The Basics of DIY Car Detailing

Learn the basics of DIY car detailing

Keep Your Car Looking New with these Car Detailing Tips

Spring is around the corner, which means your vehicle is probably ready for some seasonal TLC. Sure, maybe you hit the car wash every once in a while or declutter the floors. But there’s nothing like a deep, thorough clean of the interior and exterior to get your truck looking its best. Show your car or truck some love with these DIY car detailing tips! 

check out this NWMS blog all about DIY car detailing

Why Auto Detailing is a Good Idea

Practicing good car care isn’t just about taking pride in your ride, it’s about maximizing its value. Keeping your vehicle in the best possible condition will maintain the best possible resale value down the line. That’s not just about proper mechanical maintenance and service. 

The elements can be damaging over time as dirt, sun, salt, and other environmental factors take their toll. Corrosion, rust, and improperly preserved paint are cheaper and easier to prevent than to fix.

When it comes to your vehicle’s interior, think of the health factor. If you own a car or truck, chances are that you spend a lot of time in it. Treat yourself (and your passengers) to a clean space, scrubbed of bacteria and dust. 

Think of your car as another room in your home – you may even spend as much time there. You deserve a well-maintained space with fresh, breathable air. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should wash your car approximately on a monthly basis. It may need washing more often, depending on where you live and where you park. A thorough detailing isn’t necessary to do this often. Once every several months, or even once a year, will make a big difference.

Without further ado, let’s get into the basics of DIY car detailing! Park your car in a shady place, ideally with access to a garden hose. Now we’re ready to get started.

Cleaning the Interior

cleaning the interior of your car will make a world of difference

Car Interior Cleaning Supplies

It’s not hard to accomplish, but there’s a lot to do. Hopefully, you’re no stranger to hard work!

Before you start a DIY car detailing, you need to take care of the inside of your car first. Some useful things to have on hand:

  • Microfiber cloth
  • All-purpose cleaner 
  • Firm scrub brush
  • Vacuum with attachments
  • Spray carpet cleaner
  • Glass cleaner
  • Furniture Polish
  • Detailing brush (a simple, cheap paintbrush will suffice)
be sure to declutter your car


The first step is to remove any clutter from your vehicle. Trash, clothes, work materials, crumpled receipts, loose change – get it out of there! Make sure you roll the seats forward- you never know what you’ll find down there. Once you’ve eliminated all that, it’s time to start cleaning your car.

when you begin your DIY car detailing adventure, start at the dashboard!

Start at the Dashboard

With the floors free of clutter, you may be tempted to get right in there with the vacuum. Hold off, though, because there’s a good reason to save that for later. Every step of the process is going to produce some amount of dust in the air. Gravity will collect that for you on the floor, where you can get rid of it for good with the finishing touches.

First, use the vacuum with an extension attachment to do a superficial dusting. Get into the surfaces surrounding the dashboard, behind the wheel, and in and around the console. Again, don’t do all your vacuuming at once – save the carpets for later.

Pull out that small brush. Dab a little furniture polish onto the tip of the brush and then get into the crevices of your air vents. Q-tips are also effective for hard-to-reach areas.

Next, hit that microfiber towel or cloth with a spritz of the all-purpose cleaner. Go to town on the dashboard and steering wheel! Get the most out of the microfiber by folding it so you’re only using one section of it at a time. 

When that section is all used up, flip it to an unexposed section. Repeat until the whole thing needs a thorough rinse. Then keep at it until the surfaces are dust-free and gleaming. Spare no expense!

wash all glass surfaces when doing DIY car detailing

Wash Glass Surfaces

You’ve cleaned the dashboard and surrounding surfaces in the front to perfection. Let’s get at the windows from the inside, and the windshield too. 

A glass-specific microfiber cloth is ideal here, though any clean microfiber cloth will do better than a sponge. Spray some window cleaner onto the cloth and then wipe it in a long, straight motion from side to side, from top to bottom. Avoid making a circular motion to avoid streaks- you’re not the karate kid.

This step may need to be repeated. Make sure you get the tops of your windows – you’ll need to roll them down slightly. Wipe up any leftover wetness with a dry microfiber cloth.

be sure to clean the seats

Clean the Seats

Don’t neglect your seats! Run the vacuum hose attachment over the seats, removing any bits of dust and debris from the surface of them.

Next, spray a small amount of cleaner directly onto the seats. Then use a (clean) microfiber cloth to rub them down, extracting any dust that’s settled into the material. If the seats are leather, use a leather cleaner with the microfiber cloth.

before you stop the DIY car cleaning, finish with the floor of your car

Finish with the Floor

Thoroughly work the vacuum through the carpet, making sure to stay a little longer in all the nooks and crannies. If possible, remove the carpet from the floor to get underneath. Work your way under the seats to thoroughly clear out all the accumulated debris. Shake out the carpets and then replace them so you can clean them up.

Now it’s time to get in there with the stiff scrub brush and the carpet cleaner. Use firm, circular motions from side to side to draw out any dust embedded in the floor. Once done to your satisfaction, do a quick once over with the vacuum once again.

That takes care of the interior. For an extra touch, add some new air fresheners to keep it smelling as clean as it looks.

Detailing the Exterior

make sure you have the correct car exterior cleaning supplies

Car Exterior Cleaning Supplies

Before you start DIY Car Detailing, you need the following things:

  • Hose
  • Wheel Cleaner
  • Microfiber mitt
  • Car soap 
  • Two buckets
  • Spray car wax
  • Paint clay
  • Microfiber cloths for drying


The first step is to hose down your vehicle, giving it a good rinse before you tackle specifics.

be sure to clean your wheels when you're working on DIY car detailing

Clean Your Wheels

Next, clean your wheels. There are a variety of wheel cleaners to choose from, which have their own instructions for you to follow. Ideally, you want to use a non-toxic option for the best results. 

These cleaners typically call for a five-minute wait after the cleaner is applied. Then, you get in there with a firm brush to scour them off. When that’s all said and done, give them another quick rinse.

washing your vehicle is beneficial in many ways

Wash Your Vehicle

After getting the wheels, now is the time for the standard DIY car wash. We strongly recommend a microfiber mitt over the classic large sponge. Use a specifically-designed car soap, which will have its own water-to-soap ratio on the label. Mix it into the bucket and get washing.

After making your way through each section with the mitt, rinse it down with the hose and dunk your mitt hand into a bucket of rinse water. Make your way around the vehicle doing so. Then dry it off with a few microfiber cloths.

clay barring your vehicle is one way to get that smooth, shiny finish

Clay Barring Your Vehicle

Next, to get that smooth, shiny finish, it’s time to use the spray wax and the clay bar. These will come with instructions of their own, which you should refer to even if you’re familiar with the process. 

The age and condition of your vehicle will determine what type of clay bar you should use. Heavy-duty clay bars are for older vehicles with more years of accumulated contaminants to deal with. There are all-purpose ones that should suffice if you’ve had your vehicle for a few years and take decent care of it. If it’s relatively new, you may want to go with a lighter one.

Squish the clay bar into a patty of sorts. This will make it an effective tool for covering the most surface area in your hand. Then, squirt some spray wax (use plenty- the clay should move smoothly over the paint) onto the section you’re starting with. Squirt some onto the clay bar as well.

Make your way around the vehicle, moving the clay bar back and forth without applying too much pressure. When you finish a section, dry it off before moving on. Here’s a short video that walks through the process for reference.

Anyone Can Do DIY Car Detailing!

anyone can do DIY car cleaning

That covers the basics! Professional detailers can save you the trouble, but if you don’t mind using a little elbow grease, you can save money by doing some DIY car detailing. Also, your materials will last until the next time you decide to do it again. Treat your vehicle to a thorough, deep-clean detail to get it looking like new!