How To Detail Your Car
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Washing the car has been an American tradition for decades, but more and more of today's cars are getting the deluxe treatment known as auto detailing.
Auto Detailing: What is It?
More than simply washing the exterior of your car with soapy water and a rag, or swiping the interior with Armor All and a vacuum, detailing means just what it says: focusing on and cleaning the tiny details of your car to take it from "clean" to "sparkling like new."
You can find professional detailers in practically every neighborhood, but if you like taking the time to make your car looks its best, you can get the same results right in your very own driveway. All it takes is a bag of supplies and your time and attention. Some experts suggest you dedicate 4 to 8 hours to the job to get it done right.
Tools of the Trade
Before beginning the detailing process, you'll need the necessary implements and cleaning products. Besides the normal car-washing tools (bucket, water, soap, sponges, car wax, chamois), you'll find that you need some more specialized tools when it gets down to the nitty gritty. While everyone develops their own tackle box of magic depending on their car and the level of detail they wish to achieve, here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Vacuum cleaner - should be for wet and dry surfaces and should have multiple attachments, preferably a couple for getting into tiny areas.
- Variety of rags - include terry cloth towels and thin cotton rags for finer surfaces.
- Various sizes of small brushes - try toothbrushes or paintbrushes.
- Q-tips and cotton swabs.
- Plastic spray bottles.
- Canned air.
- Upholstery cleaner.
- Carpet stain cleaner.
- All-purpose cleaner.
- Surface protector (for vinyl and leather surfaces).
Detailing the Interior of Your Car
Start with the interior, so you won't mess up the just-cleaned exterior while you're vacuuming and wiping out the inside of the car. While the order of steps isn't crucial, here's a sampling of the type of areas you should clean:
- Carpets: Vacuum them thoroughly first, then remove any stains with stain remover and a brush. Let the carpets dry completely. For mild stains, dilute the solution with water in a spray bottle. Use as little moisture as possible to prevent mildew. Clean floor mats with a stiff brush and lay them outside to dry thoroughly.
- Upholstery: Vacuum seats and then remove stains using the same process as you did for carpets. Let the seats dry completely with the car doors open.
- Door jambs: Open the car door and wipe the metal and plastic parts with a soapy solution. Dry them thoroughly with a rag and then use your smaller tools (Q-tips or brushes) to remove any tougher stains and spots in the area.
- Door interiors: Clean the non-cloth portions of your door interiors with a soapy solution. Concentrate on all the little cracks and crevices that collect dirt and grime. Dry the entire area with a thick cloth.
- Windows: Use glass cleaner or soapy solution to really make the inside of your windows shine. Don't worry about the exterior at this point. Dry thoroughly, taking care to erase any streaks.
- Steering wheel column: Use a soapy solution to remove dust and stains. Dry thoroughly, then apply a surface protectant to the entire surface.
- Dashboard: Don't spray water or cleaning solution on your dashboard; instead, use your small-area tools and apply the cleaning solution to the tool itself, then carefully clean around knobs and buttons. Dry everything thoroughly.
- Center console: Use your detailing tools to make sure every seam and indentation in the console is thoroughly cleaned and free of schmutz. Dry with a thick cloth.
Here are a few tips to make things easier:
- Use a plastic knife covered with a thin cloth to get down into deeper crevices and dig out caked-on grime or dust.
- Use canned air to blow dust and detritus from cracks or crevices that are hard to reach.
- Remove pet hair easily from seats and carpeting by running masking or duct tape around your hand, sticky side out. Run your hand over all the cloth surfaces until they are free from hair.
- Remove grease and ground-in dirt with a strong solution of detergent and water. Scrub hard with a stiff brush, then vacuum out with your wet vac.
- Some experts argue that silicone-based protectants (like Armor All) are not ideal because of the glossy shine and greasy film they tend to leave on surfaces. You can also find protectants that have a matte finish, block UV rays, and are free of silicone.
Detailing the Exterior of Your Car
Start with your wheels. Many auto supply stores sell solutions made especially the rubber in your tires, but you can also use the soapy solution you'll use for the rest of the car. Keep in mind that many household detergents can have the undesirable effect of stripping off any existing wax on your car's surface, so it's better to find a car-washing solution without detergent (check your local auto supply store for various brands). Use a pressure hose to knock off stubborn mud and dirt, and use a stiff brush to get the metal parts of your tire sparkling clean.
Change the water and grab a few clean rags to wash the rest of your car's body. Give your car a basic, thorough wash with plenty of water and the soapy solution. Wash small areas at a time, starting with the roof, and try not to let the surfaces dry out on their own. You can keep spraying the cleaned portions with the hose until you're ready to do the drying yourself.
Take special care to change your dirty rag for a new one when it accumulates too much dirt or sand. You don't want to scratch the finish of your car with the grime on the rag.
Use smaller brushes and tools for areas that need more attention, like the rims around your headlights and tail lights, the indentations in door handles, and side mirrors. Make sure to keep rinsing everything with clean water.
Once the entire body of the car has been thoroughly cleaned, dry it off with a clean chamois or a cotton cloth. Use your tools to dry water lying in cracks or in window wells. Now is the time to wax your car if you desire. After waxing your car, you may find small areas of wax deposit or dust after it dries thoroughly. Clean these off with a small brush.
The last thing you want to do is make the outside of the windshield and each window free from streaks and drips. Newsprint works wonders for a streak-free shine and even works on mirrors.
While it may seem like a lot of work, it's a good idea to detail your car every few months. It will keep your car's surfaces and finishes healthy and protected, and will actually lengthen the life of your car. Plus, who doesn't love driving around in a fresh, spotless vehicle?