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Even as a beginner, at home car detailing can save you big money. Not only can you avoid paying a professional detailer, but protecting your car means big savings on maintenance and repairs over the long term. We’ve got more advanced guides on polishing and high-end ceramic coatings and wraps to come, but this comprehensive beginners guide to car detailing will give you a quality result without spending thousands in equipment and products.

Exterior Car Cleaning Guide for Beginners:

Freshly detailed Audi SQ5 SUV
Audi SQ5 with a fresh detail | Marc Wiley, MotorBiscuit

At home car detailing is mostly focused on the exterior. And while automatic car washes have their place, the best way to keep your car clean is with a quality detail. You can spend big bucks on a professional detailer to get the job done right. But if you’re the DIY type, you can also use this guide to detail your car at home and get great results.

Pressure washers

A pressure washer is non-negotiable if you’re a beginner to detailing your car at home. A normal garden hose is fine for quick rinses. But a pressure washer can remove tougher contaminants more easily. That helps prevent scratching when it’s time to hand was the car later on. Because pressure washing blasts away even fine debris, you’ve got much less contamination to contend with once you get to the bucket wash. Here are a few of our best guides for the basics of detailing at home.

How to find the right microfiber towels

Microfiber towels are critical to any car detailing task. You want looped microfibers with unfinished edges to reduce the risk of scratching and marring when you apply your towel to the paint. Fluffy microfibers may feel soft, but the thread ends can cause microscratches that look like holograms when you’re done. For more guidance on choosing the right microfiber towel, check out this guide:

Choosing the right car soap

There are tons of car wash soaps out there, but not all are created equal. You’ll want to avoid car wash soaps that claim to wash and wax in one. These leave an uneven coating of wax and can even introduce streaks and dull your car’s finish. Instead, a clean, neutral soap like Meguiar’s Gold Class provides ample cleaning power and leaves you with a clean slate for protection. Plus, it offers good foaming action, and it’s perfect for beginner detailers as it contains no coating or wax ingredients.

Learn how to avoid water spots when cleaning your car

There are several ways to avoid water spots, including costly water deionizer systems. But you can also use a rinse aid to help reduce water spots when drying your car after a detail. Optimum No Rinse is my go-to, as it helps avoid water spotting without introducing wax to the equation. Below are some deep dives on avoiding water spots, how to remove them, and what situations to avoid to keep your car clean.

How to clean car windows

When detailing your car at home, windows are often easy to forget about. However, clean windows help make a detail feel complete, as you can notice the difference even from behind the wheel. We cover some window cleaning tips below, including what to do if your window is scratched instead of just dirty.

The best way to dry your car

We note this in our discussion of avoiding water spots, but it’s important to dry your car with a towel rather than letting it air dry. However, you’ll want to use different towels for drying your car than you did for washing. Car drying towels are more absorbent and have a different texture than washing towels. This allows you to dry the car more quickly, and stop those water spots from baking in the sun.

While detailing professionally, I like to use the Dreadnought drying towel from Autofiber. Made from a gentle twist-pile microfiber, it is both safe and incredibly absorbent. Often you can use just one towel to dry an entire midsize sedan or SUV.

At home wax and ceramic coating solutions

Once you’ve washed and dried your vehicle, it’s time to add protection. There are dozens of options out there, ranging from basic wax to high-end ceramic coatings, and everything in between. Learn more from our previous, in-depth coverage on how to protect your car’s paint:

Interior Car Cleaning Tips for Beginners:

Audi SQ5 interior detailing in the beginners guide
Freshly detailed Audi SQ5 interior | Marc Wiley, MotorBiscuit

As Used Car Prices Surge It Might Be Time to Invest in Car Maintenance

Even though we mostly focus on exterior detailing tips, it’s important to remember that you should start your car detail with the interior. We’ve compiled some guidance here as well, and you can look through our interior detailing coverage to help you get that car cleaned up for your next drive.

Choose the right shop vac

Your normal home vacuum will work in a pinch, but a quality shop vac is much better solution for beginner interior detailing. Shop vacs are more powerful, much less likely to clog, and can even handle wet messes without issue. No, you don’t need the biggest shop vac from your local Lowe’s. But a good 4 Gallon vac with a 5.0-horsepower motor is good combination of portability and power. We’ve got a few shop vac guides to flip through, so check them out and find the right fit for your detailing setup.

How to get rid of pet hair in your car

Pet hair is a nightmare to get out of your car’s carpet. No mere vacuum or carpet cleaner is good enough to remove it altogether. However, I picked up some tricks during my detailing days that can make your life easier.

How to take care of car leather

Car leather goes through a lot of wear and tear. Between sun damage, physical wear from getting in and out of the seat, and a multitude of stains, moisture, and even body fluids, car leather has to deal with a lot. Here are a few tips to keep those leather seats clean and conditioned.

Cleaning the inside of your car windows

Much like the exterior, cleaning the inside of your car windows can make or break your beginner car detailing results. It’s a tricky process, but you can use my guide below to understand why and how to keep your car windows cleaner.