illustration: Christy Lundy

How to Detail Your Car Like a Pro

By AMA Staff

There’s no single best way to detail an automobile. But the golden rule for the job is in its name. Getting your vehicle looking its showroom best is all about paying attention to the details—no matter if you’re at home, at a self-serve wash bay or prefer to trust a professional. MacKenzie Marr-Comstock, a detailer at Red Deer’s Mudders Wash, offers some of his top tips for refreshing your ride.

Before you start: Gather your cleaning tools and products, then remove everything you can from inside your vehicle, including floor mats.

1 Prioritize interior vacuuming—moving from high to low. “If you don’t often clean your car, vacuuming can be time consuming,” Marr-Comstock says. “It also helps lessen the dust that can get airborne as you continue cleaning.”

2 Clean vents, crevices and harder-to-reach spaces with smaller tools, like a toothbrush, pick or compressed air. Hold vacuum in free hand to suck up debris while you work.

3 Use a hard-bristled brush to scrub pedals; vacuum up dirt and cleaning product that falls to the floor.

4 Spray the exterior—including undercarriage—with foaming pre-soak detergent, which loosens and lubricates dirt so it doesn’t scratch when washed off. If available, spray degreaser on wheels and rims. Rinse everything with pressure washer.

5 If your wash bay is so equipped, spray on polish, then seal it with a spray-on wax. Rinse using deionized, reverse-osmosis water. (With minerals filtered out, it won’t leave spots once dry.) Dry by hand with a water blade and/or microfiber cloth.

6 Spray floor mats and scrub with all-purpose cleaner. Apply floor mat dressing for a like-new look.

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7 Open doors and wipe jambs, seals and hinges. “There’s always going to be a bit of water in there after you’ve washed the exterior,” Marr-Comstock says.

8 Wipe down all interior surfaces. To disinfect, use a low-concentration (15 percent or less) isopropyl alcohol–based cleaner.

9 Use a terry cloth and warm water to wipe down all surfaces for a professional-looking but cost-effective finish. Wipe lengthwise; using a circular motion will leave noticeable swirls.

10 Use glass cleaner on windows and mirrors, wiping with a microfiber cloth. Polish with a clean, dry shammy towel.

11 Spray on tire dressing to rejuvenate tires. Clean rims with product specific to type of metal—steel, aluminum or titanium.

12 Give interior a final once-over with vacuum. If you’re in a wash bay or garage, move vehicle into sun to reveal any exterior spots that have been missed. Touch up where necessary.

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Useful tools for your detailing arsenal

Vacuum: Preferably a wet/dry model with strong suction
Cleaning products: Use specialized cleaners for different surfaces: glass, upholstery, leather, etc.
Microfiber cloths: For scratch-free cleaning and drying of hard surfaces
Brushes: A hard-bristled scrubbing brush, plus a soft-bristled toothbrush for niches
Compressed air: To blow debris from vents, between seats, etc.
Small metal pick: To carefully remove grime from tight crevices
Pressure washer: For high-powered exterior cleaning
Foam cannon: Attaches to pressure washer to spray pre-soak cleaning solution
Water blade: A squeegee-like silicon tool for quickly wiping water from vehicle exterior

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