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Car Detailing / Cleaning Tech Article


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After being asked a few times to do this I thought I would outline the steps to a thorough clean on my new daily. Feel free to throw up any questions in the interim and I will add these as a Q&A in a single post. This will be done in 3 posts outlining the 4 stages I use.

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Stage 1: Wheels, Tyres and Arches

Here are the items I use to do wheels, tyres and arches. Against the screen from the left, Meguiars Soft Wheel Brush, Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner, Meguiars Wheel Brightener, Meguiars Trim Detailer, Microfibre Cloth, Stiff Bristle Brush & a cheap paint brush then along the white towel from left, Meguiars Hot Shine Tyre Gel, Meguiars Yellow Wax, a foam applicator pad & a Meguiars Tyre Shine Applicator.


Weeks of gravel abuse has left wheels and arches absolutely caked in dirt.


This is personal preference but for a thorough detail I like to remove the wheels, obviously you don't have to do this but you will get a better result if you do. Set the wheel aside on something that isn't going to scratch the face (a boogie board I found in the shed), I have chrome wheel nuts that were also covered in shit so I chucked these into the bucket of water & car cleaner to sit. At this time the arch is sprayed in water to remove the loose dirt, it is then sprayed with Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner and then agitated with cheap paint brushes and the stiff brush for any tough areas.


I have just given the arches a quick clean (you can have a couple of go's at it to get it really clean), you can spend hours here depending on how bad they are & how much time you wish to spend doing so. Cleaning the arches out makes clean wheels look that much better as they aren't masked by a background of filthy arches. Once dry I use the trim detailer on any plastic inner guards to restore the black look and if you like (or if they are still in view with wheels back on) spray things like strut bodys or lower arms with silicone spray and thoroughly wipe off afterwards just to clean them up a little.


Just another picture showing the front inner guard tidied up with trim detailer (were a very dull grey before doing so).


At this stage you can turn your attention to the wheel, again placed on something soft, begin with spraying Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner around the face of the tyre and thoroughly agitate with the stiff brush (this will give you a clean tyre to apply shine to). Spray the face of the rim with Meguiars Wheel Brightener (or similar) and agitate with a small paint brush to ensure you get into all the nooks.


Flip the wheel over. This part is personal preference also, however for those with largely open face wheels (ie you can see the barrel of the rim through the spokes) I like to clean this area as it looks haggard having clean wheels with filthy barrel's poking through. Start with a good dousing of Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner and let it sit before agitating with a stiff brush. If tar spotting remains this is where you would wash the wheel off and wipe down the barrel with a tar remover to get it immaculate.


I like to throw some wax around the inside, it keeps it cleaner for longer so you can get away with a spray of water/light clean instead of having to remove the rim again.


For example this is the inner of a rim that has been cleaned and all tar/deposits removed with Iron-X.


Turn the wheel back over, wash the APC and Wheel Brightener from the face of the rim/tyre, dry it off and (again preference give it a light coat of wax and buff off. This is also when you apply your Tyre Shine. For gods sake do not use the spray stuff. It is terrible, degrades tyres, gets everywhere if you spray it while on the car and looks messy. Use a liquid type and wipe it on evenly with an applicator like below, or a foam applicator.


If you dropped the wheel nuts into your bucket, grab them out and give them a wipe off.


Re-install the wheel and admire the difference (Not forgetting to re-tighten the wheel nuts!).


Step back and admire your shiny wheels, tyres and arches and dread the fact you still have to clean 90% of the car.


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Stage 2: Cleaning Paintwork/Polishing Prep

Now the toolkit for paintwork cleaning. Clockwise from top left, Meguiars Lambswool Mitt, cheap paintbrush, a clean cotton drying towel, NXT Car Wash, Meguiars Quick Detailer, Meguiars Clay Bar & Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner.


Start off by hosing down the car to remove any excess dirt, I would normally do this with the waterblaster dependant on the paint condition, I would also (again if you have one) foam the car with the foam lance on the waterblaster, just further helps loosen up the dirt on the paint.


Start going around with All Purpose Cleaner and a small paint brush and clean all the areas that either collect dirt or aren't cleaned with your lambswool mitt. This includes door shuts, boot surrounds, inside the petrol flap, paintwork around the edge of the engine bay, around the headlights, grilles etc you get the picture.


All the nooks and crannies jabbed at with APC and paint brush.


Right, I cant stress the importance of this step. Pop your chosen car shampoo/cleaner in TWO buckets with warm water. You heard right, mix up two buckets to clean your car. One of these buckets will be the wash bucket the other will be the mitt cleaning bucket. The idea is to dip your wash mitt into the wash bucket, wash a section of panel (always work roof down, the lower part of the car is the dirtiest and you dont want to spread it up the car) then wash the mitt off in your cleaning bucket. Dip it back into the wash bucket and continue washing another panel. Doing this means you wash the grit out of the mitt before washing your next panel. Using a sponge etc in a single bucket will mean you end up dragging dirt trapped in the sponge across the panels and this is what causes 99% of the swirling you see in most paints.


Wash the entire vehicle (obviously excluding the wheels) as mentioned, starting at the roof and working down. If you are doing it in sunlight ensure you wash the shampoo off regularly as you work your way around to avoid spotting. Now its clean!...enough to begin claying!


Grime in the bottom of the bucket as mentioned above, imagine this being dragged across your paint and you can see how swirls occur, it's like sandpaper.


Grab your claybar and quick detailer. I split a full claybar in half then mould it out into about the size you see below. Spray the car down with water, this plus your detailer will make a slippery surface for the clay to slide along on. Spray the panel you are working on with a coating of quick detailer and and wipe the clay flat against the surface in circular motions like you would waxing the car by hand.


Fold it over a few times till you have a clean flat piece again when it starts looking like this.


Hose the car down with water again and get it out of the sun to dry off. Just a tip, use water to dry the car off. WHAAAATTTT you say? If you use a gentle stream of water out of the hose and let it sheet across the panel it will drag the bulk of the water off. You can then use your towel to dry it off. If the car has been polished before, it's worth getting a decent quality cotton towel to dry or you may end up inflicting more swirls into the car.


Couldn't get a picture to decently show the swirls (white is one of the hardest colours to see scratches/swirls in dammit!) but you can see on the scoop how dull the paint work is even after a thorough clean. Hence the next step, polishing & waxing!


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Stage 3: Cutting, Polishing and Waxing

Right, onto the good stuff!

Products used in this round as below: Clockwise from top left, Foam Polishing Pad, Kestral DAS-6 DA Polisher, Microfibre Cloths, Autoglym Wax Applicators, Autoglym HD Wax & Meguiars 205 Finishing Polish. I have used 205 Finishing Polish along with a polishing pad because I only wanted to remove the layer of swirls covering the car. Obviously deeper scratches will require a more agressive combination, typically what you will do is tape off a test panel and start with the lightest combination, if this removes all scratches (surface and deeper) then this is what you would continue with, otherwise you would swap to a more agressive pad/compound. There is a fantastic (if a little over the top for most) article on Detailing World for machine polishing explaining steps in more detail http://www.detailingworld.co.uk/forum/s ... hp?t=63859


So as you can see below, this is what I was presented with most of the way around the car, swirls inflicted by poor washing technique.


Starting with a dry pad you will need to prime the pad with polish before you start. I normally do a swirl from the outside to the centre and then work it into the pad with my hands. Once the pad is primed as shown below 4 dots like this is generally enough to do about 1/4 of a bonnet. It will be trial and error when you first start out as to how much polish you need. Too little and the pad will dry out and start flinging lots of polishing dust before you're finished polishing, too much and you'll find the pad looks clogged when you turn it over.


Spread the dots of polish over the section you are going to polish. Some like to tape off the section they are working with (makes for great 50/50 shots on dark coloured car) you don't need to do this if you don't want. Start your polisher on a low setting (I use 2/6) and spread the polish across the section and turn it off again.


