Car Detailing

Background

Car detailing is hard work and time-consuming, yet after buying my new car, I decided to take matters in my own hands rather than trusting the workshop, who will actually use inferior detailing products, and turned this into an ongoing DIY project.

Objectives

We spend a considerable time of the day in the car. We want our cars shining both inside and out, and smelling good. A thorough detailing job ensures the car shines all the way, from the hood to the tailgate.

Too much detailing can be an overkill though. Overenthusiastic cleaning can cause swirl marks, which are minute scratches on the paint not visible to the naked eye that accumulate over time and criss-cross with each other. Whenever you are agitating the dirt with some washing medium, you are adding inadvertent but inevitable swirl marks on the paint. While it is true that a car left to gather dust in a humid climate will invite moisture leading to rusting, excessive washing without proper drying can do the same damage! So one has to be careful.

There is no point in getting an expensive Teflon (poly tetra fluoro ethylene) coating that doesn’t last more than a few months in the hot Indian climate. Worse still, many Indian dealers will do a normal polish and wax job and pass it off as Teflon! Getting the right tools for the job is important. DIY detailing products should be easy to apply, clearcoat-safe and environment-friendly.

One should realize that cars are meant to be used outdoors, in the rain, sun and storm. It is okay if they get wet or dirty. A sound detailing plan should be based more on practicality than obsession. The right balance of time and benefit is the key to a realistic detailing routine. The ultimate goal is to retain the showroom finish over the years with minimum effort.

It is prudent to follow a regular detailing routine. I spread my detailing work over weeks and this makes the task easier. I devote each session into one particular area of detailing. If I am washing the car this Sunday, then post-wash I may do a compound-polish-wax treatment of the bonnet and stop there. The week next, I will concentrate on the roof mostly. If I have dressed the tyres this week, may be I will plan a thorough detailing of the interior in the next, and so on.

My Alto K10 after a detailing session. Look at the reflection of the pavement on the doors.
My Alto K10 after a detailing session. Look at the reflection of the pavement on the doors.

Products Used

Professional-grade detailing products are hard to come by in Kolkata. I had to procure them from online merchants. While good detailing products come at a price, they last long enough. My detailing kit contains the following:

  • Optimum No Rinse: This biodegradable product can be used as a quick detailer, a claying lubricant and a rinseless wash. It is devoid of harmful chemicals and environment-friendly.
  • Sonax Gloss Concentrate: Phosphate free and pH neutral car shampoo, safe for clearcoat layer of car paint.
  • Meguiar’s microfiber wash mitt glove: Using this soft plush mitt glove is an absolute delight.
  • Optimum Opti-Eraser: While a clay bar has to be discarded if it falls on ground, this synthetic clay foam is washable and re-usable.
  • Meguiars Ultimate Compound
  • Meguiars Ultimate Polish
  • Colinite 845: The magic of carnauba wax, made in US.
  • 303 Aerospace Protectant: Dashboard protectant of my choice.
  • Optimum Leather Protectant: Care for the leatherette seat covers in my car.
  • Astonish Black Shine Restorer: Biodegradable tyre polish
  • Tar X: Tar spot remover made of natural ingredients posing no threat to the environment and safe for the clearcoat.
  • Iron X: pH balanced, acid-free de-ironing agent that is clearcoat safe and pulls out ferrous contaminants from the car paint.
  • Microfiber towels
  • Dusters
  • Pads
  • Fender brush
  • A couple of sprayer bottles
  • 2 Buckets
  • Sitting stool: Because detailing the lower panels, bumpers and tyres can be quite back-breaking!
  • Surgical gloves: to protect my hands
  • Coido 6132 car vacuum cleaner: I got this small wonder on a discount for ₹649 from Snapdeal. It has adequate suction to clean the carpet without any hassle.
  • Resqtech electric car washer: This is the most important tool in my detailing arsenal that makes car washing an absolute joy.
  • Polco car cover: Tyvek material car cover that is breathable, UV resistant, water-resistant.

Microfiber towels, clay foam & wax applicator
Some of my towels, pad and clay foam Clockwise: Wax applicator pad (yellow), Eurow multipurpose towel (green), Optimum glass towel (blue), Jopasu multipurpose towel (blue), Cobra Ultra towel (bright green) with a corner folded to show its two different sides, Cobra Guzzler towel (green) and Optimum clay foam (pink)

Microfiber Wash Mitt, Microfiber duster
A close shot of the microfiber wash mitt (white) and microfiber duster (green)

Washing

With regular quick detailing (explained later), I don’t need to wash the car often. Mostly I am washing the car once a fortnight. On a typical Sunday morning, I gather my detailing tools and get down to business.

  • Quick wash

I simply blast off my pressure washer on the car. On a car that has been waxed before, this is all it takes to get rid of the dirt. No shampoo is necessary. It takes 5-10 minutes to wash the car, a great stress-buster and a my favourite Sunday morning chore. This is also the only method of cleaning the car which doesn’t cause swirl marks on the paint.

  • Normal Wash

It is the wash proper where the whole car is cleaned up with a car shampoo, using the two-bucket method. To start with, I rinse the whole body with a gentle water spray to get the loose dirt off.  Then I apply shampoo to the whole car using the microfiber wash mitt, working from the roof and windows down, hood to trunk and sides. There are two buckets, one with shampoo and another with just water. The second bucket is for washing the mitt after doing one section of the car so that dirt isn’t transferred to the next section. For the very dirty panels at the bottom where you wouldn’t dare to put your mitt, I have a separate microfiber scrubber pad. An ordinary rag does the job on the tyres. Under no circumstances, I allow the shampoo to dry up and keep rinsing the suds off, after shampooing each panel, with a fine water spray.

  • Rinseless Wash

Ever since I bought my car washer, I have stopped doing a rinseless wash but it is a good option if you are low on water supply. Follow the same two-bucket method with one bucket full of your rinseless wash solution (I use Optimum No Rinse Wash & Shine: 2 cap full in 4 litres of water) and another with just water, and clean the whole car, panel by panel, with your wash mitt. The difference is, unlike shampoo, you don’t have to rinse the suds off. After washing each panel, simply dry it with a towel. Huge savings of water!

Drying

All detailing business should be done in the shade and not under direct sun. This prevents the car drying up all too soon. If allowed to air dry, unsightly water spots will develop and the paint will appear dull. If you are doing a wash-to-wax regimen, keep the car wet at all times, by hosing water on it in between the steps.

Once you are done washing the car, it should be dried up with a good quality towel. I use a waffle weave microfiber towel for drying. Wiping the paint with a towel even with little to no pressure can create swirl marks if something gets caught under the towel. Instead of wiping, I hold the towel on the paint and blot dry it.

During washing water seeps into the doorjambs which are painted areas hidden by the door i.e. door edges, A-pillar and B-pillar jamb areas. I give these hidden areas a thorough wipe and leave the doors open for an hour. Without proper drying, these spots are prone to rusting in the highly humid climate of Kolkata. One particular area of concern is the bottom sill of the door which must be given a good wiping.

Decontamination / Paint preparation

Decontamination is the process of prepping the paint surface before waxing. There are many contaminants, e.g. road tar, ferrous compounds, brake dust, deeply etched into the paint which a car shampoo can’t remove. Using corrosive agents, on the other hand, will eat into the clearcoat. It is important to use products which are safe for the clearcoat yet strong enough to pull the contaminants out.

  • I spray Iron X to the whole car while it is still wet. As it removes the ferrous metallic contaminants bonded to the paint surface, the product changes its colour to pink. After letting the product dwell for five minutes, I rinse it off.
  • I dab a little bit of Tar X on a cotton cloth and wipe the tar spots, letting the product sit for 3 – 10 minutes before rinsing it off.
  • Whatever contaminant remains after this, I strip them off by claying. Easier said than done though, because claying an entire car takes a lot of patience and toil. Luckily there is not much contaminants left after de-ironing. I mostly concentrate my claying efforts on the bonnet and the lower panels and then go to other panels if I feel like. Further, clay is to be used as less as possible, may be once in 2 years. Because once you have a good wax layer. It will be more effective in keeping paint clean without much particulate matter sticking to paint layer, unless your car is parked near railway station, shipyard, industrial complex, major highway or street.
  • I rinse off thoroughly, this time using the cleaning brush attachment of my car washer, ensuring no trace of Iron X, Tar X or claying lube is left on the car, and towel dry the car one last time.

Once the paint has been decontaminated, microscopic irregularities on the paint created by the contaminants are laid bare. So decontamination must be followed up with a wax or sealant treatment in the same detailing session.

Paint protection

Once the paint has been washed and decontaminated, it is time to protect it. I am old school when it comes to paint protection and swear by pure carnauba wax. After applying wax to a panel with a wax applicator pad, I allow it to dry for 15 minutes. Once the wax dries up into a fine haze I buff it with the softer side of the Cobra Bright Green Towel. Don’t apply too much force when you are buffing the wax. I remove any stray wax residue from the glasses and trims with an all purpose microfiber towel.

Waxing protects the paint and adds shine to it. It is a good physical exercise and the most rewarding chore in the whole detailing regimen! I do not rest before putting two coats of Colinite 845, my favourite carnauba wax. I then take a moment to stand back and admire the brilliant wet shine on my car! I have planned a wax routine three times a year.

Water beading on my car after rain. This is the effect of wax.
Water beading on my car after rain. This is the effect of wax.

Trim Protection

After washing and drying, I detail the exterior trim surfaces on the ORVMs, A and B pillars, window sills, antenna base and front grille with 303 Aerospace Protectant. On the mudflaps I use Astonish Black Shine Restorer, a cheaper product.

Doorjamb Detailing

The doorjambs, which are often neglected and left dirty, are major rust-prone areas in the car. A layer of wax followed by an occasional wipe can save a lot of pain in the long run in the humid Kolkata weather. Once in a while, I clean the doorjambs with ONR rinseless wash solution and a microfiber towel, followed by wiping with a dry towel. These hidden areas are real dirt magnets and it takes very long to clean them all, but once detailed thoroughly, the next cleaning becomes a lot easier. As these are not exposed areas a coat of wax can last a very long time.

Tyre Dressing

After rinsing off the shampoo, I dress the tyres with Astonish Black Shine Restorer to enhance the blackness, for that natural black look. The product I use doesn’t sling i.e. it doesn’t fly off and stick to the car’s body during ride.

Maintenance

A waxed car is much easier to maintain. It isn’t necessary to keep washing your car all the time.

  • Dusting

A car duster comes handy in getting rid of very light dust, typically the dust you see after the car is back from a short drive or has been parked for a day in the open. The duster is not meant for anything more than a day’s dust, and certainly not caked grime. Never use the duster on a wet car. The duster should be used very gently, so that it barely touches the paint, otherwise it will cause inevitable swirl marks in the long run because you are dragging a duster across the dry paint finish.

The duster of my choice is the California Duster. Trusted by detailers around the world, this duster comes with wax-treated bristles which lift the dust instead of dragging it. I have used the Indian version of this product but wasn’t satisfied with the results. Finally I got the California Duster from Amazon US for $10.49 (the wooden handle edition costs more) via a friend staying in the States; you may also buy the duster online. The following video explains the proper technique of using a duster.

  • Quick Detailing

Quick detailing can keep your car clean and shiny between your weekly car washes. Quick detailing is the perfect on-the-go method to treat dirty spots on the car, especially hard to remove residues like bird droppings and plant sap. I prepare and stock the quick detailing solution in a handy spray bottle which is always kept in the car. The ratio of my liking is 2 cap fulls Optimum No Rinse in 500 ml of purified water, although the recommended dose is double this. Shake the bottle for 30 seconds, spray the QD solution on a dirty spot and gently rub the spot with towel. Turn over to a fresh side of the towel and buff dry that area. When the car isn’t too dirty for a wash but has more dust than than a car duster can handle, you can wipe down the entire car with quick detailer and get guaranteed shine in a few minutes. The ease of ‘spray and wipe’ has made quick detailer wipe downs a popular thing in car shows.

Windshield Cleaning

A spotless windscreen and mirrors is a must for a safe ride. I clean the windscreen, side and rear windows, both inside and out, and all the mirrors before starting my ride with Optimum Glass Towel and purified water.

Car Cover

In the humid Kolkata weather, a cover is indispensable if you don’t have a closed garage. A car left in the open to gather dust invites moisture leading to rust formation in the long run. By keeping the forces of nature at bay, a cover goes a long way in maintaining the car in showroom condition.

My garage is open on the sides. The amount of dust collecting daily on the car was driving me crazy. I soon realized the importance of a car cover. I got one from Polco, made of Tyvek – a breathable, ultraviolet resistant, water resistant material.

Tyvek material cover from Polco
Tyvek material cover from Polco

There is a certain technique to follow when putting the cover on the car or taking it off to prevent scratching the paint surface: When removing the cover, I dust it first and then fold it from the two sides. Then I roll it from the front to the back, never rubbing the cover against the paint. I clean the car with a duster every time before covering it, and put the cover by unfolding and unrolling it in the reverse order.

Interior Detailing

I regularly dust the dashboard and seats with a microfibre duster. Once in a month, I clean the interior trim and the seats with a damp microfiber towel. I apply Optimum Leather Protectant Plus on my faux leather seat covers. It leaves a satin finish, and prevents cracking and marring, while also repelling dust. On the interior trim, I apply a dashboard polish called 303 Aerospace Protectant. This water-based protectant gives a deep shine to the car interior – the dashboard looks forever new! It also repels dust, blocks UV rays, prevents fading and, more importantly, minimizes evaporation of chemicals from car interior plastic.

I have 3D floor mats in my car which do a good job of containing the dust, leaving the carpet mostly clean. These are very easy to maintain. Simply taking them out and banging against the wall gets the dust out. Once in a month, I wash the mats with brush and detergent under tap water and vacuum the carpet.

A thoroughly detailed car must smell good too. I am against cluttering the dashboard with fancy perfumes! Neither do I like those fitted to AC vents, hanging like an unsightly appendage! For more than a year, I have used a gel-based perfume called My Shaldan which I placed on the carpet below the passenger seat using 3M double sided tape, but now I am thinking of switching over to some 100% organic product.

To prevent moisture build up and mildew formation, I keep a handful of silica gel desiccant packets in various places like the glove compartment, door pockets, boot.

Like it? Tweet it.

"Car Detailing" by @wishnipon