Cheap professional car detailing tips
This how-to guide can help you detail your own car, truck, or motorcycle using the same techniques professional detailers use. However, just to be safe, be sure to consult your owner's manual before you begin—in this way, you can find out if the manufacturer gives any special recommendations for your specific type of paint, interior, or window tinting.
What you’ll need
- Small, handheld vacuum cleaner with nozzle attachment
- Garden hose
- 1-2 buckets
- Microfiber, chamois, or other type of soft cloth
- Double boiler or saucepan
- Seltzer water
- Plant-based liquid soap (Castille is a good brand)
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Essential oil (optional)
- Linseed oil ($3.38 for 75ml from Google)
- Carnauba wax ($2.50 for 1oz from Etsy)
- Beeswax ($0.75 for 1oz from Etsy)
1. Wash the exterior paint, windows, and trim
First things first—the best place to start is with a thorough cleaning of your car's (likely dirty) exterior.
Note: Here, you want to avoid getting any cleaning agent that contains ammonia, vinegar, or other astringent on your windows if they have tinting—this can degrade the effectiveness of the tint over time.
Exterior Car Soap Recipe:
- Fill one bucket with hot water
- Add 1 cup borax
- Add 1 tablespoon plant-based soap (like Castille)
Use a sponge or soft cloth (microfiber or chamois) to gently soap the exterior of your vehicle, including rims, trim, door handles and bumpers. Rinse with cool water from a hose or second bucket (using two buckets rather than a hose will save on water costs).
Exterior Window Wash Recipe 1:
Use this recipe if your car windows are tinted.
- 1 bottle seltzer water
- 1 soft cloth OR 1 bundle balled-up newspaper
Rinse your windows down with seltzer water and dry with a soft cloth or a balled-up newspaper if you have it on hand (pro car detailers often use this trick to avoid streaking!)
Exterior Window Wash Recipe 2:
Use this recipe if your car windows aren’t tinted.
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar.
- 1 cup water.
- 1 soft cloth OR 1 bundle balled-up newspaper.
Mix the white vinegar and water together in a spray bottle and spritz onto windows, wiping down with a soft cloth or balled-up newspaper.
2. Clean the wheels and wheel wells
Now it's time to thoroughly clean the wheels and wheel wells (you can look for small spots of grime you may have missed).
Wheel Cleaner Recipe:
- Baking soda
- Scrub brush
Mix the baking soda and water together into a runny paste. Use the scrub brush and toothbrush as needed to apply the paste to all areas of the wheels and wheel well crevices. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse with cool water.
3. Apply the exterior wax
You may not use wax with every wash, but when you’re ready, use this cheap all-natural recipe to buff your exterior to a high shine.
All Natural Car Wax Recipe:
- 1 cup linseed oil
- 4 Tbsp carnauba wax (you can find this at auto stores or online)
- 2 Tbsp beeswax
- ½ cup white vinegar
Mix all ingredients together into the top half of a double boiler or into a saucepan. Heat slowly (low heat is best) until the wax is completely melted. Stir gently then pour into a container that’s heat-resistant. Give the wax one hour to turn solid. Take a bit of the mixture and apply using a soft cloth—then buff the exterior to a high shine.
4. Attend to exterior scratches on paint, windows and trim
The best way to buff out shallow scratches on paint, windows, and trim is with a bit of plain paste toothpaste and a toothbrush. You can work the toothpaste gently into the scratch and then buff out with a soft cloth.
Note: For deeper paint or glass scratches or cracks that may spread, it’s best to consult with a body shop professional before attempting at-home restoration.
5. Vacuum out the interior
First, remove the floor mats from the front, back, and trunk areas. Shake them and then lightly vacuum out remaining debris. Then vacuum the interior thoroughly using a vacuum with a narrow nozzle attachment.
6. Clean interior windows as described in Step 1
Here, be sure you’re choosing the appropriate recipe for tint or no tint.
7. Clean the dashboard and interior trim
Here, pay close attention to manufacturer instructions for your type of interior trim and dash—leather, vinyl, cloth and other materials may require special care.
Recipe 1 (safest):
You can safely use this recipe for any dashboard and trim to remove obvious dust and debris.
- Warm water
- Soft cloth
Simply dip the soft cloth into the water and gently wipe away dust and debris.
Use this recipe so long as your manufacturer doesn’t give instructions indicating otherwise.
- ½ tsp plant-based (Castille) soap
- 2 cups water
For leather, you can finish the wash by rubbing a few drops of olive oil into the dash to buff it. For vinyl, if there’s any tough debris, you may want to add a few tablespoons of vinegar into the recipe.
8. Interior stains, scratches and odors
You can use toothpaste and a toothbrush to gently buff out scratches or stains on the dash, interior windows, seats and trim. For odor, sprinkle baking soda into the seats or floor area and leave for a few hours (or overnight if you can) and then vacuum it up.
9. Scent and go!
Finally, your wash and detail job is complete and it’s time to gift yourself with the intoxicating scent of your like-new vehicle. Here are some options—choose according to availability and preferences.
- Rub a few drops of essential oil (peppermint, lavender, rose, tea tree, vanilla, etc.) into the dash.
- Sprinkle some dried herbs underneath the seats.
- Make your own using the recipe below!
All Natural Car Scent Recipe:
You can alter this recipe as you wish.
- ¾ cup baking soda
- 3-5 drops essential oil of your choice
- Small mason jar
- Small piece of breathable fabric (untreated muslin, organic cotton, burlap, et al)
Add baking soda, then essential oil. Attach top with breathable fabric in place. Place scent jar beneath one of the vehicle's front seats. Replace every 1.5 months.
Note: Research has revealed that "new car scent" is actually a mysterious combination of potentially toxic chemicals involved in the process of manufacturing a new vehicle…it’s not only impossible to duplicate, but probably best dissipated and replaced with another safer, but still lovely, scent!