How you work the polish in can depend on the brand/aggressiveness of cut. As an example, Meguiars 205 is a polish that has micro granules that break down as you work it in. To start with, I will turn the polisher to a higher setting (about 5/6) place the pad on the panel (so you don't fling polish everywhere) when you start it you want to apply enough pressure that the pad is rotating and a slowish speed, work across the section, then up and down it. I will do 3-4 passes before taking all pressure off the polisher and doing a further 2 passes with just the weight of the machine on the pad. The reason for this, as mentioned on the first passes you are working the granules into the paint as they eat a very fine layer of paint/clear off the top. These granules break down so that when you lift pressure off on the last passes you are cleaning up any scratches you may have inflicted for a mirror flat finish. As a note, always ensure you stop the pad on the panel also as you will again fling polish everywhere if you pick it up then turn it off.


As you can see above and below, on items you don't wish to be polished you can pop some masking tape on. Things like chrome door handles, window trims, plastic pieces, removing washer nozzles etc.


There was also some etching caused by car wash or similar drying on the panel previously as shown below.


Which ended up polishing out nicely!


White is tricky to get a decent reflection from compared to darker cars however after polishing (pre waxing) it was starting to get a shine on.


Have had people ask about milky/foggy headlights before and you guessed it, these can be polished to. Being at the front of the car they get a fair bit of abuse almost like sandblasting. Polish these in the same fashion and you can get a decent result (before on the right).


Same deal for taillights, quick polish and they come up looking like new.


Below you can see what the polish looks like when applied and worked in. It should start looking white and as it is worked into the panel should end up being nearly clear when you have finished all of your passes.


I like to start with the roof, mainly because if you do the roof last you run the risk of rubbing yourself up against panels you have already polished in trying to reach. From there I will typically go, boot, bonnet, guards and doors. Use two microfibre cloths when wiping polish off, the first to get the bulk of the polish, the second to buff it to a shine.


When the whole car has been polished, go around and look for polishing residue. If there's a heap of it you may want to consider giving the car a quick hose off and dry (with a SOFT cotton towel), otherwise just wipe the remnants with a microfibre. Now to put some protection and gloss on the car it's time for a coat of wax. I use a pretty expensive one (Autoglym HD) unless it's a beater then I'll use one of the Meguiars polishes. The better the wax, the longer the protection will last, the better the shine and as I'll show you later, some epic water beading!


Now I'm sure most now how to wax a car, work in small concentric circles ensuring you cover the whole panel. I like to work on a 15 minute time frame to take the wax off again (this will vary, some need longer to work in) the wax should provide a little bit of drag on the microfibre when you buff it off but should not be so dried on that you are forcing it. Again like polishing, use two microfibre cloths, one for taking the wax off, the other to buff the panel to a shine.


When the car is complete, you can go around and inspect for any residual polish you might have missed, pop some trim detailer on your plastic pieces, use a bit of autosol on chrome exhausts to bring the shine back, if you have chrome trim use something like Meguiars Chrome Polish to shine it up again, give your exterior glass a clean and admire your work.


As mentioned, rain makes super fat beads on the paint now instead of just sheeting on the panel and staying there.


One last photo showing the difference in swirl removal on one of the panels, was pretty hard to photograph on white. Will add some more pictures when I detail a darker car to show the difference.


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Stage 4: Interior Detailing

I wasn't going to add this as most know how to clean the inside of a car, so I will add some pictures of the completed process and outline the steps involved.

Get glass cleaner, vinyl reconditioner and clean microfibres.

Start with vacuuming, this will ensure moving around in the car while spraying armourall isn't going to send dust everywhere that will settle on all your clean interior panels. Whip all the mats out and vacuum them outside of the car. Vacuum carpets, seats and all the nooks using a slim nozzle if your vacuum has one. Also if your vacuum has a small brush attachment (looks like a nozzle with bristles all around the outside) go over all of your vents, electronic controls, radio etc with this, it is the simplest way to get all the shit out of these areas without damaging them.

