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Discover How to Detail Your Car at Home

By John Laszkow | March 20, 2018

With Winter in our rear-view mirror and Spring on the horizon, it’s almost time for Spring cleaning. Now when I say Spring cleaning, I don’t just mean dusting above the cabinets and cleaning the window blinds inside your house. The car in the driveway is going to need some love too. How many people do you know treat their cars more like an extension of their bedroom in the winter time than when the weather is pleasant? I’ve seen plenty of wrappers, empty bottles, clothes, and even ashes in people’s cars, and I’m not saying I’m innocent either. It’s easier for people to take their vehicle to the local car wash in the winter time, but when the weather gets nicer why waste the money when you can do it yourself? Some drop big dollars at a dealership getting their car detailed. In this article, I will tell how to save that money by detailing your vehicle at home by yourself when the weather gets nicer. I will let you know everything you need to have and everything you need to know to turn your car from clean to shining like new. The small details can make a world of a difference on both the interior and exterior of your vehicle. I will also talk about getting extended protection after your car is clean and ready to ride.

First off, let’s talk about the difference between cleaning/washing and detailing your car. Washing your car is pretty much hitting it with some soapy water and a rag on the outside, and then waxing it. Cleaning your car’s interior requires vacuuming and wiping down inside components with something like Armor All wipes. Detailing a car is hitting all the small points in between. Detailing a car is the difference between clean and shimmering like new. People tend to not want to hit the little details because they are harder to reach. When you go to a dealership to get your car detailed, you should expect to pay between $50-$125 for a standard sized vehicle and between $75-$150 for an SUV or van. These essential detailing services should include a wash, wax, interior vacuuming, interior polish, window wash, mirror and trim cleaning and tire cleaning. Upgraded packages will have even more attention to detail. These packages should use a higher quality cleaning product, specialized equipment for vintage cars, boats, motorcycles or RVs, a superior wax, steam cleaning of the carpets, and cleaning of leather upholstery. Upgraded detailing packages usually cost between $150 and up for regular sized vehicles and $175 and up for an SUV and vans.

Next, let’s talk about everything you’re going to need at home to detail your car or truck yourself. It’s obvious you’re going to need a bucket of soapy water and a rag to clean the outside of your car, but what about the items to make the most of your detailing. The first thing you’re going to need is a vacuum cleaner for both wet and dry surfaces. Make sure the vacuum cleaner has many attachments, specifically for hard to reach or tight places and areas. Besides the rags on the outside, you’re also going to want terry cloth towels, thin cloth rags, and microfiber rags for the inside. You’re also going to want to have Q-tips and cotton swabs to clean the tracks your seats are on. Some other items you’re going to want to have include: canned air, plastic spray bottles, carpet stain cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, toothbrushes or paintbrushes, upholstery cleaner, and a surface protector (for leather or vinyl surfaces).

So now you’re ready to detail your motor vehicle, the first thing to do from here is start from the inside and work your way out. If you clean the exterior first, you risk messing it up when cleaning the inside. Start with the carpets on the inside, vacuum them thoroughly, then remove stains with a stain remover and a brush. For mild stains, make sure you dilute the cleaner with water in a spray bottle. Let the carpets dry thoroughly (try to use as little moisture as possible to stop mildew), clean them with a stiff brush, and then lay them outside to dry completely. When the mats are drying, you can start to clean the seats and upholstery. Vacuum the seats, and then use the same process as you did for the carpets to remove stains. Leave the car doors entirely open to dry your seats.

Next, you can move onto cleaning your doors. Open your car door and make sure to wipe down all components (both metal and plastic) with a soapy solution. Use a rag to dry them thoroughly and then use your smaller tools (the Q-tips and brushes) to rid any stronger stains and spots in that area. Any non-cloth portion of your doors interior can clean with a soapy solution, and then dried thoroughly with a thick cloth. Try to concentrate on areas with smaller cracks and crevices because they will collect dirt and grime. Use your canned air to blow out dirt from places you can’t reach. Use glass cleaner on your windows and mirrors on the inside (don’t worry about the outside for now) Glass cleaner will make your windows shine, but make sure you dry thoroughly to erase all streaks. Clean your steering wheeling column with a soapy solution, and then apply surface protectant to the entire steering wheel surface. For your dashboard don’t use the soapy spray bottle, instead focus on using your smaller tools. Apply the cleaning solution to the tool itself and then use the tool on the dashboard. Clean around buttons, knobs, and switches carefully and then dry fully. Also, use your detailing tools for the center console and make sure every seam of the console is clean and free of muck. Make sure to dry the center console with a thick cloth.

Now you’re ready to move onto cleaning the exterior part of the vehicle. Start with your tires. You can use the same soapy solution that you used on the inside of the car, but many auto supply stores sell solutions specially made for the rubber on your tires. Use a hose with high pressure to knock off dirt and mud on the tires. Use a metal brush to get the metals parts of the tire sparkling clean. If you use your soapy water for the tires, change the water out once you’re done cleaning your tires. Grab some clean rags with your new soapy water and you’re ready to wash the rest of the outside of your car. Give your vehicle a basic but thorough wash with plenty of water and soapy solution. Wash a small area at a time, start with the roof, and try not to let the solution dry. You can continue to spray the cleaned portions with water until you’re ready to dry the car yourself.

When a rag accumulates too much dirt, dust, or sand, make sure to change it. You don’t want to scratch the clear-coating on the car with grime from the rag. Use the smaller brushes and tools for areas that require more attention (rims, headlights, taillights, door handles, and side mirrors), and make sure you continue to wash everything with water. Once the entire body of the car is clean, use a cotton cloth to dry the vehicle. Use the cotton swabs or other small tools to dry water in cracks or the window wells. Now it’s time to wax if you desire to. After waxing your car and it’s bone dry, use a small brush to clean up small areas of wax or dust. Finally, the last thing to do is clean your windshield and windows with glass cleaner. Make sure each window is free of streaks and drips. You can use newspaper, believe it or not. It works wonders for a streak-free shine for glass and mirrors.

In conclusion, while it seems like a lot of work, it’s useful to detail your car every few months. Detailing in the Spring and Fall are the most desirable times to clean because the weather isn’t as extreme as Summer and Winter. You will be keeping the surfaces and finishes of your vehicle protected and healthy. Plus, you’ll be driving around in a shiny car. Once your car is clean it’s best to protect it all the time with an extended auto warranty. DriveSmart offers a variety of plans to keep you on the road all year. Like detailing, DriveSmart knows it’s important to cover all components of your vehicle. Get a quote today and have peace of mind knowing that your car is clean and protected on the road ahead.

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Disclosure: DriveSmart offers Protection Plans or Vehicle Service Contracts (VSC) may be referred as “extended car warranty”, or “auto warranty”. A VSC is not a warranty but provides repair coverage for your vehicle after your manufacturer’s vehicle warranty has expired. The VSC contract is with you and the vehicles owner and the VSC provider or administrator that will state what is covered in each plan.