How to Detail Your Own Car (The Easy Way)

man detailing car with a soft cloth

A car, in a way, is like a child: Dependent, expensive, and usually covered in cheerios. But lean in real close: what if I told you there was a way to keep your car looking brand new inside and out without spending too much cash? 

GUESS WHAT - There is (sort of)! 

You don’t have to go to a car wash or auto repair shop to get your car cleaned and detailed, you can do it in the comfort of your own driveway! How you ask? With a little elbow grease, a lot of household items, and maybe a small trip to the store. 

Stick with me, dear reader, and I will tell you exactly how to detail your own car and keep it spick and span for years to come. Once we’re done here, you’ll be an expert in the art of interior and exterior cleaning, polishing, waxing, and overall auto detailing! Your car is gonna be so shiny, they’ll be able to see it from the International Space Station. NASA WILL CLASSIFY IT AS A STAR.

Well, maybe not. But it will be very shiny.

What Do I Need to Detail My Car?

Honestly, you can probably find most of the stuff you need in your home or garage to detail your car! If you’re missing anything from this list, you can get them online or at your local hardware store for a reasonable price!

How Much Does it Cost to Detail a Car Exterior?

The average full-body clean and detailing at a car wash will run you about $200-$250. Larger car washing or truck washing will run you higher though, upwards of about $300 or more. The cost to detail your own car also depends on what you already have on-hand. Assuming you have at least a few of these things already, I would say it will run you about $100. If you have everything you need, it’s free!

What Tools Do I Need to Detail My Car?

  • Bucket: You need something to put soapy water in! If you don’t have a bucket, any large bowl will do. 
  • Glass Cleaner: Any window-cleaning solution or spray you have around the house should be fine here, your car’s windows aren’t picky! 
  • Wash Mitt: You should get this as opposed to a sponge, which can damage your car’s paint. Wash mitts are soft and made of safe microfiber material. 
  • Wheel Cleaner: You might not have this at home, but it’s pretty cheap online. This harsh disinfectant will get even the nastiest grime off of your wheel. 
  • Clay Bar: You might be unfamiliar with this one - I was too. But, it’s a pivotal step in learning how to detail your car. It’s essentially synthetic putty that removes contaminants from your car’s exterior so you’re not sealing gross stuff in during the waxing process. Useful, right? 
  • Car Wax: You can find automotive wax almost anywhere. It’s cheaper than you might think! 
  • Wheel Cleaning Brushes: You might not have these around the house, and that’s okay - I’ve got you covered. These brushes are essential for getting dirt out of hard-to-reach areas in your car wheel. For a full clean, I recommend using these ones for car detailing at home. 
  • Foam Pad Applicator: These pads are perfect for applying wax effortlessly. 
  • Microfiber Towels: You’ll want at least 3 of them to completely dry your wet car/waxed car after it’s all said and done! They can clean both your interior and exterior effectively. 
  • Leather Cleaner: This is really only necessary if you have leather seats or a leather steering wheel, and is SUPER useful if you do.
  • Fabric/Carpet Cleaner: Don’t neglect the fabric in your car! You’d be surprised how many smells car seats, ceilings, and floors can absorb.
  • Vacuum: Car vacuums are incredible devices that can clean up almost any mess. Remember the Cheetos your kid spilled all over the back in a heated fervor? With a car vacuum, those cheesy disasters are gone in a matter of seconds. Here is a great one that I use all the time to clean my car at home. 
  • Polish Spray: This is essential for a shiny finish! 
  • Pressure Washer (Optional): This is really only for people who have super deep, hard to get carpet or fabric stains in their car’s interior, or want to use water to get into every nook and cranny in their tires.

Need some extra guidance on the tools? Look at this compilation of the must-have auto detailing tools.

How Do I Detail the Outside of My Car?

Time to put the pedal to the metal! Well, I guess more like...put the wax...onto the car. Whatever. So, the first thing we’re going to need to do before we get to how to detail your car is, of course, washing it! You don’t want to detail before we get all the grime and goo off!

How to Clean Your Car Exterior

Use your wash mitt (not a sponge), some car soap, and a bucket to begin scrubbing down your car. It grabs more grime and makes the whole process way more fun. Next, get your glass cleaner to get streaks and stains off of your windows and mirror, to make them look good as new. 

Once you’re done here, grab a microfiber towel to dry your car off. Don’t let it air dry! If you do, you might find streaks and soap-bubble stains on your car’s exterior afterward. 

How to Clean Tires

Now time to get into the nitty-gritty. You can use normal dish soap and warm water for most tires. Scrub it thoroughly with a rag, then grab your wheel cleaning brush - you’re going to want this to get into every corner and crease. Make sure you scrub each part to get an in-and-out clean. 

How to Clean Rims

Rims are a big part of the tire, and also the part that shows the most dirt. You want to keep your tires visible and reflective for other drivers, so it’s important to keep them clean and polished. For a comprehensive guide on how to clean, degrease, and polish your rims, I recommend checking this article out

How to Detail a Car Exterior

 Now for the good stuff. Here are the simple steps on how to detail your car:

  • After washing, use your detailing clay bar to get any access debris off. 
  • Grab your polishing spray and foam pad, and buff the outside of your car until you see a nice, shiny sheen. 
  • Time to add the protection! Add the car wax on with your microfiber cloth and rub it on the paint.
  • If you have any more spots on your glass, take your glass cleaner and give it one more go-around for a super clean look. 
  • Dry off the remaining dampness with an unused microfiber towel. 

You’re done! Now, time to focus on the interior:

How do I Detail the Inside of My Car?

Detailing the interior of your car is a little different, but JUST as important. You want to clean the inside of your car so it matches the shiny sheen of the outside!

How to Clean Your Car Interior

    • Remove your car’s floor mats. You never know how much stuff has gotten under them! 
    • Take out any large pieces of trash or debris, and put them in a trash bag. Make sure to grab ALL the large pieces of trash that you can’t vacuum! 
    • Spray your glass cleaner into the cup holders. It works really well for getting rid of big stains. Leave it sitting there for 5-10 minutes before wiping clean. 
    • Vacuum from the top down using your vacuum cleaner. Make sure to get all the crevices in the seats, under the seats, and in every corner of the car. 
    • Use your fabric/carpet cleaner to get any stains out of your seats or carpet. If you have leather as well, use a leather cleaner
    • Sanitize your dashboard and console with disinfectant wipes. 
    • Clean the inside of your windows and mirrors with your glass cleaner
    • Re-vacuum the car to catch any dust or dirt that accumulated from cleaning. 

    ….And viola! You’re done! I hope this detailed step-by-step guide on how to detail your car has helped you pave the way towards a car that looks brand new. Who knows, maybe with a new-looking car, you might find yourself feeling a little more confident when you’re driving on that vast open road! 

    Contributing Writer: Aurora Detor