Prior to putting all the mats back in start with cleaning the plastic/vinyl parts in the car. If it's particularly dusty inside, wipe everything down with the wet rag/cloth mentioned above otherwise youll just make a dirty mess when trying to spread vinyl reco around. Don't forget (if you have these) vinyl/rubber door runners, kick panels, plastic parts on the sides of seats etc. When using vinyl reviver or similar protectant I spray onto a microfibre cloth THEN wipe it on. Spraying it onto panels then wiping will make a blotchy mess and on things like speaker grilles will leave you with white dots everywhere that you cant get at. If you are going to clean the steering wheel, use a minimal amount and THOROUGHLY wipe afterwards until it doesn't feel greasy.

Get yourself a pack of glass cleaning cloths and a decent no streak glass cleaner. Don't soak windows when cleaning them. Start with a small amount sprayed and see if it spreads across the whole window without leaving streaks, you'll soon get a feel for how much you need on each window. I like to do all the glass last as if you get any armourall on the windows with overzealous wiping you can always clean this up last.

Pop your mats back in the car and whip round the car with a clean microfibre and wipe all your surfaces down to tidy up any excess armourall/remaining dust. There can be a lot more to interior cleaning but as mentioned most people were interested in hearing how to clean exterior. As shown below, these easy steps clean enough to make a car more than presentable.





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Questions & Answers

Can you recommend an effective way to remove house paint overspray from car paint?

Depends on how long the paint has been sitting on there and the condition of your paint. If it was really set in there you would ideally want to wet sand with 1500+ grit sandpaper, then work through pad/polish combinations from heavy cut (to remove sandpaper etching) through to your lightest polish. I find trying to remove with solvents etc is just to risky as you don't know how the paint will react. You may get lucky if it isn't too far set in and only need a cutting compound followed by polish.

Any tips for fading paint? My partners newish red Corolla is turning pink.

Pretty common with an era of red Toyotas for a while there. Generally the clear coat oxidizes making paint underneath look dull. The idea is to knock the top layer off to bring up some fresh stuff from below. If you don't have a polisher I have heard good things about Meguiars Ultimate Compound which can be applied by hand with a foam applicator. Product here: http://www.smitsgroup.co.nz/p4499v0/Meg ... icator-Pad and being used on a red car here

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Sweet thread man, any tips for fading paint? My partners newish red Corolla is turning pink.

Pretty common with an era of red Toyotas for a while there. Generally the clear coat oxidizes making paint underneath look dull. The idea is to knock the top layer off to bring out some fresh stuff from below. If you don't have a polisher I have heard good things about Meguiars Ultimate Compound which can be applied by hand with a foam applicator. Product here: http://www.smitsgroup.co.nz/p4499v0/Meg ... icator-Pad and being used on a red car here

Added to Q&A :)

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  • 2 months later...

I'm stunned and amazed by how well this kind of work can make a car look, but I have absolutely ZERO patience for doing so myself :D

So Questions... My car's got a paintjob untouched since being sprayed. It's nice and shiny etc, but I'm afraid to do any polishing or anything because I'll probably balls it up and ruin it. Is there anything particular that is done for new paint jobs? I'm guessing having some sort of wax on would be good.

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Wicked thread Alistair.

I also have a question, my car is very very dull and seems like it has lost all it's gloss; Would a light cut and polish help fix this? cheers

Without seeing it in person/photos, yes. Generally the top most layer of the paint or clear oxidises (red toyotas!) so mild cut or polish is taking a few microns of paint off to reveal better paint below (assuming you have enough paint/clear, polishing primer is generally pretty frowned upon!)

I'm stunned and amazed by how well this kind of work can make a car look, but I have absolutely ZERO patience for doing so myself :D

So Questions... My car's got a paintjob untouched since being sprayed. It's nice and shiny etc, but I'm afraid to do any polishing or anything because I'll probably balls it up and ruin it. Is there anything particular that is done for new paint jobs? I'm guessing having some sort of wax on would be good.

Can't remember exact time but I remember reading paint needs to be left to breathe for a while before waxing although yours has been painted for a while? Good thing about new paint is normally lush thickness to work with. Is it orange peely/has it even been wetsanded? Normally after new paint is fully cured its wet sanded flat, heavy cut to remove 2500+ grit sanding marks, then light polish to remove any remaining swirl marks from the heavy cut.

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