40 DIY Car Detailing Tips That Will Change The Way You Do Auto Detailing

DIY car detailing is a great hobby and there are lots of ways to make it easier with some detailing hacks.

I learned some tricks over time that I want to share with you in this post and hopefully they will help you in your own detailing exploits!

Table Of Contents

Tips For Cleaning The Car Exterior

Getting the exterior of a car looking fresh and shiny again is probably the biggest goal of car detailing.

Sure, it is great to have a clean interior, but the classy look of a freshly polished and coated car cannot be beaten.

Check the tips below to find out how to make cleaning the exterior of your car easier.

Clean The Inside Before The Outside

Many people do it the other way around. They start with the exterior and then, once done, start cleaning the interior.

The problem is that you will always touch the outside of the vehicle when you clean the interior, contaminating the paint in the process.

Moreover, you might even get some dirt from the inside on the exterior of the car.

It is much better to clean the interior of the car first, so that any dirt you might put on the exterior in the process is washed away when start on the exterior.

Use A Spray Sealant To Dry Cars

This is one of my favorite tips and it works perfectly.

Most of you probably use a special drying microfiber cloth to dry your car after the washing process (I did so myself for a long time).

But honestly, I never liked it.

The towel is too big, I never really knew how to hold it and I also felt like I was leaving scratches in the clear coat while drying the car.

It is much better to use a spray sealant like the Sonax Brilliant Shine Detailer to dry the car. Just spray some of the sealant on the panel you want to dry and gently go over it with a microfiber towel.

You will be amazed by the result.

Sonax Brilliant Shine Detailer

The best spray sealant in my opinion. Highly hydrophobic which makes drying a car super easy! It also lasts a long time on the car.

All in all a great product that every car enthusiast should own. Get yourself a bottle by following the link!

The wonderful side effect is that your car is now also protected. Awesome right?

If you want to apply a different protection, like a car wax, just go over each panel again with a microfiber towel and some Isopropyl-alcohol.

This will dissolve the sealant and it dries extremely fast.

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Clean And Rinse From Top To Bottom

This is simple and might seem obvious, but many car enthusiasts do not follow this simple trick. Always clean and rinse your car from top to bottom!

Quick Answer

Generally, you should always clean a car from top to bottom for two reasons. Firstly, it avoids pushing dirt from the dirties parts (the rims) to the cleaner parts. Secondly, it means that you only have to clean each body panel once instead of twice, saving you a lot of time.

Cleaning from top to bottom is especially relevant once you start a hand or contact wash.

Cleaning from top to bottom greatly reduces the risk of scratching the vehicle, as the upper parts of the vehicle are usually the cleanest.

Rinse from top to bottom to safe time and be more effective

Panels like the bumper or lower parts of the door are much dirtier than the roof or the hood, for example.

Cleaning the dirty parts first (cleaning from bottom to top) leads to a lot of dirt being stuck in the wash mitt, which can lead to serious scratches when continuing use.

Clean The Wheels First

Even though is is best to rinse a car from top to bottom, it is also best practice to clean the wheels first.

Car wheels are usually the dirtiest part of a car, because they are in contact with the road all the time. Also, they accumulate a lot of break dust, which needs chemical dissolvants to be removed completely.

Cleaning wheels properly will take the most time and you want to avoid getting dirt from your wheels onto the paintwork.

So, as a rule, clean your wheels first but then start cleaning from top to bottom afterward.

Always Use The Two-Bucket-Method

One of the most simple ways to avoid damaging the car while cleaning is using the two-bucket-method when washing the car with a microfiber wash mitt.

Use one bucket to rinse the used wash mitt after you have cleaned a body panel.

After rinsing the wash mitt, put it into the wash bucket filled with water and car shampoo or snow foam. Then you can clean the next body panel.

This method prevents scratches and other kinds of damages, as there will not be any dirt from the car in the wash mitt or the water that touches the car.

Dish Soap Is Not For Car Washing

Many people want to use dish soap to clean their car in order to save money. Is buying car shampoo unnecessary?

No. Always use car shampoo or snow foam to clean your car. I have written an in-depth post here that explains why.

Just remember, dish soap is for dishes and not for cars.

Sonax Actifoam

My car shampoo of choice. I have used the Sonax Actifoam for a long time and it gets the job done, trust me! It can be used as a car shampoo during the contact wash phase and also as a snow foam for pre-washing the car.

Get yourself a bottle by clicking the link!

Snow Foam Can Be Used As Car Shampoo

Snow foam not only looks cool, it can also be used as car shampoo. Especially highly concentrated snow foams like the Sonax Actifoam (which I use) or the Sonax Extreme Richfoam are perfectly suitable as a car shampoo for a hand wash.

This means you do not necessarily have to buy a separate car shampoo if you want to perform a contact wash.

Just use a highly concentrated snow foam and use it as car shampoo.

If you want to learn more about it, check out my article about if you can use snow foam as a car shampoo here.

A Pre-Wash Reduces The Risk Of Scratches When Auto Detailing

Always make sure to perform a good pre-wash procedure before you begin a contact wash.

In the best case, this involves a good and thorough rinse of the car with a high-pressure washer as well as a snow foam treatment and a second rinse.

A pre-wash greatly reduces the risks of scratching the car

If you do not have a foam cannon, a pump sprayer, or snow foam, make sure to buy one.

Every car detailing enthusiast should have a pump sprayer and snow foam.

Adam’s IK Pro 2 Pump Sprayer

There is not much to say for me here. If you don’t at least have a pump sprayer, get yourself one. No discussion.

Click the link to grab one now!

If you do not want to buy these products, but still want to perform a hand wash on your car, make sure to rinse it properly with a high-pressure washer in order to get rid of most of the dirt before you touch the car.

You Do Not Really Need Grid Guards

Now, this is an unpopular opinion, but I really think that you do not necessarily need grid guards. Of course, they do no harm, but spending a lot of money for a piece of plastic is just not a thing I can get my head around.

In my opinion, it is much better to invest in good equipment for a great pre-wash.

Get a great pump sprayer or foam cannon and good snow foam like the Sonax Actifoam instead.

A good pre-wash procedure will get rid of most, if not all, the heavy dirt on the car, leaving only the road traffic film on the paint.

This needs to be taken off with a contact wash, but it is highly unlikely to scratch the paint.

You need to decide for yourself if you want to spend $30 or more for a single car wash bucket with a grid guard, but I am currently not using one and have not found any damages on my car from washing it so far.

Sponges Do More Harm Than Good

Sponges, along with dish soap, are meant for cleaning plates and other dishes in the kitchen. Sponges are quite rough in order to clean anything that is left on a plate after a meal, as it could otherwise harm your health.

Keeping the dishware and utensils in pristine condition is not the primary focus.

When detailing a car, the exact opposite is the case.

Cleaning the car as thoroughly as possible without damaging it is the primary focus and the goal.

Cleaning the car and scratching it in the process is counterproductive and not advisable.

Never clean your car with a sponge. Always use a high-quality microfiber wash mitt when performing a contact wash.

Wheel Cleaner Works Wonders On The Exhaust Pipes

Clean exhaust pipes show that the detailer really cares about the car.

They also show that the detailer takes his or her job seriously and does not only clean the big body panels where a detail is most noticeable.

Cleaning the exhaust pipes can be a lot of work, as they are always hot and any dirt on them is most likely stuck on hard and maybe even burned into the metal.

This is where wheel cleaner comes in handy and can do wonders.

Wheel cleaner is especially designed to get rid of dirt like tar, mud, brake dust, or other types of dirt that the paint work does not get in contact with often.

This makes it the perfect cleaning agent for cleaning the exhaust pipes as well, as it is much more potent than regular car shampoo or snow foam.

Just spray some wheel cleaner on the exhaust pipes and use the wheel brush on them. Rinse off with water and the exhaust pipes will look much better.

Restoring Headlights Is Easier Than You Might Think

Foggy and old headlights are a reason why many people do not like to drive in the dark.

And sure, this makes a lot of sense. If you cannot see properly, how are you supposed to drive safely?

