Car detailing index: exterior and interior


Congratulations on getting a new (or at least new to you) car.  This section details with interior and exterior car detailing and care.  Why take car of your car?  It enhances resale value, looks nicer, and helps prevent damage due to corrosion and oxidation.  If you just bought a used car, you would be surprised by how much cleaner it will look with a through cleaning.  Since the interior and exterior are the parts of the car that you touch and look at the most, proper care and restoration will really enhance your enjoyment of your car.  If you are about to sell your car, which do you think is more likely to sell for a higher price: a dirty car or a clean car? 

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There are also a few spots like behind the plastic wheel well covers (shown below, click to enlarge) and the sunroof drains (since recalled), that can cause rust or water leaks if they are not cleaned.

Exterior care:

Washing/waxing your car
You cannot wash and wax your car too many times.  But too little or improper washing and waxing can cause damage, see this article for some tips to prevent damage.

Polishing your paint/swirl mark removal
Improper washing, automated car washes with dirty brushes, or just normal oxidation can put swirl marks and scratches into the paint. Polishing your paint removes these scratches.  If you're not convinced, see the pics inside.

Clay bar treatment
Run your hand over your clean and freshly washed or waxed car's paint.  Is it rough or smooth as glass?  After waxing, you may notice that your towels are dirty even though you just washed the car.  Clay bar treatment will pull the dirt out that is stuck in the paint, that you previously have been sealing in with wax.

Sticker, tar, gum, and dealer badge removal
Don't like bumper stickers?  Don't use scrubby pads, use this method to safely clean them off.

Headlight polishing
Glass headlight lenses are no longer used in non-sealed beam headlights due to safety regulations.  The stock plastic headlight lenses will pit and oxidize with age and wear.  Polishing can make the lenses more clear again.

Wax stain removal 
You probably have white stains on the trim from wax or aging.  Using this method will restore black trim to a nice black color and get rid of those stains.

Chip repair
How to fill in small paint chips and sand them flat

Spot scratch removal
If you have a minor scratch, you will be able to reduce or eliminate the scratch with these tips.

Interior care:

General interior care
Some general tips on taking care of leather, cloth, and cleaning the interior.


At the most basic, the supplies you will need are microfiber towels, a soft washcloth/sponge/mitt, auto soap, and wax/wax applicators, and 2 buckets for washing.  Some other supplies I recommend are the porter cable random orbital polisher with a variety of polishing pads and compounds, tire cleaners, low-adhesion painter's tape for the rubber trim and weather stripping, and rain-x rain repellant for glass.  If you have these, you will be able to take care of all your own car detailing. If you have dents, you can also get a "ding-king" or "pops-a-dent" suction cup/glue dent pullers.  They help reduce the appearance of minor dents and dings, but don't use them on a repainted car or they may pull the paint off.  These products also don't work as well as a experienced paintless dent removal professional, but they are also a lot cheaper too.

Pictured is a porter cable random orbital polisher, 1 wash bucket, 1 chenille sponge, 2 polishing pads, and 1 microfiber cloth.  I also suggest a few more cloths and 1 rinse bucket.

Microfiber towels
Before I learned a lot about car detailing, I just used paper towels and old cloths on my car.  Paper towels are made from wood pulp and can cause micro scratches in paint.  Old clothes don't hold very much water and don't do a good job at buffing and can contain synthetic fibers that can cause scratches.  Microfiber towels are towels whose fiber cross-sections are star shaped instead of round.  This holds much more water and holds dirt particles in suspension, whereas old clothes would just scrape them across the surface, adding micro scratches. Microfiber is suitable for all surfaces and is the best product for car paint and glass.  

The plush microfiber towels at Costco look pretty decent.  Cheapo ebay or autozone microfiber towels are more suited for cleaning glass or trim.  They are great for household use but they are not the best for auto paint because they have hard plastic stitches and tags, and shed loose fibers.  The best towels have a plush construction and edgeless stitching.  If you are still not convinced, I used to use a wet paper towel to clean the dust off my television until I tried a swiffer cloth.  If anyone has used a swiffer cloth, they know what I am talking about - it's the difference between a long job that requires two passes to get it done and a quick job that takes less time and creates less mess.  That is the difference between using old pajamas and using good quality microfiber cloths.  

Porter cable random orbit polisher
This is the only real tool you need to start doing auto detailing.  It is sold under a variety of labels (meguiar's) and model numbers, but they all look like in the above picture.  Do not confuse it with a single axis rotary buffer.  Rotary buffers rotate on a single axis and are much more likely to damage your paint due to uneven polishing.  Unlike the cheapo 10" large random orbit polisher you can find at discount stores, the porter cable has a large, dual axis orbit and freewheels on a bearing.  The 10" orbital polishers do not have a very good motion and you will find that they are not very effective at anything other than removing wax.  It effectively mimics hand polishing but 1000 times faster.

Polishing pads

These are accessories for the porter cable random orbit polisher.  Can be found on ebay or an internet search.  They come in different colors but I can't list them here because different pad makers use different colors for different grades.  You really only need soft, polish, and medium.  You only need heavy cutting pads if your car has bad paint with some very noticeable scratches.

The grades come in: 
Softest - this is for waxing or removing wax, no cutting action
Polishing - this is for polishing paint.  It can be used with either polishing compound or light rubbing compounds for machine use.
Medium cutting - for heavy polishing compounds or rubbing compounds
Heavy cutting - for use with rubbing compounds , faster cutting action, the roughest pad.

Even though "heavy cutting" makes it sound like sandpaper, it is still much less abrasive than even 2000 grit sandpaper (very light).  Heavy cutting is for use after wetsanding paint or removing noticeable scratches.

Mother's powerball

This is a buffing ball that fits onto your cordless drill.  Use the mini size for spot polishing of metal or headlights.  For paint, use the powerball for paint.

Polishing/rubbing compounds

I like "3m finesse it" because they work very well.  Other common names are meguiars, mothers, poorboys, they all work great.  Turtle wax also works great but I don't like their polishing or rubbing compounds for machine use.  The turtle wax polish and rubbing compounds tend to be much harder than the other brands because I suspect that they were designed for hand use.  Turtle wax polish is only slightly softer than 3m rubbing compound, and turtle wax rubbing compound (in the red plastic can) is so heavy and rought that it's for hand use only!

A good set of basic supplies.  Turtle wax rubbing and polishing compound for hand use.  3m polish, rubbing, and wax for machine use.  Armor all car wash and (not pictured) armor all for the interior.  See the polishing paint article for a longer list of supplies.