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DIY Car Detailing Tips to Save You Time and Money

DIY Car Detailing Tips to Save You Time and Money

For many drivers there is a degree of satisfaction getting their car detailed. It goes beyond just the standard cleaning and touch up that you might do at the end of the day to a really intense kind of upkeep that brings your car back to almost new condition again. If there's one thing everyone likes it's the feeling of being in a brand new, clean and organized vehicle. When everything looks sleek, clean, and perfect it just makes you feel good being behind the wheel.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


The process of detailing a car can be pretty in-depth. That's why there are businesses that specialize in nothing but car detailing. It's not a simple matter of running a vacuum across your carpets and tossing out some old coffee cups. This job needs to be done by hand and it takes some serious precision and an eye towards fine details. But the rewards are certainly worth it for many drivers.


The cost of getting your car professionally detailed can range anywhere from $100 to $200 depending on the amount of work required and the size of your vehicle. That's typically for a basic detail package. You can get a much more in-depth job done for an additional fee.


If you want to save yourself some money, there's always the opportunity to handle a job like this on your own. Let's take a look at some tips for handling DIY auto detailing that won't take a ton of time or break the bank.


Interior Detailing


When it comes to keeping things looking their best inside your car there are a lot of tips that you can do to keep it looking like new. This includes a lot of fine detail work, hence the name, but if you're looking for superior results it's worth the time. It's always a good idea to clean the interior of your vehicle before you manage the exterior. That lets your interior have time to dry, and also ensures that if you're taking things out to get them clean, you're not getting dust and dirt on a newly clean exterior surface. 


Cleaning the Vents:  A lot of the dust that settles in your car comes from the vents. Even using your vacuum on them will not fully be able to get them cleared out. Dust tends to cling to the plastic parts making it difficult to fully clean. A simple paint brush or sponge brush however will do a good job of getting all the plastic parts dusted off. You can then vacuum off the brush or wipe it off with a rag.


Don't Just Vacuum:  Of course, you want to vacuum to clean up any dirt or surface debris that's gotten on to your carpets and upholstery, but don't just leave it at that. To start with, consider using a stiff brush on your carpets after you go over them once with a vacuum. This will dig up any embedded dirt as well as everything that may have dried on the fibres. You can run the vacuum over again to get the debris that you scraped up.


The best cleaning you're going to get comes from being a little more in depth. Once you vacuum, use a carpet or upholstery cleaning machine to get really deep into the fibres. This will work on any cloth upholstery as well. You can also add a cleaning solution to these carpet cleaners that is specifically designed for automotive use which will diffuse the cabin of your vehicle with whatever scent to you choose as well for when you're done.


Cleaning the Cracks: The interior of your car has a lot of seams, cracks, edges, and small areas where dust, dirt, and debris can build up. Even with a vacuum any of these areas are hard to clean out and while you can rub a cloth with a cleaning solution across the top of them, getting into these fine, narrow cracks is difficult. This is where the true spirit of the term detailing comes into place. 


These fine details take a little extra effort to get into and that's why you can use a trick like taking an awl or a small tip screwdriver and wrapping a cloth around it. Use an all-purpose cleaner of some kind on the cloth and then run the cloth covered tip of your tool along these edges in your trim, around knobs and buttons, and any other seams and cracks that you find in your vehicle. You may need to frequently clean off the end of the cloth that you run through these spots just to be sure you're not spreading more around. This approach takes patience because your car will have a lot of seams in it, along with the arm rests, the door, your steering wheel, your control console and more.


Clean the Dash: When it comes to wiping down the dashboard a microfiber cloth will work well, but in a pinch if you want something to get the job done try a coffee filter. It's a bit of a cleaning hack but the material that coffee filters are made out of is great for wiping and holding dirt leaving a clean surface behind.  If you want to get a shine on the dash that makes everything look brand new you can get a bottle of surface polish or, in a pinch, use a very thin layer of Vaseline rubbed in with your microfiber cloth.


Cup Holder Cleaning: Cup holders have a bad habit of filling with debris and residue that can be hard to get out around those cracks inside. The shape can be difficult to properly clean out. However, if you want a quick tip for getting in there you can take a cup that's the same size as your cup holder and wrap a cloth around the bottom of it. Spray the cloth with your choice of cleaner and then just insert it into the cup holder and twist until you get it cleaned up.


Exterior Detailing


Cleaning the outside of your car can involve more than a simple run through a carwash. In fact, if you're serious about keeping your car looking its best, you're going to want to avoid automatic car washes as they can potentially do more harm than good. Also remember when you're cleaning the inside of your car start from the top and move your way down. 


Washing the Car:  While it seems simple enough to bust out some soap and a hose along with a sponge to clean your car off, there are some tricks to making sure the job is done a little bit better. The first thing you want to do is make sure you are washing a wet car. Sound confusing? It just means that you should rinse your car off thoroughly with clean water before you start the process of washing it. If your car is dry and you take a soapy sponge to it you are actually just going to be grinding all the dirt that's on your car already into the paint job as you try to clean it. Give it a good rinse off first to get all the surface filth away and then hit it with the soapy water. It makes for a much better clean in the long run.


One thing you need to remember is to never wash your car in direct sunlight. Car cleaning products are not meant to work in the heat. Anything you use to clean your car is going to cure more quickly in high temperatures and that may end up making it look worse in the long run.


Give it a Polish:  If you want the true detail experience at home, you have to polish your car after you clean it. Polishing and waxing are not the same thing. Waxing is what gives your car a glossy finish. Polishing will help remove surface scratches and will also ensure a nice shine. You can get a cheap polisher on Amazon.com for as little as $20. If you are serious about detailing your car and making it look its best, it's worth the investment.


Don't Forget the Wax: Carnauba wax has been the old standby for getting a glossy finish on your car. You can also opt for the glossy finish that you'll get from a synthetic polymer wax. All you need to do with this is apply it with a foam applicator, rub in the wax and then wipe it off with a microfiber towel. 


Cleaning the Windows:  Cleaning your car windows is a pretty simple task if you've got a good quality rag and some glass cleaner. There's one thing you should remember though and that's the top of the window. This is overlooked nearly all the time when someone is washing the window. If you roll your window down just a bit, you'll notice that the top of the glass often has almost a ring of sludge around it where the glass fits into the door frame. That's because that part almost never gets clean. When you're done cleaning your windows normally, roll it down a little and make sure you get the top of the glass where it fits into the door frame.


If you're having a problem with streaks on your windows, then there is an incredibly easy solution for handling that and all you'll need is old newspaper and some vinegar. Put vinegar in a spray bottle, spray it on your windows, and then ball up the newspaper and wipe it clean the same way you would use a rag and window cleaner. It sounds unusual, but it really does work.


Get the Hinges and Latches: Your hood hinges, your door hinges, and the hood latch often get overlooked. All of these parts are notorious for collecting grime, too.  A quick spray of WD-40 is usually good to keep these parts moving smoothly and soundlessly, and also making sure they're clean. Just wipe it down with a lint free cloth afterwards. 


Keep Extra Cloths Handy:  You're going to want to use microfiber cloths to keep everything clean when you're detailing your car. You also want to make sure you're swapping out cloths between jobs. Don't use the same cloth to wipe down your doors that you're using to clean your wheels  and your dashboard. 


Clean the Wheel Wells:  Most people will spare their wheels some time when they're getting them cleaned, and the tire sidewalls, but the wheel well should be cleaned out too. You can get in there with the hose and spray them down and then scrub them clean with a brush afterwards. Your wells will collect a ton of grime during normal driving and if you spend your time cleaning the wheels off and leave the wheel wells, all of that dirt and debris can get right back on your wheels in no time.


Make Your Headlights Shine: The plastic over your headlights is just as vulnerable to building up a layer of grime as any other part of your vehicle. If you want to bring back the brightness of a brand-new headlight all you need is a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Wet the headlights, get a toothbrush and a dab of toothpaste and scrub them clean and then rinse it off. 


The Bottom Line


The reason there are professionals who do nothing but detailing cars is because to get the job done correctly takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. A proper car detailing should take you at least 3 hours and potentially much more. When you manage some DIY car detailing you put the freedom in your hands to devote as much or as little time as you want to, and also focus on the areas that you feel are most important to get done. You can do it bit by bit when you have the time, and you could definitely save yourself a lot of money by managing it on your own with some simple solutions.


Just remember, they call it detailing because it is a lot of fine detail. You need the patience to get it done if you want it done correctly, and you'll have to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb to make sure you're hitting all the parts that need to be clean.