Mastering the Art of DIY Auto Detailing: Budget-Friendly Secrets for a Gleaming Car

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Updated on:

November 9, 2023

Home Auto Detailing: Secrets to Making Your Car Shine Without Breaking the Bank

Sitting in a car filled with dirt and trash is never satisfying. Paying for car detailing services every time your car gets messy is also not budget efficient. Luckily, there are many ways you can get your car detailed by yourself! There are variety of different methods and tricks you can do to make your car look like as if you got professional auto detailing services done.

In this article, we will explore what you can use for auto detailing at home and how you can save money on a car detailing project. We will go in depth on how to do interior detailing and exterior detailing at home with a very easy cleaning process

Key Takeaways:

  • Regular cleaning of your car is essential to prevent bacteria build-up and maintain a healthy environment for you and your passengers. Avoid car wash tunnels to prevent scratches.
  • Automatic car washes offer convenience but may cause damage to your car's exterior. They also don't address interior cleaning needs.
  • Exterior car detailing at home requires basic supplies like microfiber towels, glass cleaner, car wash soap, and car wax. Follow a step-by-step process to achieve a polished finish. Interior detailing requires mild cleaners, a vacuum, towels, and a portable steam cleaner for a professional-like result.

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Table of Contents (Show)

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How often should you clean your car?

car, mercedes, detailing at home

It is recommended to clean your car at least once a week. Simple vacuuming, wiping down of the interior, and exterior wash should be done every week. These easy tasks will keep your car from getting bad odors and developing bacteria.

Refrain from going through normal car wash tunnel. The bristles of the brushes that clean the exterior of your car are very harsh on the paint and can lead to small scratches all over your vehicle. It is best to go to hand wash places or clean the exterior of your car yourself.

Professional car detailing can be done every couple of months to two times a year. It really depends on how much you take care of your vehicle between the deep cleaning of your car. You need to make sure you find a good automotive detailing place with great car detailing packages so you are getting for what you are paying. If those services are not in your budget, you can always do a deep clean of your car at home.

Consequences of not cleaning your vehicle

Cleaning your car is not only important for it just to look nice. Abandoning cleaning your car leads to bacteria build up that can get you and your loved ones sick every time you go for a ride. This is why it is crucial to clean the air vents and to change the air filter frequently in your car since that's how most germs spread around your vehicle's interior.

In addition, leaving food in your car and other dirt build up can lead to mold which is very hard to get rid of. The services to get rid of mold can cost hundreds of dollars and cleaning it by yourself can be a struggle. If you have mold in your vehicle, read this article and get rid of it as soon as you can because it will just spread more the longer you leave it there.

automatic car wash

Cons and pros of automatic car wash

Automatic car washes have become a popular choice for car owners seeking a convenient and time-saving way to keep their vehicles clean.

When considering the pros, the foremost advantage lies in the efficiency and speed of the process. Automatic car washes are designed to swiftly clean a car's exterior, requiring minimal effort from the owner. Additionally, they often offer various options such as undercarriage cleaning and waxing, providing a comprehensive cleaning experience. Another benefit is the consistency of the results, as the machines follow a standardized cleaning routine, ensuring a uniform outcome for every vehicle.

However, it is important to weigh these advantages against the potential cons. One drawback of automatic car washes is the risk of causing damage to the vehicle's exterior. The mechanical brushes used in some wash systems can be abrasive, leading to scratches or swirl marks on the paintwork. Moreover, the powerful jets of water and chemicals may not always reach all the nooks and crannies, leaving certain areas inadequately cleaned.

Additionally, automatic car washes are not able to address interior cleaning needs, such as vacuuming or detailing.

Exterior car detailing at home

exterior detailing of car

Exterior detailing is very important. You always need to have your windows cleaned for safe driving and keeping the vehicle's exterior clean will protect your resale value since there will be no weather damage or other contaminants.

Exterior services consist of window cleaning, wheel cleaning, and washing the whole exterior of the vehicle. Other exterior services you can do is clay bar, engine detailing, and ceramic coating.

What car detailing supplies and tools will you need for exterior car detailing

You will need a couple of things for exterior detailing. You can choose the supplies depending on your budget and can use most of the stuff you may already have at home. A good detail doesn't require fancy or expensive equipment as long as you are using the supplies you have efficiently.

1.1 Microfiber towel

You should get a couple of microfibers before the cleaning process. Microfibers will ensure to leave your car shining and streak free without damaging the clear coat of your vehicle. You can use them for exterior cleaning as well as windows and tires. They are also very useful for interior detailing. Just make sure you use a different microfiber for the exterior and interior to not transfer any dirt of bacteria within your vehicle.

You can buy microfibers from almost any store like Target, or order them on amazon.

Learn more about washing of microfiber towels

1.2 Glass cleaner

It is important to get a good glass cleaner to make sure your windows don't have streaks or dirt for safe driving. There are a lot of different cleaners on the market but one of the best ones is the Sprayway Glass Cleaner. Its foam consistency prevents getting streaky windows and the gentle formula is safe to use on tinted windows.

Another great cleaner is the Fortador 50 to 1 Glass Cleaner. This is an ethanol-based cleaner that is perfect for cleaning the grime from your windows. It is eco-friendly and safe to use on all types of window surfaces.

1.3 Car wash soap

You need a good soap in order to get all of the grime from the road. The Fortador Green Magic Waterless Wash and Wax is a great product to use for exterior surfaces. This cleaner will leave your car shinning and free of all the dirt and pollutants. Using this product will save you time since wax will be already applied while you are washing your car.

You can also use dish soap in order to clean the exterior. Diluted with water, it is a great alternative to a car wash soap. The soap should be gentle enough to not damage the car paint job.

1.4 Car wax

If you want to have your car glistening in the sun, you should get wax. High quality wax, like the Fortador Nano Wax, will not only leave your car shinning, but also protect it from UV rays and environment elements.

Spray wax is the easiest one to use, but you can also look into paste wax. One of the most high rated wax is the Meguiar's Ultimate Paste Wax. It gives a long lasting protection and is safe to use on all clear coat.

Before the cleaning, make sure that your car is cooled off and in a shady place. If the surface of the vehicle's exterior is too hot, the soap and water will dry out before you get a chance to wash the car.

We have full guide of collecting mobile detailing tools and supplies, if you will make detailing only at home or your detailing studio, just remove powersource, because you will use your powerline a.

Transforming Your Car's Exterior with DIY Detailing

Step 1: Soak the car

soak the car with waater before detailing

To start, you should use a hose to cover your whole car with water. You need to soak off some of the grime first in order for an easier removal for when you will use your soap.

If you got water stains on car paint, you will need to follow our special guide.

Step 2: Engine cleaning

car engine, detailing motor, clean

While your car is soaking, you can start cleaning the engine. You should clean the engine before proceeding to clean the exterior of the car since the dirt from the engine will most likely end on the exterior.

You can do engine pressure cleaning or use water hose for this task. First, apply a degreaser on the whole engine. You can use a soft bristle brush to work the degreaser in and loosen up the dirt build up. After you are finished with the brush, rinse off all the grime.

Check this guide for engine car cleaning

Step 3: Soap up the car

car wash, car shampoo, shampoo

After you have soaked the vehicle and finished cleaning the engine, prepare a bucket of water with chosen car wash soap. Make sure to follow the instructions of the soap so you can dilute it properly and get the best results.

Use a soft sponge or a microfiber with the soap mixture and start washing your car from the hood to the rear. Be sure to be gentle while car washing to not damage the car paint. Entire vehicle should be thoroughly washed in this step.

Step 4: Rinse soap away

rinsing soap from car paint

Rinse the entire car with clean water to remove all the soap. You can use a clean microfiber in this step to clean some of the dirt you might have missed in the previous step.

Step 5: Wheels and rims detailing

alloy wheel, car, alloy, clean wheels after detailing

After a good rinse, you can move on to the wheels of your car. To clean the wheels, you can use the same soap solution you applied on the exterior. If you want to take a step further, you can get a degreaser, like the Fortador Ultra Strong Degreaser and Wheel Cleaner, for a full professional auto detailing experience.

Use a sponge with your desired cleaner and go over all the wheels and rims. After you are done cleaning them, you can use a tire gel for a shinning sparkle. The Fortador Tire Shine Gel or Black Magic Tire Wet are great products for a glossy shine.

Step 6: Windows cleaning

windoows cleaning

For this step, get a clean microfiber and you preferred window cleaner. Start by applying a window cleaner all over the windows. Use a fresh microfiber and clean the exterior glass top to bottom and parallel from side to side motion to make sure there are no swirl marks left on your windows.

If you want to read a detailed guide on glass cleaning, refer to this article.

Step 7: Apply wax on paint

waxed, car, vehicle

After your car is fully cleaned and dry, you can proceed to applying wax. Depending on what wax you use, you will need different supplies. If. you are using a spray wax, grab a micro towel and spay some of the wax on the towel.

Going in circular motions, apply the wax on the surface of your vehicle. Make sure to not leave swirl marks on the car. The car's finish should have not streaks and full gloss.

If you have moto or scooter, check our guide for motorcycle detailing

Clay bar treatment

clay bar treatment n car paint

Clay bar is one of the greatest investments you can make for your car. This clay like product cleans the clear coat of your car from pollutants. It is able to get rid of water spots, small scratches, metal dust, road grit, and more from the surface of your car.

This is one of the top tier car detailing services that will leave you with a shiny car with no imperfections. Doubles with ceramic coatings that also provides paint protection, your vehicle will look brand new. In addition, ceramic coating provides a shield from harmful uv rays that can lighten the color of your paint making it look faded. Many car owners living in sunny states like Florida struggle with that problem, but ceramic coating will keep your car looking new at all times.

Even though this car detailing services can be hard to do at home, it is still possible to learn the skill of clay bar and ceramic coating on your own. Professional auto detailing places uncharge these services drastically, but if you out your time into learning such a tedious skill, you will save hundreds of dollars.

To find more details about how to clay bar your vehicle, check out this article. If you are interested in learning how to protect your car with ceramic coating, you can find more details about that in this article.

Interior Deep Clean: A Step-by-Step Guide to Detailing the Inside of Your Car

interior car detailing

Interior detailing at a professional car detailing place can be very expensive. It requires a lot of time to car detail the interior if you haven't been keeping up with weekly light clean ups. Even though professional detailers charge hundreds of dollars for interior car detailing services, there are a bunch of methods you can use to perform an outstanding car wash yourself.

What tools and supplies do you need for Interior car detailing

Most of the interior car washing supplies you need are lying around your house or are the same materials that can be used for exterior auto detailing. Some supplies, like leather cleaner or leather finish, are recommended to invest in because they make a bigger difference than a diy car product you can make or find at home.

1.1 Cleaner

For interior, you can use a mild upholstery cleaner of your choice. Make sure to not use anything with bleach since it can damage your cloth or leather seats.

If you have leather seats and are willing to invest into a good leather cleaner, the Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner and Leather Conditioner Kit is a great highly available option. This kit not only includes a cleaner, but a conditioner that will help you revive your leather seats.

Another amazing option is the Fortador Yellow Interior Degreaser.

1.2 Vacuum for car detailing

Get any portable vacuum you can find that will be good to use for the interior cabin. You need something that will be able to vacuum between the seats, under the seats, carpets, and all other dust collecting places.

It is important to use a vacuum before any liquid cleaners in order to not smear all the dust and dirt that has been collecting in your car.

1.3 Microfibers

Microfiber towels are a versatile tool to use anywhere in your car. You can use them to clean your seats, the dashboard, interior windows, and more.

1.4 Steam cleaner

For your car to look like you've hired professional detailers to do an interior car detailing, you need to get a good steamer. Steamer is very versatile and can be used on many problem areas in your vehicle.

Steam is able to brake dust that has been in your car for a while and easily remove any stubborn dirt on your car seats. It is safe to use on plastic parts and leather and vinyl surfaces in your vehicle. In addition, it is a great option for window cleaning since it won't leave any streaks or damage sensitive window tints. It is also great for cleaning your car's air vents and AC unit.

Steam is not only useful for cleaning but also for disinfecting. It kills up to 99.99% of bacteria and germs without the need of using any harsh chemicals or bleach. Due to steamers' high pressure and high heat, it is able to battle with even stubborn fungus like mold. If you are struggling with mold in your vehicle, check out this article that has all the tips on how to get rid of it.

Many auto detailers enjoy using the Fortador Volt Electra for car detailing. This steamer is portable and includes a powerful vacuum as well many attachments that can be used for interior as well as exterior auto detailing.

steam cleaner with vacuum for garage

Another great option is the Fortador Volt Mini. It is even smaller than Volt Electra and great to use for household chores as well. This powerful and easy to use steamer is great for at home auto detailing.

portable steam cleaner

1.5 Leather conditioner for car seats

Leather conditioner is not only useful for leather seats but also for any other leather parts in your vehicle. It conditions and revives dull leather that hasn't been cleaned in a while.

One of the best leather conditioners is the Fortador Leather and Vinyl Trim Coating. This product conditions and protects the leather and vinyl. You can spread it on the surface and spread it with a microfiber or apply it on a towel and apply it like that. This product will leave a glossy shine on your leather making it look conditioned and brand new.

Another good option is the Meguiar's Gold Class Leather Conditioner. It has aloe and moisturizing oils that will revive your seats. It also leaves a protective layer that provides UV and aging protection.

1.6 Compressed air

Compressed air is great to use for hard to reach places. If you have sand, dirt, and other small particles between your seats, this item is an easy solution to get rid of that debris.

This Blow Off Can Air is a great option that is available on amazon.

Guide for Interior car detailing

Step 1: vacuum and can air

vacuuming of car interior

Start your interior car detailing by vacuuming the whole interior cabin. If there are places that are too small for a vacuum nozzle to reach, use canned air to blow out all the dirt and collect that debris with a vacuum.

Make sure to vacuum all the dust and dirt to not mix it with a cleaner that will be used for the next step. Clean the floor mats and the rugs as well.

Step 2: use a preferred cleaner on fabric seats and dashes

stains removal from car seats

Use a cleaner of your choice according to its directions to clean everything in your car. Make sure to read the instructions and the ingredients of the cleaner so it doesn't damage your interior.

You can use a microfiber to wipe all the interior surfaces with the cleaner. Make sure to get the door panels, car seats, dashboard, and everything else that might have elbow grease, dirt, and other debris.

Step 3: steam clean interior of car

steam cleaning of car

After you are finished with cleaning the top surface of the interior, you can move on to the deep cleaning part. Use steam on all the surfaces that are frequently touched, like the stirring wheel and the door handles, to disinfect them.

You can also use steam on leather and cloth seats for a deep clean and disinfection. If you have minor stains, steam will also be able to take them out.

If there is any water residue left on the surfaces, grab a microfiber and wipe it off. You will see a lot of dirt come out of your seats with steam if they haven't been cleaned for a while.

Step 4: interior car windows cleaning

glass cleaner for car windows

You can use steam to clean the interior windows or the same window cleaner you used for the exterior windows. It is important to wipe both sides of the window in order to have a clear vision of the road for safe driving.

Use a clean microfiber for this task and go in top to bottom, side to side motion.

Step 5: finishing touches of your car interior

Leather protectant for car seats

After you have completed a deep clean, you can put leather protectant on the leather surfaces. Follow the directions of your chosen product and apply it on the leather.

Tips for car detailing at home

family, people, car
  1. Use ammonia-free cleaners - it is best to clean your windows with ammonia free cleaners. Cleaners with ammonia lift up tinted windows and frequently leave streaks on windows. Ammonia free cleaners are much more gentle and won't leave streaks on your windows.
  2. Don't use any products with bleach - although bleach is a great disinfect, it can be too harsh on some of the surfaces in your car. Bleach can lighten leather or cloth, or melt parts in your vehicle.
  3. Use different microfibers for interior and exterior - to keep the outside dirt and grime getting inside the vehicle, it is best to use different clean microfibers. You should also use different towels for window cleaning and the interior salon detailing.
  4. Apply paint protection after each wash - to keep your car looking brand new, you should always apply some type of paint sealant after every wash. This extra step will keep the paint of your vehicle from going dull from the UV rays and also protect it from small scratches.

You don't need to be a skilled car detailer in order to perform professional car detailing services on a dirty car. You can learn yourself how to detail a car like at a professional car detailing place. Always going to car washes can be time consuming and not budget friendly, but with this article, you can learn all the necessary skills you need to perform outstanding car detailing.

A couple of extra supplies and stuff that you already have at home will give you a clean car without spending hundreds of dollars on professional auto detailers. All of the necessary things for a deep clean are more available than you think, and they don't have to cost a lot of money.

Make sure to do weekly clean ups in your car so you don't have to take a lot of time to deep clean your vehicle. Keeping a clean car is not only a good look, but also important for your health. It takes just a few minutes to pick up all the trash and vacuum the interior.

Learn more If you interested in starting your detailing business

About the Authors

Sergey "Serg" Paskevich
Panama-based detailing pro, proud owner of Car Care Performance Detailing studio in Panama-City. Specializing in Paint Correction, Ceramic Coating, and comprehensive Car Detailing services
Kristina Tretyakova
Distinguished as a South Florida Top-10 student in 2021. Studying Marketing and Business Administration at FIU. Proficient in daily operations and skilled in cleaning, auto detailing and copywriting.

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