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Car Detailing and How to Do It Yourself (DIY)

Educational  ·  May 31, 2019

Car Detailing and How to Do It Yourself (DIY)

What Is Car Detailing?

Car detailing, also called auto detailing, refers to the thorough (or detailed) cleaning, refurbishing, and restoration of a car to near-showroom sheen. It’s like a car’s facelift, if we may call it that. Detailing can be carried out on a car’s interior or exterior, or both. 

What’s the Difference between Car Detailing and Car Washing?

Many people mistake car detailing for car washing, but there’s a whole range of activities involved in detailing than simply washing. Car washing removes superficial dirt, but only auto detailing can pluck out embedded particles and restore your car’s glossy finish. You will see the glaring difference between the two below: 

Car Washing

Car washing refers to the regular cleaning of a car to get rid of surface dirt, dust, and mud. You may do it yourself or have your local car wash do the job for you. It typically involves:

  1. Rubbing and scrubbing off dirt and smudges with a brush, sponge, rag, soap, and water
  2. Deodorizing 
  3. Rinsing and washing off all suds with water
  4. Drying with a blow dryer, squeegee, or towel
  5. Polishing and applying a conditioner

Car Detailing

Detailing takes a more customized approach and involves a deeper level of cleaning. Detailers tackle deep-seated dirt, stains, dents, bugs, stuck gums, torn upholstery, scratches, stinking smell, and anything that needs fixing in the car. Most phases of the restoration are done by hand rather than by automated procedures. It involves activities such as, but not limited to, the following:

Car exterior detailing:

  1. Cleaning and dressing tyres
  2. Waxing
  3. Washing
  4. Bug and tar removal
  5. Dressing outside rubber and plastics
  6. Clay barring
  7. Cleaning the engine
  8. Degreasing
  9. Application of paint protection film
  10. Repair of dented parts
  11. Quick touch repainting
  12. Head light restoration
  13. Ventilation decontamination

Car interior detailing:

  1. Intensive cleaning on the interior roof
  2. Shampooing the carpets, mats, door panels, and seats
  3. Removing the seats if needed
  4. Cleaning and fixing door jambs
  5. Dressing and cleaning the interior rubber, leather, and vinyl
  6. Cleaning mirrors and windows
  7. Steam cleaning
  8. Vacuuming dirt from the trunk and interior surfaces
  9. Interior polishing

Can You DIY Car Detailing?

You can definitely DIY the auto detailing of your car. Remember, however, that it’s going to be a major weekend project so you have to come prepared. Make sure that you have the time, skill, and tools needed. We totally understand your excitement about taking care of your own car, not to mention the money you’ll save. 

Before you try this on your own, however, you should have at least observed a professional car detailer do the job in the past. There’s nothing like watching or learning from the pro first hand. You may also watch tutorial videos, but it’s different if you’ve observed the actual process up close. 

Tips and Hacks in Detailing Your Car's Interior

Here are some tips you can keep up your sleeve when doing a DIY car detailing job.

1. Make an inventory or a list of all the tasks that you need to do. 

The extent of the work involved in auto detailing your car will not be the same as with another car. Remove seat covers, check for torn upholstery, look under the carpet, inspect the air vents, open the hood, and check the tint and painting for scratches. The purpose of this is to know the scope of the work at hand and decide which items need to be done first. Always start detailing your car’s interior before you do the exterior. 

2. Cart all the tools, materials, and supplies that you need for the work. 

Use proper tools and supplies. For instance, don’t use dishwashing soaps or detergent, because they’re too harsh for car paints and finishes. Instead, use cleaning suds formulated for cars. In drying, use a microfiber towel instead of chamois. 

3. Clean from the top and work your way down

Take out of the car all floor mats and seat covers. Dust off using a broom-style brush from the interior rooftop down to the floor. Follow with a damp rag and wipe the upholstery, dashboard, trunk, and the rear parcel shelf, if there is. Glide the seats back and forth to clean underneath. 

4. Use a detailing brush and compressed air to clean the nooks and crannies.

Use a liquid-absorbent brush to take out dust from vents, dashboards, interior doors, and tight corners. Eliminate dust right away by using the brush on one hand and compressed air on the other. 

