleaners, and a bucket of soapy water.
Car Interior Evaluation
Once you’ve sized up what needs to be done on the exterior, you can turn to the inside. Some people care more about the interior of their car than they do the exterior. This makes some sense, as that is where we spend our time. The condition of the car’s interior generally reflects how you use the car.
If you haul kids around, the inside of your car will likely have more dirt and stains than that of a businessperson who travels in a suit. Likewise, if you drive a truck and use it for construction, you have a completely different set of cleaning needs.
Evaluate your car’s interior. Does it need heavy or light vacuuming? Is it dusty? Does the upholstery need cleaning? Is the leather dry? Do you have stains or spills to clean? How does the interior smell? Is it musty?
A good interior detailing can take as long or longer than an exterior detailing. If you vacuum regularly (twice a month), it takes no more than 10 to 15 minutes. If you vacuum infrequently, vacuuming can take 30 minutes or more. If you wipe down the interior of your car (3 to 5 minutes) each time you wash the exterior, keeping the dash and upholstery clean is a cinch. If you wipe down infrequently (or never), cleaning the dash and upholstery can be a 1- to 2-hour chore. Doing a little interior detailing maintenance every time you wash the car is a lot easier than trying to do a full interior detailing once or twice a year.
If you don’t detail your own car, consider having a full interior detailing once a year. A full interior detail includes vacuuming and shampooing the upholstery, carpet and floor mats, as well as cleaning the dash, console and vents. After cleaning, leather and vinyl dressings and fabric protection should be applied.
Car Detailing Supplies & Chemicals
Many well-intentioned car enthusiasts use one cleaner as a general-purpose tool for detailing. I often hear people say they use a product like Simple Green or an engine degreaser to clean everything from wheels to carpets. In my opinion, this is both dangerous and harmful to the car. After all, none of us would bathe with laundry detergent, so why would we treat delicate car surfaces with harsh chemicals?
For the most part, you can adequately care for your car with just a few chemicals. Yet there seems to be an endless variety of products available, each with its own little twist. In this article, I will explain the basics of car care chemicals so you can make better decisions about the products you choose.
The Best Place to Purchase Car Care Products
If you asked me the best place to buy car detailing and car care products a few years ago I would gladly tell you “From me, of course.” Times change, and the market became far too competitive. That’s a good thing!
Car Washing and Drying
If there is a single maintenance activity that offers the biggest benefit to your car’s appearance, it’s keeping it clean through regular washing. Car washing is the process of removing loose dirt and road film from your car’s exterior surfaces. That means more than just a good hosing. You have to scrub it with a car washing soap and a wash mitt.
The purpose of this article is to provide you with accurate information about the best way to wash and dry your car. This means getting the job done as quickly as possible without scratching and swirling the paint finish or removing all of the car wax protection. If you follow just a few simple pointers, you’ll be well on your way.
Proper Car Washing
If you’re going to skimp on any car care task, don’t skimp on washing and drying. The reason is basic. Most damage to a car’s exterior finish is self-induced by using the wrong car washing products or methods.
I’m talking about swirl marks, fine scratches and dull paint. It does not happen all at once, it creeps up on you over a period of months until all of the color and shine is sucked out of your paint. You can avoid the damage — and the expense of reconditioning the finish — by using good car washing and drying tools and a decent car washing soap.
Many enthusiasts and quality detailers use a two-bucket wash system. The first bucket holds your soapy water, and the second bucket holds rinse water. The rinse water bucket is used to rinse your wash sponge or mitt prior to dunking it in the bucket of soapy water. This method has two practical benefits. First and foremost, it keeps dirt and grit out of your soapy water where it could cause damage to your car. Second, it makes the suds in your soapy water last longer, because your car wash shampoo does not have to react to dirt you’re putting back into the water.
Never Wash A Hot Car
If possible, work in the shade. A hot surface causes the wash and rinse water to evaporate too quickly, increasing the likelihood of water spotting. One trick is to park on a slight incline. This allows rinse water to run off moldings, trim and recessed areas better. Start by thoroughly wetting the car’s finish with a medium spray of water to remove loose grit and surface dirt.
Wash The Tires & Wheels First
If you wash the car body first, the water will dry and spot your car before you can properly finish washing the tires and wheels. Do not use the same wash water on your car’s paint as you used on your tires and wheels. Throw the dirty water out and refill your buckets.
