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A quick drive through the car wash can remove dirt and debris on your vehicle’s surface, but when you want to give your car a complete makeover, thorough car detailing is what you need. Learning how to detail a car straight from home can save you hundreds of dollars each year.
Car detailing is perhaps the best way to impress your riders with the quality of your vehicle. Because your vehicle’s cleanliness can directly affect your Lyft or Uber driver rating — and even your tips — stunning results are exactly what you want.
In this article, we’ll explain what auto detailing actually is and guide you through how to detail a car, inside and out.
- What Is Car Detailing?
- How to Detail a Car Interior
- How to Detail a Car Exterior
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Car Detailing?
Car detailing is the process of cleaning, restoring, and protecting a vehicle to leave your car in the best condition. Its goal is not only to make your vehicle look spotless, but also to prolong the lifespan of its interior and exterior.
The car detailing process is never automated and instead uses traditional techniques like hand washing and hand waxing — which means car owners can get professional results with DIY steps. Detailing a car by hand also ensures maximum attention to detail — which as the name of the process suggests, is the desired outcome.
Car detailing is all about going beyond your weekly rideshare vehicle maintenance routine and removing even the damages that can’t easily be seen by the naked eye.
How to Detail a Car Interior
With all the time that your riders spend inside your car, the condition of your vehicle interior will certainly have a greater impact on your rating than that of your car exterior. Checking off all of the interior detailing steps below will lead to happy riders and a damage-free car.
Unlike the vacuuming you do as a part of your day-to-day routine, vacuuming in the car detailing process requires more thoroughness and precision. We recommend purchasing a portable car vacuum for the most effective results.
Before you begin, remove all excess items from your vehicle, including your floor mats. Then, start vacuuming all surfaces inside your car, using your crevice tool to reach every nook and cranny. You can use a compressed air can to push dirt out of particularly small spaces that none of your vacuum attachments can reach. Don’t forget to vacuum under seats and in your cup holders, and vacuum your floor mats before returning them to your car, as well.
If you find any lingering debris or pet hair, you can use a lint roller, masking tape, or duct tape to pick them up, but don’t worry too much if they’re being stubborn. You’ll be cleaning each area more thoroughly soon.
Cleaning Your Car Seats
The next step in the interior detailing process is cleaning your car seats. Knowing how to detail a car with your specific upholstery is a must, as different materials call for different cleaning products.
That said, if you have leather upholstery, you’ll need to purchase a cleaner, conditioner, and horsehair brush that can specifically be used with leather. Then, use our guide on how to clean leather car seats for a step-by-step cleaning process. Polyester car seats also require upholstery cleaners specific to the material.
All other car upholstery tends to be more forgiving and can be cleaned with household products. For directions, read our guide on how to clean car seats.
Cleaning Your Carpet and Floor Mats
This step is the perfect example of why detailing your car’s interior from home can save you loads of money. Car carpeting and floor mats can typically be deep cleaned using materials that are already on your shelves — like dish soap and vinegar — and there are many cleaning solutions that you can choose from.
Get our complete step-by-step process by reading our guide on how to clean car carpet, which includes steps to properly scrub and hose down your floor mats, as well. If you own a steam cleaner, you can steam clean in place of this process to achieve effective results in even less time.
Getting rid of bad odors is usually as simple as placing a store-bought odor remover or perfuming agent inside your vehicle. Keep in mind that car air fresheners for rideshare drivers are those that are effective without strong scents, to ensure every passenger is happy with your selection.
If there’s a particularly strong smell lingering in your vehicle, you can spray a smoke odor eliminator before using your basic deodorizer. Or, if you know the exact source of your odor, you can try sprinkling baking soda over the area and leaving it overnight before vacuuming or scrubbing it away.
Cleaning Interior Windows
To clean the insides of your windows, all you need is a car window cleaning spray and microfiber towels. Spray the cleaner directly on your towel to prevent overspray, then wipe your windows in straight lines to prevent swirl marks. Make sure to roll down your windows to ensure the very top is cleaned, too.
Never use a household glass cleaner, as those tend to be too harsh on car window tint.
Additional Areas to Remember
To complete your interior detailing, you’ll want to make sure you wipe down your steering wheel, dashboard, center console, door panels, and cup holders. Simply spray all-purpose cleaner on a microfiber cloth and wipe down the surfaces.
Using a cotton swab is great way to clean tight corners and truly perfect every detail of your car.
How to Detail a Car Exterior
Detailing your car exterior starts with a manual car wash, but certainly doesn’t end there. In addition to basic car cleaning, you’ll be taking extra steps to remove surface damages and pollutants, while also adding a protective layer to your vehicle.
Hand Washing Your Car
Hand washing your car is actually incredibly easy and far more effective than an automatic car wash. For this process, you’ll need to gather:
- A hose
- Two large buckets
- Car wash soap
- A wheel brush
- Two microfiber car wash mitts
- At least 10 microfiber towels
Then, follow our guide on how to wash a car for a step-by-step process. Always complete your entire hand washing process away from direct sunlight to avoid damage to your car’s paint. If your tires are covered with extensive road grime that your soapy water and rinsing won’t remove, you can use a dedicated wheel cleaner from your auto parts store for a stronger solution. For stubborn bug splats or sticky stains, bug and tar remover is an effective pre-treatment you can use before the wash.
You may also want to go the extra mile and learn how to clean car headlights as a part of your complete vehicle restoration process.
Clay Bar Treatment
Performing a clay bar treatment is an extremely effective way to remove contaminants, including brake dust, from your car’s surface. Because of the strength of this treatment, this part of the car detailing process usually only needs to be completed once per year.
To use your clay bar, wait until your vehicle is completely dry. Then, saturate your car’s surface with clay lubricant. Then, very lightly glide your clay bar the surface, working in small areas at a time, until you no longer feel any resistance and wipe your car exterior clean with a microfiber cloth.
For this treatment, a clay mitt is a great alternative to a clay bar that is reusable and allows you to use your hand to maneuver the clay. When performing a clay bar treatment, always be extremely careful. Being too rough can damage your vehicle’s paintwork.
Polishing and Waxing Your Car
This step of the process only requires a few materials:
- Car polish
- Car wax
- Microfiber towels
- Microfiber applicator pads
- Microfiber buffing towels
We always recommend a hybrid carnauba and synthetic wax for the best look and protection.
Because polishers and waxes can be quite different, this part of the car detailing process is best completed with the directions provided on the back of your products. That said, here’s the gist of how the process will work:
- Apply your car polisher to any minor scratches with your microfiber towels to correct the imperfections. Then, with a clean towel, remove the polish residue.
- Apply your polish to the rest of your vehicle, working in small areas to remove residue quickly.
- Once your vehicle is dry, use your applicator pads to apply car wax to your vehicle, working in straight lines.
- Wait as long as recommended on your wax product, then use your buffing towel to buff away the wax and leave a protective layer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding how to detail a vehicle will protect both your vehicle and your wallet. To learn more about the process, read our answers to these frequently asked questions:
1. How often should I detail my car?
Car detailing is recommended at least two to three times per year. This is enough to keep the average vehicle in great condition throughout the year. However, rideshare drivers may want to consider making detailing a slightly more frequent part of their car maintenance schedule due to extensive driving and full interior use.
2. Do I need to complete all car detailing steps at once?
It’s highly recommended to complete the full auto detailing routine at once to maximize protection and completely remove stubborn dirt and grime before it accumulates, though it is okay to separate exterior and interior detailing if needed. Completing the full routine on the same day will also help you better stay on top of your schedule.
Of course, there’s no issue with completing a single step more frequently throughout the year — for example, thorough vacuuming once per week — as long as you also complete the step during your car detailing sessions.
3. How much does a professional detailer service cost?
A professional auto detailer can charge up to $75 for an average sedan, or up to $150 for an SUV. This cost can be even higher for luxury vehicles. When you do your detailing job from home, you can spend far less than this and use your materials for multiple years.
Drive a Long-Lasting Vehicle
When you’re constantly on the road, keeping up with your car care can help you avoid extensive damage to your vehicle later on. Knowing how to detail a car will keep your car looking brand new with a layer of protection that gives you peace of mind. Plus, your car will impress even riders who expect the most luxurious rideshare experience and lead to higher tips.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.