But headlights are super easy to restore and a headlight restoration can be performed by anybody.

Buy a headlight restoration kit, or just some plain sand paper with different grits ranging from coarse to very fine, and start sanding the headlights.

3M Headlight Restoration Kit

If you have foggy or dirty headlights, just get yourself this Headlight Restoration Kit from 3M. It will make your headlights shine bright like a diamond.

Click the link here to grab a kit!

Make sure to apply a UV protectant afterwards, as UV radiation is one of the main reasons for hazy headlights.

Chris Fix has a great video on how to restore headlights.
Check it out below!

Only Use A Clay Bar When It Is Absolutely Necessary

Everybody who has used a clay bar knows that it works wonders, leaving the car’s paint exceptionally smooth afterwards.

This is also, sadly, what might make you clay your car too often. Claying is very good if you have dirt, tar, or wax stuck to the paint that a normal contact wash cannot remove.

It is, moreover, necessary as a tool for preparing the paint to be polished.

But car clay is not a tool that should be used for every maintenance wash.

Clay removes dirt in a very safe way, but it is slighty abrasive nevertheless and can damage the paint if used improperly or too often.

Clay your car once or twice a year at most, or whenever you apply a fresh layer of car wax.

Save Money And Make Your Own Clay Lubricant

As mentioned in the previous tip, improper usage of car clay can lead to scratches and damaged paint.

The main factor that contributes to this is not using enough clay lubricant when claying a car.

It is totally understandable if you want to save on clay lubricant, as this product is very expensive and does not last long, given the amount needed to clay a car.

But instead of saving on clay lubricant, it is much better to use a DIY lubricant. Just mix water and your favorite car shampoo or snow foam and you will have a great lubricant.

You have to experiment in order to find the best ratio, but as a rule of thumb, a 10 to 1 ratio of water to product normally works great.

Ceramic Coatings Are Expensive But Absolutely Worth It

If you are like me, you find ceramic coatings extremely satisfying. The only problem is that they are also quite expensive to apply.

The paint needs to perfectly prepared and then the product needs to harden for a few days. Is all the hassle worth it in the end?

Adam’s UV Advanced Ceramic Coating Kit

Cermaic coating your car is like giving it a spa day off and rejuvenating it completely.
At the moment, ceramic coatings are the best form of car protection out there that can be applied by yourself.

If you want the best, click the link below to get it!

If you are a car enthusiast, the clear answer is “yes”. Ceramic coatings are extremely durable, hydrophobic, and protect the paint from almost all kinds of dirt.

How exactly does that all work? Check out the video below.

Try To Avoid Zippers When Cleaning Your Car

The goal of car detailing is to make the car look its best and cleanest without damaging it in the process.

When it comes to the proper equipment, most people start to talk about the perfect wash mitt, the best car shampoo, or the right wash bucket.

Interestingly, almost nobody talks about the right clothes to wear when detailing a car.

To be honest, almost everything can be worn when detailing a car, but the only thing to avoid is zippers.

Most zippers are made of metal, which will easily scratch the very sensitive clear coat of a car.

Just consider how often you have to reach over certain body panels or get close to the car in order to clean it properly!

Every time you do this and you have a zipper on your clothes, you run the risk of scratching the paint. It is better to avoid zippers altogether when detailing a car.

Apply Ceramic Coating To The Plastic Parts Of The Exterior

As mentioned above, ceramic coatings are very expensive, but absolutely worth it.
Not only are they worth it for protecting the paint, they also make dull, black plastic parts of the exterior look new and shiny again.

In addition, they also protect them from wear and tear, keeping them in pristine condition for a long time. Try it out. It really is worth it!

Tips For Cleaning The Car Interior

When it comes to car detailing, many people just consider the exterior of the car. Nevertheless, the interior is the place where you spend most time as the driver, so you should make sure to clean and detail the interior properly.

Check the below tips to make interior car detailing easier and faster.

Use A Matte Finish On The Dashboard

The dashboard tends to get dusty quickly, so it needs to be cleaned regularly. You should apply a finishing product to make the color look vibrant again.

