Car detailing is a term that is often thrown around but can mean different things. Essentially, car detailing at the professional level means cleaning and restoring a vehicle to peak cosmetic condition.
“This can be a very open answer,” said Clark Webster, an auto detailing trainer with Checkered Flag Detailers in Wilmington, North Carolina. “But generally speaking, it’s anything a vehicle owner would do, past the normal routine washing and vacuuming, that enhances the beautification and/or cosmetic appearance of the vehicle.”
Detailing encompasses a variety of cleaning processes for the car’s exterior and interior, including:
- Protective coatings
- Car washing
- Headlight restoration
- Installing air fresheners
- Paint correction
- Upholstery restoration
- Waxing and buffing
As Webster noted, auto detailing can be general or very specific, like simply using glass cleaner on a windshield or adding specialized coatings to preserve the vehicle’s finish. An example of the latter would be applying a ceramic coating to the exterior of the car.
Amateur Vs. Professional
You may be reading this and thinking some of these tasks don’t require hiring a professional, and that’s true. Simple things like a car wash or replacing a burnt tail light bulb can be performed at home or figured out after a quick internet search.
But what separates the DIYers from professionals is the tool kit. Professional detailers typically have access to more powerful cleaning agents or tools that allow for more thorough car cleaning. These cleaning products are different from items you find at home and are specially designed for parts of the car, like cleaning the nooks and crannies of door panels.
What Do I Need To Detail A Car?
Here are a few common items used in auto detailing:
- Car wash soap
- Microfiber towels, wash mitts, and drying towels
- Clay bars
- Buckets to hold soapy water
- Special tools to clean out crevices
- Car wax
- Upholstery cleaner
- Leather conditioner
- Tire cleaner
Whether you’re cleaning the exterior or interior of a vehicle, it is recommended that you use a microfiber cloth. These are less abrasive on sensitive surfaces and better at collecting particles than other household towels. Webster noted that having plenty of microfiber towels on hand is a necessity.
“There are many to choose from,” said Webster, “especially ones designed for drying, so it’s good to have plenty at your disposal, some in different colors, for specific tasks.” For example, a yellow towel for the interior, blue for windows, and green for waxing.
Kyle Marker, Parts Manager at Leith Lincoln in Raleigh, North Carolina, echoed that sentiment. He advised that in many car cleaning situations, it makes sense to apply the solution to the cloth instead of the car’s surface to help mitigate messes.
“The most common mistake people make is over-application,” said Marker. “I guarantee you, you use too much [of the cleaning solution]. Because you’ll get in the car, and you’ll go to grab the steering wheel or the dash and it’ll have that tacky feeling, like undried paint. And it’ll look bad. It’ll collect dirt, actually, because it’s sticky and all the dust will get attracted to it.”