0. Car Detailing Tips
1. Recommended Car Detailing Products
2. Recommendations for time versus cost trade offs
3. How to wash a car
4. How to get an great shine
5. How to clean the interior of the car
6. How to maintain the shine
Recommended Product Sponsor Links
Everyone seems to agree that the car should be washed weekly. It doesn't matter if it's going to rain, wash the car! Cars build up dirt and grime that grinds against the finish causing small scratches that over several years becomes a shine reducing haze. I've seen it myself. So what is the quick inexpensive solution if one exists? I asked about using a brushless car wash that comes with a hose, brush, and soap and takes tons of quarters. This type of car wash is almost always a BAD IDEA! That is unless you've built up a huge amount of dirt on the car, in which case it's a barely acceptable to hose and eliminate the top layer of dirt. Don't use a brush. These car washes recycle their water and their filters tend to poorly remove the grime from the previous patrons. That means you're effectively sandblasting your paint with grime while spending time and money for the privilege.
So what about those touchless car washes that do the work for you? Again, a bad plan. These use harsh detergents that will take away those painstakingly applied waxes and sealants. In addition these establishments often fail to do a good job of filtering the water with the paint scratching grime.
This was starting to look bad for a shiny car with minimum effort and cost.Then I learned that a local detailer likes the high quality stand alone car washes that use rags and brushes. A car buff would never use one, but for someone who wants a shinier car, it's better than not washing the car for 6 months or a year like I often do, as opposed to seeking perfection and in the process doing nothing. Many of these businesses do a good job of keeping their filters clean and the grime off their brushes and rags. Around here Kaady is well regarded and only charges $5 for a wash. Perfect for the amount of money and effort I like to spend. Note: Do not use the car washes attached to the gas station. They typically don't keep their filters clean enough.
The other option is, GASP washing by hand! This sounds like a ridiculous amount of work on the surface of it, but with proper surface prep and detailing this may not be as bad as it sounds. Why? Because as we'll see, the final products put on the car after the initial detail do a very good job of making it easy and fast to wash your car. Still, knowing how laziness and distraction can cause procrastination, it's best to schedule these dreamy perfect car washes on say, Saturday, and if it's not done by Sunday, run it through the reputable car wash.
Regardless of how you get the weekly dirt off, the final step should be application of a quick spray on wax. These are cheap and fast with a micro fiber towel. See our list of products for recommendations.
Here's a neat trick! It turns out that the hood and roof get the most wear. So if you can clay just the hood, or hood and roof more frequently, maybe every 3 months, it will go a long way to maintaining the paint. Doing the just the hood with clay and 3 layers of the various products might take an hour, perhaps a bit less.
Depending on use somewhere between weekly or monthly the inside needs a quick vacuuming and cleaning. Then the various dressings should be applied to the leather and vinyl. If you do this at the car wash it will take maybe $1 in quarters for the vacuum. Then spray the simple green cleaner and wipe with paper towels to remove any stains, dust or dirt. Finally apply the conditioners. Even with a dirty car interior the whole process takes around an hour, so figure that a touch up will take around 15 minutes, maybe a half hour if it's dirty. I try to ride that happy trade off between procrastination, effort, and clean, so I worry less about perfection and more about doing something. There's always next week to get that last speck of leaf vacuumed out.
So what is minimal maintenance for a shiny car? Weekly allocate around 3 minutes to drive through the car wash, 15 minutes to apply and remove the spray wax, and 20 minutes to vacuum, clean and dress the interior. The whole process should take under 40 minutes.
The cost for maintenance is around $5 for the car wash, under $2 for products like spray wash and dressing, and $1 for vacuum time if you buy that at the car wash. Total outlay is at or about $8.
More perfect, but not crazy perfect hand washing would take around 20 minutes for a wash and dry. So if you can allocate an hour each week you can get close to car hobbyist good with much less time and effort.
If the weather has been kind to your car for the week, use the waterless wash with a microfiber towel and reduce washing time to around 15 minutes. You'll also get to skip the ride to the car wash. Hate the car wash? Do the waterless wash with microfiber towel when it gets even a little dirty, maybe every 2-3 days on your lunch break.
To avoid that horrid procrastination problem, keep a few clean microfiber towels, paper towels, waterless car wash, simple green cleaner, leather conditioner, vinyl conditioner, and foam applicators in your trunk.
For car buff perfection you can hire a detailer to wash, spray wax, and vacuum the interior for as little as $25.