I will offer my opinions on each category, but by all means it’s not the end all and be all of detailing. I am very partial to what I use, and have come to these decisions through a lot of research, and trial and error.
=Basic Wash Materials=
hose, water supply
- clean water is obviously ideal. good water pressure can help. the warmer the water, the better, but what matters most is the overall quality of the water. hard water will not work as well with the soap and it will be very prone to spotting while drying. i have my temperature control on my water supply and it's tied into my household softening system, so i have the best of both worlds, but i put alot of work into making that happen and i detail as a side job/hobby.
- i use a pretty basic sprayer with something like 6 possible settings. the key settings for me are stream, full, and shower. ideally you can do it with your thumb and no sprayer, but it's alot easier with one.
- i use a two bucket system. one for soap, one for rinsing the dirty mitt. i use two 5 gallon buckets with "grit guards" in the bottom of the buckets. Look it up, it’s worth it.
- some people prefer sheepskin, some prefer microfiber…I recommend getting two, one for dirty parts of the vehicle (wheels, lower bumper, etc), and one for the more sensitive surfaces (roof, lights, hood, doors, etc). I prefer a microfiber chenille that is the color of a tennis ball. I got them from Advance auto and they are the same quality as the one some of the boutique online stores sell. There might be some higher end mitts available, just like there are higher end towels available, but i have not yet found a reason to use anything other than the mass produced MF chenille piece.
- i like to have a brush for specialized uses. a boar's hair brush for SUV and truck roofs, a long reach synthetic or boar's hair wheel well brush for truck wells (with a plastic handle), and a 360 "Daytona" type wheel brush for the inside of wheel barrels and also wheel wells on cars that are lowered. lastly a nice narrow lug/vent brush, especially a boar's hair brush, can be very handy.
- I feel there are only two worthwhile options here- first choice is a high quality waffle weave microfiber towel, like that from Cobra or Mothers, or the more available second choice of a synthetic chamois called the Absorber. Anything else will either be a royal PITA and/or lend itself to creating fine scratches while drying, like terry cloth towels. There are people who use all kinds of products- Water Blade, blower…to each his own. I don’t like what a water blade can do if it catches something, and a blower makes sense, but i don't know how practical it is for most people. i will use an electric blower in the winter after rinsing in-between washes to keep the water from spotting on horizontal panels.
- pretty much any car wash soap sold for automotive wash will suffice at getting your car free of dirt. Some are more concentrated than others, and some have more ‘oomph’ than others. You can get by with most if not all of them, however, most mass market soaps are designed for the occasional user, and are made to remove as much as possible from the paint. the problem is, if you are actively protecting the finish with wax or sealant, that is included in what the soap can remove. The main idea is to not use something with harsh surfactants, like a dish detergent, which can remove any previous paint treatments, such as wax or sealant. The two soaps that are availabe almost anywhere that are relatively safe to wax/sealant are Deep Crystal and Gold Class by Meguiars. There are much better products out there though, and cost less considering the concentration and volume. The two i prefer are Duragloss #902 and Optimum's car wash. Duragloss can be ordered from Car Quest outlets, supposedly, so that makes it easier to acquire for some people. There are some soaps out there considered "no rinse" washes. Optimum has their Optimum No-Rinse that gets rave reviews and while i have used it as a stand alone rinseless wash (and it works wonders when used as directed), i typically will add a couple ounces to my regular wash to add additional lubricity and help enhance the gloss.
