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Blog Car Care Advice How to Detail Your Car at Home

How to Detail Your Car at Home

June 11, 2020

Travel bans are definitely keeping us from enjoying those summer road trips we were looking forward to, but shelter-in-place orders don’t mean we should be neglecting our cars entirely! Looking for something to do? Combat self-quarantine boredom with car detailing – a productive time killer.


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Car detailing is complex and meticulous, which is why it’s so easy to let the pros handle it. However, when we’re trying to save our money and practice social distancing, DIY is the way to go.

You may be wondering what the difference is between cleaning your car and detailing your car. Think of it this way; if you were to buy a used car from a dealership, and they simply “cleaned” the car, you might still smell the previous owner’s preferred cologne, or discover their baby’s favorite snack when you look between the seats.

When you buy a car, whether it’s new or used, you want that waxy shine, gunk-free, new car smelling kind-of clean. With the right tools and some free time, you can have Old Bette or White Lightning (do people still name their cars?) looking, feeling, and smelling like new.

What You’ll Need to Detail Your Car

Towels – You should only use microfiber towels on the exterior of your car. Regular towels could leave behind streaks, scratches, and lint.

Washing Mitts – A clean washing mitt (or two) will give you the best and safest clean.

Wheel Sponge – You’ll want an entirely separate sponge for cleaning your wheels because this is the dirtiest part of your car and will likely be riddled with dust and rocks on top of grease and mud.

Scrub Brush – A scrub brush will be a helpful tool for getting behind the rims and cleaning the wheel well.

Car Shampoo – Do not use household cleaners like dish soap as they contain ingredients that are harsh on your car’s exterior. Purchase a shampoo formulated specifically for cars.

Buckets – One for soapy water and one for clean, rinsing water.

Glass Cleaner – Windex should do just fine.

Bug Remover – Depending on where you live, certain bugs can be very damaging to your car’s paint. The best way to remove these paint-destroying guts is with bug remover.

Tire Shine – Like shining your shoes, this will leave a nice shiny finish.

Vacuum – Bye bye, crumbs!

Trash Bag – It’s time to get rid of the trash that has been living in your car doors, trunk, glove compartment and under your seats. Those parking tickets though, those aren’t trash. You should probably pay those.

Interior Cleaner – Plastic, Vinyl, and Leather (if applies)

Q-Tips and Wooden Skewers – These will get into the nooks and crannies that collect that mystery gunk.

Tooth Brush – Much like the spaces around your tires, an old toothbrush will come in handy for scrubbing hard-to-get-to spaces inside your car.

Makeup Brush – Think of this like a mini duster or broom. Makeup brushes work well when you’re drying to remove dirt and dust in areas like air vents.

Car Wax or Ceramic Coating – If you’re feeling extra ambitious, a ceramic coating will protect all that had work you’ve done. *Optional: Use a clay bar between cleaning and ceramic coat.

Cleaning and Detailing Tips

Pre-Rinse Your Car
Pre-rinse your car to remove dust, dirt, small rocks, or anything else that could scratch your car when you start washing by hand. If you have a power washer, spray your wheels and grill before you get started.

Start with the Wheels
Since the wheels are the dirtiest part of your car, you’ll want to start with them first. Then, work from panel to panel, top to bottom. This will help you avoid soap drying between your first and second wash. Be sure to keep the entire car wet while you’re washing and regularly rinse your mitt. Change out the water in your rinsing bucket when it gets cloudy.

Wash in a Shaded Area
You don’t want the sun to bake your soap or dry the car while you’re trying to keep it wet. The sun can also alter the performance of your cleaning products.

Don’t Air Dry
Air drying your car will leave spots and streaks behind. Use your super awesome microfiber towels to dry each panel of your car thoroughly. This will help you better apply wax or ceramic coating if you so choose. 

Declutter Before Vacuuming
This may seem obvious, but make sure you remove your floor mats and larger objects like pens or loose change before vacuuming.

Don’t Neglect the Small Stuff
A true car detail is in, well, the details! Tiny spaces like the base of your cup holders, buttons, knobs, vents, and lights are often neglected during a standard cleaning. Use your household tiny-tools (skewers, toothbrush, makeup brush) and really get in there!

Take Your Time
Turn on your favorite podcast or playlist and enjoy the reward of really taking care of your car. Once you’ve figured out the DIY detailing routine, you can prolong the youthfulness of your car and save yourself a lot of money!

Here’s a helpful video tutorial on detailing for beginners: