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How to Detail Your Car – DIY Tips & Tricks From a Pro

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Chances are your car is a major investment that's essential to your daily routine. With your car being such an integral part of daily life, it's only fitting that you enjoy driving it. A detail will make you feel good knowing your vehicle is clean, protected, and looks great. Here are seven do-it-yourself auto detailing tips and tricks from my 13 years as a professional detailer.

  1. Use the right soap: Your car’s body isn't a dinner plate, so you shouldn't use dish soap to clean your car. Dish soap is designed to break down greasy, stuck on food, and breaks down the important protective wax on your car’s paint surface. Auto supply stores and major retailers sell concentrated soap designed specifically to remove road grime. Professional detailers use car soap products from companies like Meguiar’s, Simoniz and 3M.

  2. Don't skimp on your wash mitt: The wash mitt is the material that actually touches your car. Spiffy equips all of our professional detail technicians with two microfiber wash mitts. It's not a good idea to use a sponge or wool mitt for washing or detailing. Both sponges and wool mitts have a tendency to hold onto dirt that subsequently scratches the car’s paint. Microfiber wash mitts are soft enough that they don't have that problem.

  3. Upgrade your bucket, or buy two: A detailers’ secret is to use two water buckets, or use a bucket upgraded with a grit guard inside. Two buckets allow you to use one for fresh soapy water and the second for a dirty rinse water. Dunk your wash mitt in the clean soap water bucket first, then wash it off in the second rinse water bucket. 

Spiffy's professional detailers use a large bucket with a grit guard in the bottom. The grit guard is a plastic plate with holes in it that prevents your wash mitt from becoming contaminated with sand and dirt after the first cycle of washing. Bigger is generally better, so my recommendation is to use 5-gallon buckets for washing and rinsing.

  4. Dry with the best: Either plush terry cloth or microfiber towels are best for drying your car off. Chamois cloths are what car detailers used in the past, but they aren't ideal because they tend to collect debris and require more work to keep clean than a standard terry cloth or microfiber towel.

  5. Invest in compressed air: An air compressor is the professional detailers’ secret weapon. It really helps to clean out the nooks and crannies of your car’s interior that love to collect dust, dirt and grime. It can also help blast water off your car's exterior. Air compressors are a larger investment (about $100), but well worth the money. 

Canned compressed air can be purchased for one-off emergency needs, but it’s my recommendation that you buy an air compressor if you are going to regularly clean your own automobile.

  6. Smooth things out with a clay bar treatment: To give a glass-like smooth feel to a car's exterior, professionals use clay bar treatments. 

Automotive clay is a special material designed to remove small, stuck-on contaminants that make the surface rough. Clay looks like a small brick of silly putty. Use it on a freshly washed car, and prep the surface with a lubricant before you apply the clay bar treatment. A clay bar system contains both the clay and the lubricant.

  7. Febreze really works: If part of your DIY detailing goal is to eliminate odors, then you need to clean both the seating surfaces and the air in the car. Upholstery is best cleaned at home with a foaming shampoo product, then treated with Febreze. 

After you clean the interior, treat the heating and air conditioning system with Febreze to remove any odors from that system. The best technique is to spray plenty of Febreze into the cabin air intake in the engine compartment. This will ensure that the entire heating and air conditioning system smells good.

These seven tips are ones that I've used throughout my career as a professional car detailer. Follow them when you detail your own car to keep the exterior and interior looking and smelling great.

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Karl Murphy is the President and Co-Founder of Spiffy Mobile Car Wash and Detailing, an on-demand car cleaning, technology and services company with the mission to redefine the car care experience everywhere. Currently operating in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA, Spiffy washes using the Spiffy Green system, the eco-friendliest way to clean your vehicle. Spiffy’s mobile app allows clients to schedule, track and pay for car washing and detailing services at the time and location of their choosing.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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