=Advanced Detail Materials=
- there is a lot of info on the web highlighting that all microfiber is NOT created equal! The stuff you get from any chain store like Wal-Mart, Advance, Target, etc is low end and not ideal for use on paint. It might feel soft, but the way it’s made is not ideal. The fibers are not split the way they should and can actually be abrasive and/or come apart (called ‘linting), the edges are typically not the same texture as the towel and can scratch, and the tags are typically sewn on as opposed to stick on like high quality towels. There is better choice for paint. That is not to say that these towels are useless. They can be very nice for glass, interior work, etc. I say "can be" because some towels emit lint, and that can be a real pain in the *** on glass. I have a boat load of Advance MF towels that I use for everything but
paint (like glass, dash, etc) and they do not lint or give me any issues. The best towels for paint are those sold by companies that manufacturer high-end detailing accessories. Some companies, like Autogeek/Cobra towels and PakShak/MicroPak towels, offer very high quality towels that will not lint and will not scratch. There are several types of towels for different types of tasks- drying, removing polish/compound, buffing waxes and spray detailers, etc. There are so many different kinds and sizes that it’s best to log onto the manufacturer websites for Cobra or MicroPak to see the differences. I will touch quickly on washing microfiber towels. Whatever you do, do not wash them with other clothes or items, do not use any fabric softener in either the washing machine or dryer, and do not dry on anything but low heat. The best detergent to use for MF is either a mass market detergent marketed as a “free” detergent, with no extraneous additives, or a specific microfiber detergent. I use something called DP microfiber cleaner.
all purpose cleaner
- This is an area that I don’t know much about in terms of what’s available because I’ve basically stuck with one product. I know that a lot of products on the mass market are not safe on certain surfaces, especially at higher concentrations. This includes products like Simple Green. The product I use is from Optimum Car Care. It’s called Power Clean and it’s absolutely incredible. It can be used for anything and it’s safe, period. I have a bottle with it mixed 20:1 with water, another at 3:1. The high dilution version can be used on interior surfaces, carpets, etc. The higher can be used as a degreaser, on tires, on wheels, etc. It can sit and break down whatever it is you are trying to remove, and it won’t harm rubber or paint. It’s the most versatile cleaner I’ve found. There might be something out there available from the automotive chains that is versatile, but I am not aware of it.
wheel cleaner spray
- some people prefer using this type of product. I’ve mentioned that PowerClean can be used in this capacity, but if you don’t have PowerClean, EagleOne makes a nice relatively neutral cleaner called A2Z All Wheel Cleaner that is available at automotive chains. It’s not very caustic and seems to go a very good job. I would not leave it on for more than say 5 minutes max, and I’d also be careful about using it on anything but cool (as opposed to hot) wheels, but it seems to be a good product. It can be used to clean brake calipers, wheel lug nut holes and tires. I feel that the best way to clean wheels and tires is a nice neutral APC, elbow grease and soap, but a good pre-treatment can make things easier and help in those hard to reach places.
- there are a lot of schools of thought on all of the different products out there for this purpose. I like to use the product that is the least messy, nourishes the rubber, lasts through a lot of rain and/or washes, and doesn’t make the tire look like it’s coated in goo. A lot of products out there have solvents which actually starve the rubber of the chemicals that keep it looking nice, supple, and protected in the sun. The best product I’ve found is Optimum Tire Shine. It makes tires look like new and does everything I’ve described an ideal tire treatment should do. Whatever floats your boat.
- another area of much contention! A lot of the products out there leave a greasy sheen that doesn’t necessarily nourish or protect the plastic. They also tend to make the treated parts dust magnets. A lot of the plastic items on our cars get hammered with extreme temperatures and immense sunlight, so it’s important to assure that what you are applying is doing more than making it look pretty. Gone are the days of applying armor-all to everything. I used to use armor-all, especially on clear plastic bits (buffed, of course), but there are better products out there now. I use Optimum’s protectant as it has a balance of cleaners, penetrating oils and UV inhibitors that maintains or restores the plastic, protects against and hides any scratches, and protects against sun damage. This stuff is also perfect for leather.
- this sort-of blends with the above category, however, there are some companies that offer products which are specifically for leather. Again, I use the Optimum Protectant with great results, but I can attest to the quality of Lexol products. Many automotive chains offer decent ‘home brand’ leather cleaner/treatment products. I know Advance’s is decent. It’s very similar to Lexol products, atleast the leather cleaner.
- This is a product that is used to help remove anything that ends up on your finish in-between washes. its purpose is to help lift the junk, while lubricating the surface so you can wipe without scratching (provided you use a nice MF towel). There are certain products available that are also excellent as gloss enhancer, so they can be used post wash to help enhance whatever sealant or wax is on the car. The most popular product, bar none, is the Meguiars Quik Detail spray. It has it's place on my shelf, i use it for a lube when i clay bar the car. I don't prefer it as an instant detailer because it has a high solvent concentration compared to what i do use as an instant detailer, the Optimum instant detailer. It's 100% compatible with all waxes and sealants, and will not affect said products. BUT...the Meguiars product is not bad at all. I see alot of people use instant detailer to wipe down an entire car, days or even weeks since it's been washed. I don't agree with this. I don't care what towel or chemical you use, i feel as if you are prone to introducing scratches doing this. If the car is stored, then possibly, but even then i'd just wash it. Water and soap do amazing things!
- Clay is a great way to prep your finish before you embark on investing the time to polish your finish. it removes anything that is embedded in the finish. Even new cars need claying. They tend to have immense amounts of contamination on the finish, despite what you'd think. Everything from rail line brake material contamination, to fallout from sitting in a port yard in an industrial area...just nasty stuff. Clay can potentially be used to help remove stubborn hard water mineral deposits, but it won't, of course, help with any etching that has occured with the clear coat from said minerals. There are alot of clay products out there. In all honesty, i've had great success with the mass market stuff from Meguiars...even Clay Magic. As mentioned previously, i like to use Meguiars Quik Detailer as a lube for my clay, since it's 1. cheap and 2. has solvents in it. Typically, claying is used as a preface to polishing, so you might disturb any previous coats of sealant or wax when you clay. but, at that point, if you are considering claying, whatever was on there has expired anyway, so it should not be of any concern- you'll end up with a fresh coat of whatever on there anyway!
- this stuff is awesome! i personally feel that it has replaced the concept of wax, but there are millions who will argue that. a quality sealant on a properly prepared finish will yield a very smooth to the touch surface, with a hard appearance and lots of reflection. it will give you some of the benefits associated with wax, like excellent water beading and running off of the car easily, and also a lower likelihood that junk will adhere to the surface. the biggest benefit is that it will protect your finish for months on end. depending on the environment, washing frequency, etc (of course). Optimum Opti-seal is probably the best detailing product i've ever used, period. Look it up! I like it also because it can be used to protect all exterior surfaces, like moldings, window trim, lights, emblems...whatever. If used properly, you don't even need to buff. you just apply a very little bit with a hand foam pad and watch it disappear. it's easy to get a little bit of streaking from using too much, so you can give it a few passes with a microfiber towel as a precaution against that. awesome stuff.
- the only reason in my opinion at this point to get wax is a preference for the appearance that it brings to the table vs. sealant. it (typically) doesn't outlast sealant, it's more expensive than sealant, it requires more effort than sealant. BUT...on many finishes there is a perceived 'warmth' and dazzle that carnauba wax emits. sealant is like a turbo porsche: 100% functional, performs the best and does exactly what i says it'll do. wax is like a modern V8 ferrari: doesn't necessarily perform the best, is alot more expensive, and requires alot more work, but when most people see one they think they are sexy. I hope that makes any sense to anyone, haha. There are tons upon tons of wax formulas out there. The best have a high concentration of pure carnauba wax, which is what will give that particular glowing effect. Basically, you get what you pay for in terms of quality when it comes to wax. the more expensive, the higher concentration of "nuba". That said, there are some waxes out there that are so outrageous...i simply will never understand it. Paul Dalton's Crystal Rock formula from Swissvax is $1100. how someone could go that
overboard, i'll never know, unless you are literally looking for an alternative to lighting your money on fire. Anyway, typically, waxes come in three formulations- paste, which is a thick paste in a tub; liquid, which is...liquid and comes in a bottle; and, finally- spray wax. usually paste is the most cost effective means of getting the best carnauba enrichment. liquid waxes usually have solvents and polymers to make them effective as liquids. sprays, surprisingly enough, are very effective and can be formulated without solvents, though they usually have the highest concentration of polymers and the lowest of carnauba. This means that while they are super easy to use, compatible with use above or under sealants, do not freak out/stain/etc moldings or trim and generally are very effective, they will also yield the least 'glow'. Optimum spray wax is my choice, but not necessarily for my cars. if a customer requests carnauba wax, i'll use the wax as opposed to the sealant. but, most people want their car to look (and feel) like mine, and for a long time, which means sealant. I haven't gotten to the stage where people would pay the extra cash for a particular wax. Some detailers who do it full time keep specific waxes for high-end clients, but most of the time it's a prestige and status thing- a cheaper alternative could be had. Wax can be applied in a variety of ways. The easiest and most precise is doing so by hand. While yes, some people take that literally and use their hands, i find using a nice soft foam applicator is ideal, such as those which are sold specifically for this purpose. it allows precise and complete application to the tighest of spots, helps against wasting product, and does not marr the finish. Alternative methods of applying are using a machine, whether a dual action buffer (like the Porter-Cable 7424) or a high speed rotary buffer. In my opinion, using these machines offers speed, but sacrifices precision. Some people are such high volume detailers that they need to use such machines to apply wax.
- again, another area of much debate. I'll just say the basics. First, a polish should remove imperfections, not fill them. If you fill the defect and don't correct it, guess what? It will come back! It is practically impossible for a polish to remove surface flaws by hand, despite what products claim. Products like Meguiars Scratch-X, Kit Scratch Out, etc have immense amounts of fillers to hide flaws. They do have abrasives, fine particle ones, to knock down the edges of the defect, but by hand these products will not remove the defect and even by machine they will act more like a glaze than a real polish. These types of products sometimes can be handy (ha!) in removing certain types of scuffs on paint, bumpers, etc with just a little elbow grease, but,again, you can NOT truly polish a car by hand; it will not correct anything, it will only hide!
To truly eradicate your finish of defects, swirl marks, whatever...you NEED atleast a professional quality dual action buffer (like the Porter Cable 7424) or a rotary buffer. The ideal polish is one that doesn't powder all over the place during removal, doesn't cake up a pad with a plastic-like residue (requiring frequent pad changes), has a long working time, doesn't stain moldings and trim, and polishes to a perfect sealant/wax-ready finish without hazing or introducing fine scratches. The best polish i've used is Optimum polish. Detailing junkies have their preference...to be honest, i don't think that anyone has invested as much time into theirs like Optimum. It's been called the perfect polish and i agree - http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib...h.pdf
- this is a product meant to REALLY correct the finish. all the rules of polish, and my preferences in a polish, stand for compound as well. if used by hand, it can make a bigger scratch appear less aggressive, and it does this by introducing lots of little scratches to knock down the edges and refract light in a non-uniforn fashion. But, just like polish, compound is ideally used with a machine, just like polish. a properly designed and used compound applied properly with a machine can make even the most marred finish level and perfect. if the compound is a highly developed formula, like Optimum's, on some colors you can almost have a final treatment-ready finish with JUST the compound. I said almost, because i'd never go right from compound to sealant, but it's a testament to the versatility of a high quality compound.
dual action polisher
- this is the most versatile piece of detailing equipment available. dual action polishers are not the "random orbital" two handle contraptions that wobble around and vibrate. They are similar to dual action grinders and sanders, and in the case of the Porter Cable, units they actually ARE sanders! It makes removing scratches, swirls, etched water marks, etc all a cinch, and is alot safer than a high-speed rotary buffer. I feel anyone who really cares about their car and wants a maintained finish should at the minimum have one of these, with atleast the following- a 5" backing plate, a 3.5" backing plate, some 5.5" orange pads for medium correction, 5.5" white pads for milder correction, 5.5" green pad or gray pad for final finishing and 4" low profile orange pads, 4" yellow pads for extreme spot correction and 4" green or gray pad for final finishing. I use a Porter Cable 7424. It's the most popular DA (dual action) by far. There are others, and in fact the others get rave reviews as well. A popular unit, which is very similar to the PC but a bit more powerful is called the "UDM" or Ultimate Detailing Machine. Next is the Meguiars G110, which is supposedly about 20% more powerful than the PC 7424. Another unit that is very popular, and substantially more powerful than any of the others is the Flex XC 4301. It is also more than double the average PC price and can't accomodate 4" pads. The downside is that some finish damage can be so severe that using a dual action polisher is just not practical. It would work, but take ENTIRELY too much time. Typical damage that falls into this category is severe water spot etching damage that has eaten deep marks into the clear coat. This is particularly a problem with late model Hondas. Cases like this usually need the power of a rotary machine.
- These are the super high speed unidirectional machines that professional detailers the world over use to get the most out of their efforts. These machines are extremely powerful, and make quick work of most, if not all practical finish damage (pad and chemical dependent, of course!). The downsides are many, and most are skill related and/or associated component related. The first downside is the possibility of literally burning through the finish. These machines make so much heat that it's very easy to do irreversible damage. The second downside is the unidirectional attitude of the machine can contribute to what's called 'hologramming'. These are SO common...and, believe it or not, these blemishes are most common on poorly prepped new cars, especially dark ones. It's ashame, really. What happens is....the new car prep washes the car, dries it, then wacks it with a high speed buffer with a wool pad and a polish. Many times they do not take the time to monitor heat, or they use the wrong pad, or they use the wrong chemical, or...there are so many 'wrongs' here, and they end up putting what looks like 3-D images in the finish. They then hit the car up with a glaze, which has fillers in it to hide the damage they did and dresses up the finish. Then, a few days or weeks later, after several washes, the holograms show up and look like total hell. But, for the most part, the rotary machine is the king in terms of ultimate power and correction ability. My machine of choice is the king of rotary buffers, the Makita 9227c.
- this can be invaluable to mask off sensitive areas while buffing. This can be areas with intricate detail, edges of panels (if using a rotary), or areas with very scratch sensitive surfaces like moldings, trim, etc. Many people use 3M blue tape. I use the light green 3M auto body tape. Don't try to use the light tan pedestrian tape, try to refrain from using off-brand tape, and don't use the green tape sold at Home Depot called "frog tape"...frog tape is AWESOME for interior house painting and the like, but it's horrible for masking a car for detailing. it induces alot of boogering and smearing of adhesive.
the last thing, but certainly not the least.....
custom-mixed touch up paint
- this isn't the paint you get in the little bottles with a new car, or from the parts counter...or from the shelf of Autozone. this is pure base coat from your local body shop, mixed to match your particular shade and/or code, reduced quite a bit for somewhat of a watery consistency, and stored in a model paint bottle so it doesn't degrade. This can be used to fill chips. I use an 18/0 sized modelling brush, which typically is about the smallest and shortest bristle brush you can purchase at your local arts store or hobby shop. There are many techniques used to fill chips, some involving clear coat, wetsanding, airbrushing, etc. Let me just say that on today's cars, which typically have incredibly thin clear coats (measured down to just enough to get the job done, down to the last drop), it's VERY easy to sand through the clear, so be VERY careful if attempting these DIY repair efforts. If you are careful, and somewhat artistic, you can correct most chips using just base, a brush, proper technique and cleaning, and some sealant. I prep all spots with alcohol, and i clean my brush with lacquer thinner when i'm done.