For many car owners, hunting high and low for car detailing supplies feels like a never-ending search for the ultimate contaminant antidote. A product that will tackle every automotive detailing task imaginable, and subsequently change the way we clean and protect our vehicles… forever.
Well we hate to break it to you folks, but there is no such thing as “the perfect car detailing product.” Various parts of a vehicle require different kinds of car cleaning chemicals and accoutrements, which unfortunately, typically means owning a tote or two that are brimming with detailing products.
So if you do have to buy a metric mess-load of detailing gear, what should you be looking for, and what should you avoid?
If saving money and doing things right the first time are the primary reasons why you prefer the DIY approach, you might as well be shopping wisely as well. Scroll down and you’ll discover what car wash and car detailing supplies work best and why, and what sort of results you can expect in return.
What Does Exterior Car Detailing Entail?
The outside of your automobile is exposed to a slew of unpleasant contaminants. From bird droppings and toxic raindrops, to bug splatter and road deicing salt, it doesn’t take much to transform a vehicle from sleek and clean, to disheveled and dirty.
Washing will only remove so much of this stuff from your car’s exterior too, as deeply embedded contaminants can be a real bitch to remove. This is why choosing the right car shampoo and washing automobiles in a proven method should always be taken into consideration.
But before you head out to the local auto parts store, or search for the cheapest car wash gear online, you’ll need to know what’s required in order to complete a full automotive detailing job. It may sound daunting, but one of the greatest aspects of automotive car care is amassing an impressive arsenal of tools, all based around you and your vehicle’s needs and capabilities.
Wheel and Tire Detailing Supplies
The first (and last) step when detailing a car, is to wash the wheels and tires. This will prevent all of the road grime and brake dust that have been collecting on your vehicle’s rollers from contaminating those freshly polished fenders and rocker panels. Here are a few tips on what you should be looking for in the wheel and tire scrubbing department.
Microfiber Wash Mitt or Towel
You don’t want to scratch your wheels during the cleaning process, which is precisely why a soft, yet durable material like a microfiber wash mitt or multi-purpose microfiber towel are a must.
Just make sure that you follow proper microfiber aftercare procedures in order to keep those space-age detailing textiles in peak form. Oh, and don’t skimp on size, because getting in-between wheel spokes sometimes requires a bit more reach.
Soft Bristle Scrub Brush
Certain rollers, like steelies, and powder coated alloys wheels, can be scrubbed with a wheel-friendly bristle brush. While not necessary in most daily-driven applications, wheel brushes are a must for off-road enthusiasts, as mud-laden wheels are notorious for creating balancing issues.
Look for a wheel brush with medium stiffness bristles and an ergonomic rubber handle that has a silicone protected body, as that will reduce the risk of wheel damage.
Multiple-Purpose Tire and Wheel Cleaner
There are a few attributes you need to look for in a quality tire and wheel cleaner. It should be acid-free, boast a neutral pH-balance, be safe to use on all wheel surfaces and finishes, and it should foam when penetrating brake dust or deep grime.
The foaming portion of things will inform you that the product is working, and will help penetrate hard-to-reach areas and lift grime.
Tire Dressing/Tire Shine and Applicators
Finally, consider procuring a tire shine or tire dressing product, and get a sturdy applicator pad for even disbursement. While tire shine applicator pads tend to be a fairly straightforward purchase (look for something with a comfortable grip and a foam surface that is both absorbent and resilient), selecting the products that they will smear can be a bit overwhelming.
While a super-shiny tire may be attractive to some people, you don’t want too greasy of a formula, or else it will take a while to dry, and can “sling” when you drive the vehicle. There’s nothing quite like having tire goo tossed all over your freshly cleaned fenders for you to realize the significance of this statement. Also, try and avoid anything containing alcohol, as this will dry-out the rubber and lead to cracking.
Quick Tip: Keep your tire and wheel cleaning supplies separate from your other detailing gear. This will make for far easier organization and allocation, and keep cross-contamination risks down.
Car Wash Supplies
In order to wash your car correctly, you’ll need to gather these core car detailing goodies:
- Prep and/or Maintenance Car Shampoo
- Microfiber Wash Mitt
- Wash Buckets (x2)
- Microfiber Drying Towels
- Quality Spray Nozzle
One mistake that many car owners make is using the wrong kind of car shampoo or car wash soap on their vehicle’s exterior. This is especially true when a surface protectant has been applied, for pH extremes have the ability to royally wreck even the best protectant.
For routine washes, look for a maintenance car shampoo that features a pH balance that will play well with everything from natural carnauba wax, to nano ceramic coatings and paint protection films. While a surface prep shampoo can be safely used during extra filthy car wash sessions, finding a car shampoo that can be applied via spray washing equipment like foam gun or a foam cannon will make the task all the more efficient.
Microfiber Wash Mitt
Not all wash mitts are created equal. Look for a microfiber mitt with long chenille noodles that can clean between crevices, and be sure that it has an elastic wrist band for secure scrubbing. Also, try and get a material that advertised as a “professional cleaning quality product,” as that will guarantee that it is both lint and scratch-free, and boasts professional grade build quality. Bonus points if the microfiber mitt can be safely run through the washing machine.
Professional detailing experts and veteran DIY detailers alike agree that using a two-bucket car wash method is the only way to do things on cleaning day. Having a rinse bucket full of clean water helps prevent the smearing of dirt and grime across clean surfaces, as it serves as a “quarantine” bucket, prior to your mitt’s submergence in those car shampoo suds.
When shopping for car wash buckets, keep an eye out for something plastic (just say no to rusty metal buckets), around 5-gallons in size, and ultra thick if possible. While most auto parts stores offer sturdy car wash buckets, they rarely come with bucket roller bases, and are not collapsible for easy storage, so keep moving and storing in mind when it comes time to procure these mandatory tools.
High-Quality Spray Nozzle
Rinsing your vehicle via the use of a high-pressure spray nozzle not only expedites the process, but it also allows you to blast water into hard-to-reach places. Adjustable high-pressure sprayers that are constructed from metal and silicone tend to last longer and offer superior grip, while reducing things like hand strain.
Thick, ultra-absorbent microfiber towels are hands-down the most overlooked, yet mandatory form of removing H2O from a vehicle’s exterior. Microfiber absorbs loads of moisture, reduces the risk of scratching and swirl marks, and dries rapidly. Looks for a microfiber cloth with a GSM of 260 or higher, as this will provide the best balance between absorbency and unicorn-grade fluffiness.
Quick Tip: If you detect some deeply embedded contaminants after completing a car wash, it might be time for a clay decontamination wipe-down. Clay media rules at removing stubborn contaminant build-up, and leaves behind a surface that is ready for buffing and protecting. For more about this vital detailing procedure, be sure to read our blog article on clay media decontamination.
Polishing and Buffing Products
Polishing and buffing an automobile’s exterior is a time-consuming, yet entirely necessary part of the car detailing process. Not only will a thorough polishing deep-clean a vehicle’s clear coat, but it will also remove things like swirl marks and hazing, with the buffing stage adding that satisfying shine you crave.
In order to get the most out of a polishing procedure, you’ll want to gather the following auto detailing supplies and tools.
Liquid polishing/cutting compounds should be obtained in a variety of grades, as this will allow you to remove both heavier build-up, while still safely tackling minor swirl marks and whatnot. The best liquid polishing compounds are offered in a multi-pack kit in varying strengths, and come in resealable squeeze tubes or bottles for precise portion control and product placement.
You have to apply that polishing compound with something, right? So unless you need to work on your forearm muscles, and wish to hand-polish the entire vehicle, we’d suggest sourcing a multi-pack of polishing pads. Look for a kit that has both microfiber and foam pads in various surface textures, as this will allow you to safely and effectively polish any blemish or surface you may encounter.
Polishing pads procured, it’s now time to select a power tool for assisting you with your detailing task. While an electric drill will work in a pinch, a quality orbital polisher will offer multiple speeds, and comes with a far more effective (and potentially less damaging) polishing approach due to its multi-directional rotation.
Look for an orbital polisher that is lightweight, offers an ergonomic grip, and comes with a durable plate for increased polishing pad longevity and security. Overheating can also be an issue with these types of power tools, so opt for an orbital polisher with outstanding heat dissipation ratings to go with all of those power settings and control features.
Finding the Right Car Interior Detailing Supplies
Cleaning and detailing the inside of a vehicle is just as critical as getting the outside gleaming like Paul Newman’s award-winning grin. But properly detailing an automobile’s interior involves a completely different array of gear than what was just used on the outside of the car.
Leather and/or cloth seats, delicate plastics, vinyl dashes, aluminum and real wood trim, Alcantara and Ultrasuede, tinted glass, and swaths of carpet all require their own unique detailing tools and chemicals. Here is what you will want to toss in that shopping cart.
Carpet and Upholstery Brush
Adding a high quality carpet and upholstery brush to your interior cleaning arsenal is one of the smartest decisions you will ever make as a DIY detailer. You are going to want to find a brush that is large enough that it can scour a sizable swath of trunk space, but small enough that it easy to wield.
Carpet brushes with stiff synthetic bristles and pointy edges are particularly useful at dislodging debris build-up in tight corners. We also recommend getting a carpet brush with silicone inserts, as that will aid in both grip and comfort.
You can’t just spray any old interior detailing cleaner on a set of leather seats, or you may discolor and/or damage them. Get yourself a well-reviewed leather conditioner that can be applied in controlled amounts, and be sure that you always apply it to your microfiber applicator cloth, and not directly on the leather in order to prevent uneven spotting issues.
There are a multitude of portable vacuums on the market that can serve as a solid interior detailing “super-sucker,” just be sure to avoid anything with vacuum bags to make clean-up and maintenance as painless as possible. Instead, look for a shop vacuum with rollers, or a super lightweight and compact design for easier movement throughout the cabin.
Microfiber Cloth Multi-Packs
Ever drop a bunch of dough on a ton of high-end interior detailing supplies, only to realize that you have to use a haggard pair of undies as your applicator cloth on detailing day? Don’t be that guy. Put down the whitey-tighties, and grab yourself a multi-purpose microfiber bundle or two, because you really can never have enough clean microfiber cloths in your life.
Detailing Brush Set
While a Q-tip will work in a pinch when it comes to cleaning air vents and in-between plastic trim, and a fresh microfiber cloth will certainly help get the larger expanses of plastic and whatnot, there’s only so much even these tools can accomplish. Having an array of electrostatically charged detailing brushes on hand will make crevice cleaning a cinch, and aid in your dust decontamination assault.
Plastic and Vinyl Restorer
In order to safely wipe-down all of those dusty hard plastics and vinyl interior panels, you’ll need an automotive interior detailing chemical that is approved for use on these specific man-made materials.
Just be sure that you do not use shine-enhancing cleaners on the dashboard, because when the sun comes out, all of those oils are going to evaporate and coat your windshield with an oily sheen. Sticking with a simple microfiber wipe-down will be more than sufficient for cleaning the dashboard.
The final step in any interior detailing procedure, is cleaning the glass. In order to do this, you’ll want to use an automotive-specific glass cleaner chemical, and get a glass-specific microfiber cloth. The latter of the two items will ensure that you are safely removing debris build-up and surface oil, while avoiding streaking and/or scratching the glass.
The best glass cleaners tend to be ammonia-free (just say no to “stank-ass” glass), are guaranteed to not leave residue, offer anti-hazing and dust repelling properties, play well with window tint, and can be safely used both inside and out.
Prepping for detailing day is just as much about having your bolts in a row as it is about knowing how to properly clean a car. Does it mean that you will likely have a tote or two that are brimming detailing chemicals and task-specific tools when you are done? Yep. Will it help you give every little nook and cranny of your vehicle a level of cleanliness that even the average OCD obstetrician will appreciate? You better believe it.
So do yourself and your ride a favor. Make a detailing supply shopping list, do some research, compare product pros and cons, and when it doubt reach out for advice from a professional detailer. For a super clean driving machine is not just a thing of beauty, but a decontaminated investment.