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Ever wonder what auto detailers use to clean glass – or interiors – or wheels? Or how they get that spectacular show-car shine? A few years ago I became moderately obsessed with detailing and began frequenting detailing forums and experimenting with products the pros recommended. In this post I’ll cover some of the favorite tips and tricks I’ve gleaned from conversations with detailers and the detailing forums; best of all, some of the products they use are readily available locally!

I’ll cover these tips in bullet points; if you need more information, please comment below or email me.

Proper wash sequence:

  • Most detailers detail the interior first, so it’ll be dry when the customer picks up his/her car; a secondary reason is that if done second, dust and dirt from shaking out floor mats and/or from vacuuming can get on the clean/waxed exterior
  • When it comes to washing:
    • Start with cleaning the wheels (and if you wish, the wheel wells) to prevent any backsplash/splatter from wheel dirt getting on the paint (products recommended for the wheels vary; see below)
    • Once the wheels have been done start with the roof and then wash all windows
    • Next do the hood and trunk; hose everything off and then wash the fenders and doors
    • Most pros use wash mitts, with one mitt designated (and so marked) for above the beltline of the car, and the other marked and used only below the beltline – that is, the lower doors and rocker panels. Never use the “lower” mitt on the “upper” surfaces, as that mitt will see much more dirt, grime and grit than the other mitt
    • Wash out mitts by putting the hose inside them and blasting the dirt out of the mitt’s pores
    • Also, most pros use a “two bucket” method one bucket with water and car wash for wetting the mitts & then washing the car, and the second bucket with a weaker solution of car wash – this second bucket is used for cleaning the used mitts BEFORE they are put back into bucket number one. (The second bucket is normally equipped with a “grit grate” at its bottom – so the user can rub the mitt across the grate to dislodge dirt and grit.) The idea is to get any grit or dirt OFF the mitt before putting it back into the clean car wash bucket and applying soap to the car’s finish
    • After hosing off the vehicle, the pros use the “sheeting” method of rinsing to get most of the water off the vehicle before drying
    • To use this method, hold the hose end (if it’s metal, hold it between your thumb and fingers so the metal can’t possibly rub against the paint.) Rinse off the surfaces by holding the hose end an inch or two off the surface – you’ll find that the water will flow off the vehicle in a sheeting action, leaving very few droplets. Drying it is then a snap!
  • A word about drying: DO NOT use cotton towels, that old rag you have lying on your workbench, etc. The pros use HIGH QUALITY waffle weave microfiber cloths for drying their customers’ vehicles, as high quality MF will not cause micro-marring in the vehicle’s finish. See this post about high quality waffle weave towel
  • A word about car wash solution: use a quality car wash solution. DO NOT, under any circumstances, use dish detergent soap – it will strip off ALL of the wax and protectant on your car. Your local auto parts store should carry several decent brands

Cleaning Glass:

  • Important: get some quality microfiber cloths and mark one or two of them with a “G” and use these towels only for cleaning your car’s glass. If you use them with polishes or waxes, you’ll never fully get the residue from those materials out of the fibers, and it’ll prevent you from getting your glass perfectly clean
  • Glass cleaners: the favorites are Stoner’s Invisible Glass, Sprayway, or a water-alcohol mix. Stoner’s is widely available and I believe it’s sold at both Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware and Target. I usually buy the aerosol version; the stuff works amazingly well. (I also use it on a couple of large windows in our home, and it works better than anything else I’ve tried.)

Interior Quick – and not so quick – Clean Ups:

  • Baby Wipes are good for quick clean-up of spills, especially on vinyl
  • Woolite mxed 6:1 with water makes a great, inexpensive interior cleaner that’s also safe for leather
  • Follow-up leather cleaning with a leather conditioner – there are several good ones on the market; I prefer Zaino’s, but check your local auto parts store; you can’t go wrong with just about anything from Meguiars
  • Make sure you wax or if using a polymer sealant, seal/wax the door jams and sill plates – it’ll give the vehicle a much cleaner overall look when your passengers get in the car
  • To Armor-All or to not Armor-All: please don’t. That shiny, slippery look may have been great in the 1970’s, but not today. Many many detailers instead use a product called 303 Aerospace protectant.

