Car Detailing – What Does a Full Detail Include?

Detailing your car is the most effective way to keep it pristine and comfortable to ride in. A clean vehicle is also more valuable and lasts longer. However, detailing is complicated, and you may be wondering what a full car detail looks like.

A full car detail includes washing and cleaning every visible part of your car. The vehicle interior is vacuumed, wiped, and polished, while the floor mats are removed and brushed. Meanwhile, the exterior, including the tires, gets thoroughly washed, rinsed, dried, and waxed.

In this article, I’ll go over everything included in a full car detail. Along the way, you’ll also learn some helpful pro tips and tricks to get the most out of your cleaning and ensure you always ride in style and comfort.

What Does a Full Car Detail Include?

A complete detailing involves tidying up every visible part of your car, both the exterior and interior. Ideally, this procedure ensures that your vehicle stays looking brand new.

Here’s what a full car detail includes:

Detailing may seem like a lot of work, especially if you’ve never done it before. However, this process is the best way to preserve your car’s appearance and value. 

Below, I’ll dive into the specifics of what fully detailing both your interior and exterior includes.

If you decide to fully detail your car yourself, remember to start at the top and work your way downwards. A top-to-bottom approach saves you time on having to reclean certain parts and wiping away water that drips down as you clean.

What Does a Full Interior Detail Include?

Your vehicle’s cabin can quickly accumulate dirt, trash, and blemishes as you drive. This accumulation of dirt is particularly prominent if you tend to eat in your car. Thankfully, interior detailing provides a comprehensive cleanup to every part of your car’s inside.

Here’s what a full interior detail typically includes:

  • Vacuuming
  • Window and mirror cleaning
  • Wiping down and polishing
  • Leather treatment
  • Steam cleaning and brushing
  • Touch-up and vacuuming again
  • DeodorizingWashing and hand drying

Below, I’ll explain each step more thoroughly.


After removing any personal items and trash, vacuuming is the first step in interior detailing. 

Ideally, it’s best to use a portable vacuum when cleaning your car, but your home vacuum’s hose with a brush attachment can work pretty well too.

Don’t limit your vacuuming to the carpet—you should also go around your console, the edge of the doors, and between your seats. Consider removing the floor mats as well so that you can clean under them.

Pro tip: Vacuum your air vents! It’s challenging to clear the dust in your air vents with a cloth or wipe, and vacuuming will clean this area up quickly.

Window and Mirror Cleaning

The inside of your window can accumulate all sorts of grime, including finger smudges, dirt, and droplets from coughs and sneezes.

Ideally, windows should get wiped down with microfiber cloths and ammonia-free window cleaners. Using dish soap or other non-window cleaners will leave unsightly streaks and scuffs on your window. Paper towels may also leave blemishes. 

Wipe down your rearview mirror using a window cleaner, as a clear view is crucial for safe driving. This safety is essential at night when headlight glares can magnify blemishes.

Pro tip: If your dashboard has a glass face, make sure you wipe that down too.

Wiping Down and Polishing

Next, it’s time to tackle your cabin’s panels and hard surfaces.

For starters, you want to use a microfiber cloth and an interior car cleaning solution. After applying the spray or liquid, gently wipe all the surfaces and scrub away any noticeable blemishes.

Start at the top of your car’s inside and work your way down; otherwise, you’ll have to go back and wipe away any drips.

Once the surfaces dry, you can consider polishing the interior with car wax. Using wax can add a shiny luster to the wood and vinyl panels.

Pro tip: Avoid using all-purpose cleaners on your car’s leather seats. The seats require specialized leather cleaners and conditioners, which I will get into next.

Leather Treatment

Leather is perhaps the most sensitive material in your car’s interior. Due to its sensitivity, you must detail it with a leather cleaner and conditioner, not just soap and water. Here’s a helpful YouTube video on how to clean and condition the leather seats in your car:

Using the wrong treatment for your leather can cause it to deform, tear, or lose color.

