What is car detailing? Our process part 1 – ‘The Wash’

Detailing is the ultimate, highest level of cleaning, decontamination, correction & protection of a vehicle to bring it back to point where it is as good as, or, even better than when it was new. A professional detail is not a typical ‘valet’ as the treatments go far beyond a ‘good clean & wax’.

Car detailing does not cater for severe deep scratches or damage where the paint would need re-spraying.

Many detailers do have contacts in the body shop world they can recommend and once any work is complete will refine the finish to bring it back to better than new.

So, the stages! This all depends on the treatment that has been selected, be it down to time constraints, budget or condition of the car.

Explained below is the wash stages that we would carry out on our ‘Minor Paint Correction. We have split this into different sections and explained in a series of blogs!

The Wash

EVERY detailing treatment will begin with a thorough decontamination of the paint, wheels, arches and plastic trim along with engine bay, the door shuts and other hard to reach places.


These come first. Removed from the car one or two at a time these are jet washed to remove any loose material. A general (non-acidic) wheel cleaner is then used to remove any dried-on dirt.

Once completed the wheels are then sprayed with an iron fallout remover and left to ‘bleed’. This will remove iron particles which are particularly prevalent due to the brake pads and discs. After around 5 minutes the fallout remover is agitated with a wheel brush and then rinsed.

The iron fallout is then repeated as many times as is required to get rid of everything! Next is tar removal. Much the same as the iron fallout in terms of the process this is also repeated as many times as is needed to remove all the ingrained tar deposits. So, at this point, we’re looking clean but we are not finished here.

With an ‘older’ non-paint work clay bar the final decontamination is completed to remove anything the tar and fallout removers couldn’t shift. Once done, a final rinse down and we are good to get them back on the car.


While the wheels are off the car this is perfect chance to get the built-up dirt out from the arches and components found within.

After a good rinse to remove the loose dirt we use an all-purpose cleaner (APC) and/or degreaser along with a variety of brushes to give everything a good clean.

You don’t have to worry about low-pressure water here as these parts are exposed to the elements anyway! Depending on the level of grime this will be repeated until we have a squeaky-clean arch. Repeated for all other arches.


Often an overlooked part of the cleaning and decontamination process.

A LOT of dirt can gather in these places and I’m sure we have all seen the green moss growing in the gaps around the boot! (trunk if you’re in America!)

So, the door shuts are jet washed being careful to get as little water mist into the interior of the car. Once rinsed APC/degreaser is again used liberally and agitated with a super soft detailing brush, not forgetting about the underside of the doors and the hard to reach parts of the hinge mechanism.

Once completed, a good rinse and repeat for all doors. The bonnet (hood) is much the same, jet washed around the shuts and the underside of the panel, APC, agitate and rinse. Now the boot (trunk) is a bit more difficult and you don’t want to end up with litres of water everywhere.

The best thing we do here is jet wash the panel gaps. This allows water to flow as it would if it were rain. Then APC, agitate. The boot gets closed and the jet washed used in the same way as the initial rinse.

The wash

First, we rinse, this is crucial. During the rinse, we don’t just wet the car. We are looking to remove as much of the loose material as possible.

This loose material is what causes a lot the scratches and swirls so removing it will help reduce any risk of damage. We start at the top and work our way down across the whole car not forgetting the cills, front & rear diffusers.

Next our iron fallout remover again. This is sprayed across all painted panels on the car paying attention to the lower portions of the car behind the wheels where pick up from the wheels is greatest. Once left to ‘bleed’ for around 5 mins this is rinsed off and repeated if needed.

Time for snow? We now get out our foam lance. This covers the car in a thick blanket of foam and helps to soften and remove dirt from the surface safely.

The dirt drips with the foam and in an ideal world removes a lot of the debris. Foaming from the bottom up allows the dirtiest parts of the car to dwell in foam the longest.

Left to dwell for at least ten minutes we go and have a sit-down.

Not really. Along come the super soft detailing brushes only used for this purpose. All of the ‘lines’ of the car are brushed using additional APC as required, the rubber lines, around the lights, brightwork (shiny parts), mirrors, badges etc. Once complete, we rinse.

So, do we finally get out the sponge? NO – throw away your yellow sponge’s people! Although we do now start the ‘main wash’ as most people would recognise it.

We fill two buckets, both containing grit guards. One with warm water and a pH neutral shampoo and one with just warm plain water.

Using a merino lambswool wash mitt, we first go into the rinse bucket and ensure there is no dirt on the mitt. Once happy, into the soapy suds! Starting at the top of the car we work our way down. Roof first, sides, front and rear last.

We do the rear last as this is likely to contain the highest contamination level from the air flow while the car is in motion.

So, a small panel, or half a large panel at a time we use our mitt in STRAIGHT lines using very little pressure. Once completed, we rinse the mitt then go back into the suds for next section/panel.

Once we have washed the whole car we then take out a different mitt. This is only used for the next purpose and generally once the main mitt needs replacing this becomes the cill and underside mitt.

As before with the two buckets, rinse and soap up and use this standalone mitt to go around the bottoms of the cills, the painted portions of the arches & front/rear diffusers.

Now we rinse again.

If this was a normal wash we would dry the car at this stage however, we are going onto the next decontamination stage, the clay bar, so may as well leave it for now. We use pure water so spotting isn’t an issue while using the clay.

So, that’s the end of Part 1 of our car detailing process. If you’re interested in finding out more, make sure you check out Part 2, where we outline how and why we clay bar.