Updated: Oct 8, 2021
By, Hank Woodward
Whether you clean your car once a month at the local car wash or have never cleaned your car before, this article will bring you up to speed on the products, tools, and equipment that can help you detail your vehicle like a professional and decrease your time spent doing it!
You can't truly clean your car in a good way without the right supplies and tools to start, some of them being simple like microfiber towels, a good wash mitt or sponge, and some high-quality brushes for hard-to-reach areas. For the microfibers, I would recommend The Rag Company, because they will clean your car without scratching the paint like a typical towel or rag you may think to use because they are a very high-quality product, without an overly expensive price tag. For the wash mitt, I would choose the same people over at The Rag Company, because it will make the experience 10X easier, and save your paint from improper wash methods that leave scratches, swirls, & other imperfections in your vehicles finish. For a brush, you want something with horsehair, or boars hair because it will be the softest & easiest on your surfaces. Each area of the car can have different style brushes made for each specific use and material that is being cleaned. I will write an article solely on brushes and the right ones for each job soon!
Once you have the correct supplies to clean your car without making it worse in the process by using bad tools, you can move on to the actual products. Personally, I believe a Ceramic Based Sealant or a Spray Detailer is one of the most vital parts of cleaning your vehicle since you can use it after you clean and it will be a finishing touch to add a layer of protection while increasing the shine and the depth of the paint or other finishes. Technician's Choice 582 is possibly the best choice for beginners since it is easy to use and can be used as a quick detailer, a topper spray wax, or a drying aid that leaves protection behind as well. If you’re like me, where you take a lot of pride in your car and its appearance, and how you care for it, there is a better option than buying all these things separately. Chemical Guys has a great kit called “The Best Detailing Kit” which has numerous things in it, which include speed detailers, leather cleaner and conditioner, wheel and tire cleaner and protector, applicator pads, microfiber towels, plastic restorer and protector, and of course a good soapy car wash compound. And considering this kit is only $89.99 it really is a steal, with the worth of the actual item around $120 if you bought them all separately.
Of course, after getting the basic tools and products needed to adequately detail your car you will begin to find better tools that make your job easier and more efficiently. Most people will not go out of their way to buy specific tools and equipment to detail their own cars and that is why they would call a professional detailer like us when they need a deeper clean. Some of these products are expensive but almost all can be found under $150 and have multiple uses other than detailing!
Top Car Detailing Tools & Equipment Under $150!
Using an Air Compressor when detailing a vehicle can save a ton of time and meticulous manual cleaning. This and a steamer are by far the best detailing equipment in terms of time savers for us. Using this to blast water out of the cracks and crevices can help prevent water drops and ensure a proper dry surface. This is our go to for the first step on an interior and we use it throughout our interior detailing process. Open all the doors and blast all loose dust and contaminants out of all the cracks and crevices so that a vacuum can pick it up! Using this to blow excess product out of cracks such as the edges of buttons can also be very useful in ensuring a proper clean and a streak-free surface. Air Compressors can get rather expensive but there are great starter options under $150, one of our favorites and the one that we actually started our business with is the Craftsman 6-Gallon Air Compressor.
Getting into the hard to reach areas and the crack and crevices that are found every on the exterior and interior of your car can be difficult. Cleaning these out can bring a vehicle back to life and reset it with a deep clean ensuring everything is removed from the vehicle. We always recommend a wide variety of brushes that can cover different sections of the vehicle such as wheel brushes, exterior brushes, trim brushes, interior brushes, & vent brushes but starting with a good kit of brushes can help you keep them separated and avoid cross-contamination such as bringing in wheel cleaner to the interior cracks. Check out these brushes we use on amazon, Best Car Detailing Brushes
Wheel Cleaning Brushes
I love cleaning the wheels on vehicles and removing all dirt, brake dust, and other road grime that can be trapped in there. Cleaning your wheels including your wheel faces, wheel wells, wheel barrels, and tire faces can be a huge process without the right tools to do it. Using brushes that extend into the wheel barrel can help remove dirt and brake dust that a car wash would never get to. Ever. Here are some Basic Wheel Cleaning Brushes you can pick up for relatively cheap!
As a Car detailing I can say without a doubt that steam is our best friend. From helping clean tough stains and disgusting car interior it has helped lighten the manual labor of cleaning so much. I would say this is one of the most helpful pieces of equipment you can use especially on the interior, not only does it sanitize everything it also helps clean tough stains. One of the biggest things you want to look for in a steamer is the PSI in steam it is putting out, they can get very expensive but one of the best entry-level steamers comes from a company called McCullough and is very affordable! Here is a link to one
Pet Hair Brushes
Pet hair can be an absolute nightmare to get out of a vehicle's carpeting or upholstery. Even with a designated pet hairbrush, it can still be difficult to remove all the pet hairs from the carpet or upholstery. Trying to remove pet hair without the correct equipment and tools can be nearly impossible. I always use the Lilly Pet Hair Brush because it is safe, unlike the usual pet hair brick that can ruin your car's interior plastics if it touches it.
High GSM Microfibers for Delicate Surfaces
Using the correction microfiber detailing towels can be crucial to getting a vehicle detailed to perfection. Trust us when we say all towels are not made the same and we have tried thousands of dollars worth of microfibers and have come to the conclusion that The Rag Company towels are hands down the best and they have a microfiber for every specific section of the car, but for most consumer detailers that are not needed. If I were to get only one towel on top of my normal microfibers I would go with the Eagle Edgeless Towels because they are perfect on delicate surfaces and can be used on almost anything!
Windshield Cleaning Wand
One of the worst areas to clean is the interior windshield because it is so awkward to reach and be able to finish it out. We use a tool called the Invisible Glass Cleaning Wand and it makes cleaning the windshield so much easier and less time-consuming!
Artificial Clay Bar Mitts
Most of you know that clay barring a car can take a copious amount of time and actual clay bars are expensive even if you are buying mild bars. Using something like an Artificial Clay Bar Mitt can help the process go more smoothly and take less time. Now, most of the time this method works well and is great for a maintenance type detail but when a vehicle is really in need of a clay bar then this method will not work and a traditional clay bar will be needed!
Vacuum Cleaner & Accessories
Having a personal Vacuum Cleaner can save you so much time and effort rather than going down to the local car wash or gas station that has that vacuum canister that is 10 years old and can barely suck anything up anymore. Getting a nice Rigid Vacuum Cleaning can help keep your vehicle maintained and cleaner overall
This is a bonus tool that costs basically nothing and requires no time to set up and takedown at the end of a detail. This is one of my favorite little tools that saves us so much time and headaches especially out on the road during mobile details. They go on all four corners of the wells and have little plastic rollers that cords and hoses can go across easily so they do not get stuck and lodged under the wheels. They are called Detail Guardz!
You may ask, Why would I spend my time cleaning my own car when I can just run it through an automatic car wash at my local gas station? Well, there are multiple reasons why you shouldn't go to the automatic wash. For starters, it scratches your vehicle's finish quicker and worse than any other method of washing. That is bad for many reasons and can hurt your vehicle's resale value, diminish its curb appeal, and can be detrimental to the life of your paint or clear coat on your vehicle. An automatic car wash has the same cleaning devices year-round, meaning they don't get changed, and most of the time they do not get cleaned out and if they do it is not nearly enough to not cause imperfections in your paint. This means that with every car it “cleans” it smudges all the contaminants around your paint, and the brushes on the wash pick up those little rocks, dirt, and any other contamination, only to hold it and spread those items all over your car when you get it washed. Also, it really doesn't do much besides getting a base layer of dust, and other road contaminant particles off, leaving a thick layer of sludge on your paint after that will sit in the sun and destroy your paint. When you clean it yourself with your own hands, you can be sure that you are getting the best possible wash, the least amount of damage on your paint, and you can be assured that it will look better than the automatic car wash, and will save you money over the long stretch. Check out this 2020 Mercedes C43 AMG that came in because of crazy swirls, spider webbing, and marring from an automated wash.
All of this may seem unimportant to you, but if you ever plan on selling your vehicle, or having it professionally detailed by a professional detailing company or at a dealership they will greatly appreciate the work you put into your vehicle, and it will reflect in the prices you may pay for the services you are wanting! If your vehicle has been abused or cared for improperly like this 2020 Mercedes Benz in the video above this give us a call and we can bring it back to life. The picture below is the same vehicle after a heavy paint correction & and a ceramic coating!