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
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There are countless product lines available for car detailing. There are a few that appear as leading brands suitable for the home user. I will describe a few of the more popular brands, while no doubt excluding some brands that others will argue deserve mention. As one professional told me, "It's like toothpaste. It doesn't matter particularly which brand you pick, just brush daily."
Car detailing has become a chemistry experiment with polymers applied a layer at a time. Consequently each layer applied to a surface interacts with the previously applied layer. For simplicity and minimal problems I recommend you pick a brand and stick with it for all your detailing needs on a particular surface. This is especially true for the polish, sealant, wax, and maintenance phases. So that means you will probably be ok mixing brands for the car wash, clay and clay lubrication phases.
For exterior detailing the brand I recommend most highly, is Jeff's Werkstatt. Many, but not all would agree, but few would consider it a poor product. Some people complain that Jeff's can be a difficult product to apply properly. Everyone mentions that a little bit goes a long way, so apply the amount specified in the instructions. With proper maintenance a Jeff's based paint detail may last as long as a year. I prefer it since with expert application it should last the longest with an excellent visual result. That said the other brands listed below are fine, and many people prefer them! The products I recommend from Jeffs are:
Other popular brands include Duragloss which is widely available in stores. Zaino is a very popular product line that many people swear by. Mothers is also loved by it's own following. Finally Klasse and Sonus are also popular. These are all good brands, and if for whatever reason you choose these, it will be fine.
For cleaning the interior use Simple Green cleaner (buy it at the grocery store) diluted 2:1. It works great. Avoid spraying on clear plastic though.
For car washing, if you use the recommended single bucket method you'll need to buy Quick and Easy Wash from Protect All.
Once you have an assortment of chemicals it's time to get applicators and items to dry the car. Everyone seems to agree that rubbing the car with any kind of fabric or material invites scratches and should be avoided. I don't want to do rub or dry since it sounds like time consuming work! Here's where that great surface starts to pay off. Well prepared paint will tend to repel water. So if you're washing by hand a gently running hose with no added pressure from the nozzle can cause the water to sheet off the newly cleaned surface. Just keep adding water to the water that is running off the car. Even using this trick there will still be some moisture on the car that must be mechanically dried. There is much debate in terms of brands and materials for removing that moisture. Some people swear by terry cloth, others microfiber. After much reading, I'm on the side of microfiber. Always move it in one direction since the dirt gets trapped on the back side of the little fibers and this protects your paint from scratches. Scratches reduce glossy great looks and proper technique costs no more time or money, just a little discipline.
So which microfiber to buy? It turns out they are not created equal by any measure. Target carries grey microfiber Vroom brand towels at a good price that most people find acceptable. The other colors at target have uneven quality. Premium brands with consistently happy customers include Viking, Cobra , Meguiar's , Chemical Guys, Jeff's, and Mothers. It is important to have several kinds of microfiber towels for different purposes. I suggest picking different colors for different purposes. I ordered the towel types according to the sensitivity of the cleaning job:
For washing the car you'll need three buckets and two lambs wool or microfiber wash mitts. Chemical Guys carries the microfiber type. If you use the alternative single bucket washing method you'll only need one bucket.
Many people now use mechanical means to apply waxes and polishes. The popular tool that most people should be able to use with a minimum of risk is the Porter Cable Random Orbital Buffer model 7336 or the Porter-Cable 7424 . People seem to prefer the 6" version, so stick with that. Remember you'll need a bunch of pads, so be sure to buy those at the same time. Never mix products on the same pad. The non-random buffer is not recommended for amateurs. It's way too easy to make a mistake. Frankly all these tools scare me, so I'm paying someone to use it.
You don't need to buy everything at once. I recommend slowly adding products as you find you're consistently keeping the car looking nice. For example I'm starting with these products for paint maintenance from Jeffs: