5 Mistakes to Avoid When Detailing Your Car

Going the extra distance for a super-clean automobile requires planning as well as car-specific cleaning products and techniques.


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If you’re the kind of driver who visits a car wash and vacuums your car’s interior once a year, you might be doing a disservice to your faithful ride. If you use the right products and techniques, spending a little extra time and effort on cleaning your vehicle will help prolong its life and boost its resale value.


The Proper Car Cleaning Products

Your collection of old T-shirts, worn towels, and dirty sponges might be great for cleaning a tractor, but if you want to produce professional-level results when you detail your car, you need the right equipment. That starts with necessities such as microfiber cloths, clean sponges, and a soft brush for the wheels.

You should also use cleaning products made specifically for automobiles, not household use. Detergents with higher pH levels can do a great job of removing dirt from a vehicle's painted surfaces, while acidic cleaners (those with a lower pH content) are best used on metal and glass. Personal care products are loaded with moisturizers and other chemicals that could damage vehicle paint or interior surfaces.

Using the Correct Upholstery Cleaner

If debris from drive-through lunches is starting to add up in your car, hit the big stuff with a vacuum cleaner — or a spot cleaner — to get out any spilled coffee or fast-food detritus.

Invest in automotive upholstery cleaners and a brush to help bring your seats and carpeting back to showroom condition. Consider an interior cleaning product that’s not too heavily scented or with dyes that could ruin your vehicle’s interior color scheme.


Avoid Car Scratches

It turns out we all took the advice offered in “The Karate Kid” a little too seriously. Rubbing in circles with a soapy sponge or while applying wax will leave swirl marks in your paint. Those swirls marks are actually tiny scratches in the paint, and while many can be polished out, it’s simpler to avoid putting them there in the first place. Instead, move your sponge or mitt in straight lines by mimicking how the air flows over your vehicle. This will help avoid those telltale signs of misdirected circular elbow grease and produce a longer-lasting glow to paint and polished surfaces.


Cleaning Hard-to-Reach Areas

There’s more to cleaning your car than a quick trip through an automatic car wash. Spend some time getting into places where dirt and road grime accumulate such as door frames, wheels and wheel wells, floor wells, and the seals around your trunk or hatchback, as well as the crevices around brake lamps and bumper/lower fascia.

It helps to polish any chrome trim, which can become discolored or pitted thanks to weather and dirt. And invest in a cleaning gel, which you can squish into tight spots such as air vents and creases in your dash or console to eliminate dust and debris.


Don't Wait too Long

The longer you leave your car dirty after a highway adventure, the harder it will be to get really clean. And some types of stains — tree sap, bird droppings, brake pad residue, and wintertime road treatments — can eat away at your car’s paint if you let them sit too long.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.