10 Tips to Clean and Detail Your Car Like a Pro
Carwash season is coming. But don't settle for just hosing off your vehicle in the driveway. To help you help your baby really shine this year, we asked professional detailers for their tips for DIY enthusiasts.
"Think of the surface of your car as you would your face," says Mike Schultz, head of new products at Turtle Wax. "It needs to be properly taken care of in order to have a healthy glow."
Today, it's easier than ever to do that yourself: Techniques developed by professional detailers have trickled down to passionate car enthusiasts. Auto paint has been improved from the days of lacquer covered with carnauba paste wax, and now it's more durable and shines longer than ever. That means it's okay to toss out your old cans of rubbing compound, your leather chamois, and piles of newsprint for buffing and replace them with items like blocks of paint-cleaning clay, microfiber cloths, aloe leather healer, and chemical paint cleaners.
If you're considering some DIY detailing, proceed with caution. The pro detailers who provided us with these tips are practiced with rotating buffers that clean and resurface paint with wool or charcoal-coated foam pads, and they warn that such machines are not for an amateur Saturday-morning project. But the following 10 steps will help your home detailing go smoothly. The order for detailing tasks, the pros tell us, is important, and begins with the unpainted surfaces of your car.
NOTE: When to See a Pro
When your paint has a scratch that goes down to the metal, the only way to fix it is by sanding and filling the scratch with paint using a tiny pinstriping brush. Pros can blend this type of fix with surrounding paint, but that takes experience. To find a pro, check your local car clubs and shows; usually a few names will surface. The detailer should interview you about your expectations, and then suggest how to exceed them.
Start with Compressed Air and Stiff Scrub Brushes on Your Carpets
Many of the cars our Detroit-area pro detailer Brandon Hagaman works on wind up at local car shows -- some are concours winners. The first step, he advises, is to fire up the air compressor and blow dirt from the nooks and crannies of your car's floor onto the middle of the carpet, where you can easily vacuum it up. Stiff brushes also loosen dirt from the carpets and upholstery. If you've got leather seats, use a conditioner with aloe.
Duct Clean to Keep that New-Car Smell
Compressed air from a small, portable compressor is an easy way to blow dust and dirt out of heating and air-conditioning ductwork. The trick is to aim the high-pressure air at the walls of the ducts behind the vent grilles, where dust and dirt stick and cause musty smells. If your car has a cabin air filter you can change it, or remove it and blow the dust and dirt out.
Use Non-Acid-Based Tire Cleaners
Pros use specially mixed acid solutions to clean dirty tires and to strip residue from new tires, as well as to get stubborn brake dust off wheels. But Hagaman says that weekend DIYers should use a nonacid product. Acid-based cleaners can cause bare alloy wheels to oxidize and pit, and they can damage wheels painted with color or clear coatings.
Use a degreaser on wheels, but avoid detergents because they can damage paint if splashed. Again, our pro says, remember to go in the correct order: Wheels and tires should be cleaned before you clean and protect your car's paint.
The Best Carwash Is a Hand Wash
"We recommend hand washing," says Mike Pennington, director of training at auto-surface-products giant Meguiar's. "Our customers enjoy doing it. It's not a chore." Hand washing gives you a chance to experience the tactile shape of your baby, and it's also a great way to inspect and familiarize yourself with the car's surfaces.
But, Pennington says, don't be like the 60 percent of the population that uses dishwashing detergent when washing the car. It gets the car clean, but strips any protective wax coatings, exposing the vehicle to possible nicks, scratches, and stains. A carwash solution will preserve your car's finish.
When water evaporates, it leaves minerals and dirt on the surface of your car. So when you're done with the wash, dry the surface with a rubber-blade squeegee. One example is the California Water Blade, a large silicone squeegee that some of our photographers use to dry cars quickly during photo shoots.
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They had some good tips but they forgot to mention how important it is to have a proper wash sponge or mitt. The best ones to use are those with a deep pile, sort of like a shag carpet, either a wool or microfiber one will do nicely. These keep any grit that gets in them buried deep in the pile and away from the surface of the car. I had to learn this lesson the hard way when I was younger. I had just bought a very nice car and I decided to wash it with an ordinary wash cloth. Anyway I guess the wet wash cloth had picked up some grit somehow and I ended up badly scratching the paint on the front fender while trying to wash it. Luckily I caught it before I damaged the whole car. Anyway get a good wash mitt and wash from the top down since most of gritty dirt is usually on the lower parts of the car. And of course use a soap made specifically for washing cars.