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How to Detail Your Car Like a Pro

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By Madeline Klein on March 3, 2022 in Life Hacks

When was the last time you gave your car some TLC? We don’t mean just an average car wash; we’re talking the full nine yards – from pre-wash to wax. If you’re an infrequent traveler or busy person, it might be further back than you can even remember. However, keeping your car clean can extend the life of your car, help maintain its value, and protect it against the elements. This is especially important when you live somewhere with all four seasons, because the range of weather impacts your car.

Golden Rules of Washing

All good things have rules, right? Football, driving, Uno, pickleball…it’s really flawless logic. So, here are the golden rules of washing your car:

  • Never wash in direct sunlight

On the next sunny day, resist the urge to run outside, bucket in hand, to wash your car. “Why?” you might ask. NuWash warns, “Washing your vehicle in the sun or in the heat can cause the cleaning product to dry before you’re able to wash it off. If you do find yourself washing your car in the sun, make sure to work panel by panel to ensure a quality car wash.” Their recommendation is to wash before 10 AM or after 4 PM for peak cleaning hours. Plus, some products don’t work as well on warm surfaces and cause more harm than help.

  • Wash top to bottom

Washing top to bottom ensures dirt and debris are washed away correctly. The bottom of your car is generally dirtier, so this method of cleaning helps protect your car’s paint from being scratched AND avoids grubbing up the already clean areas.

  • Take your time

Okay, this one is more of a friendly suggestion. Although we understand it’s not the most fun task in the world, don’t rush through it. The more you rush, the more spots you’ll miss and the less clean your car will look in the end. Let’s shoot for the ultimate clean, even if it takes a bit longer.

Wash the Exterior

Go ahead and start with the outside, because why not?

1. Pre-wash

Ready for the quickest part of this whole process? Give the exterior of your car a good spray down. The goal is to wash off any loose dirt or debris!

2. Two-bucket method

The two-bucket method is a tried-and-true way to safely clean your car. The safety element comes by avoiding scratches or swirls from rubbing dirt or grime on the paint while washing. Grab two buckets. Fill one with soapy water and the other with clean water. Dip your wash mitt or sponge into the soapy bucket, wash, rinse in the clean bucket, and repeat. Rinsing the mitt or sponge in the clean water will keep the debris out of sight and out of mind. Want to elevate your clean even further? Use a third bucket for the wheels or opt to do them last.

3. Wheel and tires

Although you might not realize it, your car’s tires and wheel wells get DIRTY. They probably are the dirtiest part of your whole ride (unless your kiddos have wreaked havoc on the inside with snacks and stinky shoes). Start by spraying down the wheels, tires, and wheel wells. Then, use a wheel and rim brush to get between the spokes and in all the crevices. Beware: shiny clean tires can momentarily stun you!

4. Rinse and dry

Now, it’s time to wrap up that exterior wash. Rinse with clean water, dry with a clean microfiber towel, and marvel at all your hard work!

5. Extra credit

If you want to go above and beyond, clean the engine bay. This is one area that’s usually overlooked but tends to get very dirty just from driving. According to ChrisFix, you’ll need lots of microfiber towels, different brushes, cleaning wipes, spray wax, trim restore, and soapy water.

Protect the Exterior

The main objective of car detailing is to get your vehicle as close to the “like-new” look as possible. While a basic car wash (as mentioned above) is enough for most of the year, a full detail should be done about two times a year. The best way to restore your car’s shine? Polish and wax!

  • Clay bar treatment

TurtleWax breaks down how to use a clay bar to remove any paint imperfections or leftover tough residue. Begin with your usual wash and dry with a microfiber towel. Shape your clay into a circle the size of your hand. Put clay bar lubricant onto your clay and then rub the bar over the car in a back-and-forth motion. Be sure to work in small sections!

  • Polish

Most detailers recommend a clay bar treatment prior to waxing or polishing to ensure the highest quality! Once you’re ready to polish, clear the area and grab your polish pad and compound. If it’s your first time polishing your ride, WikiHow breaks it down nice and simple.

  • Wax

According to JDPower, “Regularly waxing a car is essential because it helps preserve the clear coat over a vehicle’s paint. That clear coat is the layer that protects the paint from corrosive elements, including snow, rain, street salt, ultraviolet rays, bird droppings, and tree sap, among other contaminants.” Plus, you want to protect the clear coat because that’s what makes your car shine. Set aside 2-4 hours and buckle down for an arm workout. Don’t worry, The Drive has a step-by-step guide to walk you through the entire wax!

Clean the Interior

Now we can move on to the interior of your ride.

  • Remove ALL trash and clutter. Look under the seats for any leftover snacks, roll-away water bottles, or soda cans.
  • Clean upholstery and carpets. Remove your floormats and hose them down if they’re plastic or grab a carpet cleaner if they’re fabric and you have tough stains. Keep the carpet cleaner out and shampoo any other carpeted areas in your car. Make sure to let the mats fully dry before returning them to their normal place. You can use your carpet cleaner on the upholstered elements of your seats and leather cleaner for the other parts.
  • Vacuum. Nuff said. This step is quick, but you’d be surprised at how much comes up!
  • Wipe down hard surfaces. A job that calls for ArmorAll Cleaning Wipes (or any kind of cleaning wipes safe for use in cars). Don’t forget to empty and wipe down cup holders and door pockets!
  • Clean windows and glass surfaces. Be sure to use a fresh microfiber towel and a glass cleaner. Goodbye, fingerprints!
  • Deodorize. The icing on the cake after all your hard work! Find the source of the stink and eliminate any old food or stinky shoes. Leaving an open box of baking soda in the car overnight can help absorb the stink. Then, use other natural ways to keep your car smelling great!


If you walked through these steps with us, completing them along the way, congratulations you’re done. You only have 1-2 more cleans for the whole rest of the year. If you’re planning to do this “soon” but can’t seem to find the time, we encourage you to set aside a Saturday, gather your tools/products, and buckle down. Your car will surely thank you!

Madeline Klein is Say's Digital Content Producer. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism, emphasis in Strategic Communication. Her experience is in writing and digital media. Madeline loves using her creativity to write and design new and exciting pieces of work for Say!