To properly clean your tires and wheels, you will need a 3- to 5-gallon bucket, a soft tire and wheel scrub brush, a sponge or washcloth, a water hose and nozzle, car shampoo and a spray wheel cleaner.
Warning: Do not clean your wheels if they are still hot from driving. Let them cool, or thoroughly hose them down. Be aware that if your brakes are hot, spraying them with cold water may cause severe damage.
Here are some step-by-step tips to make tire and wheel cleaning easier:
- Clean one wheel at a time.
- Mix a bucket of soapy water with your favorite car washing soap, using double the recommended strength.
- Thoroughly rinse the tire and wheel with a stiff stream of water water using a hose and spray nozzle.
- If your tires and wheels have a heavy coating of brake dust or road grime, mist with wheel cleaner. Allow the cleaner to soak for 30 seconds (minimum) to 3 minutes (maximum).
- Use tire and wheel scrub brushes and your soapy water to agitate the tire and wheel surface. Use plenty of soapy water.
- Use your wheel brush and soapy water to scrub the accessible areas of the wheel wells, too. This small detail keeps your car looking fresh and new.
- Thoroughly rinse the tire, wheel and wheel well. Use plenty of water. You need to ensure that all traces of the wheel cleaner and soap are gone.
Spot Treat Bug, Tar, Sap & Bird Stains
For stubborn problems on your paint and other surfaces, use an insect remover or pre-wash cleaner. If the contamination has a lot of grip, use a paint-safe bug sponge. A good solution is the Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Pad.
Use Car Washing Soap, Not Dish Washing Detergent
Start with a good wash soap. The high-quality car washing soaps made today are very gentle on paint, plastic and rubber. The most important function a car washing soap provides is lubrication to prevent scratching and conditioners to maintain the shine. Be sure to select a quality product that’s not counterproductive to your detailing efforts.
One of my favorite car washing soaps is P21S Bodywork Shampoo. The reason I like the P21S car wash is because it has everything I look for in a good wash shampoo. It has nice suds (not too much), good lubrication (to reduce the risk of scratching), it’s free-rinsing, and it leaves a wonderful gloss that makes the car look like it was just waxed. Oh, yeah, it smells great, too!
My other favorite car wash soap is Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash & Conditioner. Like P21S it’s very gentle, cleans well, and it has a great fragrance.
Wash From The Top Down & Rinse Frequently
Frequent rinsing is especially important if the car is excessively dirty. If you are washing on a warm day, keep the whole car wet to prevent spotting. I use a final rinse of free-flowing water (nozzle off the hose), allowing the water to sheet off the car. This makes drying faster.
Use A Quality Wash Mitt
Your choice of a car wash mitt is important. You should select a wash mitt that is comfortable for you to use, but take a few things into consideration. First, your wash mitt needs to hold a lot of soapy water. The more it holds, the more soapy water you can get on your car. This is important for lubrication. The lubrication created by soapy water is what prevents dirt from scratching the paint.
Use a wash mitt that cleans easily. If it does not easily release dirt and grit, it’s not safe. I like wash tools with a lot of fibers, like a lamb’s wool mitt or a cotton-chenille-covered sponge. Contrary to many beliefs, the natural sea sponge and the boar’s hair brush are not good wash tools. Modern wash tools make these relics things of the past. A safe wash brush can be used on the lower body panels, but should not be used above the bottom-of-the-door line.
Clay Bar Detailing
The claybar has become such an important tool for regular auto detailing that a single page of information really isn’t enough. Throughout the Guide To Detailing website you will find references and how-tips to help you get the most out of your clay bar detailing work. This page offers step-by-step detailing clay information.
Chances are you’re hear because you’ve seen detailing clay bar kits in the store or you’ve heard other people talking about it. Perhaps you’ve tried it before and simply didn’t get the results you expected. You’re in the right place.
I have been using clay bars to clean and detail cars since 1997. During the years I was making and selling products, I sold many thousands of them under my Autopia and Sonus product labels, including a custom blend made exclusively for me. I know a lot about detailing clay, its history, its benefits and it’s limitations.
What A Clay-Bar Does Not Do
I read a lot of clay bar product reviews. Typically when someone gives a 1- or 2-star review it’s because they are disappointed that the product did not remove the swirl marks and scratches from their car’s paint. So, I’d like to start with what detailing clay can do and what it can’t.
A claybar is a paint cleaner. Its one and only job is to remove bonded contamination on the surface of the paint (or glass). When properly applied, the claybar itself never touches your paint. It glides over it on a layer of lubrication (detail spray).
The benefit of using detailing clay versus a traditional car polish or cleaner wax (to clean your car) is that claying is faster and it does not physically wear on the paint finish. Other forms of paint cleaning use chemicals and abrasives that thin your paint or clearcoat over time, contributing to premature wear.
Due to the fact that a clay bar never touches your paint, it cannot remove paint imperfections, like swirl marks or scratches, and it won’t improve the shine. What it will do is remove the grunge so you can see a bright, clear finish.
There are several side benefits to using clay, as well. This most noticeable side benefit is how slick and smooth your paint feels after claying. You can polish your car for hours and it won’t feel as slick and smooth as it does after just a few minutes with a clay bar. The biggest true benefit this has is that it makes waxing easier and more effective. With a super slick finish, wax glides on and buffs off with ease. Plus, the contamination-free finish allows for a tighter wax job that lasts longer and looks better.
Evaluating Your Paint-Work Before Clay-Bar
How do you know if you need to use a clay bar? After thoroughly hand washing your car, feel the surface of your car’s paint. Do you feel bumps and rough spots? These bumps are contaminants attacking the finish of your car.
Removing these surface contaminants (road tar, acid rain spots, bug residue, paint over-spray, brake pad dust, hard water spots, etc.) will improve both the look and health of your car’s paint. By the way, you can magnify your sense of touch by inserting your fingertips into a sandwich bag or a piece of cellophane.
No matter how well you hand-wash your car, many of the contaminants that have worked their way into your car’s paint finish will remain. Have you ever looked at your foam wax applicator pad after applying a coat of wax? What do you think that black stuff is? It’s dirt, and you’re waxing over it, sealing it in.
How To Clay Bar Your Car
Using a detailing clay bar is very easy, but you must follow the instructions. Use a clay bar incorrectly and you will create a mess or scuff the surface of your paint.
Before using detailing clay, you must thoroughly clean and dry your car to remove any loose dirt. Direct sunlight should not fall on your car’s surface, and it’s best if the work area is relatively cool to prevent rapid evaporation of the claybar lubricant. Also, most claybars become soft as they get warm, making them less effective.
To use a clay bar, you spray a lubricant on a small area of your car and rub the clay back and forth with light to medium pressure. If the lubricant begins to dry, you’ll need to spray more. Detailing clay is sticky and cannot be used dry. Try using a clay bar dry and you’ll make a big mess and scuff your paint.
After a few passes with the clay bar, rub your hand over the area you cleaned to check for areas missed. You should feel a distinct difference between the areas you have clayed and the areas you have not clayed. Keep rubbing until all contamination bumps are gone.
Finally, wipe the clay lubricant residue off with a soft microfiber towel, and buff to a nice luster. Just like waxing, it is best to work in small areas. Check the clay bar frequently for hard particles. When found, pick them off. Make it a habit to occasionally knead and reform the bar so that a fresh portion of the bar contacts your car’s paint.
If you drop your bar of detailing clay on the ground, it’s history. Toss it out. Don’t take any chances, discard the clay bar if it becomes impregnated with grit. Read the manufacturers’ directions for the number of uses of their clay bar. Do not overuse your detailing clay.
When you’re finished claying your car, you may need to wash it to remove the lubricant film. If you plan to use a pre-wax cleaner polish it will remove clay residue so there’s no need to wash. After using clay, seal your freshly cleaned paint with your choice of wax or sealant.
Automotive detailing clay isn’t just for paint. You can use detailing clay on any smooth, hard surface, including glass and chrome. Do not use clay on clear plastic, such as headlight lenses.
When I can no longer remold clay to get a clean surface, I retire it for use on my windows. The dirty clay will not harm glass, and it’s amazing how much dirt film clay can remove from your exterior glass.
I also use my old clay to clean wheels. Detailing clay will safely remove stubborn, embedded brake dust, tar and road film from all factory wheels. I do not recommend using a clay bar on wheels that do not have a factory clearcoat or powder coat finish.
Clay Bar Detailing Facts
Over the past ten years I have received a lot of email questions regarding clay bars. Here are some common questions and answers:
Q1. I dropped my clay bar on the ground. Can I still use it?
A1. The safe answer is no. A clay bar will pick up small particles of grit from the ground that will scratch your paint.
