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How to Detail Your Own Car and Save Money

How to Detail Your Own Car - Man cleaning his car
Steve Thompson Headshot
Steve Thompson
April 1, 2022

Some people might think that detailing their car will help boost the resale value. But the truth is professional dealers know when a dirty old vehicle has had a quick cleanup job. Dealers care more about the overall condition of the car, which means you need to clean it on a regular basis. Here are essential points to know about how to detail your own car.

Auto Detailing Supplies

Person washing their car with a sponge

The type of auto detailing done at car washes can be expensive and excessive without long-term effects. What seemed to only be a $15 expense might hit three figures after car wash personnel have talked you into special wax and other add-ons and you've added a tip. The DIY method might work better for your budget and isn't difficult to do effectively.

The first step toward detailing your own car is to purchase the right detailing supplies. The main items you need to detail your own car are the following:

Soapy water: Using regular dish soap or laundry detergent is not good for car surfaces. Instead, use a bucket of soapy water from an affordable cleaner designed for auto detailing. It's healthier to avoid solutions that include harmful chemicals in the ingredients.

Microfiber towels: Certain types of cloth can scratch paint surfaces. Microfiber cloth is soft and won't damage surfaces, as the fibers effectively absorb moisture.

Household cleaners: Regular household cleaners including glass cleaners will be sufficient for most of the interior. For leather, it's best to use a leather cleaner.

Wheel cleaner: An excellent choice for cleaning wheels and tires is Eagle One A2Z. For dirty chrome and other metals, consider an acid-free cleaner.

Washing mitts: Use dual-sided scratch-free gloves made of soft microfiber. Washing mitts are better than sponges, which can collect contaminants and scratch surfaces.

Cotton swabs: For tight corners such as air vents, use cotton swabs to easily get the dirt out.

Car wax: An affordable and top-rated liquid wax is Nu Finish NF-76. It's a durable solution that provides months of a shiny finish.

Cleaning tools: It's advantageous to have tools in your collection that are designed to protect car surfaces while cleaning. They include light brushes, sponges, and toothbrushes.

Aerosol cleaner: After you've vacuumed carpeting, lightly spray foam from an aerosol cleaner onto the fabric. If the cleaner doesn't remove all the dirt from carpeting or cloth seats, consider renting a carpet extractor.

Clay bar: Once you have washed and rinsed your exterior, first spray a lubricant on the surface then rub a clay bar on the car's surface. Gently brush the clay bar over the car's body to remove stubborn dirt.

Tips for Detailing Your Car

Man washing his car's rims

  1. Clean one section at a time - You might start with what are often the dirtiest parts of a car: cup holders. Use a microfiber cloth and window cleaner spray to twist out the dirt.
  2. Pick up loose items - All kinds of objects fall out of pockets and end up under car seats. These items might include coins, pens, keys, and other small objects.
  3. Remove road grime from rims - Grime, dust, and tar can build up on rims if you don't clean them periodically. It becomes difficult to remove, but you can still make wheels shine by scrubbing grime gently with a sponge or soft toothbrush and wheel cleaner.
  4. Vacuum the interior - Do an initial vacuum cleaning at the beginning of your cleaning session then another vacuum cleaning later to remove excess dirt.
  5. Rinse the exterior before washing - By rinsing the exterior before scrubbing, you'll remove a large amount of dust, giving you a cleaner surface to work with. Rinsing reduces the chances of mixing dirt into the paint.
  6. Avoid washing your car in direct sunlight - Sunlight can heat the surface of your vehicle and damage the paint while you are applying wax.
  7. Treat plastic surfaces gently - Although plastic can be strong and durable, it can also get scratched if you're not careful. So apply minimal pressure and consider using an ammonia-free glass cleaner.
  8. Let your car dry before driving - Once you clean the exterior, wait until it's completely dry before driving, otherwise, the moisture will attract dust and dirt.
  9. Polish after finishing - Don't confuse polish and finish as the same thing, although many people do. Once you've applied a finish, add car wax to protect the finish. It will give the exterior a more glossy appearance.
  10. Use appropriate cleaners - Certain surfaces such as cloth, leather or vinyl require specific types of cleaners.
  11. Shake dirt out of floor mats - Don't forget about floor mats, which tend to be the least visible parts of the interior. Dirt builds up from the bottom of the shoes. Wash the mats but wait until they are dry before putting them back in place.
  12. Avoid overworking - You don't have to detail your entire car in one day. Don't allow the work to become so labor-intensive that it isn't fun.

Maintaining a Clean Vehicle

Vacuum Car

An option that might help save money on supplies is to use a car care kit, which is typically equipped with appropriate cleaning tools. The main point to remember about doing your own auto detailing is to keep up with it on a routine basis. As soon as you start to forget about cleaning your car after several months, the grime will build up and become more difficult to remove.

Remember that dust builds up quickly and is often overlooked. By dusting your interior every few days, the interior appearance will look clean. Letting dust accumulate over a week starts to look unhealthy to people who are conscious about cleanliness. So inspect your interior two or three times a week and wipe off dust before it gives a gray look to surfaces.

While a car wash might make your car look new again for a few days, auto detailing is a more reliable method for maintaining a continuous shine. For a finishing touch to bring back the "new car smell," use an automotive deodorizer spray. Covering your vehicle when it's parked will help protect the exterior from debris that obscures shine.

If you get into a car accident and are injured, unlike auto detailing, which you can do yourself and save money, be sure to discuss the situation with an experienced legal professional like  Sandra Robertson who specializes in auto accidents and can help you win the maximum possible compensation from insurance companies.


You don't need to be a professional interior detailer to clean your car on a regular basis. The key to how to detail your own car includes creating a regular cleaning schedule using safe affordable supplies. Contact the car accident experts at for more information on taking care of your car and yourself if you are ever involved in a car accident.