By Prentice St. Clair, CD-SV, RIT

Prentice St. Clair, CD-SV, RIT has been providing training and consulting for the professional automotive detailing industry since 1999, as well as providing detailing services to the motoring public many more years than that.  Prentice holds many certifications within the detailing industry, and is a Recognized Industry Trainer through the International Detailing Association.  Considered one of the industry’s leading experts, Prentice has been inducted to the IDA Detailer’s Hall of Fame.

Exterior “trim” refers to the decorative and functional added moldings and seals that are not part of the larger painted panels.  There are two basic categories of exterior trim:  uncoated and coated/shiny.

“Uncoated”, “naked”, or “bare” plastic and vinyl pieces are those that are not painted.  It’s just the plastic or vinyl exposed to the atmosphere.  Most vehicles have at least some exterior trim and molding pieces that are made of uncoated vinyl or plastic.  Moreover, most visible seals—like those around the door or window edges--are made of rubber.  An important part of the grooming of the vehicle exterior is to clean and dress these surfaces.

On the other hand, trim pieces can also be coated, and examples include those pieces that are painted the same color as the vehicle, painted in an accent color, or coated in chrome.  And sometimes the shiny trim pieces are simply made of shiny plastic.

Cleaning Exterior Trim

Generally speaking, exterior trim can be washed using normal washing procedures, as discussed in other blog entries.  For example, when using Proje’ Vital Car Wash Soap or Ceramic Soap and the Proje’ Wash Mitt, simply wash the trim as you wash the painted panels of the vehicle.

The front exposure of a car (grill, bumper, headlights, etc.) is subject to bugs and other road grime.  Often, the front end of the vehicle includes many intricate trim pieces that are made of shiny plastic or coated in a shiny coating.  If these become soiled with bugs and grime from driving, you can mist the front end with Proje’ Clean Purpose and agitate gently with a dedicated Proje’ Wheel and Tire Brush.  Then, rinse thoroughly.

Uncoated trim pieces that are oxidized or extra dirty can be cleaned separately using Proje’ Clean Purpose multi-purpose cleaner and dedicated Proje’ Wheel and Tire Brush.  There is something I like to call “wax plaque”, which is the residue from waxes and polishes that accidentally got on the uncoated trim and have since left a whiteish, cakey residue.  The Clean Purpose should be able to remove most of this, and we can cover what remains with the appropriate dressing, as will be discussed later.

The best way to avoid “wax plaque” in the future is to mask the bare trim parts before waxing or polishing the vehicle.  Use only high-quality masking tape that is specifically designed for automotive use, which will be available at your local body shop supply store.  You can also use high quality painter’s masking tape available at your local hardware store.

Dressing Exterior Uncoated Trim

We use the word “dressing” to refer to applying a conditioner or protectant to the exterior uncoated trim pieces.  The dressing deepens the color and makes the trim look new and refreshed.  Most exterior trim dressing also protects from the elements.

For standard trim dressing, you can use Proje’ Fusion Tire Dressing, which will perform well on uncoated trim, bumpers, plastic, and vinyl.  It’s water-based and non-greasy formula restores and adds a protective layer.  Apply using a dedicated Proje’ Wheel and Tire Brush or a dedicated Proje’ Large Applicator Pad.  A unique capability of Fusion Dressing is that the depth of the final color appearance can be varied.  To achieve a more satin (non-shiny) finish, you can wipe off the excess dressing with a clean towel, like the Proje’ PolishPRO-B microfiber.  Conversely, to intensify the depth of color or to increase the shine, add more than one application of Fusion.

For more durable dressing and for faded trim, you can use Proje’s Alpha Trim Gel.  When applied to thoroughly cleaned naked trim, Alpha Trim Gel makes trim that is in good condition look even better, but it can also restore faded or dulled trim, making it look new again.  The Alpha Trim Gel polymer formula soaks into the trim surface, providing a long-lasting durable glossy finish.  Further, it is designed to resist being quickly washed off by future car washings.

Protecting Shiny Plastic or Coated Exterior Trim

Once the shiny exterior trim pieces are cleaned and dried, they need final wiping and protection as well.  The appearance of shiny plastic pieces and those coated with paint can be enhanced simply by applying one of Proje’s spray-and-wipe products. 

With any of the following products, application is simple.  Mist the surface directly with the product of choice, and wipe off with one of Proje’s PRO Microfiber towels.  Some users prefer to spray the product onto one side of the towel, spread on the surface, and then flip the towel to buff off the excess.  This technique can help avoid getting overspray on adjacent surfaces.

Proje’ Show Shine is very easy to use, wipes off easily, and provides a streak-free shine that is anti-static so that it repels dust.  Moreover, it contains polymer and SiO2 ingredients that provide protection against the elements.

Some prefer a more traditional shine provided by Proje’ Express Spray Wax, which is carnauba based.  Others prefer a ceramic-based protective spray like Proje’ SiO2 Quick Coat, which contains ceramic nano protectants that tend to be more durable than traditional waxes and polymers.

Trim pieces that are coated with chrome can be shined up with Proje’ Metal Polish.  Use a dedicated microfiber towel to apply, and another one to wipe off the residue.  Metal Polish will remove water spots, “bluing”, and other stains from chrome pieces and leave the super-shiny. 

Be careful to avoid touching the painted surfaces of the vehicle while polishing small chrome pieces (like badges that are glued onto painted panels).  Metal Polish contains harsher abrasives than polish designed for paint.  If the chrome piece is too close to a painted panel, simply use one of the spray-and-wipe products described earlier.


Caring for the exterior trim pieces of your vehicle is part of the “final detailing” of a vehicle to make sure it looks great from edge to edge, while protecting these pieces from the elements.