Detailing Guide

This how-to guide will run through the basics of detailing; how to get started, what not to do, what products I recommend etc.
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Right let's get started, firstly I would like to say I detail by hand, partly due to the cost of using machine polishers (ones worth buying anyway), and partly due to the experience needed to use such devices without damaging your paint. As a result all advice given in this guide is more aimed to the novice/intermediate skilled detailer.

For a full detail on your car, you're going to want to address each of these areas, and in this order;

(click the heading to go to the relevant section)
Snow Foam (optional pre-wash step)
Washing - (once or twice/week)
Claying - (twice/year)
Polishing - (once/month)
Glass Polishing - (once/week)
Waxing - (once/two months)
Cleaning Alloy Wheels - (once or twice/week)
Black Plastic Trim - (once/month)
Exhaust Tips and Chrome - (once/month)
Dressing the Tyres - (once/fortnight)
Valeting the Interior - (once/fortnight)

Now having said that, it's not necessary to do each of these things everytime you clean your car. I've added in brackets the number of times per year, month or week you should ideally be doing them.

Rover 25 Detailed - Click here to see some of my results using the methods described herein.

Snow Foam
How to use Snow Foam on your car.

(Many thanks to j4miejenks at for the use of his snow foaming pictures)

An optional pre-wash method is to use Snow Foam.

Snow foaming involves attaching a lance, filled with a mixture of snow foam concentrate and water, to your pressure washer. You then spray it over you car completely covering it.

Snow Foam

The snow foam will then get to work loosening the dirt and start to remove it. The idea of snow foam is to get as much of the dirt particles off your paint before you start washing. Washing with lots of dirt on the car can cause swirls (explained in the Washing section).

Leave it for a short period, then jet wash off.

Snow Foam Result

Once you've jet washed it off, carry on with the following washing instructions.

You can buy kits that attach to most big name pressure washers, such as the kit below which comes with some snow foam concentrate as well.

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How to properly wash your car minimising the risk of causing swirls.

First thing's first, don't use a sponge! Sponges trap dirt particles on their flat surface, dragging them across your car's paint. This is one of the main causes of swirls.

Swirls are light scratches in the top layer of paint, visible in harsh light, e.g. bright sun light, man made lights.

What you want to be using is a micro fibre wash mitt. I use a 'noodle' micro fibre wash mitt, it's great for a number of reasons.

  1. It doesn't have a flat surface, so the dirt isn't scratching your paint. Instead the dirt is swept up into the 'noodles' and stored there.
  2. You can wear it.
  3. It holds a lot of water.

I use one exactly like the one below, they are pretty cheap to be honest, and well worth getting. I definitely wouldn't go back to using a sponge.

Before you start washing though, you need to remove as much dirt as possible. Either do this with a jet washer or a hose. Don't use a concentrated jet washer nozzle though, use one that fans the water out, some paints that are particularly weak (classic cars) could be stripped if the pressure is too much in one place. Be careful around badges and vinyls too.

Rinsing Car

Next thing, you're going to want to use two buckets, each with its own different purpose. It will also help if they are different colours, to distinguish between them.

Two Bucket Method

  1. (above left) is a bucket of water with whatever shampoo you're using mixed in (we'll get to the shampoo in a sec).
  2. (above right) is a bucket of water with nothing in, just clean water.

This is the aptly named two bucket method. You need to first dunk your mitt into bucket 1, then start with your washing. When the mitt is either dirtied up, or you've ran out of excess water in the mitt, dunk it in bucket 2 and swill it round. This will get all the dirt out of the noodles, so as to prevent swirls.

You can also buy buckets with 'Grit Guards', these aim to further prevent swirls. They work by you rubbing the mitt across the guard, which will loosen the dirt particles from the mitt, and in turn the particles will fall to the bottom of the bucket. This stops the dirt being transferred back to your paint. You can buy bucket and grit guard sets or just the grit guard on its own, both are linked to below.

Now you want to repeat the process by dunking the mitt back in bucket 1. Carry on washing the car like this until you get halfway round, then rinse off the suds. Do the same until you have completely washed the car.

A shampoo I highly recommend is Meguiars Gold Class Shampoo and Conditioner, even just washing your car with this stuff gives a great shine. You can pick up a 1.9litre bottle of the stuff, which should last you a long time (mines lasted a year) if used in the correct amounts (4 caps per bucket). You can buy a bottle from the following link.

Last thing you need to do is dry the car. I don't like using chamois 'shammy' leather as it feels scratchy, also adding to the swirls. What you want to get hold of is some micro fibre towels, they are much more plush and soak up lots of water. Instead of dragging the micro fibre towels across the paint, you want to dab it. If you have any grit left on the paintwork, dragging the cloth along it will also drag the grit, causing swirls. Micro fibres are also good for buffing off water spots or streaks, left from washing, when you don't need to wax or polish.

You want some micro fibres like these;

Micro Fibre Cloth

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How to clay bar your car's paintwork to remove embedded dirt particles.

Claying is a process of removing grit, tar and other dirt particles from your paint. I also successfully removed some over-spray by claying.

Before claying you should wash your car, and dry it. Some people will say you don't need to dry it as you are going to be wetting it again anyway with lubricant, but for argument's sake we will say dry first.

You will need to get a clay kit, I recommend Meguiars Quik Clay kit, which I've been using for a about two years. Taryn, from autoperfection, also recommends using the ultrafine 'Sonus Blue' clay kit.

The kit comes with some instructions, but I'll go over how to use it anyway. You get 1x Clay bar, and 1x Lubricating Spray Bottle.

First thing you want to do is split the clay bar in half, because if you drop it, it's soiled and cannot be used again.

A useful tip for using clay is to grab a spare clean bucket and fill it up a bit with some warm/hot water. Put the clay bar in there prior to starting, this will soften it up a bit making it easier to use.

Adding to this tip, Panda ( suggests cutting the clay bar into 3 sections, leaving 2 warming in the bucket whilst you work with the other. Circulating them so you always have a warm piece of clay.

Next grab your lubricant spray and lay some down in a patch about 30cm x 30cm. Holding the clay bar, with your finger tips, flat against the paint work (shown below)

Applying Clay Lubricant

Gently move the clay bar left and right, if the lubricant starts to dry spray some more as you do not want to clay on dry paint. Keep going until the bar glides easily over the paint, and you can physically feel that the paint is smooth and has no roughness. If your car is particularly dirty, then you will see the clay bar surface getting mucky pretty quick (shown below).

Dirty Clay Bar

 When this happens fold the bar and knead it back into shape with one flat side.

Kneading Clay Bar

When you have clayed the whole car, you will want to give it a quick wash to get rid of any clay residue, before moving onto polishing. 

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How to polish your car's paintwork to get the best shine possible.

Polishing and waxing are often confused as the same thing, this is not the case. Polishing aims to reduce or completely get out any swirls or scratches and provide great shine. You should always wax after polishing to protect the paint.

But keeping on topic, polish needs to be worked hard so the polymers breakdown and actually get to work polishing. Using a micro fibre cloth, or applicator pad like the one below,

put a small amount of polish on the towel (or pad) and work at a high rate in a circular motion. The polish should go transparent if you are working it well enough. Below on the left you can see polish that is not worked in well, and on the right is how it should look. If you click the image below you will be able to see it clearer.

Car Polish Application

Depending on the temperature at the time, sunny or overcast, you are going to want to either work on one panel at a time (sunny) or several (overcast) before buffing off the polish. To buff off use a micro fibre cloth. Do not use a cloth that has been used for waxing or drying, as it could interfere with the polish, this goes for any other task too, don't use cloths that have been used for something else.

I currently use Autoglym Super Resin Polish, but since writing this guide I've received messages stating that it's not all it's cracked up to be. It contains a lot of fillers and silicone, which will reduce the life of the wax you put on top due to it not being able to adhere to the paint.

So in light of this these are the new recommended products for polishing (as recommended by a professional detailer), Meguiars Deep Crystal Step 1 Cleaner (below left) to clean off any previous products and oily residues left on your paint, and to prepare the paint for polishing. To actually polish the car use Meguiars Deep Crystal Step 2 Polish (below right).

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Glass Polishing
How to polish glass windows in your car.

Glass polishing follows the same principle as just polishing your paint, except there are specific glass polishes. I recommend getting some Autoglym Glass Polish. Since writing this article, another product has been suggested as a good alternative; "Turtle Wax Clear Vue Glass Polish".

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How to wax your car's paintwork to provide long lasting shine and protection.

Waxing helps protect your paint from the elements, when properly waxed rain will just bead off your paint, or sit on top of it, like below:


Also when properly waxed it will allow you to just wash you car to regain the high gloss shine from the polish, as oppose to having to do the whole detail. Dirt should come away easier when you wash the car too.

You can apply wax, similarly to polish, with micro fibre cloths or an applicator pad. With wax however, you don't need to work it in, you just apply it by smearing it on. A good method of applying wax is in straight lines, all in one orientation, then buff off tangentially (the opposite direction) to how you applied it. This helps prevent smearing of the wax, and just makes it generally easier to buff off. You can see below how I've applied it, wax on vertically wax off horizontally (click the image to see it more clearly).

After leaving the wax to cure for about 10-15minutes you should buff it off. A test of whether the wax has cured or not is to rub your finger along it; if it smears then it's still wet, if it comes off cleanly then it's cured and ready to be buffed off. Below you can see two finger marks, the one on the right was done straight after applying the wax and has streaked, the one on the left was done after it had cured and is streak free (again click to enlarge for clarity).

There are a number of waxes of all different costs, personally I use Meguiars Deep Crystal Step 3 Carnauba Wax (below left), which is relatively cheap. But then you can get other waxes such as Collinite 476 Super Double Coat Wax (below middle) which is more expensive but comes recommended by Typhoon 180, a professional detailer ( He also recommends another wax that is more expensive still, DoDo Juice Supernatural (below right). He says it seems to last longer than some of his £100+ zymol waxes, pretty impressive at almost half the price.

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Cleaning Alloy Wheels
How to clean your car's alloy wheels.

Usually you will just want to wash the alloys on the car, but for a thorough clean the only way to do it is by taking them off. This allows you to get at the backs of the wheels and clean out the inside.

There are a few things you will need to do to get your rims looking good. You want to wash them, dry them and wax them.

To wash them get another noodle micro fibre mitt, your wheels will have a lot more dirt on than your paint, as you don't want to use the same mitt. Mix up the same two buckets as you would to wash the car, and use the same technique.

If you find any particularly stubborn bits of grime, then you can use some of this; Meguiars Hot Rims, it helps to loosen up the grime then you can just give it a bit of a scrub with the mitt and it should come away. I've used this on my alloys and it does work wonders.

After cleaning the alloys you will want to dry them and then wax them. You could also polish them if necessary.

I would just use my usual wax, Meguiars Step 3 Carnauba Wax, but you can get specific alloy waxes. Basically you are waxing them to make it easier to clean them in the future, and help prevent brake dust from clinging to them.

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Black Plastic Trim
How to clean and revive you car's plastic trim back to black.

I quite often get asked how do you keep the black plastic trim looking so black. It seems to be a much debated problem, with everyone suggesting different products. The product I personally use at the moment, I also use on the interior (explained later), is Meguiars Vinyl and Rubber Protectant (below left). For me it produces a great deep black and lasts for quite a while. Other products I have seen recommended are Meguiars Gold Class Trim which is in the same product range as the wash I use, which leads me to believe it will be a quality product. And also Dodo Juice Supernatural Gloss Trim, which is in the same range as the Dodo Juice Wax suggested by Typhoon 180, also giving the impression that it will be a quality product.

Here is an example of using Meguiars Vinyl and Rubber Protectant on my black plastic trim, I have applied a small amount (about 5p piece sized blob) on a micro fibre cloth and worked into half of the trim. As you can see it makes a considerable difference.

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Exhaust Tips and Chrome
How to polish your car's chrome details and exhaust tips / boxes.

When I first bought my Longlife stainless steel exhaust backbox a lot of people asked me how I got it so shiny considering the state it arrived in. The same was asked when I got my Janspeed Intermediate Pipe too. As seen in the pictures below, the difference is considerable.

The simple answer is a bucket load of elbow grease.

But you're going to need something to help with getting the dirt off. What I did was use some Autoglym Engine and Machine Cleaner, this loosened up the surface grime. After drying off that, take a cloth you are never going to use again (as it will be very dirty afterwards) and start scrubbing with some Brasso (metal polish).

That's pretty much it, however, you can go down the machine polisher route and get a drill attachment. Same procedure applies though, use the machine polisher with some metal polish and keep going till you achieve the results you want.

Below are two links right to the individual pages to buy both the products I used.

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Dressing the Tyres
How to dress your car's tyres for that professionally cleaned finish.

Quite a few people neglect the tyres, at their loss. If you dress the tyres it can set your whole car off. You will want to dress your tyres especially if you have dark or black alloys.

Again you will want to use a cloth you don't really care about, as its going to get dirty (tyres are dirty), or you can buy specific tyre dressing applicators, like so;

To dress the tyre just put some tyre dressing onto your chosen applicator and wipe it on. Don't put any on the tread of your tyre as it could cause loss of grip, you just want to apply it to the side wall. Below you can see an example of how much difference tyre dressing makes, with the right side in both pictures being the one that has been dressed.

The product I used to get this effect was Meguiars Endurance High Gloss Tyre Gel and I cannot recommend it enough. It is the nicest smelling thing you will ever use, just like bubblegum. Not only that but it lasts ages, I have used my bottle at least 25 times and its not even 1/4 used.

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Valeting the Interior
How to valet the interior of your car to make sitting in it a nicer experience.

For all of the interior I use Meguiars Natural Shine Vinyl and Rubber Protectant, although there appears to be a new version available too "...Supreme Shine..." which I would assume is just as good if not better.

As my seats are faux leather, i.e. vinyl, then I use the above products. Just apply the product to a micro fibre cloth, or applicator pad, and work it into the seats/dash/trim. To get a higher shine, apply twice.

If however you have real leather seats you could use the following products. I always recommend Autoglym or Meguiars products as all of the ones I've used have been great quality, so either of these;

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Rover 25 Detailed

MG Rover 25 RoofMG Rover 25 RearMG Rover 25 SideMG Rover 25MG Rover 25 FrontMG Rover 25

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