Q2. If I clay bar my car do I still need to polish my paint?
A2. Yes. Detailing clay will not remove swirl marks, scratches or etching from acid rain or hard water spots. Paint polish is still required to remove these paint defects. If your paint is new or like-new, detailing clay will significantly reduce the amount of polishing required to keep your paint in good condition.
Q3. What is the best claybar?
A3. What label do you like? There are only a couple manufacturers of clay, and the technology is protected by U.S. patents. Clay is manufactured with different levels of abrasiveness and colors to suite different applications. There are some subtle differences in technology (plastic vs. elastic material) and the firmness of the material. In general, softer clays are safer and easier to use. A firm claybar cleans better with a little more risk of scuffing or scratching.
Q4. Is it better to use soapy water or a detailing spray for lubrication.
A4. Both work equally well. If you want to do the job fast, use a bucket of soapy water. If you want to work inside or do a thorough job, use a spray lubricant. With a spray lubricant you can wipe down each panel as you go and feel for areas you missed.
Q5. How do I store my clay bar?
A5. If your clay bar did not come with a re-usable plastic container, store it in a Ziploc baggie.
Q6. Will a clay bar remove my wax?
A6. In most cases, a clay bar will “scrub off” wax protection. Some paint sealants are hard enough to withstand being cleaned with clay, but most are not.
Polishing After Cleaning
Many people assume that a detailing clay bar completely replaces car polish. While it’s true that detailing clay does the heavy lifting, it does not replace the need to use a car polish cleaner.
A fine car polish, often called a pre-wax cleaner, will remove old wax, embedded dirt and light stains from your paint. They also help to restore gloss and remove light surface imperfections, such as swirl marks and water spot etching.
I recommend using a car polish at least twice a year. If your paint is in excellent condition, a good car polish will keep it healthy so you can avoid having to use heavy rubbing compounds to remove paint damage.
When cleaning or polishing paint, always work in a shaded area, out of direct sunlight. Polishes and cleaners do not work well on hot surfaces. Work on one area at a time, covering 2 to 4 square feet. Buff off the polish residues as you go. Most car polishes do not need to dry or haze before being wiped off, but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
You can use a foam, terry cloth or microfiber applicator pad to apply car polish. If your paint finish is in new or like-new condition, I recommend a quality foam applicator. If your paint is moderately oxidized, I recommend a microfiber applicator.
Use a small amount of car polish at a time. With most products, several pea-size dabs is enough to clean and polish an area of 2 square feet. If the polishing residue does not buff off easily, switch to a clean wipe towel. For best results, I recommend using a microfiber polishing towel.
After cleaning, your car’s paint should be squeaky clean, smooth, and free of streaks and minor swirls. It’s now ready for waxing.
How-To Wax a Car
It used to be that you’d simply wash and dry your car, then pull out a can of Simonize (or other favorite cleaner/wax) to restore shine and wax protection. Car paint finishes, and our busy way of living, have changed and good car care habits have changed accordingly. Today we have hundreds of car wax product choices, but they all boil down to:
- Liquid Wax
- Paste Wax
- Spray Wax
- Wipe-on, Walk Away Clear Sealant
The car wax you choose is really a lifestyle choice. As funny as that sounds, it’s true.
For car enthusiasts, the pursuit of car appearance perfection will lead them to a multi-step, all-day, car pampering process. This might seem extreme for some, but it’s pure enjoyment for car lovers.
At the others end or the spectrum are car owners who wish to care for their vehicle, but their time is precious. For these people, a fast and easy solution is ideal.
Interestingly, car wax products have evolved to the extent that both extremes of the car care scale are satisfied with nearly the same process. Let’s explore.
Start With a Squeaky Clean Finish
The reason Simonize and Turtle Wax paste waxes were so popular a few decades ago is because they were a single-step paint cleaner and car wax in one (e.g., “cleaner/wax”). Today we have more choices, and the best choice of all is to clean your car’s paint before waxing with a clay bar.
NOTE: Don’t wax over the dirt! Use a quality clay bar to safely remove bonded contamination.
Clay bar detailing is a quick and easy process of removing bonded dirt and other contamination with a simple bar of detailing clay. You use it after washing your car to remove all loose dirt. The result is a squeaky clean paint finish that’s as smooth as glass. For complete instructions, see our complete Clay Bar Detailing guide.
