Some say that Guido da Vigevano Page Papi built the first car in 1335 that used a windmill-assembly to drive gears to turn the wheels. If that is the case, I would say that he probably was also the first one to clean a car. Now, the car wash/detailing industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Although why would you want to spend your hard-earned money on having someone else detail your car? When you could do it yourself, ensure it is completed correctly and the way you want. Besides, I know many car enthusiasts who would prefer to detail their cars themselves.

After years of experience and talking with some of the best product/technical representatives around today, I have compiled a how-to guide for car owners who want to do their work. This guide is intended for all car enthusiasts on all levels. Maybe you are new to car detailing, or you are just looking for some new “tricks” to give you an advantage at your next car show. Either way, I hope that this guide helps you on your journey.

First off, detailing is hard work and time-consuming. No matter your reason for wanting to detail your car, from attending a car show to selling your vehicle, describing it will be well worth your time and effort. There are products out there that say that it will cut your time in half and that you only need to do it once a year. However, several professional detailers I talked with said that many new, cheaper products are too good to be true and can damage paint jobs. I suggest avoiding low-quality products and sticking with the known effects. Nothing works as well as hard work and some elbow grease. I will make some suggestions as I continue through the guide, but if you have a product you like, go ahead and use it.

Before you get started, you will need:

Paper towels, rags, and chamois. Old t-shirts work well, and if you can find any old “clean” cloth diapers, use them because they make excellent rags for polishing the finish and are great for windows. Brushes. You’ll need different varieties and sizes to get into the hard-to-reach areas. An old toothbrush works well, and several cotton swabs. Wash bucket. Make sure it is clean, and you may want to keep it as your car washing bucket only. This may help prevent getting unwanted dirt and chemicals in a bucket you use to clean your car.

Wash mitts and or a good quality sponge.

Bug removal sponge

Power Washer or a good hose nozzle with different head types. Power Washers are getting pretty reasonably priced now, and you can pick them up at any hardware store.

Shop Vacuum or equivalent.

Orbital Buffer. Again, these are getting pretty reasonably priced.

Now, where to begin? Most professionals I talk to suggest starting on the interior first, so the dust and dirt you brush out won’t settle on a cleaned exterior. Remove any floor mats and give the carpeting and upholstery good vacuuming. Move the seats forward and backward to get all the dirt, including the tracks and door jams. You should also use one of your harder bristled brushes to get any dirt out from the cracks; it is also good for stirring up the carpet mat so you can get most of the junk out of the carpet.

Now, if you have any stubborn stains in the upholstery or carpet, this is the time to deal with them. Use an all-purpose cleaner to get the stubborn stains out. Saturate the stain with cleaner, working it in with a damp sponge. Let it sit awhile, then blot it out with a dry towel. Make sure to read the directions on the cleaner for specific precautions. You can also use a window cleaner sprayed on a rag to get the headliner clean. Don’t forget the trunk/hatchback areas as well.

You can repair burns and holes in your carpet by cutting out the area with a razor blade. Then, cut a similar-sized piece from a hidden spot, such as underneath the seat, and cement it using a water-resistant adhesive. Blend in the repair by brushing the repaired component with the old one. You can also go to a carpet outlet and buy a carpet sample for a pretty reasonable price that could match the car’s carpet. If your carpet still looks bad, you can shampoo it to get any remaining dirt and grease out. You can rent these machines at a carpet store or local grocery/retail chain. Start with the carpets on the driver’s side and then the seats; this keeps the water minimum. Move around the whole car until you’re done. Again, make sure you read any precautions from the manufacturer.

Now move on to the interior hard surfaces; clean them with a damp cloth and a mild all-purpose cleaner. If you have leather upholstery, dress the characters with a leather conditioner; spray it on a rag for tight areas. Never use a vinyl product on leather. Worn or torn vinyl areas can be repaired using kits for this purpose. Repairs are made with a patch that lets you match the color and grain of your upholstery. Worn leather areas can be touched up with dyes or high-grade shoe polish.

Now for one of the harder parts: the dash. First, you can blast any dust away with a can of compressed air. Clean air vent grilles with cotton swabs and brighten them by missing some spray-on rubber dressing. Spray any dress-up cleaner on a soft towel and apply it to the rest of the dash; be careful around the instrument panel.

Then move on to the windows. If you are like me, you hate cleaning windows for fear of streaks. Some pointers in this area are to don’t spray directly on the window but onto a rag. Have a dry cloth ready to wipe it dry. You can even use newspaper to wipe it dry; the abrasiveness acts like a polish, and it won’t leave any streaks. Also, rinse your hands before cleaning your windows; this will help remove any unwanted dressing. If you have aftermarket window tint film, it may be degraded by cleaners that contain ammonia or vinegar. Factory tinting is in the glass and is not affected by these cleaners.

Now it’s time to move to the exterior of your car, detailing your engine. First, you must cover any sensitive equipment, such as electrical components. Try using heavy-duty aluminum foil for this step. If you use a home pressure washer for this, be careful; you can blow water in areas that weren’t meant to get wet. I prefer using a regular garden home for this step. After you have sealed everything off, spray a heavy-duty degreaser onto the cool-temperature engine. Again, read any warnings or precautions on the degreaser. Use a pointy brush to get any stubborn deposits. Then spray down with your hose, making sure you get all of the degreasers off.