Just make sure to use a matte finish on the dashboard instead of a glossy one. A glossy one might look much better at first glance, but it can become a safety risk when the sun starts to shine.

Glossy finishes are known to reflect the sunshine, dazzling you as the driver as a result. This is both annoying and unsafe, so make sure to use a matte finish on the dashboard.

Never Spray Anything On The Interior Directly

No matter what kind of product you use to clean the interior, make sure to never directly spray it on the surface you are about to clean.

Always spray the product into the detailing brush or microfiber towel you are using.

Always spray directly into the microfiber towel when cleaning the interior

This prevents the cleaning product from getting on other surfaces and leaving spots or even discoloration in the process.

This is especially true for upholstery like leather.

Vinegar Can Be Used To Clean The Interior

It’s absolutely understandable to not want to spend a lot of money on products for car detailing.

There are dozens of different products to choose from, each with a seemingly unique purpose.

When it comes to cleaning the car’s interior, you can make your life easier by using vinegar. I have written a long article on it here, so make sure to check it out.
Long story short: vinegar is safe on almost all surfaces inside a car and can easily be used as a cleaning product. It can be used without any problems on all vinyl parts inside the car.

Vacuum As You Clean The Inside

The interior of a car normally does not encounter the same type of dirt that the exterior does.

The most common types of dirt inside a car are dust, sand, and other small particles.

In order to get rid of them, it is best to vacuum while simultaneously using a detailing brush on the inside.

This way you loosen up the dirt with the brush and vacuum it at the same time. This prevents the dirt from flying around in the car and settling at a different spot.

This small hack just makes cleaning the interior much easier and faster.

Clean The Carpets With A Magic Eraser

Magic erasers are slightly abrasive, which makes them a great tool to clean stains in car carpet.

Spray the stain with your favorite carpet solution or just use some soapy water and scrub it with the magic eraser. The carpet will look much better after this kind of treatment.

Tips For Microfiber Towels And Mitts

Microfiber towels are the go-to piece of equipment for any car detailing enthusiast.

They are an absolute must-have and it would be impossible to clean a car properly and safely without them.

The tips below will help you get the best out of this versatile piece of car detailing equipment.

Fold Your Microfiber Towels To Be More Efficient

Most car enthusiasts tend to have a lot of microfiber towel laying around everywhere.

Nevertheless, it is important to be efficient when using them.

The best trick I know is to fold the microfiber towel you are about to use in half two times. This gives you eight sides of microfiber towel to use and maximizes efficiency.

Folding the microfiber towel maximizes the efficiency and makes it easy to distinguish dirty parts from clean parts

This is a very quick tip and it is much better to use a microfiber towel this way than to use it all crumpled up.

Microfiber Wash Mitts Have Two Sides

Once you start a contact wash with two buckets and a microfiber wash mitt, the game of washing and rinsing begins.

In order to be more efficient and avoid rinsing the wash mitt all the time, make use of the second side of the wash mitt. You can easily and safely clean one body panel with one side of the wash mitt, then flip it over and clean another body panel with the second side before having to rinse it in the rinse bucket.

This small trick will safe you a lot of time when cleaning the exterior of your car.

Do Not Put Your Hand Inside The Microfiber Wash Mitt

Wash mitts look like gloves and many people use them like gloves, sliding their hand inside the wash mitt when cleaning their car.

If you watch professional car detailers, you notice that most of them do not do this.

Instead, they use the microfiber wash mitt like a microfiber towel. The reason behind this is that it saves a lot of time.

Wash like a professional and do not put your hand inside the microfiber wash mitt

If you use the wash mitt like a glove, you have to “undress” the wash mitt every time you rinse it.

If you use it like a microfiber towel, you can rinse it much faster, saving you a lot of time.

Glass And Windshield Tips And Tricks

Cleaning the windshield and windows can be very frustrating, as they tend to get very dusty over time and many cleaning techniques may even leave streaks on the glass.

The tips and tricks below will show you some ways that make cleaning glass less frustrating and more effective.

Clean Your Windshield And Windows Last

Cleaning glass can be frustrating on its own, as streaks and other problems occur frequently.