Cleaner/Wax vs. Clay Bar + Non-Cleaner Wax
Modern clearcoat paint finishes (most cars made since 2000 have a clearcoat finish) are much different than traditional paint systems without a clearcoat. The significant issue is that they are thinner to conserve weight (and our environment) and reduce cost. As a result, the use of abrasive cleaners and polishes for regular care is not advisable.
The safe alternative to a cleaner wax is detailing clay followed by your favorite non-cleaner wax (pure wax). You can determine if a wax is a cleaner/wax or a pure wax by reading the label. If the product claims to “clean” or “polish” then it is a cleaner/wax.
Polish to Remove Defects… Before You Wax!
The time to use an abrasive on your vehicle’s paint is when you have fine defects that need to be removed. Many people mistakenly believe that waxing will fix minor blemishes, but it won’t. Waxing may temporarily cover-up some blemishes, but it will not make them go away.
By blemishes I’m talking about fine scratches, swirl marks, water spot etching and stains or burns from bird dropping. To solve these problems you must use an abrasive car polish. If your car’s paint needs reconditioning, do it before you apply the car wax.
Applying Automotive Spray Wax
Automotive spray waxes are the easiest paint protection products to apply. A few years ago spray wax products were a joke, but today they rival some of the best liquid and past wax products. What changed? In a word, polymers!
Polymer coating technology is getting so good that a product like Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Wax offers the same level of protection as the original formula Meguiar’s NXT Generation Tech Wax that hit the market a few years ago. Best of all, you can apply the best-of-breed spray wax products is a matter of minutes. Many of them can be applied in direct sunlight, although best results are always achieved in the shade.
Car Interior Cleaning
Regular vacuuming and dusting of your car’s interior is the best way to keep it looking good. However, surface cleaning alone is not enough. Two to three times a year you will need to detail the upholstery to keep it looking its best.
Warning: Before using any product on your car’s fabric upholstery, carpet, leather or vinyl, test for color fading by cleaning a small, inconspicuous area. Do not use the product if it adversely changes your fabric’s color or texture.
Car Interior Detailing: A Systematic Approach
The interior of your car takes a lot of abuse. Unlike the inside of your home, which has many times more square footage, the inside of your car gets repeated, concentrated traffic. Each time you get in your car, you drag in more dirt. Each time you eat or drink in your car, you add a few more crumbs and spills. In fact, just sitting in your car, you drop hair, dead skin, makeup and other contaminants. All of this dirt and junk adds up very fast.
It is not necessary to fully detail the inside of your car each time you wash it. Unless you’ve been to the beach, out in the mud, or tracking in grass and leaves, you can probably get away with vacuuming and a quick wipe-down every couple of weeks.
Weekly Car Interior Cleanup
Here’s what I recommend as a weekly routine for the interior:
- Wipe down all vinyl, leather and plastic surfaces with a damp cloth. A microfiber detailing towel is excellent for this task, as it will leave a lint-free, dust-free finish.
- Pull out your floor mats, and shake or brush off the dirt and debris.
- Pick up trash (that old banana peel you tossed into the backseat), and empty the ashtray and console storage bins.
- Wipe down your door jambs and door sills with a damp towel.
- Wipe down your interior glass and your rear view mirror with a damp microfiber detailing towel. If your windows are relatively clean, you don’t need to use a glass cleaner.
Very recently, a new product category has emerged for the car interior that’s equivalent to the exterior quick detailing spray. Interior cockpit sprays, like Einszett Cockpit Premium, combine light cleaning and protective capabilities in a spray-and-wipe system. If you’re looking for an interior product that keeps your interior looking perfect, you might give it a try. In my mind, this is a much better solution than layer after layer of protectant.
Cleaning Car Windows
Have you noticed how fantastic your vehicle looks with perfectly clean, clear windows and plastic? I know I do.Unfortunately, many of us ignore the windows when we wash, because it adds a few precious minutes. I’m guilty, myself. After all, who likes to do windows?
Okay, let’s be serious for a moment. Forget the time involved in keeping your car’s windows clean; have you stopped to think about how dirty, hazy, water-spotted glass can be a safety hazard?
Driving your car with dirty, hazy windows on a rainy night or in heavy traffic, straining to see, is a driving impairment. You should consider this a true danger. I know I do. In fact, the older I get the more I appreciate an unobstructed view.
