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  • MilesDriven

In the details

Time well spent giving your car a proper wash. We speak to the pros for top tips.



“Two buckets?” I questioned. This would be my first revelation of the day. I had never thought of having a second bucket just to clean out the filthy sponge, before dipping back into the one holding the car shampoo. “You wouldn’t start by washing your car with filthy water, so why would you do it once you’ve started” is the wisdom from detailers explaining the process to me. OK from now on, two buckets, and no sponge? “Woollen mitt or, if you must, microfibre mitt, a sponge doesn’t pick anything up, it just drags dirt around, causing micro-scratches.” In case you are wondering what a micro scratch is, look at your car in the sun, most likely you will see a swirling effect from the paint. That’s hundreds or thousands of tiny scratches, the detailers kindly refer to them as love rubs, or less crudely love marks. Owners that cherish their pride and job, but don’t realise the damage they're doing simply by using a cheap sponge rather than spend ten or twenty quid on a decent mitt.

If you’re bored already, take this away, a good mitt is worth its money, and buy another bucket, one for clean soapy water and the other for rinsing. Oh, and chuck the chamois away, a big fluffy towel is much better as again it can pick up bits of dirt rather than drag them all over the paintwork, leaving tiny marks.

Second, a decent wheel cleaner not only helps get the corners looking better, but will resist brake dust, so it makes it a little easier next time you get the hosepipe out.

There are lots of tyre dressing kits on the market, avoid cheap stuff if you want to make your tyres shiny.

“Now we usually do a pre-wash” I’m told before the above, but since it isn’t strictly necessary it seemed better to get the essentials out the way first. Some detailers will argue a pre-wash is 100% necessary, certainly for them. It removes the light film of dirt and loosens the tougher stuff, this reduces the amount of effort needed to remove it and means your wash mitt has less hard work ahead of it. Pre-wash’s can be bought as a premix that you shake and spray all over, or if you have a pressure washer, you can get a foam can attachment, you may already have one. You can put ‘snow foam’ in and spray a layer of thick solution all over. Allow it five minutes to do its work. The detailers mention that this gives you a chance to go over the nocks and crannies with a detailing brush. It looks like a longer version of the shaving brush you might use. This gets all the badges and hard to reach places clean, then jet washes off the snow foam and give it a ‘two bucket method’ clean.

The next stage to bring up paintwork is a clay bar, quite literally a bar of clay of different strengths that will shift the dirt you can't see This isn’t a regular part of the wash, instead, this is for some after winter care or to get it tip-top. Be aware, you risk leaving some marks on the paint, and it will remove any waxes or polishes so make sure to give the car a good wax afterward to protect it, the detailers also warn against doing this too much, it really is a once a year effort.

Waxes and polishes are almost a book on their own, with so many different brands and types. Waxes protect, polishes shine. An autumn clean should be done thoroughly and with some time set aside to protect the paint, a good wax should see you through the season. A good polish in the spring followed by a decent wax should keep you looking sharp without spending all day cleaning the car in the warmer months. I start to understand the ethos, invest some time early, and you won't waste time later on. Pre-washing takes a little extra time, but it makes the actual washing easier and quicker. Waxing takes time, but it means you don’t have to spend as long further down the line cleaning off stubborn dirt and grime. Polishing it with a good polish, applied properly can last months, meaning it doesn’t look a little past its best after a month.

The detailers mention ceramic coating as the best of the best for protection, but the car would need a ‘correction treatment’ first so you need a healthy budget unless the car is brand new, and even so, new cars aren’t perfect. “I prefer the car comes to me straight from the dealer without being washed, or having the sticker and protective foam removed.” The statement is quickly resonated, even sports cars running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds aren’t perfect on delivery. Giving them straight to the detailer means a minimal amount of correcting the car first. Saving them time and you money.

A couple of products worth having are bug and tar removers, and an iron deposit remover. Iron deposits get stuck around the wheels, and particularly the lower half of the panels. A good liberal spray of the stuff every now and again should keep stubborn grime at bay. From here there are lots of dressings for rubber trim, glass cleaners, and assortments of different brushes. Go as far as you like, depending on how committed you plan on being. First off, clean it well, after that there are lots of detailing bits you may want to add. Dedicated detailing kits can be bought that bundle in a lot of these items together, this is probably the best value once you get past a couple of buckets and a good wash mitt.

Finally, there are all types of fancy machine polishers that can be used to remove the swirl marks, but the detailers warn to start with a test area, and if you aren’t confident give it to pro. You can get tremendous results if you know what you’re doing and use the right polishes, but be aware, if you don’t know what you are doing you could do some pretty serious damage that can be very expensive to repair. There are lots of guides online, but ultimately unless you’re confident, call in the pros. Budget anywhere from a few hundred for a small car that you want a light correction detail to get rid of the worst marks to several thousand for near perfection on a Rolls Royce.


Don’t forget the inside, a quick hover and a magic tree won’t cut it in the detailing world. Lots of good carpet shampoo’s can help get rid of the worst stains. A few sprays will coat the carpet and stop dirt from getting ingrained. A good wet vacuum and a steamer are best for upholstery. The steamer actually brings out some very positive noises from the detailers, it can be used on everything from seats to pedals, to soiled carpet. Microfibre towels are your friend here, but make sure to mark them for interior use, you don’t want to try and buff off some wax with a cloth that you just used to wipe down the interior. The detailers prefer not to add smells into the car, so you’re on your own for choosing a fragrance. Some interior trim protector is good to have, the good ones have a UV protectant to reduce fading, not too much of a worry most of the year in Blighty, but worth a thought in the summer months, or for those living in vitamin D rich areas of the world.


The 30 minute Formula -

Ultimately, to take good care of your car we settle on a simple and time-efficient method. A pre-wash should take up your first five to ten minutes. Cleaning the wheels can fill this time. The next fifteen should be spent with a two bucket method wash and five minutes of drying. Apply some tyre shine if you like, along with any glass cleaners, and give the interior a wipe down with a clean cloth.


When you want to go further yourself, clean the interior with some upholstery and carpet cleaner, a good vacuum or wet vac will get things up to scratch, this may mean every time if it's a family car.

Getting a detailer in when you want to really spruce things up is advisable, and they can do basic details for reasonable amounts.

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