But it is even more frustrating to clean the glass properly just to make it dirty again while cleaning the rest of the car.

This is why you should always clean the windows and the windshield last. It should be the last step when detailing your car, after cleaning the interior and exterior.

This prevents the glass from getting dirty again while you detail the rest of the car, which would otherwise force you to clean the glass again.

Clean the outside of the windshield before cleaning the inside

A foggy, grimy, and dirty windshield is something nobody enjoys, as it worsens the visibility massively.

So cleaning the windshield properly is a very important task of every car detailer and car detailing enthusiast.

In order to make this process easy and reliable, you should always clean the outside of the windshield first before cleaning the inside.

The reason is that the dirt on the outside of the windshield is much easier to notice and remove.

If you cleaned the inside of the windshield first, which is mostly oily and does not have bugs and other easily noticeable dirt on it like the outside, you would never know if the dirt you see is inside the car or on the outside of the windshield.

Cleaning the outside of the windshield before the inside makes sure that you have a super clean windshield afterwards.

Clean The Inside Of Your Windshield Properly

As already mentioned above, a dirty windshield not only looks bad but is also potentially a danger.

So a clear windshield is key to feeling safe when driving.

Interestingly many people only really clean the outside of the windshield and totally forget about cleaning the inside as well.

This is bad practice, as the inside of the windshield can get very grimy and oily over time, as oils from the dashboard evaporate.

This oily film on the inside worsens the visibility a lot more than a few insects on the outside of the windshield.

Especially during night drives, you might notice how your visibility is reduced and how lights seem blurry.

You might even notice oily streaks on your windshield. These come from the oils inside the dashboard and the interior in general.

In order to feel safe while driving, make sure to properly clean the inside of the windshield, as well as the outside of the windshield.

This will leave the windshield free of any streaks and will give you the best visibility whenever you drive your car.

Magic Erasers Are A Helpful Tool For Glass Cleaning

Some dirt on the windshield might seem to be stuck on quite stubbornly and it cannot be removed with regular glass cleaner.

If this is the case for you, try cleaning the windshield with a magic eraser.

As long as it is used while in a wet state, it is safe to be used on the outside and inside of the glass.

In fact, magic erasers are perfect for glass cleaning, which is why I wrote a dedicated article about it here. Check it out!

Superclean Your Windshield With Glass Polish

Some stains on a windshield just seem to not be removable no matter what type of cleaning procedure you perform.

Moreover, if your water source is comprised of hard water, mineral stains can evolve over time.

These stains are very hard to get off, even with a magic eraser.

Glass polish is amazing at super-cleaning car glass

The easiest way to super-clean a windshield is with glass polish, which I highly recommend. It is a very simple, effective, and cheap alternative to scrubbing the windshield for ages without a satisfying end result.

You do not even need a polishing machine, as there are glass polishes that come with an applier like the Glaco Soft 99 Glass Compound that I currently use.

Glaco Windshield Cleaner

This easy to use windshield polish is great for cleaning the outside of your windshield properly. Easy to use, quick, cheap, and effective. Absolutely a no-brainer to buy this product.

Click the link below to get it for yourself!

Polish the windshield in a crosshatch pattern, going left to right first and then top to bottom. This will leave the windshield thoroughly cleaned. Moreover, this will reduce the need to use the windshield wiper, as the cleaned windshield is super smooth after the polishing stage, which will result in great water sheeting.

Car Wax On The Windshield Is Awesome

What is even more awesome than a clean windshield is a windshield that stays clean for a long time and that is protected from any kind of debris and industrial fallout.

In order to protect your windshield after cleaning it, you can apply a thin coat of car wax onto it. This will cover the glass and protect it.

Moreover, it will increase water beading and water sheeting drastically, making it easier to drive in the rain as the windshield will be crystal clear most of the time even without using the windshield wipers.

Apply the wax in a crosshatch pattern. Then you have to wait until it is dry. Most waxes take a few minutes to dry, but the easiest way to test is to push your finger over the wax with some pressure.