Cleaning your windows is one of the most tedious car detailing tasks, but it’s worth the effort. In addition to being a hazard, the effect of dirty glass will quickly ruin the appearance of your perfectly polished and waxed automobile. After you have completed all other detailing tasks, put the perfect touch on your car by detailing your car’s glass.
Detailing and Treating Trim
Trim is anything the manufacturer or you apply to the car to enhance its style and appearance. It is trim that makes the difference between an otherwise plain-looking car and a sharp automobile. However, due to the time involved in maintaining trim, it is often overlooked.
Over time, trim that is not maintained will become dirty, dull and worn, making the whole car look bad. Well-maintained trim stands out and makes the whole car look better.
Common trim items include chrome bumpers, window molding, chrome light rings, chrome door handles, rubber door and bumper guards, window wipers, emblems and antennas. On classic and antique cars, you might also have horns, leather straps, hood ornaments and exposed exhaust manifolds.
Black Automotive Trim
Most cars made during the 1980s and 1990s featured some black trim. Most black trim pieces are made of plastic, rubber, anodized aluminum or satin black painted metal.
All black trim should be regularly cleaned with car wash shampoo. If extra scrubbing power is required, use a toothbrush, paintbrush or a soft detailing brush. Do not use a stiff bristle brush on black trim, as it will scratch.
To keep black trim in good condition, it must be treated with a protectant 6-8 times a year. There are different treatments for different materials.
On smooth black plastic, you can use any vinyl and rubber dressing. For best long-term results, choose a vinyl and rubber dressing that contains ultraviolet (UV) protection to prevent sun fading, such as 303 Aerospace Protectant. On textured black plastic, use a vinyl and rubber dressing. A gel product, likeMeguiar’s Endurance Tire Gel offers longer protection and a rich, glossy look.
If your textured black plastic is heavily weathered or faded, you can bring it back to life with a product like Forever Black, which is a dye system for black plastic and rubber trim. It’s advertised as a permanent solution, but in my experience it will only last a couple of years if the vehicle remains in the sun. Also, don’t think that Forever Black is a replacement for vinyl and rubber dressing. It’s not. After Forever Black cures, you still need to keep the trim protected and looking good with vinyl and rubber dressing.
To maintain black anodized trim, use a non-cleaning wax or sealant. Anodized aluminum must be treated with great care. The coating is very thin. Even the mildest abrasives (polish and cleaners) will quickly scuff or remove the coating. The sun is a problem, too, as exposure to UV rays will fade black anodized trim.
Painted black trim is often difficult to properly maintain. If you wax it, the original satin finish will begin to take on gloss. If you don’t treat it, the trim will fade and become flat. The best solution I’ve found so far is to treat satin black trim (windshield wipers are a good example) with Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Detailer. This product is amazing on these trim areas, offers a natural satin finish, dries to a grease-less finish, and won’t soften the black paint. Simply wipe it on and let it dry.
Rubber seals and moldings around windows, doors, lights, hood, trunk and bumpers are designed to protect the car from water, wind and dirt. These rubber components also trim the car to enhance its appearance. If you do not maintain rubber seals, they will become stiff and brittle, and will eventually crack or tear.
Clean rubber door, trunk and hood seals with soap and water twice a year. Treat the seals with a water-based vinyl and rubber dressing. After coating the seals, allow the dressing to penetrate for 10 to 15 minutes, then dry the seals with a clean towel. I use the Einszett Rubber Car Stick on seals. It has a fantastic applicator bottle and the product dries completely oil-free and protects against cracking.
Some car manufacturers, such as Porsche and BMW, recommend using talcum powder on door and hood seals to provide lubrication. This will extend the life of the door seal. Simply sprinkle a small amount of talcum powder on a small piece of T-shirt material and wipe it onto the seal after applying rubber and vinyl dressing.
Rubber seals around windows, lights, door handles and mirrors should also be cleaned twice a year using a brush and soapy water. However, these “exposed” rubber seals should be treated more frequently than door and hood seals, as they get heavy UV radiation from the sun.
I recommend treating window seals with rubber and vinyl protectant once a month. Apply the protectant prior to cleaning your windows. Use a generous amount, and allow it to penetrate before buffing dry. When working in tight areas, use a cotton or foam swab to apply the dressing. Use a quick detailing spray to clean off excess protectant from painted surfaces.
Badges and Emblems
Many cars have badges or emblems sporting the manufacturer’s crest or the name of the automobile. These badges are easily cleaned with a soft toothbrush or detailing brush and soapy water.
If the dirt is stubborn, use a higher-strength cleaner, such as 303 Aerospace Cleaner. Be sure to flush thoroughly with water after using one of these cleaners.
After cleaning, protect the badge with a coat of wax or sealant. Remove any excess wax with a quick detailing spray and a clean toothbrush or detailing brush. If you have old wax buildup or stains you need to remove, try Wax Blaster.
Car name emblems are often more difficult to clean and wax around than a badge. Most often, the emblem is a script that sits right on the paint. Waxing around these emblems is a challenge, as a polishing cloth won’t reach between the letters to remove wax residue. In this case, use cotton swabs, or wrap the head of a tooth brush with a single layer of cotton T-shirt material.
Door & Bumper Guards
Many cars include rubber door and bumper molding that serves to protect the car from door dings and soft bumps. Treat these pieces of trim with rubber and vinyl protectant once a month to keep them in good shape. I like Meguiar’s Tire Gel for this job. It works great under the hood, too.
Door and bumper molding should be thoroughly cleaned twice a year with soapy water and a toothbrush or detailing brush. Dirt commonly builds up on the bottom edges, in cracks or around the small caps used to terminate the ends of molding pieces. Use the brush and soapy water to get in the cracks as deeply as possible.
Plastic light covers scratch easily. After only a few months on the road, light covers will begin to show signs of wear. To keep light covers looking good, they must be regularly cleaned and polished.
You can clean and polish light covers with the part on the car, but I find it useful to remove the light covers at least twice a year. Doing so allows me to inspect the seal for wear, check for corrosion, and clean the painted area around the light. It also allows me to clean and polish the light cover much better than I could if the part was on the car. Most can be removed with a Phillips screwdriver.
For thorough cleaning and light polishing of all clear plastics, I recommend Plexus.
License Plate Frames
License plates and their frames should be removed from the
car at least once a year for cleaning, polishing and treating. You’d be amazed at the dirt that collects behind your license plate and behind its frame, too. A good time to do this cleaning is when you renew your tags.
With the license plate removed, you can take it to a deep sink and give it a good scrub. After cleaning, give the plate a quick buff with a paint cleaner or fine polish, and then protect the plate with your wax or sealant. Clean and protect the frame, too.
Retractable antennas, manual or electric, require regular maintenance. The antenna mast should be cleaned and lubricated twice a year using a paper towel or rag sprayed with a penetrating lubricant. Wipe off the excess lubricant with a clean towel.
If the antenna mast shows a lot of dirt or signs of corrosion, use an SOS pad before treating with lubricant. Scrub gently, and be sure to rinse all of the SOS pad residue off of the antenna and painted surfaces.
Most car fanatics love bright, shiny, polished metal. There’s nothing quite like perfect chrome, polished aluminum wheels or bright exhaust tips to improve the good looks of a car. Engine compartments with polished manifolds and other bright work really make a difference, too.
While polished metal is great to look at, it’s not always easy to achieve, especially if it has been neglected. This section gives some quick tips on metal polishing. With the right tools and a little work, you can achieve great results.
Chrome is by far the most common bright work on an automobile. Chromium, the metal used to chrome-plate steel and other metals, resists tarnishing and holds a shine better than all other metals, including platinum. Chrome has a single enemy: rust. Over time, chrome oxidizes and develops rust spots. The higher quality the chrome plating, the more it will resist rusting, but eventually, it will happen. If you allow chrome to go too long without removing rust, it will become permanently pitted.
Heavy rust on chromed parts requires a decision: polish or rechrome. Replating small parts is pretty easy. Simply remove the part and hand it to your local plating company. A few days later you’ll have your part back looking like new. However, what if it’s a large part, like a bumper or a window frame? Replating a medium or large part is expensive. Even modest-sized parts, such as hubcaps, can cost $100 or more. If you think there’s even a remote chance the rusted chrome part is salvageable, you should try to save it.
Removing rust and polishing chrome can usually restore chrome to a reasonable-looking condition. If the rust simply coats and is not deeply embedded, the chrome should come back to life. As long as the chrome is not flaking off, you have a chance of saving it.
Most pro detailers use fine grades of steel wool to remove rust from chrome. It’s quick and easy. Please use caution if you choose this route, as even fine (#000) or superfine (#0000) steel wool leaves minor scratches that you will need to polish with a metal or chrome polish to remove. Another product that works well is the household steel wool soap pad. The soap acts as both a cleaner and a lubricant to prevent scratching (use plenty of water). Warning: Keep steel wool away from painted surfaces.
If you have rust in cracks and crevices you can’t reach, use a toothbrush and household cleanser. Wet the toothbrush, dip it in the cleanser, and start scrubbing. The abrasives in the cleanser remove rust very fast. Rinse well with plenty of fresh water.
The final step for chrome is to polish it with a good chrome or metal polish. Use a polish specifically made for chrome. With most metal polishes, a little goes a long way, so use just a little dab at a time. Also, the best metal-polishing cloth is soft cotton, such as T-shirt material. Cotton fleece, such as from an old sweatshirt, works great, too.
Aluminum is an easy metal to polish. It’s soft enough that even the roughest aluminum parts can be quickly polished to a bright shine. A few years ago, in a fit of craziness, I decided to polish all of the aluminum parts on the top side of my 1989 Silver Anniversary 911’s engine. I went nuts. Everything was subject to being polished, including the intake manifold and the distributor. It was beautiful!
Polished aluminum has a fault: it tarnishes quickly. Most factory-polished aluminum parts are sprayed with a clear lacquer, acrylic or urethane to seal the part. This is very common on polished wheels.
If you’re trying to restore a polished aluminum part that has been anodized or clear coated, you must first remove the coating. Many professional polishing shops use an aircraft-strength stripper for this job. You must use these chemicals with extreme caution, and never let them come near your car.
You can polish aluminum by machine or by hand. With the invention of the polishing ball, there’s no reason to polish by hand. With a polishing ball and a cordless drill you can polish your wheels to a brilliant finish in a matter of minutes.
These polished aluminum Kinesis wheels require polishing every six months to keep their shine. To hold the shine for that period of time, I use Ultima Tire & Trim Guard Plus to seal both the tires and the wheels.
Convertible Top Cleaning & Conditioning
The modern roadster is a masterpiece of beauty, performance and superior engineering. We own these wonderful machines because they warm our souls. Like yours, my blood stirs each time I twist the key and the engine comes to life. Top down, sun on my back, wind in my face, eating up the road . . . Could anything be better?
Unlike coupes or sedans, roadsters and convertibles have special requirements. Where the roadster’s and convertible’s fully enclosed brethren sport steel and glass, the topless car has canvas and vinyl. This simple difference creates a myriad of challenges for the soft-top owner.
The first thing to understand about your soft top is its materials. Without this understanding, it’s hard to appreciate its maintenance requirements.
Most modern convertibles and roadsters have soft tops made of a durable polyacrylic/polyester canvas or vinyl. The fabric-like canvas tops feel nice and look great, while the vinyl tops are more economical and easier to maintain. Fabric tops have a tight weave, but they breathe. Unlike vinyl tops, a canvas top is not waterproof, it is only water resistant. To make the canvas top waterproof, it must be treated. Without protection, the canvas top is susceptible to leaking and stains. Likewise, vinyl tops need protection from the sun and pollutants. If you’re not sure whether your top is fabric or vinyl, check with your dealer.
The rear window on your soft top is special, too. Many soft-top cars have rear windows made of a clear vinyl. This allows the window to fold. These clear vinyl rear windows will absorb a wide range of gasses and liquids, including water, acids and hydrocarbons. Because vinyl has the ability to absorb foreign materials, it will yellow over time if it is not properly maintained. Most often, the yellowing and discoloration are the results of ultraviolet (UV) light cross-linking. That is, the vinyl is not directly affected by the sun’s UV rays, but what it absorbs can be.
Convertible Top Killers
Common cleaning products can be very harmful to your soft top. Chemicals you should not use on or near your top include ammonia, bleach, detergent, alcohol and vinegar.
Detergents, bleach and harsh acids will quickly deteriorate canvas, whereas ammonia and alcohol will dry and cloud vinyl. Take my word for it, you don’t want to know what it will cost to replace your soft top. It makes for a really, really bad day. So please, know the chemicals you use before you apply them to your top.
How to Clean Your Convertible Top
Your car’s soft top is subjected to the same environmental conditions as the rest of your car. However, although it is easy to see when your car’s body is dusty and dirty, it is not always easy to see when your top is dirty, especially if it’s black or navy blue. (Adult Content 18+ Only)