In contrast, leather cleaner and conditioner revitalize your car seats. The solution adds gleam, enhances patina, and helps remove any marks.

Pro tip: Many steering wheels today are leather-coated. Check if yours is, and remember to treat it correctly.

Steam Cleaning and Brushing

Do you have caked-on mud in your car that stubbornly resists any wipes or vacuuming? 

That’s where steam cleaning and brushing come in.

The hot water vapor from steam cleaners is excellent at softening those tough, muddy spots. Once they’re softened, scrubbing with a brush breaks them down further so they can be vacuumed or wiped up.

If you haven’t already, remove your floor mats for this part. They’ll likely require the most scrubbing, and doing them separately is a lot easier.

After using the steam cleaner, allow your carpet and mats to dry thoroughly. Without proper drying, the mats will start to grow odorous mildew that’ll require more cleaning to eliminate.

Pro tip: Wear steam-resistant gloves while using your steam cleaner to be safe. 

Touch-Up and Revacuuming

Now that you’re done with most of the hard work, it’s time for some final touching up.

At this point, you should:

  • Look for any lingering smears, streaks, or drips.
  • Pick up any trash and leftover cleaning supplies.
  • Readjust the seats if you moved them.
  • Do a final vacuum of your carpet and mats to collect lingering debris.
  • Replace your floor mats.


Finally, you want to leave your automobile smelling as great as it looks.

The most straightforward way to accomplish this is with a car freshening spray or deodorizer. Just a couple of spritzes can keep your car’s cabin smelling clean and pleasant for days.

Alternatively, consider putting a reusable scent clip in your cabin. Much like a plug-in air freshener, you simply leave these attached to your sun visor or vent covers and replace the scent pod as needed.

Research suggests that certain smells, like the orange scent, can improve our mood and decrease anxiety. So, don’t skip out on perfuming your cabin!

What Does a Full Exterior Detail Include?

A complete exterior detail tackles those tough mud spots, bug splats, and other outer blemishes. By the end of this process, your car will shine like it just rolled out of the dealership.

Here’s what a full exterior detail typically includes:

  • Washing and drying
  • Claying
  • Polishing and window cleaning
  • Tire and rim care
  • Sealing

I’ll go over each one in more detail below.

Washing and Drying

A full exterior detail involves washing your car and drying it by hand.

For the best rinse, you want to use a high-pressure hose as the sheer force of water can effectively break up caked-on grime and filth.

After rinsing comes the application of a car cleaner, like snow foam. You want to leave this cleaning agent to soak for a few minutes at least, so it can soften up any dirt. Once you’ve soaked your exterior for a while, wash the solution off along with all the dirt it collected.

When you’re done cleaning off the dirt, dry the exterior by hand as this will help prevent drip marks.

Pro tip: Be sure to wash your undercarriage! Dirt can quickly pile up there and eventually cause mechanical issues.


Claying is a crucial part of exterior detailing. This procedure is used to get rid of those unsightly marks that soap and detergent can’t handle.

Clay bars on their own are pretty abrasive, and it’s best to use a clay luber (or “lubricant”) to prevent any harmful friction.

Apply the luber generously and gently scrub over your car’s body with the clay bar. If your clay bar starts looking dirty, fold it in half to get a new clean side.

Here’s a helpful YouTube video on how to clay bar your car: 

Pro tip: Wipe with your clay bar in straight, overlapping lines. Not circles.

Polishing and Window Cleaning

This is the part where you give your ride that extra shine it deserves.

Once the water or clay luber dries, start buffing your car’s body with a microfiber cloth and a little car polish. You can also utilize a machine polisher or buffer for this part, if you own one.

This is also a good time to wipe your windows and side view mirrors with a glass cleaner. 

Pro tip: Softer buffing pads are better for dark-colored cars (like black or blue). Rougher pads can leave noticeable buffing marks on dark surfaces.

Tire and Rim Care

Complete exterior detailing isn’t just about your car’s body; it’s also crucial to wash the wheels.