5. Remove dirt and stains from carpets and upholstery with a foam scrubber.

Scrub stubborn stains off from your car’s interior with a foam scrubber and a slightly damp cloth. Use a towel or blow dryer for drying. Don’t leave any part wet or damp. Dry them thoroughly to prevent mildew from forming. 

6. Replace burnt or permanently stained spots and holes on the carpet holes. 

Cut out the spot using a sharp blade or a pair of scissors. Find a swathe of the same material to replace the cutout or hole. You can cut a small carpet material from parts of the carpet that are hidden, like under the seats. Use a small dot of water-resistant gum or glue to stick the replacement material to the hole. 

7. Shampoo and condition seat covers and interior coverings. 

To get this right, make sure that you know the correct procedure for cleaning different materials. Clean leather and vinyl with a cleaning agent specified for them, a soft leather brush, and microfiber wipe. Wipe dry with a lint-free cloth. Spray the dash surface with a non-silicone vinyl protectant. Apply a thin film of conditioner after cleaning and drying leather. Nylon and other fabrics can be cleaned and shampooed using a wet extraction machine.

8. Wash and dry the floor mats before returning them into the car. 

They have to be completely dry to protect your car from mildew, molds, and unpleasant smell. 

9. Use a glass cleaning spray liquid for cleaning windows and mirrors. 

Dry thoroughly with an absorbent cloth to avoid leaving lint and tiny particles.

10. Apply lubricants to hinges.

Lubricate trunk, door, and hood hinges to make them easier to open and to eliminate squeaky sounds. Squirt the hinges with WD-40, making sure to wipe excess oils. Also check on door latches, to see if they’re showing signs of rust and need to be oiled, too.

11. Lubricate window tracks and weatherstripping.

Use silicone spray to lubricate window tracks and door weatherstripping. 

12. Clean the inside of the windows last.

Use a glass cleaner spray to clean your car’s windows. Save this interior detailing task for last so you don’t have to clean it again of smudges and over-sprayed treatments. For tinted windows, use a window glass cleaner that does not contain ammonia or vinegar to prevent structural degradation.

Tips and Hacks in Detailing Your Car’s Exterior

1. Find a cool, shaded place to wash your car’s exterior.

The car’s surface must be cool to touch when you start washing it with soap. You don’t want to initiate a reaction between the chemicals in the paint of your car and those in the soap or detergent.

2. Brush the rims with a wheel brush and degreaser or wheel cleaner. 

Use a sturdy brush or tool to remove dirt, grease, and grime, but make sure that it will not damage the paint. Apply the cleaning product on the rim and leave it for 1-2 minutes to allow it work on hardened dirt. Brush thoroughly.

3. Wash the tyres with whitewall tyre cleaners. 

Apply the dressing. Allow it to soak for best results. Wipe it off with cloth.

4. Clean non-metal parts under the hood with rubber or vinyl protectant. 

To give them a glossy finish, allow the protectant to soak before wiping it off.

5. Use a microfiber mitt instead of a sponge or rag.

A sponge does not rinse clean. Its large pores easily trap debris which can rub on a car’s surface. Microfiber mitt, on the other hand, rinses clean and will not hold on to dirt and particles.

6. Replace worn wiper blades.

Once you notice your wiper blades leaving streaks behind, it’s time to replace them. Choose durable wiper blades from trusted brands. 

7. Apply polymer wax or paint sealant for that perfect glossy finish.

You can choose from a variety of waxes to attain the look you like for your car. One type of wax may lend a deep, warm sheen while another may give a shiny, wet look. 

8. Protect your car paint with a protective layer.

Paint protective films protect car surface paints from being chipped by road debris. They are a thin, rubbery film applied over a painted surface to reduce damage from hurtling stones and sharp bits. 

9. Buffer your car using a polishing machine.

Also keep in mind that polishing comes before waxing.

10. Prevent rusting of the gas tank lid.

Apply WD-40 on the gas tank lid regularly to prevent corrosion. Always wipe off excess mists of oil to prevent them from absorbing dust and particles from the surroundings. 


Think of car detailing as pampering your car. It will cost you time and money, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. Whether you choose to DIY your car detailing project or have it done by a professional is entirely up to you. Either way, you’re taking the proper step towards enhancing your car’s appearance and improving user comfort. 

To source materials and supplies needed for your car detailing project, you may access our car parts request tool. It's convenient to use and what's more - it's free! It will make shopping quick and easy, so what are you waiting for - try it now!

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