We all know the feeling of finishing a thorough car wash and sighing, lamenting that it doesn’t quite look as good as it once did when you drove it out of the lot for the first time. While you can almost always restore your car to its former glory, most folks believe they have to visit a full car detailing service to get the gloss and vibrant paint that they remember.
But in truth, you can detail your car yourself using a few effective solutions and some patience. Fully detailing your car does take a little while, but not too much longer compared to a full car wash.
In this guide, we’ll break down how to detail your car so it looks brand-new without having to spend hundreds of dollars at a detailing service. Let’s get started!
What is Car Detailing?
Car detailing can best be thought of as more in-depth or thorough cleaning. While a regular car wash will restore some of the look and luster of your vehicle, a full car detail will make your car look as close to brand-new as possible, both inside and out.
Car detailing is a great thing to do to your vehicle every now and again, both to extend its longevity and to demonstrate your pride over your car. No one likes to drive a dirty car – you’ll feel more confident and more successful if you drive around an average sedan even, so long as it’s been recently detailed.
Thankfully, you don’t need to go to a full car detailing service to make your car look like new. Let’s get into the details for how you can detail your own car for a much cheaper price.
Stuff You’ll Need
Before you start detailing, there are some things you’ll need. These include:
- Car wash soap (obviously)
- Washing mitts, preferably made with microfiber
- 2 big buckets – you’ll use one bucket for dirty water and one bucket for fresh, soapy water
- Tons of microfiber towels for drying
- A wax or ceramic coating product
- Polish for the rims
- A special degreaser soap for your engine bay (optional)
- A hose to provide plenty of water
One last tip – try not to detail your car in direct sunlight. If your car's paintwork or finish becomes too hot, soap can dry on the surface and you’ll have a harder time applying polish, wax, or ceramic coating to your car. Either wash your car outside later in the day or on a cloudy day if possible.
Step One – Wash Everything
First and foremost, give your car a thorough wash for both its interior and exterior. This involves getting rid of the majority of dirt and debris from its surface, scrubbing away any grease or oil stains and smears, vacuuming the interior of your car, and getting rid of any stains with simple soap and water.
Remember, detailing is about thoroughly deep cleaning your car, not just getting rid of surface-level dirt.
Pay special attention to your wheels and windows. These two areas can shine or sparkle when properly cleaned, and they certainly should if your car has ostensibly just received a full detail.
Step Two – Clean the Cup Holders and Other Crevices
After getting rid of the major stuff you see, it’s time to use a little elbow grease. Clean out your cupholders and any other crevices, nooks, or crannies in your car. The cupholders, in particular, are probably among the dirtiest places in your vehicle. Use a regular microfiber rag and some soap to give them a thorough clean.
You may be able to remove the cupholders and clean underneath them, using your handheld vacuum cleaner to get rid of grit beneath.
Any other crevices should be able to be vacuumed out with your vacuuming tool. For best results, use a vacuum that has an extension hose and brushes that can more easily vacuum out dirt from your fabric and the narrower places of your upholstery.
Step Three – Deep Clean Your Fabric
Deep clean your fabric using a stain removal solution. You can alternatively use vinegar and water (though be careful not to wash out the color of your fabric).
If you have leather, be sure to use a leather conditioning product. Shine Armor’s Leather Conditioner is a great example – it can help you clean your leather seats and upholstery and protect the leather from further damage or dirtiness over the next few months.
Step Four – Clean Your Car’s Engine Bay
Don’t forget to clean your car’s engine bay, i.e. the area underneath the hood. This place is often forgotten during a normal car wash, but using a degreasing soap (or even regular car soap) can go a long way toward improving the look of your critical engine parts.
More importantly, cleaning the engine bay of your car will make it easier to detect any mechanical issues or trouble spots that mechanics should pay attention to on your next checkup.
If you want your car to look brand-new, the engine also needs to look like it just came out of the factory. Just be cautious on what you get wet as there are electrical components in here that, if not sealed properly due to wear and tear, can get damaged from too much water.
Step Five – Make Your Rims Sparkle
Your rims will really make a difference in terms of total aesthetic. To that end, you should always make your rims shine and sparkle when giving your car a full detail.
Use a polishing product and a new microfiber cloth to rub polishing solution into your rims. The rims should have been thoroughly cleaned before applying the polish, of course. Make sure you get rid of any bugs, dirt, or grease to avoid rubbing that stuff into the metal rims.
Step Six – Wax or Ceramic Coating
The last step of a full detailing process is the application of a wax or ceramic coating layer. Either type of product essentially applies a shield of hydrophobic material to your car’s finish. Wax rubs off a little more easily and doesn’t last as long. Ceramic coating is often thought of as a superior alternative to wax since it’s harder and lasts for longer.
Either way, we have great examples of both types of products. Shine Armor’s Spray Wax Quick Coat is easy to apply and leaves your car with a lasting gloss. Meanwhile, Shine Armor Fortify is a proprietary ceramic coating solution that can also wash and shine your car while applying a thick coat of ceramic sealant all at the same time.
Give both products a try– if in doubt, we’d recommend the Fortify solution for most vehicles if you want your car to look its best.
Let your car thoroughly dry after doing all this. In fact, especially if you apply wax or ceramic coating, your car needs to rest and let the protective sealant bind to its finish before you take it on the road. Once your car has had enough time to dry and bond with the wax or ceramic coating, it should look brand-new and glimmer in the sunshine.
As you can see, fully detailing your car isn’t as complex as you might think. The only thing you might not be able to do is clean the undercarriage, which requires heavy lift machinery. But aside from this slight downside, following the above steps will yield a fully detailed car that looks just as good as any vehicle that goes into a full detailing service. Good luck, and don’t forget to use our products to guarantee that your car gets the shine and gloss it deserves!