Car Detailing Tips

So, your vehicle is washed and vacuumed, but it still looks a little dingy? Here are some tips from our auto body shop professionals on how to detail it. This process takes cleaning and beautification to a whole new level and can make your car look almost new again.

If you’ve watched Auto Craft Collision Repair’s exterior car detailing video, you already know the basics, but this article gives you even more tips on exterior detailing, plus a complete guide to interior detailing. Be sure to detail the car interior first, as it may get the outside dirty, so you want to do the exterior detailing last.

Interior Detailing


Pull the floor mats out and vacuum them. If they’re rubber, wash them with soapy water and a wash mitt or cleaning brush.

Vacuum the trunk, floors, seats, and other carpeted/upholstered surfaces. Always work from top to bottom, as the dust dislodged from higher places falls to lower places. In the collision repair business, we call this phenomenon “gravity.” Actually, everybody calls it gravity.

Apply foam carpet cleaner to stains on the carpet and upholstery and rub with a damp cloth. Let it set for a few minutes, then blot with a dry towel. Repeat if needed. Finish the job by washing the areas again with a clean, damp sponge, then blot again with a clean, dry towel. Remove as much dampness as possible to prevent mold and mildew.

For permanent stains, as well as burns holes in the carpet, cut out the area with scissors or a razor Blade. Cut a replacement piece from beneath a seat or other hidden spot and use a water resistant glue (silicone based and marine adhesives work well) to affix it to the hole.

Clean vinyl and other hard interior surfaces with a cloth and a mild, multipurpose cleaner. Finish with a coat of interior dressing, such as Armor All or Meguiar’s Quik Interior Detailer.

Clean vent grates with a detailing brush, which you can buy for a few dollars at any automotive supply store. Spray a mist of vinyl dressing onto the grates to bring out the shine.


Fabric Seats

Apply a spray-type carpet or fabric shampoo to the upholstery, working in small areas. Let the shampoo set for a few minutes, then use a wet cleaning cloth to work the shampoo into the fabric. Work in different directions to dislodge all the soil, rinsing the cloth often. Use a toothbrush on dirtier areas, dipping it frequently in water to keep the shampoo from drying. Vacuum the shampoo out with a wet vac.

Leather and Vinyl Seats

Use either a leather or vinyl cleaner and gently clean the surface with a leather brush. Wipe away excess cleaner with a microfiber cloth.

For leather, apply a leather conditioner to keep them soft and supple.

Loose dirt may be dislodged during this cleaning process, so vacuum again, if needed.


Use any quality, spray-type glass cleaner on windows and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth, folding and turning it as needed. WARNING: if you have aftermarket window tinting (dark film adhered to the inside of the glass), avoid cleaners that contain ammonia and vinegar, as these can degrade the film.

AUTO CRAFT PRO-TIP: Microfiber is the fabric of choice for car detailing because it has the absorbent qualities of Terry Cloth but leaves no lint on the surfaces you clean.

That’s it for the interior. Time to pour a refreshing beverage and luxuriate in the sparkly interior of your beautiful car.

Okay, break’s over. Let’s start on the outside.


Exterior Detailing


Now that all the dust, gum wrappers and loose change have been blown out of the interior, it’s safe to wash the outside of the vehicle with car wash detergent. Before you gather your supplies, park the car in the shade and let it set until the surface is cool; this will keep your soapy water in suspension longer, allowing you to completely rinse away the dirt before it resettles to the surface. Use a microfiber towel or car wash mitt rather than cotton or other materials, as microfiber traps contaminants away from the car’s surface so they’re less likely to be ground back into the paint as you work.

AUTO CRAFT PRO-TIP: Putting gritty water back onto the car from a wash bucket makes washing harder and can even abrade your paint. There are a couple of ways to prevent this:

  1. Use two wash buckets, one with soapy water and one with plain water. Wash each section of the car with soapy water, then rinse it in the plain water to keep dirt out of your wash water.
  2. If you use only one bucket, put a car wash bucket grid in the bottom to keep your wash cloth from picking up rinsed contaminants at the bottom of the bucket.

Work in small sections to keep the soap from drying, and of course, work from top to bottom.

Dry with a towel or chamois. Don’t let the surface air dry, or you may have water spots.


Spray the wheels and tires with a wheel cleaner or degreaser and let it set for half a minute or so to dissolve the grime, then clean with a wheel brush and rinse. Stay away from acid-based products unless you have rough-textured wheels, as the acid can etch the surface of the metal. If you have chrome wheels, you can use a metal polish or even a glass cleaner to finish the shine.

Spray on some wheel dressing. For a matte finish, wipe off the dressing with a cotton cloth. For a glossy finish, leave it soak in.


This part of the job is a bit more involved and should be done with a pressure washer, which you can find at a local equipment rental shop. Begin by wrapping electronic parts and wires with plastic, then spray everything with a degreaser. Rinse with the pressure washer.

If you really want to spruce things up, use a vinyl dressing on non-metal parts under the hood.


The only thing washing doesn’t remove are the ingrained, mostly invisible, chemical contaminants that fall out of the air and leave a microscopic film in the grain of the paint. For this, nothing works better than a clay bar, which has a very fine abrasive surface. Because the contaminants are difficult to see, the best way to find them is to run the back of your hand over the car surface. Your skin will slightly catch on these rough spots.

To use the clay bar, pour soapy water ever a small section, or use a commercial clay lubricant instead of soap. The slippery liquid protects the paint itself as the clay bar glides across, but allows the thin sections of contaminants to be polished away. You’ll see the clay bar get dirtier as you work, and you’ll feel the contaminated areas get smooth as you work them. Rinse and dry each section after you work it.


See the Interior Detailing section above for tips on cleaning both sides of the windows.


Now it’s time to protect you car with a wax coating. To learn about this, read our post on how to wax a car.

Congratulations! Your vehicle now looks clean enough to eat off of. But don’t. After all, you just cleaned it.

Happy driving!