Since my original detailing write up in November of 2006, there has been many new products and procedures in the world of car care. Companies are constantly coming out with new products and detailers are constantly coming up with newer better ways of using them. This write up will represent the latest in car care products and procedures as it pertains to car detailing. As with the last one, each step builds on the previous one. If you don’t believe you have a particular problem (swirl marks for example) then skip that section as it won’t be needed for your application. I will be going through a complete and total exterior detail in this write up, from washing to final finishing.
JumboJet and myself have gotten together to talk about some of the products that should be included in the write up. Detailers are loyal to a few brands, and while I may like some certain brands, Jumbo may like completely different brands. I wanted to make sure most all brands were represented so this article was not one sided.
The products in this write up will be almost completely from online vendors. The products will most likely come from either www.autogeek.net or www.detailersdomain.com. These are very good online vendors with great customer service. The products you can get from online vendors far outweigh the quality and results of products available locally, so that is what I’m going to recommend in this write up. Fears about online ordering are also no longer an issue, these sites are very safe and shipping is only a couple bucks. If you see a product you’ve never heard from (grit guard for example) just use the search engine on the online vendors websites, and they should pop up.
Step #1- Washing and drying the exterior. (Tires, Wheels, Wheel Wells, Engine)
To start your detail, you first need to wash the car. Washing removes all loose contaminates from the exterior surfaces of the car, and leaves a clean and prepped surface ready for other steps in the detail. You will always want to wash the tires and wheels first, so water doesn’t sit on your clean paint and get baked in by the sun.
To properly wash your car, you will first need some supplies. First off, you will need 2 buckets (I like 5 gal) and a grit guard. A grit guard helps keep the dirt on the bottom of the bucket from getting into your wash mitt and back on the paint. 2 buckets are used, one for just plain rinse water, one with your soapy solution. A good quality *NEW* wash mitt is used to wash with, and you can pick up a bug sponge to remove stubborn bug splat. Don’t use a brush or any old towels or anything like that, those items have a tendency to scratch and swirl up paint. Also pick up a good car wash soap. Duragloss #901 and Meguiars Gold Class come to mind as some good offerings, but really any car wash as long as it’s not dish soap will work fine. A good All Purpose Cleaner (APC) will also serve you well during the detail. APC can be used for removing bugs, tar, road grime, and on the tires and wheels. I like Amazing Roll-Off for all of that, Jumbo likes P21s Total Auto Wash and Meguiars APC and Simple green come to mind. You do have to be careful here as some APCs are actually degreasers and can damage the finish of any expensive wheels or paint. Purple Power and Orange Blast come to mind, while they are great for degreasing engines, they don’t really have a place in normal car care. Just buy your APC wisely (stick to the recommended brands) or make sure the APC is non-caustic and safe for all paint and wheels.
Using the proper drying tools are also important. I like to use something called a “waffle weave” towel for drying. It’s available online, and it’s the safest way to dry your car. It works much better than a chamois and quicker as well. You will not believe the time you save using one of these towels.
For the tires, wheels and wheel wells you will only need a few more things. You will need a separate set of wash materials so your paint does not get contaminated by the metal particles and dirt on your tires and wheels. Do not use the same wash water or tools on the paint as you did your wheels. I like to have just a simple soft bristled brush (long and short handle) and something called an EZ-Detail brush to get behind and in the barrels of the wheels. You can use a wheel cleaner like Eagle One A2Z or P21s Wheel Cleaner on tough wheels.
To start off your wash job, you want to make sure your car is not in direct sun and that the surfaces on the outside aren’t hot. If shade cannot be found, you can wait until late evening (after 5:00 or so) so the sun isn’t at its full intensity. You want to prep your wash materials first so you aren’t running back to get items from storage while water is on the paint or wheels. You can use a pressure washer usually with no problems, just use caution when doing so. You don’t want to get to close to any surface of the car with high pressure water.
