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Introduction to Detailing
Car cleaning on a personal level is subjective and one person's clean is not always to another's level of liking. What we aim to do in this article is describe how you should work on your vehicle to achieve great results. But, you can always do more or less! We will produce further detailing articles on our blog about additional processes to go the extra mile if you crave that bit more ‘detail’.
What can damage car paint work?
The most important aspect of any cleaning process is to not damage the paintwork of the car which will reduce the gloss level and shine. This is genuinely a case of your dad did not know best when he introduced you to a synthetic sponge, chamois leather, bucket, and washing up liquid. If he told you to throw the dirty water left in the bucket on the car at the end, we cringe at the very thought of all that dirt you had just removed being thrown back on the car but we have seen somebody do it if we have not done it ourselves!
Using the old sponge and chamois method gives every chance to put fine micro swirls in your paintwork dulling the shine. So the very first thing to do is ditch them and get a wool or microfibre wash mitt and a big fluffy drying towel to help eradicate scratching when washing the car.
We recommend getting two dedicated wash buckets with grit guards in the bottom, we have all seen how much dirt is left in the bucket after a wash. Do not risk rubbing this dirt back on the car! The grit guards will stop you reaching into the bottom of the bucket to pick up the larger particles of dirt, these will remain under the grit guard and nowhere near your paintwork. The reason to use two buckets is to have one with your chosen shampoo and another with clean water to rinse the dirt off the mitt. A third bucket can be introduced to separate wheel cleaning from paint work.
The term "detailing" is an American term for cleaning a car to the highest level. This article describes a good clean but not a full detail. There will be further articles on our blog covering additional stages. Basically, the more stages of a cleaning process you do, the better the car will look afterwards. Applying coatings at the end of the cleaning process will make the car easier to clean the next time. There are short and long-term solutions to these and some we will cover here.
The products mentioned in this article are all available from Slim’s Detailing and links to the relevant pages have been inserted to help. I hasten to add these are some of our products for that job but not the only product that will work. We recommend experimenting as there are many products available and only you can choose the best for you. So, if the product we recommend does not tickle your fancy, there may be something more suitable for you available, just take a look at our website or call to talk to one of our experts.
Ready to begin?
Wheel Cleaning - always start with your vehicle's wheels. Remove the worst of the caked-on dirt which is not just road grime but a product of braking where the iron fillings from the brake discs stick to the alloy. Modern wheel cleaners will literally lift these fillings off the wheel. Try CARPRO Iron X or Koch Chemie Reactive Wheel Cleaner. Spray the wheel - working from the bottom of the wheel up - making sure to coat all surfaces of the alloy with the spray as where it hits it will react. Work one wheel at a time and you will see the chemical reaction of the iron "bleeding" off the rim and turning deep red. Using your wheel bucket with water in, the surface can be agitated with a soft wheel brush. We like Wheel Woolies as they are super soft and will not scratch the alloy. The kits of three brushes will make sure you have everything you need to get in the smallest and hardest to reach areas of the spokes.
Snow Foam and Rinse – This is a stage that does require a pressure washer. They are available from many manufacturers and you do not need the most expensive one. Like most things though, the more money you spend, the longer the machine will hopefully last and work for you. The object of snow foam is to remove the worst of the dirt on the car before applying any pressure with a wash mitt. The snow foam is applied by attaching a lance and bottle to your pressure washer.
What snow foam is best?
Using Koch Chemie Gentle Snow Foam is a good start it will not harm any waxes or sealants on the painted surface if you have treated it. Once sprayed all over the vehicle, it can be left to dwell for 5-10 minutes to soak and loosen stubborn grime. For a particularly dirty vehicle, Koch Chemie Green Star can be added to increase the cleaning action of the Snow Foam. The foam will slide off the car taking grit and dust particles with it, these would scratch paintwork and act as an abrasive if you wash the car without snow foaming first.
Once the snow foam has sat on the vehicle it should be washed off with the pressure washer, always working from the roof of the vehicle down, taking special care to spray wheel arches and as far under the sills as possible. The worst of the road dirt will be attached here so the more you remove now the better.
Wash Car Using Two/Three Bucket Method – This is the time to get your buckets with grit guards and wash mitt out as mentioned in the introduction. Fill one bucket with a good foaming wash such as CARPRO Reset, Malco Ultra Violet or Koch Chemie Nano Magic and the other bucket should have just water. If you want to make sure your mitt is cleaned each time, a wash board is a great addition to the bucket. The washboard sits on the grit guard and adds a gridded wall angled up the side of the bucket for you to run your mitt over helping to remove the dirt as you go.
Start by dipping the wash mitt into the soapy water and, again from the roof down, work one panel at a time cleaning the car. Work in a straight back and forward motion avoiding round and round actions where possible. After each panel or more often if you prefer, dip the wash mitt into the rinse bucket and rinse off the dirt rubbing the mitt against the wash board or just in the bucket if no washboard is fitted.
Once rinsed, go back into the wash bucket with your foam in and start on the next panel until the whole car has been washed. Now wash the wheels using your brushes to apply soapy water either from your wash bucket or your stand-alone wheel wash bucket. You could introduce a long bristle brush here to scrub around the inside of the wheel arches, this brush would be suitable to use on the wheels as well if you don’t have Wheel Woolies. Finish with the pressure washer rinsing the car from the roof down as before.
What does a Clay Bar do?