Here’s the description from the Cabela’s catalog:

“Protect and restore all your vinyl, gel-coat fiberglass, rubber, plastics and leather with 303. Engineered for aerospace and aviation applications, this is the world’s highest-rated UV-screening product. It offers 100% prevention of UV-caused slow fade, and it restores lost color and luster on items that have already faded. It’s not oily or greasy, so it won’t discolor or stain. Prevents dust, soiling and staining on all kinds of surfaces. For use in automotive, marine and RV applications, and even pools.”

I’ve used 303 for years and it’s very, very good. It leaves your interior plastic and vinyl surfaces looking factory fresh and seems to last a long time – all without that garish shine you get with that other product! 303 is available via the internet; here’s a link to the manufacturer. Many other websites carry it as well.

Mechanical Car Washes

  • NEVER bring your car to an automatic car wash that has vinyl, rubber, or felt strips that touch your car – they’re loaded with dirt and grit and will really mar the clear coat on your vehicle’s finish. If you must use an automated car wash, go to the “touchless” type
  • Again, when drying your car, use high quality microfiber towels – nothing else. Using any old towel you have lying around will cause micro-marring in the finish – those swirl marks you see when you look at cars’ finishes in the sun

Cleaning Wheels:

  • There are many different products out there – which you use will be determined by just how dirty your wheels are
  • If they’re quite dirty, Eagle One’s A2Z Wheel and Tire Cleaner is a good solution – spray it on, let it foam, work it with a (suitable) brush for a moment, and hose it off. Note that it is not recommended for factory painted wheels, motorcycle wheels, and some anodized wheels. Many detailers use A2Z to clean tires… spray it on, scrub it with a brush (don’t use this brush for anything else!) and hose off thoroughly. Your local auto parts store should carry A2Z.

  • For chrome and alloy wheels, I’ve had excellent results by simply using Stoner’s Invisible Glass and a good microfiber cloth to wipe it off! This works great with wheels that aren’t heavily soiled or dirty with brake dust; if your wheels are pretty dirty, go with the heavier duty stuff like the Eagle 1 product

Cleaning Wheel Wells:

  • For more of a fully detailed look, clean the inside of your wheel wells – hose them down, scrub them with an appropriate brush (not to be used anywhere else on the vehicle!) and when they’re dry, give them a liberal coating of tire foam – it’ll make them shine like new
  • If you’re cleaning the interior of your engine compartment, some pros use tire foam on the underhood plastic and rubber parts – spray on, wipe off


  • If using a conventional wax, spray a little (exterior) Quick Detailer on your pad first – makes your application easier!
  • If you’re interested in pursuing polymer sealants as an alternative to conventional car waxes (and I recommend you do) see my post about Zaino polymer sealants – includes before and after pictures.

In a follow-up post I’ll address getting rid of micro-marring and scratches in your paint’s clear coat.

That’s all for now – please share your detailing secrets!

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9 Comments on DIY: car detailing with detailers’ tips & tricks!

  1. bill thibeault says:

    just read your detailing tips some are good and some i dont agree with years and years under my belt and im a die hard detailer wanted to give you a few things to think about. spraying tire foam in wheel wells or interior or engine compartmenti have first hand had my techs in the past try that without my knowing and it causes sensors to malfunction also electrical fires even iun wheel wells where ther are ride stability sensors see that tire stuff is highly flammable more than you would thinks cant even light a match near it that will light up an interior so fast. now for wheels those rims that are shiny chrome dont use a brush on them it will leave micro fine scratches just check them closely next time and you will see what i mean. one thing you should mention to your readers is auto magic not one of there products falls short of what its intended to do for a detailer the best yet they got it all thanks for reading hope to hear back from you and remember just wanted to give you a few pointer i run a huge detail shop in bozeman montana and have tried alot of techniques over the years


  2. Dee says:

    I want to thank you for the information about how to DIY car detailing. Any suggestions for a first time DIY detailer (female)? The car did not get the proper care and I want to bring it back to life. I’m also looking for coveralls and mechanic gloves (small). As I want to focus on getting the car clean and not me getting dirty.


  3. will says:

    Hey thanks for the info……I’m trying to start a small mobile detail business whats the best rig to have or is their one


  4. […] Posted in auto detailing, car cleaning, car detailing, Uncategorized […]

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  6. JD says:

    Does anyone have a trick for hiding or removing scratches on the plastic rocker panel area of a 13 Taurus?


    BOB PORTER Reply:

    WD 40


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