Starting with your tires and wheels first, don’t wet the paint. Prepare your wash materials and get started doing the wheels, tires and wheel wells one by one. Don’t do all of them at once, you don’t want any of these cleaners to dry. I like to start out by rinsing the heavy debris from the tire and wheel well area. Most of the time mud and loose dirt accumulate in these areas, and you don’t want to be scrubbing that dirt all over your wheels. I start out by spraying down all areas with the APC or wheel cleaner. I generally use the APC on the tires and wheel wells, and the wheel cleaner on the wheels. By the time I’ve sprayed everything, it’s had enough time to sit and start working. I use the EZ Detail brush first to get to the backside of my wheels and get all that brake dust and crud out of there. Nothing looks worse than a clean wheel where you can see a dirty backside. After that step is done, I take my soft bristled brush and work on the face of the wheel. Light agitation is all that is needed. Last I work on the wheel wells with my long handled brush making sure to hit every part in the wheel well. Wheel wells are a really important step to a complete detail, and you have to make sure they are spotless. While you are washing, make sure when you dip your wash tools in the bucket, to dip them in the rinse bucket first to remove all the dirt, then dip it in the soap bucket so you are getting clean soap. This is called the “2 bucket method”. When you are done with each wheel, rinse the wheel and make sure all of the cleaner is off the wheel. Repeat for the other wheels. Make sure to get any undercarriage areas that are visible. On my truck you can see the axle and the lower frame parts, and I always clean them because they can be seen just as easy as any other part of the truck.
After you have finished the wheels and tires, this is the point I like to do a little work on the door jambs and engine. You shouldn’t need to do this for every detail, I only do this about 2 times a year. Still using the same wash materials as you did for the wheels, I spray some APC inside the door jambs and in the engine compartment. Don’t use wheel cleaner in the engine compartment, it can cause corrosion on the wrong parts. After your door jambs and engine is soaked with APC, I take my soft wheel brush and just give each area a light scrub. I like to scrub the hinges of the doors and the bottom part of the cab and door sill. I then just give a light scrub to the engine and the underside of the hood. You shouldn’t need to do a ton of work here, the APC does most of the work. When you are done, rinse the areas with a light spray of water. You don’t want to be getting water in the cabin of the car, or spray high pressure water into electrical parts of the engine, so I just stick with a low pressure stream.
Now that you have the wheels, tires, wheel wells, door jambs and engine clean, you have to start work on the paint. Now at this step your paint should still be relatively dry. Before wetting the paint, you will want to prepare your wash buckets and tools for the paint wash step. Once again, have a rinse bucket and a soap bucket, some APC and a good wash mitt.
I start off by rinsing all the loose debris from the top down of the car. You want to make sure to get all of the loose grime off of the surface so you don’t have to trap that into your wash mitt. What I like to do at this point is just hit the windshield, mirrors and front bumpers with some light APC. You should not need much, this is just to help loosen the stubborn bugs, and it helps keep you from scrubbing these areas to hard. After that is done, I start washing section by section from the top down. I do the roof first, then rinse. Then I do the hood, rinse, and so on. You don’t want to do the whole car at once, then rinse. Do it section by section so the soap doesn’t dry. If it does dry, no big deal, just re soap the area and rinse again. I do the rear of the car and the front bumpers last, as these have the most grime. You want to wash in long sweeping strokes, don’t wash in circles as this can induce marring of the paint. Also be sure to re dip your mitt into the rinse and soap buckets frequently. You want to make sure you have as much lubrication on the surface as possible.
After you have washed and rinsed the whole car, you are ready for the drying step. When you are done rinsing the car of all the soap, you want to remove the nozzle from the hose and do what’s called the “flooding” method. Flood the surface of the car from top to bottom with the hose. This turns those thousands of little beads of water into one big sheet, and it helps dry the car faster. After that is done, use you waffle weave drying towel from the top down to dry the rest of the car. There should be very little water left on the surface of the car left at this point. Make sure if you see a spot of dirt you missed, or loose debris on the car, don’t touch it with your drying towel, re-wash the area and then dry. I usually use a couple of cheap microfibers to dry the wheels and tires. Wheels can get water spots as well, so you want to make sure you dry those along with the paint.
Assorted wash brushes and wheel cleaners
Proper way to wash
Washing the wheels