46 DIY Car Detailing Tips That Will Save You Money
Get your vehicle looking like new with these simple interior and exterior car detailing tips that you can do yourself.
Destink the Interior
Wash the Windows, Including the Top Edges
Ever notice that line of grime on the tops of windows when they’re partially rolled down? Most people overlook this detail when giving their vehicle a quick wash. A few minutes with Windex and a clean rag is all it takes. Power windows not working? There’s an easy repair.
Clean the Leather
Lubricate Hood Hinges
Plastic and Vinyl Colorant
Rinse Before Washing
If you hit your dry paint with soapy water, you’ll just grind the surface dust and road grit into your paint finish. Professional detailers always start with a clear water rinse to remove as much dust and dirt as possible.
Polish the Finish
Many car owners confuse polishing with waxing. But they’re separate steps. Polishing removes small surface imperfections and scratches and buffs the finish to a shine. Waxing adds more gloss and protects the finish from the elements. Most DIYers skip polishing because they don’t want to invest the money for a polisher or the elbow grease for a hand polish. But polishing your vehicle’s finish is the key to getting the best gloss (pros would never skip it). Apply a dollop of polish to the pad and wipe the pad across a 2 x 2-ft. area. Run the polisher at a slow speed to spread the compound over the entire area. Then boost the speed and let the polisher do the work for you.
Brush Out the Air Vents
Deep-Clean Carpet and Upholstery
Use a carpet cleaning machine to get the deep dirt that settles into the fibers of the carpet. (Clean cloth seats this way as well.) It sprays the carpet with a solution of water and cleaner and then sucks the dirt and grime into a reservoir. A machine like this pays for itself after just a few uses. You can also rent one from a rental center or use a spray-on cleaner and a scrub brush instead.
Replace the Carpet in Your Vehicle
Apply Paint Sealant Yourself
Fix Tears in Leather Seats
Clean the hood Latch
Scrape Off Those Annoying Stickers
Remove Minor Paint Scratches
Use the Right Soap
Dishwashing liquid is the go-to choice for most DIYers. But it shouldn’t be. Dishwashing detergent is simply too harsh. It sucks important oils out of your car’s finish and can actually shorten the life of your paint. Wondering if you might be using the wrong cleaning products inside your home? Check out our list of the best household cleaning supplies and products.
Get a Mirror Finish With Synthetic Wax
Some people swear by carnauba wax. It produces a deep, warm shine. But we prefer the wet-gloss look of the newer synthetic polymer waxes (also known as paint sealant) such as Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax. It’s pricier than other synthetics, but it doesn’t leave a white film on plastic or trim—which is a real advantage. Plus, it’s really easy to apply. Apply the wax to the foam applicator and rub it into the finish with a swirling motion. Then wipe off the haze with a microfiber towel. Swap in a clean towel as soon as the first one loads up.
Eliminate squeaky doors
Remember to Clean Nooks and Crannies
Detailing means just that—finding and dealing with all the trim lines and recesses that a quick once-over cleaning job misses. Wrap a cloth around an old, worn screwdriver (without sharp edges) and spray Simple Green or other all-purpose cleaner on the cloth. Move it gently along the trim lines to pick up the gunk. Keep refreshing the surface of the cloth. Go around all the buttons and controls as well. Follow up with a rejuvenator like Armor All.
Forget the Sponge, Use a Microfiber Mitt
Sponges capture and hold dirt and grit in their large pores. You can wring it out, but the grit will stay put. Once grit is embedded, you may as well wash your car with sandpaper. Detailers use a microfiber car wash mitt because the grit falls out when you rinse.
Wash Carpet and Velour
Slide Seats Forward and Clean Out the Junk
You’ll be surprised by what you find behind the seats. We found a lost cell phone, enough pens and pencils to equip a small office, and enough change for several vending machine lunches. Vacuum the seats, remove the mats and vacuum the carpet. Use a brush attachment for the dash and door panels. Don’t forget to clean out and vacuum those handy door pockets (another source of buried treasure). Learn how to get the best vacuum for the job.
Brush and Vacuum Your Carpet
Automotive carpet doesn’t like to let go of dirt. If you just vacuum it, you’ll leave plenty behind. To remove more dirt, detailers use a stiff brush and scrub the carpet as they vacuum. You’ll see the dirt particles bounce to the surface so you can suck them up with your shop vacuum.
Carpet and Velour Colorant
Suck Up the Dust As You Go
Most DIYers start cleaning the interior by shampooing the carpet. That’s a mistake—you’ll just get it dirty again as you clean the upper surfaces. Instead, start at the top and work your way down. Vacuum the headliner, dash, console and door panels. Then clean all the glass, and dust the nooks and crannies. Sweep the dust out of the cracks with a detailing brush. Catch all that crud right away with your vacuum. Learn more about how to clean and restore your car’s interior.
Add lumbar support
Apply a protective film
You can buy the film online and install it yourself in a few hours for about $120 (or less, depending on the size of the vehicle). It’s not complicated, but it does take practice. So purchase an extra set of film for your mirrors and try it with them first. Once you get the hang of wetting, stretching and squeegeeing the film around your mirror, you’ll find the hood much easier.
Repair Small Paint Chips
The fix we show here is for fresh chips that haven’t started to rust yet. If you see a rust spot, or have a dent along with your chip, you’ll need to do a more challenging fix than we show here. Keep in mind that this repair will be visible under close scrutiny, but if you buy the right touch-up color, it’ll be unnoticeable from a few feet away.
Pluck the Finish
Add graphite to door locks
Forget the Chamois, Dry With a Microfiber Towel
Chamois soak up water, but they don’t pick up any grit that’s left after rinsing. Instead, they just grind those particles into your paint. A microfiber towel, on the other hand, collect the particles. Rinse the towel in clean water to remove the grit. Then wring and keep drying. Here’s why microfiber cleaning cloths work so well.
Wash Plastic and Vinyl
Wash With the Right Suds
Even though hand dishwashing liquid is a great degreaser, it’s not the thing to use on your vehicle’s finish. Yes, it removes dirt, grease and old wax. But it also sucks important oils right out of the paint’s finish. Use it repeatedly and you shorten the life of your paint job. Instead of dish soap, use a cleaner formulated for vehicles (available at any auto parts store). Once you’ve mixed the suds, go one step further—fill a second bucket with clean rinse water. Use it to rinse the wash mitt often. That’ll remove most of the road grit from the mitt to prevent scratches. Then throw the mitt in the washing machine to get it completely clean. When you’re finished, take a few more steps to protect your car’s finish.
Lubricate trunk hinges
Lubricate Window Tracks
Buy a Dual-Action Polisher
Detailers wouldn’t be caught dead without a dual-action polisher. Don’t confuse this incredible tool with a high-speed buffer! Buffers run at much higher speeds and can burn the paint right off your car if you stay in one place too long or press too hard. Polishers are different. They run at lower speeds and oscillate as they rotate. Any DIYer can get the hang of polishing in just a few minutes. Polishing before waxing makes a huge difference, so your investment really pays off.
One more polishing tip from professional detailers—apply the polish to the machine’s pad. Then wipe the pad across your paint. That’ll prevent all the polish from flinging off the pad as soon as you hit the trigger. Learn how to repair chipped paint yourself.
Lubricate Door Weatherstripping
Add a bun warmer
Replace Wiper Blades
Use a Non-Silicone Matte Finish Dash and Vinyl Protectant
Silicone dashboard protectant sprays leave a slick film on your dash that actually attracts more dust, so you’ll have to clean it more often. Plus, a shiny dash reflects into your windshield. That reflection and glare can reduce your vision, especially at night. That’s why professional detailers use non-silicone matte finish protectants. They still look great and they reduce glare. Here are 11 essential tips for keeping your car clean.
Lubricate the gas tank lid
Use Synthetic Wax
Old style paste waxes look great on antique cars. But they don’t produce the same “wet look” as modern synthetic wax, and they don’t last as long. When car dealers sell paint sealant, they’re really just applying a high-quality synthetic wax, which is something you can do yourself for a fraction of the price. Apply synthetic wax in small sections using a wax applicator sponge. Check out this unusual way to use car wax in the kitchen.
Replace seat covers
Aftermarket seat covers cost as little as $50 per seat for a universal-fit style or about $150 per seat for top-of-the- line custom-fit covers. The installation is similar across makes and models. The job takes about two hours for front and rear seats. The only tools you’ll need are a wire coat hanger and some tape to fish the straps under plastic trim pieces (if equipped). Everything else is included with the seat covers.
Finish With the Glass
If you cleaned the inside of your windows before you cleaned the dash and applied vinyl protectant, you’ll just have to clean them again. That’s why detailers save glass cleaning until the very end. Cleaning the windows at this point removes all cleaning and vinyl treatment overspray and leaves you with sparkling clean windows. When it’s time to clean the windows on your house, don’t forget these 10 window cleaning tips from a pro.
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