Once the wax starts to crumble up, it has dried fully and you can buff it off with a microfiber towel.

Do Not Forget To Clean These Spots

The level of car detailing can be determined at some certain spots that many beginners tend to forget easily.

A professional car detailer would never forget these spots, so I have decided to list them below, so that you can make your car look even better after you have detailed it.

Do Not Forget The Fuel Filler Flap

The gas intake is the spot that gets forgotten most of the time by beginners. I find it sad to have a clean car and the moment you have to refuel your car and open the fuel filler flap, you see how dirty the car still is at some spots.

The fuel filler flap is easy to overlook, but extremely dirty most of the time

This scenario is easy to prevent. Just open the fuel filler flap when you perform the pre-wash and make sure to spray some car foam on the flap to clean it properly.

Also make sure that you wash it during the contact-wash phase. It does not take long, but shows a lot of attention to detail and makes the job look better overall.

Brush Your Wheel Wells

The wheel wells are another spot that often gets overlooked when cleaning a car. Sure, you can argue that they will get dirty again in no time.

Nevertheless it is crucial to clean them in order to prevent rust and make the detailing job look the best it can.

Make sure to spray some snow foam into the wheel wells and brush them when you perform the pre-wash.

Not only will it look good, it will also wash away any salts and other debris that can cause nearby metal parts to rust.

Do Not Forget The Inside Of The Door Panels

The inside of the door panels is a similar spot to the fuel filler flap in terms of effect.

There is nothing worse than a beautiful and shiny car from the outside that you notice to be very dirty as soon as you open the door and to get in.

Always make sure to clean the inside of the door panels. It can be done easily during the contact-wash phase.

Just take the wash mitt with some shampoo and water and gently clean the insides of the door panels.

You will thank youself for this later.

Make Sure To Clean The Top Of The Windows

Most of the time, no matter if it is during a drive or when washing the car, the windows are closed.

This makes it easy to forget about the top of the windows that are actually not noticeable, as the top part of the window is inside the door gasket.

Nevertheless, this spot tends to get dirty over time and should be cleaned as well.

Make sure to clean the top part of the windows as well by lowering them slightly.

Use your favorite glass cleaner to clean them before booting the windows up again.

Clean The Inside Of The Trunk

No matter if you drive a hatchback or a limo, make sure to open the trunk during the contact wash and clean the inside.

Clean the inside of the trunk to make your car look perfect

Just go over the inside of the trunk gently with the wash mitt (preferably after you have washed the complete car, as the trunk interior can be very dirty) and clean it.

This can be done easily and gives the car a better look overall.

Make Your Pedals Look New Again

The pedals are one of the dirtiest spot inside the car, given that they are always in contact with the sole of the driver’s shoes.

This means that any kind of dirt from the outside can stick to them, making them extremely dirty and grimy.

Even though the pedals are not very noticeable, they should be cleaned from time to time.

They happen to be very easy to clean, so it does not take much time. Just spray some interior detailer into a microfiber cloth and rub the pedals clean.

This will make the inside of your car look much better, guaranteed!

Slide Your Seats Forward And Backward When Vacuuming The Inside

When vacuuming a car, there are lots of spots that are hard to reach or easy to forget. One of these spots is the area below the seats.

Most seats are not moved regularly, so dirt will accumulate under them easily.

In order to vacuum the car most effectively, make sure to move the front seats forwards and backwards in order to clean every spot below them.

You will most likely be surprised how dirty the area below the front seats is.

Move The Gear Lever To Clean It Completely

This tip is especially crucial if you have an automatic transmission.

In order to make the detail look professional, it is important to move the gear lever through all positions and clean it simultaneously.

This will make sure that you get rid of any dirt.

Black Tires Make Your Car Look Awesome

Tires touch the ground all the time and get dirty extremely quickly.

Nevertheless cleaning the tire flanks is easy and gives the rubber a nice shine, which looks awesome. And you do not even need tire dressing to achieve this.

Whenever you clean your wheels with snow foam, just scrub the tire flank with the wheel brush as well.

This will get rid of most of the dirt and make the tires look awesome.

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge