What’s Included in Car Detailing? A Comprehensive Guide

If you are like me, years of grease, Death Wish coffee spills, and mud-covered work boots have added up to a less-than-clean ride. Then, car detailing is for us. It is the art of transforming your vehicle into a gleaming masterpiece, and in this comprehensive guide, we’ll answer the question: what does car detailing include?

Buckle up as we explore the essential elements and meticulous techniques that restore your vehicle’s brilliance.

what does car detailing include

Interior Car Detailing

Your car’s interior is where you spend most of your time, and it can collect dust, dirt, and stains over time. That’s why ensuring it’s clean and a comfortable and inviting space is essential. This section will walk you through the crucial steps and techniques for cleaning and rejuvenating your car’s interior.

Car Detail Steps

1. Vacuuming and Debris Removal

When you begin detailing your car, starting with a clean slate is essential. Think of all the spills you’ve had in the past year. What about pets? There’s a potato chip laughing in a hidden corner under your seat, knowing it’s safe in its hiding place. Grime, hair, and forgotten snacks are the first step in a solid detail job.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Use a high-powered vacuum cleaner with various attachments to reach tight spots.
  • Pay special attention to carpets, floor mats, and the areas between and under the seats.

You’ll be surprised how much you find when you begin cleaning at ground zero. To start off right, make sure you have a clean surface. Then, you’ll be able to move on to your next step.

2. Floor Mat Cleaning

Elevating the cleanliness of your car’s interior involves meticulous care for floor mats. Begin by removing the mats and cleaning them individually. Employ a brush and suitable cleaner to eradicate stains and dirt. Ensuring the mats are completely dry before reinstalling them into your vehicle for optimal hygiene and maintenance is crucial.

  • Remove floor mats and clean them separately.
  • Use a brush and appropriate cleaner to remove stains and dirt.
  • Ensure they are completely dry before placing them back in the car.

3. Air Vent and Detail Brushing

Cleaning small, intricate areas like vents and crevices requires specialized attention. Employing dedicated brushes and compressed air dislodges accumulated dust and dirt from these confined spaces, ensuring a thorough and precise cleaning process.

  • Small crevices and vents can be tricky to clean.
  • Utilize specialized brushes and compressed air to dislodge dust and dirt from these areas.

It’s amazing how much of a difference this can make in air quality and aesthetics.

4. Upholstery Cleaning

Maintaining the pristine condition of your car’s interior demands attention to upholstery care. As your seats collect dust, dirt, and occasional stains, employing appropriate cleaning methods tailored to different materials is key. To achieve optimal results, ensure compliance with manufacturer recommendations for a comprehensive and effective cleansing process.

  • Depending on the material, use appropriate cleaners or steam cleaning machines.
  • Always follow manufacturer recommendations and ensure thorough rinsing.

5. Dashboard and Console Treatment

The dashboard and center console are focal points of your car’s interior. To treat the dashboard and console, use gentle, non-abrasive cleaning agents to eradicate accumulated dust and grime. Follow up with the application of a UV protectant to shield against sunlight exposure. This preventive measure guards against fading and cracking, ensuring enduring appeal and durability for your dashboard and console.

  • Use a gentle, non-abrasive cleaner to wipe away dust and grime.
  • Finish with a UV protectant to prevent fading and cracking due to sunlight exposure.

One of the best cleaners on the market is the Total Interior Cleaner & Protectant from Chemical Guys. This product grabs dirt and grime, graciously replaces shine, and sticks around to provide UV protection.

6. Window Cleaning

Crystal-clear windows not only improve visibility but also enhance the overall look of your car. Employ a high-quality glass cleaner in tandem with a microfiber cloth to meticulously clean the windows. Attention to detail is key in addressing streaks, achieving a flawless finish that enhances your vehicle’s aesthetic appeal.

  • Use a quality glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth to clean windows thoroughly.
  • Pay attention to streaks for a flawless finish.

7. Odor Elimination

Unpleasant odors can linger in your car’s interior. Neutralizing unpleasant odors that persist in your car’s interior requires strategic action. Implement odor-neutralizing products or explore professional ozone treatments for more persistent smells. These methods effectively target and eliminate stubborn odors, ensuring a refreshed and pleasant interior environment within your vehicle.

  • Consider using odor-neutralizing products or, if necessary, a professional ozone treatment to eliminate stubborn smells.

By following these steps, you can make your car’s interior perfectly clean and welcoming. Each step gets you closer to revealing the beauty of your car’s inside, setting the stage for a complete car detailing experience.

Exterior Car Detailing

Now, let’s step outside and explore the techniques involved in exterior car detailing. The exterior of your car faces the brunt of the elements, from road dust to UV rays, and it’s where the magic truly happens to restore your vehicle’s brilliance.

1. Washing

The primary and essential step in exterior car detailing is the thorough washing process. This comprehensive cleanse effectively removes dirt, grime, and other surface contaminants, setting the stage for additional detailing treatments. A proper wash enhances the vehicle’s appearance and protects the paint and exterior surfaces, contributing to a well-maintained and appealing finish.

  • Begin with a thorough wash using a pH-balanced car shampoo.
  • Use a two-bucket wash to prevent dirt from accessing the paint after one rinse.
  • Wash from the top to the down, gently scrubbing with a soft mitt or sponge.
  • Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.

One of the best pH-balanced car shampoos to get you started is Adam’s Car Wash Shampoo. This product is built to help protect your car and won’t strip existing waxes, ceramic coatings, or sealants.

2. Drying

Drying marks a crucial stage in exterior car detailing. This step involves thoroughly drying the vehicle post-wash to prevent water spots and ensure a pristine finish. Proper drying enhances the vehicle’s appearance and safeguards the paint and exterior surfaces, contributing to a well-maintained and appealing look.

  • Use a microfiber-drying towel or a blower to avoid water spots.
  • Pat the surface gently instead of rubbing to prevent micro-scratches.

3. Claying

Claying involves using a clay bar to eliminate embedded contaminants from the paint’s surface. By effectively removing impurities, claying helps restore a smooth and pristine finish, enhancing the vehicle’s appearance and protecting the paint for a well-maintained look.

  • Claying is a careful method that removes dirt and other unwanted material stuck in the paint.
  • Use a clay bar and a lubricant to glide the clay bar over the surface.

4. Paint Correction

Paint correction is a process focused on rectifying imperfections such as swirl marks, scratches, and oxidation within the paint. Precision is key, often necessitating the use of a dual-action polisher or rotary buffer. This essential step aims to restore the paint’s smoothness and enhance the overall appearance of the vehicle’s exterior.

  • Paint correction involves removing imperfections like swirl marks, scratches, and oxidation.
  • It requires precision and often involves using a dual-action polisher or rotary buffer.

5. Waxing and Sealing

Following the paint correction process, the next step involves safeguarding the paint’s integrity. Employ a high-quality carnauba wax or a synthetic sealant, applying it in circular motions. Allow sufficient curing time before buffing off, yielding a deep shine and ensuring long-lasting protection for your vehicle’s exterior.

  • Apply a quality carnauba wax or a synthetic sealant using even, circular motions.
  • Let it cure before buffing off for a deep shine and lasting protection.

6. Trim and Plastic Restoration

Elevating your vehicle’s appearance extends beyond paint care. Restore the vibrancy of plastic trim, rubber seals, and headlights by employing specialized products. This step ensures a comprehensive exterior detailing process, enhancing the overall aesthetics of your car.

  • Restore the brilliance of plastic trim, rubber seals, and even headlights using specialized products.

7. Glass and Chrome Polishing

Focus on polishing glass and chrome surfaces for a comprehensive overhaul of your vehicle’s exterior. Specialized glass polish effectively eliminates water spots and hazing, while chrome polish revitalizes that brilliant shine, resulting in a refreshed and enhanced appearance for your car’s exterior.

  • Specialized glass polish can remove water spots and hazing, while chrome polish restores that brilliant shine.

8. Final Inspection

Conducting a final inspection is vital to ensure a flawless finish. Eliminate any streaks, smudges, or missed spots by using a handheld LED light, enabling you to pinpoint and rectify any imperfections for a pristine, polished appearance.

  • Ensure there are no streaks, smudges, or missed spots.
  • A handheld LED light can help spot imperfections.

The importance of these techniques in exterior car detailing cannot be overstated. They enhance the appearance and protect your car’s finish from the elements, maintaining its brilliance over time. So, whether you’re aiming for a glossy showroom look or want to preserve your car’s value, mastering these steps is the key to exterior car detailing success.

Engine Bay Cleaning

Before diving into an engine bay cleaning routine, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and the protection of critical components. Here are a few preparatory actions that serve as fundamental safety measures, ensuring a secure and effective engine bay cleaning experience.

1. Preparation

Before diving into an engine bay cleaning routine, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and the protection of critical components.

  • Make sure the engine isn’t hot to the touch.
  • Disconnect the battery to avoid electrical mishaps.
  • Cover sensitive components like the air intake, alternator, and fuse box with plastic bags or plastic wrap.

2. Rinse

Initiating the engine bay cleaning process starts with a gentle rinse using a steady stream of water. This initial step aims to remove loose debris and surface-level dirt, preparing the engine bay for further cleaning.

  • Begin by rinsing the engine bay with a gentle stream of water.

3. Degreasing

Degreasing, a fundamental process in engine bay cleaning, targets the removal of grease, oil, and grime from various components. Using specialized products, following this step ensures a cleaner and well-maintained engine compartment. Effective degreasing not only enhances the engine’s appearance but also contributes to its optimal performance and longevity.

  • Apply an engine degreaser or a diluted all-purpose cleaner to the engine bay.
  • Use a brush or sponge designed for cleaning to scrub away dirt and grease.

4. Rinse Again

The next step involves rinsing off the degreaser completely with a gentle stream of water. This step aids in removing the applied degreaser.

  • Rinse off the degreaser thoroughly with a gentle stream of water.

5. Drying

Following the cleaning process, the drying stage is critical. Allow the engine bay to air dry naturally, or expedite the process by using a microfiber cloth or compressed air, accelerating the drying time. It’s essential to ensure the area is completely dry before reassembling any components.

  • Allow the engine bay to air dry, or use a microfiber cloth or compressed air to speed up the process.
  • Make sure it’s completely dry before reassembling any components.

6. Dressing

Consider enhancing the engine bay’s aesthetic by applying an optional engine bay dressing. This step rejuvenates and renews the appearance, aiming to restore a clean and factory-like look.

  • Optionally, apply an engine bay dressing to restore a clean, factory-like appearance.

Remember that safety precautions, like disconnecting the battery and covering sensitive components, are crucial to a successful engine bay cleaning process.

Wheels and Tires Detailing

Wheels and tires are not just functional; they’re an integral part of your car’s overall aesthetics and safety. In this section, we’ll explore the techniques for cleaning and restoring the appearance of wheels and tires, and how these steps enhance both aesthetics and safety.

1. Wheels

When it comes to wheels and tire detailing, this process is fundamental in preserving the overall appearance and condition of a vehicle. Wheel maintenance starts with a rinse to eliminate loose dirt and debris. This meticulous process not only ensures a clean appearance but also contributes to the longevity and overall upkeep of your vehicle.

  • Start by rinsing the wheels to remove loose dirt and debris.
  • Use a dedicated wheel cleaner that matches your wheel type (e.g., alloy, chrome, or painted).
  • Stir the cleaner with a special brush for wheels, getting into tight spaces and behind the wheel’s spokes.
  • Then, rinse everything well to wash away any leftover cleaner.

2. Tires

Your tires get dirty. I know they do. I’m always thinking about tires. Where can they take me? What are the best mud tires? But now and again, our tires need a good clean as well.

  • Scrub the tires with a tire brush or a stiff-bristle brush and a suitable tire cleaner.
  • Pay attention to the sidewalls to remove old tire dressing and browning.
  • Rinse off any remaining cleaner.

3. Tire Dressing

Reviving the appearance of your tires through tire dressing is a crucial element of tire maintenance. This process involves applying a specialized dressing to clean and dry tires, enhancing their aesthetic appeal while also providing protection against UV damage, ultimately extending their lifespan and maintaining a sleek, well-kept look for your vehicle.

  • Apply a quality tire dressing to clean and dry tires using an applicator pad or spray.
  • Tire dressing not only enhances the tires’ deep black appearance but also provides UV protection, preventing them from drying out and cracking.

4. Wheel Polishing

Polishing your wheels is a pivotal part of wheel maintenance. This process involves using specialized wheel polish and a soft cloth or applicator pad to restore the wheels’ shine and eliminate imperfections. Regular polishing not only revitalizes the appearance but also contributes to the longevity and upkeep of your wheels.

  • Determine your wheel type (alloy, chrome, or painted) and use an appropriate wheel polish.
  • Apply the polish with a microfiber cloth or polishing pad.
  • Gently buff the surface to remove oxidation, stains, and imperfections.

By cleaning, dressing, and polishing these essential components, you not only improve the overall appearance of your car but also contribute to its longevity and safety on the road.

Paint Protection

The paint on your car is more than just a pretty facade; it’s a crucial protective layer that shields the underlying metal from the elements. In this section, we’ll explore techniques like ceramic coating and paint sealants for long-term paint protection.

1. Ceramic Coating

Ceramic coating is an essential part of comprehensive car detailing. This protective application involves a meticulous process of applying a durable, liquid polymer directly onto the vehicle’s exterior. This coating acts as a shield against environmental elements, providing lasting shine and safeguarding the paintwork from damage, ensuring long-term protection and ease of maintenance.

  • Apply the ceramic coating (one part at a time), following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Typically, you’ll use an applicator pad to spread a thin, even layer of the coating onto the paint surface.
  • Let it sit for the time mentioned for it to set.
  • Once the coating has dried completely, softly polish the surface using a microfiber cloth to remove any excess product and get a  glossy finish.

2. Paint Sealants

When it comes to vehicle maintenance, paint sealants serve as a vital aspect. Carefully applied to the car’s exterior, these protective coatings create a resilient layer, shielding the paint from environmental elements. Their enduring impact not only enhances the shine but also safeguards the paint from potential harm, contributing significantly to the long-term preservation and visual appeal of your vehicle.

  • Apply the paint sealant using an applicator pad or microfiber cloth.
  • Spread it evenly over one part  at a time.
  • Some sealants may require a second coat, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Let the sealant stay on the surface for the time suggested in the product instructions.
  • Afterward, use a clean microfiber cloth to wipe off any extra sealant.

In summary, paint protection is not just a luxury for car enthusiasts; it’s a smart investment that safeguards your vehicle’s appearance and longevity. Techniques like ceramic coating and paint sealants offer a range of benefits, including prolonged paint life, easier maintenance, and enhanced resale value. Long-term paint protection is a proactive step to keep your car looking its best for years to come.


Remember, car detailing isn’t just for dedicated enthusiasts; it’s a practice that anyone can adopt to enhance their vehicle’s appearance, safety, and longevity. Whether you choose to DIY or seek professional detailing services, the knowledge gained from this guide equips you with the tools to make your car shine, both inside and out.

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