The best way to clean tires and rims is with a combination of wheel cleaner and snow foam. After rinsing those solutions off and drying, consider applying a ceramic coating for extra protection.

Pro tip: Remove your rims for cleaning to get the best results. Full details also entail washing the brake calipers.


Once all else is done, it’s time for sealing. For this process, you can use either car wax or ceramic coating

Both protect your car’s exterior from weather and mitigate the damage to your paint from the sun’s UV rays. Additionally, sealants help preserve that freshly-detailed luster. 

Sealing is also useful as it makes detailing your car much quicker next time.

Pro tip: You can apply both car wax and ceramic coating, but it’s considered overkill. Car wax is typically easier to use, while ceramic coating lasts longer, so choose accordingly. Graphene coating (a type of ceramic) is also effective at sealing your vehicle’s exterior and preserving color.

Does Car Detailing Include Car Wax?

A full car detailing includes the application of car wax or ceramic coating. This protective coating isn’t limited to your vehicle’s body—you should also apply sealants to your tires, rims, and interior panels.

Ceramic coating continues to rise in popularity as an alternative to car wax. However, both types of sealants give your automobile that extra bit of luster and shine. 

Furthermore, both treatments help protect your car’s paint from sun damage and deterioration. Not to mention, they provide a clear coat of defense against flying debris, bugs, and unpleasant weather conditions.

If you can find and afford graphene coating, consider using it as it’s arguably the best sealant for your ride. Graphene not only offers superior surface and paint protection; some coats can even last up to ten years!

What Are Different Types of Car Detailing?

The different types of car detailing include:

  • Interior detailing 
  • Exterior detailing
  • Full detailing
  • Basic detailing/car wash
  • Complete restoration
  • Showroom detailing

Here’s a more detailed look at the most common types of car detailing.

Type of DetailingDescription
Interior DetailingA thorough cleaning of the inside of your vehicle. It includes vacuuming, steam cleaning, brushing, wiping down, and polishing. It’s also common to perfume or deodorize the car after cleaning.
Exterior DetailingTargets the outer parts of your car, including the tires, rims, undercarriage, and mirrors. Exterior detailing starts with washing the car followed by clay barring, polishing, and protective sealing.
Full DetailingA comprehensive cleaning of your entire vehicle, both the exterior and interior. Ideally, it leaves your car looking new, aside from any structural damage or natural color degradation.
Basic detailing/Car washWhile driving, you may spot affordable roadside car washing services. Most focus on a quick, convenient clean up rather than a thorough one. These services rarely include sealing, tire care, or steam cleaning.
Complete RestorationRestoration is a surefire way to make your car look brand new. However, these services can be a bit pricey. In addition to a full detail, restoration may entail paint correction, window tinting, and replacement of cosmetic parts.
Showroom DetailingThis service is for show cars at dealerships, museums, and events. It includes detailing under the hood to make engine components look pristine. This detailing often involves historically-accurate restoration for classic car models.

Why Is Fully Detailing Your Car Important?

After seeing what goes into a full detail, you may be wondering if it’s worth the time and money.

Fully detailing your car is important if you want to improve its aesthetics and longevity. A full detail extends your vehicle’s lifetime in addition to giving it that ‘new car’ gleam and cleanliness. The procedure also increases and helps maintain your car’s resale value.

Additionally, traveling in a clean and fragrant car is comfortable and pleasant in contrast to driving a dirty, smelly car covered in scratches.

Try to fully detail your car at least two or three times a year. It’s also an excellent idea to lightly clean your vehicle every other week, between details.

Key Takeaways

  • Full details clean virtually all visible parts of your car
  • Full details help you get the most out of your ride
  • Detail starting at the top of your car and work towards the bottom
  • Exterior detailing includes the tires, rims, and undercarriage
  • Don’t miss your air vents and mirrors when interior detailing
  • Sealant helps the detailing last longer


Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge