Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

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Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Sun Jun 29, 2008 11:32 am

I figured I'd start a couple of these detailing threads just to get some helpful information onto this forum, which I'm sure will help a few people out. I'll start with a list of proper techniques for all the different processes during detailing... I'll add two more threads... Detailing Tools & Supplies and Detailing FAQ... Depending on the interest and responses, there might be a new forum solely for the purpose of discussing automotive detailing. Anyway, here it goes...

Everything I post is something I’ve done, usually something I keep doing as it works, so please don’t take it to heart if it differs from your process and, as always, do anything I say at your own risk.

The process of a complete detail:

1. Wash
2/3. Clay
2/3. Dry (I put 2/3 because many detailers, as well as myself, like to clay the car right after washing because you must dry it anyway after claying to get all the lube off... this way you save yourself some time by not drying initially)
4. Polish
5. Seal
6. Maintain (Most important step)


Detailed explanation/instructions:


Washing

Many people have adopted the 2-bucket method… one rinse bucket and one soap/wash bucket. The idea is that you soak the sponge/mitt (whatever you’re using to wash) in the wash bucket, wash a section of the car, rinse the sponge off in the rinse bucket, then go to the wash bucket again and wash a section again, etc. While this is good practice, definitely better than using just one bucket, it’s not perfect so to speak. The idea behind the 2-bucket method is that dirt trapped in the sponge after washing down a section will be released into the rinse bucket, so it’s not brought back to the paint. Problem is, all that dirt (depending on how dirty a car is) is usually not going to come out completely, or even close to completely, into the rinse bucket. The best way to do it is to rinse the sponge with the hose thoroughly after washing a section, which will ensure most, if not all, trapped dirt is rinsed out. After that, you can either use 1 or 2 buckets… I still use 2-buckets (I rinse the sponge into the rinse bucket AFTER rinsing it with the hose) then start with the wash bucket again. The main thing is that the soap/water solution in the wash bucket should be as clean at the end of the wash as it was when you started. This is my process, which has worked great for a few years now:

1. Pre-wash: Before washing the entire car you want to begin with a thorough rinse, starting with low pressure to get it wet, then high pressure to get rid of as much loose dirt as possible. Then you should check around the entire car for any serious and heavy contamination, such as tar, tree sap, etc. and apply a cleaner to those areas so you don’t damage the paint during washing these areas by scrubbing hard.
2. Wash wheels, tires and wheel wells: You always want to start with the wheels and tires and finish them completely for two reasons, a. they’re always the most dirty areas and you want to clean those first to get most of the dirt off the vehicle as a whole, and b. any excess of dressing applied to tires and wheel wells will be washed off during the wash if it gets onto the paint around the wheels. To wash the wheels and tires, first spray an all purpose cleaner onto the wheel wells and tires (or use tire cleaner for tires). Then spray a wheel cleaner onto the wheels. (I like to do 1 side at a time so the cleaners don’t dry, which usually happens if you spray all 4 wheels/tires) If the car has enough of a gap, try and get a brush, or at least a terry towel, under the wheel wells to scrub them clean after the cleaner is sprayed on. Then, scrub the tires with a brush or terry towel to clean them. Lastly take a brush or microfiber towel to the wheels and clean them after the cleaner is on there. Rinse everything off and dry thoroughly before applying a dressing to tires and wheel wells. You can wax the wheels later, when you do the paint, or at this point… either one is fine. Move on to washing the paint surfaces.
3. Wash paint: As mentioned above, use 2-bucket method. I use 2 5-gallon buckets both with grit guards in them. I fill the rinse bucket to about 4 gallons and let sponges (1 sponge for lower panels, 1 for upper) soak in there for a minute, while I add about 1 gallon of water to the wash bucket, then 4oz. of soap (different soaps will suggest different amount per gallon) then about 3 more gallons with a hard spray to get all the soap bubbly. Next, leaving one sponge in the rinse bucket, I take the one I’ll be using on upper panels, soak it a bit in the wash bucket, then wash half the roof, rinse the sponge with the hose, throw it in the rinse bucket, rinse off the half-roof section I just washed, wring the sponge into the rinse bucket, soak in wash bucket again, wash other half of roof, etc. I do the roof in two parts, then whole trunk (including back section but not bumper), then hood in two parts, then all glass (front windshield, back glass, windows, mirrors), then upper half of panels on one side, then upper half of panels on the other side, then (with the sponge for lower panels) I do the lower half of panels one side, then lower half of panels on the other side, rear bumper and finally front bumper along with headlights, grille, etc. After every of these sections I’m doing the same thing as before, rinsing the sponge out with the hose, washing the section off, wringing sponge into rinse bucket, then moving on. The idea here is to do a small section when washing so only a little dirt gets trapped into the sponge, making it easier to rinse off. You wash the section off immediately as to not have potential water/soap solution drying up on the car and leaving spots. Throughout the wash you’ll want to rinse the entire car, especially if it’s hot and sunny outside, to keep any water from drying on any panel. When you’re about to fully detail the car, this isn’t a huge deal as you’ll get out any of those dried up water spots easily with the lightest of polishes, but for maintenance washes it’s extremely important because you don’t want to scrub the water spots later when drying. After all that is said and done, and every panels is thoroughly washed and clean, rinse the car off one last time, making sure to get a good stream into all the door, trunk jambs, etc. to get any leftover soap out. Lastly, set the hose nozzle on a very light stream and lower the pressure (I use a on/off valve between the hose and nozzle to make this easier) and “wash the water off” the car by lightly rinsing… this makes most of the water come off as it doesn’t stay in the usual beads, rather just flows off.


Claying

To determine if you need to clay a car, you should wash the car, dry it, then feel for any contamination stuck in the paint which cannot be removed with washing, or even polishing sometimes. To do this, place your hand inside a Ziploc bag, and run it over the paint… you can also do it with a clean, dry, bare hand. The paint should feel very smooth with no little “bumps” if it doesn’t need to be clayed. If it does, sometimes it’s so bad that when you run your finger over the paint, it will feel like you’re touching sandpaper… other times you simply feel a bunch of very tiny bumps on the paint, indicating there are small particles stuck into the paint, only removable by claying the car. Usually you can also feel these contaminants when the paint is still wet, but water will make them less obvious, so it’s better to check on clean, dry paint. Lastly, the most contaminated areas will be the hood, fenders, front of roof, and front bumper obviously; this is simply because these parts are driving into the contamination. This method of checking (wash, dry, check/clay) goes against my process above (wash, clay, dry) simply because the process above is for a complete detail, when you know you’ll be claying the car. Once you’ve determined you will be claying the car, the process is simple:

1. Spray a section of paint (about ½ or ¼ of roof, and move along same as with the wash process… roof, hood, trunk, etc.) with lots of lube (any quick detailer can be used as clay lube, but DO NOT use a spray wax type product… make sure it is a pure quick detailer which is only meant for light cleaning of dust, etc. and has no waxing/sealing abilities, as this will make a huge mess when claying.. basically you’ll be applying a wax with a clay bar, the tool meant to remove wax in the first place…)
2. Move the clay bar very LIGHTLY (only pressure necessary is enough to keep the clay bar touching the paint, nothing else) over the paint, in any motion you prefer (I usually do the simple, up, down, up, etc.), until you feel no more contamination being removed… you will either feel it on the clay bar or hear, or both, as the clay bar removes contamination on the paint while you’re moving it, and later you will be able to touch the dried surface and notice a difference before/after.
3. Once you’ve completed a section, dry off the lube and clay residue (See the alternate step in the Drying section below), feel the difference, and then move on.
4. (Optional) It isn’t always necessary but it’s always recommended to clay the wheels on your car to remove some stuck on brake dust, and similar contamination as in the paint. Process is the same for wheels since they’re usually painted.

The main thing with clay is to keep a lot of lube on the paint surface and to apply no pressure other than what I mentioned above. If there is not enough lube, or if there’s too much pressure, the clay bar will start leaving marring on the paint by sticking to the paint. Very aggressive clay bars can not only leave a somewhat solid residue with not enough lube, but can actually mar the paint due to them being so aggressive. This is why the saying “try the least aggressive method first” should always be the #1 thing in your head when maintaining and/or correcting the paint on your car (and especially a client’s car haha).


Drying

Drying is the most damaging step as far as maintenance of a car goes usually, simply because not enough care is taken and dirty towels are used. During washing, you at least have some lubrication and a tool (sponge) to pick up and contain some of the loose dirt. When drying, however, you’re wiping paint with a towel with very short nap, especially compared to a wash sponge/mitt, and the more you wipe on the paint the more chances you have of introducing swirl marks into the paint. Some paints, Porsche for example, are EXTREMELY soft, and any pressure and/or additional, unnecessary drying/wiping on the paint will results in pretty noticeable scratches, especially on black. BMW has some pretty hard paints usually, but jet black is soft sometimes and other colors might randomly be soft, so always practice being careful when drying. The best process I’ve found works for me is:

1. If doing drying right after washing, use a large, microfiber, waffle drying towel and simply blot-dry the entire car with it. Use as many towels as necessary (I use 2-4 depending on car size; E36 would usually require 2 16”x24” or 24”x24” towels)… this will prevent any damage you might do by dragging the towels across the paint to dry.
2. Once the entire car is dried as mentioned above, use a new microfiber towel, preferably another waffle drying towel, to LIGHTLY wipe off any access water.
3. OR, instead of step 2, do what I prefer on maintenance washes (maintenance being washes when there is no polishing afterward; if I’m polishing after, I could honestly care less about drying very carefully, since I know anything that I might put in the paint will come out with the lightest of polishes)… use a quick detailer to spray the car in sections and wipe down, once the car is blot-dried that is. This way you have some lube and aren’t wiping almost dry paint and you’re also cleaning the paint a bit with the quick detailer.

OR

1. If you’re drying after using a clay bar, you would simply do step 3 above, meaning you would dry the car and get rid of any leftover clay bar and clay lube residue in one step by using a quick detailer and some micro fiber towels to wipe down the car.
2/4. Once the paint is done, you can wipe down the door jambs, trunk jambs, etc. (basically any crevice where water might sit after a wash). Car is now ready for polishing or sealing.


Polishing

Polishing is the most important part of a detail. You can clay a car then wax it, or you can just wax it, and it will look better and feel better than what you started with, but it isn’t until you’ve properly polished the paint (usually only possible by machine) that the real gloss, clarity and swirl-free finish comes out. Polishing will mechanically remove paint in order to correct defects such as swirl marks. After a proper polishing a sealant and/or wax is a must to protect the finish. Polishing process is as follows:

By hand:
I can safely say that very little can be accomplished by hand, and while not very efficient, even a $20-30 orbital buffer/polisher from a local car parts store will do a MUCH better job than by hand. This is due to the simple logic that your hand can only move so fast and apply only so much pressure. Plus you’re going to feel numb for a week if you try and polish an entire car by hand. What IS effective by hand is the use of all-in-one polishes (such as Klasse All-In-One) to chemically (as opposed to mechanically, by machine) remove defects such as some water spots, oxidation, etc. Also, a must by hand is the polishing of crevices on the car that are otherwise simply impossible to polish by machine… such places/parts include underneath most door handles, emblems like VW, Audi, etc. etc. Process by hand is simple:

1. Choose a polish that will have enough cutting power to actually do something by hand.
2. Apply a dime or smaller sized bead of this polish to a foam applicator pad, or even a small 3” machine polishing pad (this is what I use for those tight areas)
3. Spread the product onto the surface where you intend to polish, then simply go at it as fast as you can and almost as hard as you can, wiping in circular motions but moving up and down, left and right.

I’m no expert on hand polishing, so above steps are what I use for small areas and what I’ve used a long time ago on a few panels done by hand. It’s been very effective for the small areas, but tiring even then.

By machine:
As stated above, this is the detailing step where you should strictly follow the rule “least aggressive method first”. If you go with a pad/polish and/or machine that’s too aggressive, you’ll only make more work for yourself and possibly even damage the paint (usually with a rotary buffer). That said, there are two buffers that are very popular… a rotary machine (I use a Makita 9227, my baby haha), which takes a lot of skill and experience to properly use, but is definitely not an impossible task to accomplish, and a random orbital machine (I use a Flex and Porter Cable) which is VERY safe for anyone with any logical thinking, yet it can do great correction work when done properly. There are many videos online (I’ll post links when I get a chance) that show proper movement, polish breakdown, etc. etc. with different machines. Since many detailers have different opinions, and many manufacturers have their own data and opinions about how polishes will work, how long to work it in, etc., I won’t go into detail about that. One thing to note is that you will always work in a polish longer with a random orbital machine than a rotary, which creates heat and breaks down polishes much faster… this is why some, usually more aggressive polishes require a rotary to work properly, and are limited with a random orbital. Process with either machine is:

1. As stated above, choose a pad and polish combo that’s least aggressive (basically a finishing polish with a finishing pad) and move up if necessary.
2a. Apply an X of product across the pad… use small (1/8”) lines for this as you don’t want too much product on the pad, then spread the product over a small work area (20”x20” or so).
2b. (Usually, if not always, done with rotary polishers) Apply a line of product to the paint then pick it up with a pad… this takes skill and one should first learn step 2a…. both work the same way, so they’re simply different preferences of different detailers (I use 2a 99.9% of the time just because I became more comfortable with that)
3. Start at a lower speed to more evenly spread the polish, then move up in speed to work in the polish.
4. After doing a section (I always recommend doing a few test spots, usually on hood and/or trunk, to find the best pad/polish combo(s) to properly correct the paint) wipe off the polish residue, then use a 50/50 isopropyl alcohol 70% and water mixture to clean off that section. This ensures no filling agents within the polish are hiding leftover swirl marks and/or other defects… (some polishes, usually called “glazes” have filling abilities, so while they do remove some swirl marks by removing paint mechanically, they tend to hide a lot of what’s left over, making the finish seem better than it actually is)
5. Keep doing step 4 until you’re happy with the results, whether it’s 1 step or 5 steps is up to you… the steps is also a topic in its own because you are in fact removing paint, so, especially with a rotary, you must limit yourself to how much polishing is to be done.
6. Once you’ve found a combo(s) that work, and the entire vehicle is polished, do a 50/50 iso/water wipedown to get the car ready for sealing.


Sealing

Sealing can be done with any quality wax or sealant on the market. This is a straight forward procedure and different manufacturers have different application/removal instructions, so I won’t go into detail here. Sealants usually last longer than carnauba waxes due to their chemical makeup, but the carnauba waxes are known to bring out the color better and make it look deeper, usually on dark-colored cars. This of course is very subjective, so any quality sealant or wax will do a great job. I usually do 2-3 layers of a sealant (Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze) within a month after the complete detail, then top that off every 4-6 weeks with a carnauba wax. Again, subjective topic so do what you like, but definitely use quality products (I HATE Turtle Wax, just so it’s known haha):

1. Apply product (most sealants and waxes require very little product.. “less is more” when it comes to this)
2. Let product dry.
3. Wipe off residue with microfiber towels
4. Enjoy the finish!

As with everything else, whether washing, drying, applying wax, cleaning off residue, always make as little contact with the paint as possible, and always make that contact as light as possible.


Maintaining

Maintenance isn’t really a part of a complete detail per say, since there’s nothing to do after sealing of the paint is done. Maintenance refers to proper washing, drying and waxing techniques to use after the paint is corrected and you have a great base to begin maintenance work.

1. Washing should be done every 4-15 days, depending on driving patterns, how dirty car gets, etc. etc. I always recommend weekly washes for any car that’s not a “garage queen” or show car, and even more often if car gets dirty within a few days.
2. Sealant and/or wax should be applied every 4-8 weeks to ensure the paint finish is protected from the elements as much as possible (sealant or wax tend to make harder for water spots to occur, for bird sh*t to do damage to the paint, etc. etc.)
3. Claying should be done on an “as needed basis” but I always recommend it be done at least 1-2 times a year.
4. A complete detail, including all steps above (claying, polishing, etc.) should be done at least twice a year, to ensure you get rid of any light swirl marks the appeared, instead of waiting a couple years again and having to do a more aggressive polishing.
5. Lastly, quick detailers are great to remove dust every day or two that might accumulate on the paint, even if it just sits in the garage, but I always wait until the weekly wash as I don’t want to risk swirling the paint doing anything else.

Some important stuff:
Main thing to remember… TOUCH THE PAINT AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE!
Use microfiber towels on all painted surfaces.

This is basically a complete process for a paint correction detail.
I do not do much complete interior work, so I’ll post up a small process and product suggestions later.
I will also most likely expand and/or edit a few things within a few sections above as I see fit, so I'll note all changes with a new post and also in the original post, probably in different color font.

Hope this is helpful and feel free to PM me or e-mail @ ivan@lustrdetail.com with any questions whatsoever.
Last edited by ivopivo on Mon Jul 21, 2008 12:52 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ali » Mon Jun 30, 2008 3:48 pm

wow...lots of good info. I need to use some of these tips.

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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Tue Jul 01, 2008 1:45 am

ali wrote:wow...lots of good info. I need to use some of these tips.

-Ali


Thanks... I added the rest. I'll work on a product thread next.
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby Caligula » Tue Jul 01, 2008 3:31 am

Umm, so is a leather shammy not good for drying?
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Tue Jul 01, 2008 8:11 am

Caligula wrote:Umm, so is a leather shammy not good for drying?


Some like it, but most detailers are using the drying mf towels now...
I can't see myself using anything other than good waffle weave micro fiber towels... this is the towel I use...http://www.detailedimage.com/DI-Microfi ... owel-P100/
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby Slvr ///M3 » Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:56 am

Nice write up, very informative and I think everyone can learn something from this. I would suggest if at all possible to make this a sticky some where and add some various pictures if you get a chance.
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Fri Jul 04, 2008 11:19 am

Slvr ///M3 wrote:Nice write up, very informative and I think everyone can learn something from this. I would suggest if at all possible to make this a sticky some where and add some various pictures if you get a chance.


The point of posting this was to possibly start up a detailing forum, but we'll see how the interest is. What kind of photos would you like to see? Photos of products, techniques? I'm working on making some videos in the near future, but have been really busy for it lately. I'll definitely post up links to, most likely uploaded to youtube, videos.
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ali » Fri Jul 04, 2008 8:33 pm

stickied! hopefully people dig the idea. I would love to get some good detailing tips.

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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Sat Jul 05, 2008 11:24 am

I've been busy lately but should post up a few other long write ups over the next week. Glad you guys like it.
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby MIKEGTR » Sat Jul 05, 2008 9:08 pm

wow... awesome write up... i just read this after detailing my car today and i know i could've done it much better with these tips...

also what do you think of plastx on the headlights... i used it today... lightly and it really brought my faded headlights to life
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Sun Jul 06, 2008 4:19 am

MIKEGTR wrote:wow... awesome write up... i just read this after detailing my car today and i know i could've done it much better with these tips...

also what do you think of plastx on the headlights... i used it today... lightly and it really brought my faded headlights to life


PlastX works really good on plastic, but I prefer to sand then polish plastics, especially headlights... PlastX does much more filling than it does actually removing the fade, scratches, etc... I guess what I'm trying to say is that your headlights will be like they are now only for a short time, before you start seeing the fading again
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ali » Mon Jul 07, 2008 3:27 pm

What grit would you recommend for sanding the headlights? I really need to do this to my spec v. The headlights and fog lights are no bueno. Not to mention when I put the laminx on my fog lights they looked horrible because of how messed up the fogs were.

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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Mon Jul 07, 2008 11:13 pm

ali wrote:What grit would you recommend for sanding the headlights? I really need to do this to my spec v. The headlights and fog lights are no bueno. Not to mention when I put the laminx on my fog lights they looked horrible because of how messed up the fogs were.

-Ali


It all depends on the condition of the headlights... As I mentioned above, always go with the least aggressive method with any of this... I would start with 3000, maybe 4000... 3000 is rough enough to clean up some yellowing, etc. but still smooth enough to be removed easily later (by removed I mean the tiny scratches the 3000 grit causes are removed easily)... if the headlights are really bad, just go with 600, 1000, 2000, 3000 then a few steps of polishing
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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ali » Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:02 am

what kind of polishing compound would you recommend? Also, do you think using an orbital buffer is too harsh for headlights?

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Re: Auto Detailing Process & Techniques

Postby ivopivo » Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:58 am

ali wrote:what kind of polishing compound would you recommend? Also, do you think using an orbital buffer is too harsh for headlights?

-Ali


Which orbital buffer did you plan on using? It's not too harsh as long as you don't use some aggressive polishes (compounds) which will just make the headlight hazy... to do proper polishing, you would need to have a good orbital (like a porter cable 7424, Meguiar's G110, or a Flex 3401), good quality pads (Lake Country is what I recommend for headlights) and any fine polish will do... you can get Meguiar's #80 or 82 from a local store probably. If not you can get Meguiar's #9 for sure. I'm working on the list of products and tools so I'll post it up, along with links asap.

Without the buffer, your best bet is to use Meguiar's Scratch X or PlastX by hand, after the sanding. Just get a couple of those round terry cloth applicator pads from an auto store and rub the polish in with that. It should get rid of most, if not all, of what sanding left behind, and lights should be in much better condition.
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