Clay Bar - If you run your hand over the paintwork on your vehicle you can feel imperfections on the surface associated with road tar and tree sap. A lot of this can be removed using a Clay Bar. There are different grades available but a good starting point is the CARPRO Clay Bar Set which has three grades of clay in one box. Using an appropriate spray lube to keep the surface of the paint you are treating slick, work a small area at a time with a small piece of clay flattened across the tips of your fingers on one hand working in straight lines as much as possible. Make sure to keep the surface you are working wet and do not let it dry out. Work methodically around the vehicle until you get back to your starting point, now when you rub you hand over the paintwork it should feel smooth with no imperfections on the surface.
Repeat wash and rinse process to clean up the residual tar removal.
Apply a Rinse Aid & Dry – Rinse aids are a very clever addition to the wash process, not only will they aid the drying of the paintwork, but they will improve gloss and hydrophobic qualities making the water bead away effortlessly. CARPRO Hydr02 Lite or Koch Chemie Protector Wax can be sprayed directly onto the wet vehicle and the standing water is visibly dispersed. Once the whole vehicle is coated it must be rinsed again and not allowed to dry on the surface. It is now ready to dry.
A CARPRO Fat Boa is the thickest, fluffiest drying towel around and will easily absorb any remaining water. The towel will avoid scratches and can be laid on the paintwork and patted to dry the panels. You can also lay on the panel and drag towards you over the wet paintwork to remove excess water. Working around the car in straight lines, complete this task and you should have a relatively clean vehicle externally at this stage.
Door Shuts and Apertures Cleaned - Open car doors and apply an, All-Purpose Cleaner (APC) such as Green Star diluted as required spray liberally and wipe clean with a microfibre cloth. Open the bonnet, boot, and petrol flaps to ensure water is dried and residual dirt in these areas is wiped away. Apply more APC as required and, if really dirty, a pressure washer can be used to wash this away taking care around electrical components. If doing this stage, it should be undertaken during the wash process and certainly before drying the vehicle.
Coatings – Applying coatings to your vehicle will not only serve to protect from daily wear, UV rays, and general use but will also greatly improve the wash process if you do this yourself. Firstly, they will reduce the ability for dirt to adhere to the painted surface. Secondly, what does manage to take a hold can be much more easily removed in your normal wash process saving loads of time in the future. A further article on coatings will be available on our blog.
The original form of coating is a car wax these are available in liquid or solid form. Vonixx and and Koch Chemie have solid waxes at each end of the price spectrum. Both contain large amounts of Carnauba Wax - the important ingredient in all hand waxes! These are applied using a foam applicator (included with the linked products or available separately) and once on the surface should be left for 3-5 minutes then buffed off using a nice soft microfibre cloth leaving a high shine.
A good wax will provide a layer between paintwork and the elements and again it is up to you what level you go for here dependent on need and desire for finish level. If you have previously waxed the vehicle then you may opt for a quick detailer sprayed on and wiped off which will add instant shine but little longevity. Koch Chemie FSE is popular as it has a limescale remover that will take off water spots.
Tyre Dressing- Tyre dressing is a matter of preference; matte or gloss the choice is yours. CARPRO PERL restores the surface of rubber and can be used on all external plastics, leaving them protected against UV rays for up to three months with a natural, as new finish. The Americans tend to like a high shine product and Malco Tire Dressing gives a high gloss finish if this is your preference. Use a tyre sponge applicator on the clean tyre and apply the dressing until surface is coated and leave to dry, it is important to not drive off until fully dry.
Treat Exterior Plastics – Koch Chemie Nano Magic Plastic Care will keep exterior plastics looking new and protected against harmful UV rays and, like CARPRO PERL, can be used on the tyres as well. Provides protection against the elements once coated, beading off water and stopping staining or the plastic from fading. This will achieve a more satin finish than the Malco product.
Clean Seats - If you have fabric seats, vacuum and use a brush to remove dried on stains. Stubborn stains can be treated with a fabric interior cleaner such as CARPRO Inside or a general APC like Green Star diluted to desired strength. Spray and remove excess with a microfibre cloth. Leather seats can be treated the same to clean them or a specialist leather cleaner and conditioner like the one from Malco can be used.
Clean Windows and Glass – Cleaning glass is very much about using the correct cloth. Soft microfibres are actually not great for this as they absorb moisture and tend to be a bit smeary on glass. Using a glass cloth, apply Koch Chemie Speed Glass and wipe on with one cloth folding over to a dry side to remove, using two cloths for this is a good tip one to apply the other to buff to a finish. Coating glass with a water repellent coating is well worth it and reduces wiper use and increases visibility long term. Look for our coatings article in the blog.
Interior - Remove floor mats and vacuum, then vacuum carpets. You can work on stains using the same process as with the seats and using the interior brush for dried stains. Using a small soft brush clean all vents, buttons, and switches enticing out any stubborn deposits to be vacuumed up as you go.
Clean All Interior Plastics - Using Koch Chemie TS Top Star (we like the semi-matte finish you get with this product) spray and wipe. Top Star also protects long term against UV rays and dirt ingression. Do not use on pedals or other areas where a slippery finish would be dangerous.
Clean Interior Glass - Using the same method as for the outside glass clean all interior glass and mirrors.
Apply Scent - Finally, you are ready to apply your fragrance in the form of a spray or a hanging air freshener. Sprays are very popular and there are many fragrances available that will enhance the interior appeal of your car, spray liberally in the foot well of the car to freshen up.
If you are still using a sponge, leather, and washing up liquid it is time for change! If you look after your car yourself, take every care to clean it without damaging the paintwork or reducing the gloss levels with every clean. The more time you put in to applying coatings - even the wax stage - the easier it will be to maintain the car on an ongoing basis. If your paintwork is already scratched and low gloss, then you can recover this in a lot of cases using paint correction methods with compounds and a machine polisher so all is not lost. That process will be published in another article on our blog.