Basic Car Detailing Equipment and Tips

It is not vanity to clean your car because it is a big investment and cleaning protects that investment. If you look after it, especially the interior, it will be worth more when you change it and you will not have to get it professionally valeted to get the best price for it. It is easier to spot problems with paint or bodywork on a clean car because dirt hides small blemishes until they become big enough to show through it. In the winter, caked on grime contains road salt and holds moisture, acting as a rust-inducing poultice. In addition, it is far more pleasant for you and, especially, your passengers to sit in a clean, fresh smelling car rather than a rubbish tip smelling of dogs and cigarettes (or worse).

Avoid using mechanical car washes because their rotary brushes eventually dull the paintwork with millions of tiny scratches. However, you should still take care when hand cleaning it for the same reason – grit trapped in a sponge or cloth can do a lot of damage before you notice it. It is also sensible to keep car wash cloths, sponges and brushes separate from household cleaning items so they don’t get used to wash a gritty floor or soaked in harsh household cleaners.

Essential tools

  • A 15 litre (three gallon) bucket
  • Bodywork brush
  • Bug sponge
  • Chamois leather
  • Two polishing cloths
  • Kitchen towel
  • Sponge and cloth for glass cleaner
  • Dry paintbrush
  • Vacuum cleaner

Useful tools

  • Alloy wheel brush
  • Hose with trigger nozzle
  • Powerwasher (especially in rural areas)

Save water

A hose is not a car cleaning essential and can waste a lot of water. If you have to use one, perhaps because the car is muddy, either get a nozzle that shuts off the water or turn the tap off when you are not using it.

Hand care

If you have sensitive skin, use rubber gloves as you will be handling products with all kinds of chemicals in them and do not know what nasties you are washing off the car. In winter, rubber gloves also make washing the car more comfortable.

Cleaning power

If you live in the country a powerwasher may be a car cleaning essential because in wet weather, especially at times when a lot of farm machinery is moving around, a rural car gets mud caked under wheel arches and a thin layer of it across the lower bodywork.

A powerwasher is likely to be more effective than a hose and so use less water getting this off, especially from underneath. If you try and wash mud off the bodywork with a bucket and sponge you merely spread it about and scratch the paint.

However, take care because even the domestic washers run at 1,500 psi, which is powerful enough to force water past seals. Wear safety glasses when using one because the dirt-laden water can ricochet at you with force.

Sponge vs brush

Most people use a cloth or sponge to wash the car but a purpose-made car washing brush with soft bristles is better because it does not trap grit so easily and is better at cleaning grilles and grooves. You can also get long-handled ones if you are short or your car is tall. If your car has intricate alloy wheels you may also need a small brush for spokes: several firms make wheel-cleaning brushes.

Buy a bug sponge from a car accessory shop. This is a sponge with a gently abrasive surface (don’t use a washing up sponge) for getting squashed insects off glass and bodywork. When washing a car you should only have to use it on the most stubborn, baked-on bugs. You can also get wipes, like baby wet wipes, formulated to remove bugs and tar.


A good chamois (pronounced ‘sham-wah’) leather, often called a shammy, makes drying the car off much easier. If you leave pools of water on the car it is likely to dry patchy as impurities in the water are left behind when it evaporates. Modern shammy leather is nothing to do with the chamois animal but is made from sheep or calf skin from animals killed for meat. However, some synthetic shammies are as good as real leathers and last longer because they are not organic. Leather ones should only be rinsed in clean water, never soap or detergent, or they deteriorate.

Polishing off

The best thing for applying wax or polish is stockinet, also known as mutton cloth because it was used to wrap sides of meat. You can buy this in big rolls in good car accessory shops and cut it to length. When you cut a piece, give it a good shake before getting in the car with it because it drops tiny bits of cut thread which are difficult to get out of carpets.


For cleaning the interior, you need a vacuum cleaner with a thin nozzle plus a clean, dry 25 mm to 50 mm paintbrush for getting into nooks and crannies.

Related posts:

  1. How to Clean a Really Dirty Windshield Guide
  2. How to Wash Your Car like a Pro
  3. How to Clean a Car’s Dashboard
  4. Tips to Clean a Car’s Interior
  5. How to Clean Wrangler Windows

Filed Under: Wash & Cleaning


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