Steps in a Complete Detail, Part 2

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.

Providing consistently great results to my retail detailing clients has always seemed like a simple task for me.  I was blessed with a mom that was detail-oriented and taught me how to clean house meticulously, skills which translate quite well into automotive appearance care servicing.

Additionally, I have a process-oriented mind which keeps me looking for a more efficient way of doing things.  (Sometimes drives my wife crazy, who is one who prefers to let things free flow how they will.)  Professional detailing is very much a process driven activity.  It combines two important factors:  efficiency and effectiveness.  Efficiency is the speed with which a process is performed.  Effectiveness is a measure of the quality of the result or product of the process.

In most detailing shops, like the ones that service mainly daily drivers, the technicians try to balance effectiveness and efficiency, creating a great result in the shortest amount of time.  At high-volume shops, efficiency is the most important factor, getting the vehicles done as fast as possible without focusing as much on perfection in the result.  At high-end shops, effectiveness is the more important goal, yielding phenomenal results without worrying as much about how long it takes.

The greatest impact on effectiveness and efficiency is the process used.  A process can be engineered to maximize the speed of the outcome delivery.  Likewise, a process can be engineered to maximize the quality of the outcome.  And, of course, a process can be designed to perfectly balance the two. 

What Does All This Mean for Me at Home?

This is a valid question for the do-it-yourselfer who just wants to know how to detail her or his car!  I want to help you get great results without spending an inordinate amount of time, like most DIYers do!  So, if you are planning on detailing the entire vehicle in one day, here’s how to do it.

You will find that each step in the process is placed so that it does not create extra work for the following steps, and that there is a reason for each step’s placement.  Those “reasons” are italicized for quick reference and emphasis.  The specifics on techniques for each step can be found in earlier blog entries.

Start with the Wet Work

The prep wash typically includes washing the door jambs, which can be quite dusty and sometimes grimy.  If the door jambs are really dirty or greasy, better to get them clean and rinsed before working on the interior in case we accidentally get some dirt or spray into the interior, which can then be cleaned up later during the interior part of the detail.

Performing the prep wash early in the day also makes sense in that it will be cooler and have less direct sunlight, which are both preferred conditions for washing.

The Prep Wash

The “prep” wash prepares the vehicle for detailing.  Normal weekly washing is a different process (see the previous blog entry titled “The Saturday Morning Wash”).  We will wash the car from the bottom up.  Here are the general steps:

Wash the “dirty parts” first.  Using Proje’ products like Clear Purpose cleaner, Red Line Wheel Cleaner, along with Proje’ Wheel and Tire Brush and Easy Reach Crevice Brush, clean the front grill, wheels, tires, door jambs, rocker panel, and rear bumper/license area.  Then rinse these areas off.  This gets all the nasty dirt, grime, and grit off the car so that the main body can be washed with less worry about scratching.

Wash the main body of the car.  Make a fresh bucket of car shampoo using Proje’ products like Vital Car Wash Soap or Ceramic Soap, along with a Proje’ Wash Mitt.  Wash the roof, doors, hood, fenders, trunk, windows.  No need to touch the areas already cleaned during the previous step.  This reduces the chance of picking up nasty grit or dirt from the lower parts of the car and subsequently scratching the painted panels while washing.

Rinse the car.  Start on the roof and rinse thoroughly from top-to-bottom, which reduces water use because you are creating “waves” of water that will automatically help to rinse off the lower areas.

Dry the car.  Using Proje’s ExpPRO XL Drying Towel or Ultimate Drying Towel, dry the car from top-to-bottom.  Then use your leaf blower or compressed air to blast out hidden water from the crevices and mirrors, wiping the leftover drips with the Drying Towel.

Clay the car.  Using either Proje’ Clay Mitt or Traditional Clay Bars and Proje’ Throwback Clay Lube, use the proper procedure for removing surface contamination that does not come off during the normal wash.  Wipe off the clay lube residue with a Proje’ PRO Microfiber in the color of your choice.  The clay step comes here because the loose dirt must be washed off the vehicle before claying, and we should always clay before applying any kind of protectant, as we will do later in the process.

The Interior Detail

The interior comes next, for two reasons:  1) in case there is any mat or fabric seat cleaning that then needs to dry, which can take place during the exterior detail, and 2) to allow the exterior to completely dry so that it is free from surprise drips during the application of exterior protection products.

Clean out belongings and loose trash.  Remove all the personal belongings and trash from door pockets, floors, and seats.  Place personal belongings in a resealable plastic bag or shopping bag and have a trash can handy for the trash.  Getting this stuff out of the way allows easy access for vacuuming and cleaning.

Vacuum the interior.  Get the loose dirt and debris out of the car.  I like to vacuum “from top-to-bottom”, using the appropriate attachments to gently vacuum the headliner, then dust the dashboard, then the center console, seat.  And the floor is last.  This makes sense because you will be knocking debris onto the carpeting as you vacuum the higher surfaces.

Clean floor mats.  Rubber or vinyl mats can be cleaned with Proje’ Clear Purpose and a Wheel and Tire Brush, then rinsed.  Carpeted mats can be cleaned using Proje’ Upholstery and Fabric Cleaner and a Proje’ Carpet and Upholstery Brush, followed by a towel dry with PolishPRO Towel.  It’s important to get the mats clean before continuing with the balance of the vehicle interior so they can dry in the sun before being reinstalled


Hopefully, this is making sense so far, and the picture of an efficient detailing process is coming together for the reader.