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Cleaning Secrets Only Car Detailers Know

Save $200 and detail your car yourself in half a day. Get professional results using these tips from experienced detailers.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

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car washWathanyuSowong/Shutterstock

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. Plus, will a car wash hurt your car’s finish?

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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. A car detailer will use car wash soap for professional car detailing, like Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash. 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.

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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. A car detailer will use a microfiber car wash mitt because the grit falls out when you rinse. Here’s how to wash your car the right way, at home.

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soapFamily Handyman

Use Two Buckets

One for clean soapy water and one for rinse water. After each wipe, dunk your dirty wash mitt in the rinse water bucket and swirl it around to dislodge the dirt and grit. Then dunk it in the soapy water and pick up where you left off. Dump the dirty rinse water and refill with clean water before you move to the other side of the car. That’ll keep the soapy water clean. Here are our favorite ingenious uses for 5-gallon buckets.

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dry carNok Lek/Shutterstock

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, collects 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.

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remove car paint scratches

Remove Minor Scratches Before Polishing

This step is what separates the DIYers from professional car detailing. Polishing increases the shine, but it doesn’t remove scratches. However, if you remove the scratches first with a scratch removal kit and then polish, you’ll get even more shine. Find scratch removal kits at any auto parts store Here’s how to remove minor scratches yourself.

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car polisherFamily Handyman

Buy a Dual-Action Polisher

A car detailer 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.

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waxNor Gal/Shutterstock

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.

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microfiber towelFamily Handyman

Remove Wax Haze With a Microfiber Towel

You guessed it, microfiber towels are the heroes of car detailers everywhere. Wipe off the wax haze using circular motions. As the towel loads with wax, refold it to a cleaner section. Use a second towel when the first one is fully loaded. Fix a car dent yourself for less than $40.

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steering wheelperfectlab/Shutterstock

Start at the Top

DIYers usually start by vacuuming the carpet. That just pushes dirt from the dash, seats and door panels back onto your freshly cleaned carpet. Professional detailers start at the top and work their way down to the carpet.  Use these tips to clean your car carpets properly.

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brushFamily Handyman

Suck It Up As You Go

Use a small detailer’s brush and shop vacuum to remove dust and dirt from all the nooks and crannies on your dash and console. It’s tool of the trade in the world of professional car detailing. Hold the shop vacuum wand near your brush to suck up all the crud as you work your way down to the floor. Flip your wet/dry shop vacuum to wet and see how you can use it when working on your toilet.

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brush vacuum

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. Got leather seats? Here’s how to remove stains, clean and condition your car’s leather seats.

Is your car carpet beyond all hope? Replace it yourself for less than $175.

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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.

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seal lubricantsFamily Handyman

Lubricate Door Seals

You probably wiped off any door seal lubricants when you cleaned the door. Detailers make it a point to re-treat the seals with silicone spray. Spray some on a rag and wipe it around the entire door seal. The silicone prevents the seal from sticking in summer and in winter. Prepare you car for winter with these simple tips.

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dust glass PATIWIT HONGSANG/Shutterstock

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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