by Prentice St.
The professional detailer
understands that detailing is both "art and science."
The "science" of detailing includes such concrete elements
as chemicals, equipment, knowledge of vehicle surfaces,
industry standards, and customer requirements. The "art"
of detailing is the activity of combining these elements
into procedures that work for each specific situation.
Success in doing so yields quality service and, ultimately,
a delighted customer. This should be one of our primary
goals as professionals.
In our quest to achieve quality service, we educate
ourselves in the "science" aspects of detailing by attending
seminars, workshops, and conventions; maintaining memberships
in professional detailing organizations, and scouring
through industry trade magazines. And, of course, we
constantly experiment with new products and equipment
in an effort to fine-tune our procedures in such a way
as to optimize efficiency and effectiveness. "Efficiency"
is a measure of the quickness of the procedure whereas
"effectiveness" is a measure of how well the procedure
actually works. Obviously, anything that increases either
of these measures is of great benefit to us and our
Surprisingly, however, I have found that some of the
best tips and ideas have come from informal chats with
other detailers, both at seminars and during visits
to their shops. The remainder of this article is dedicated
to some of the tips and time-saving ideas that have
worked well for me over the years. Some of this stuff
may be standard procedure for you. Some of it may seem
silly or impractical at first glance. However, I urge
you to try the new ideas and tips--you may just find
that, after you have gone beyond the "newness" of the
procedure, you save yourself some time or yield superior
results in the same amount of time. Either way, your
bottom line will increase!
When cleaning carpets and upholstery, start with the
driver's area first. It is then more likely that this
area will be dry when the customer takes possession
of the vehicle.
Clean windows after cleaning everything else inside,
thus preventing soiling of the windows while doing the
dirty work of cleaning door panels and headliners, et
cetera. Do your interior dressing and conditioning after
window cleaning so as to avoid tracking dressing onto
the windows while wiping them.
When cleaning windows, first lower the windows slightly
and clean the top edge of the window pane. Then fully
close and clean the remainder of the window.
Be careful not to get any of your favorite interior
cleaner on the clear plastic panel that cover the instrument
panels. These cleaners can spot or fog the plastic.
In heavy carpet soiling situations or if there has been
a spill between the seats, it is often easier to remove
the seat completely from the vehicle, allowing excellent
access to the soiled area for more thorough cleaning.
I have found that, especially in neglected interiors,
the time it takes to remove the driver and passenger
seats is easily made up by the ease of access to the
interior of the vehicle during the heavy cleaning that
is necessary in these situations.
Be careful to check for wire harnesses under the seat.
These usually come out of the carpeting directly under
the seat and simply unplug.
Of course, be sure to re-plug the harnesses and securely
re-tighten the seat upon re-installation.
Always rinse mats, carpeting, and upholstery after cleaning
them to remove any cleaner residue. This residue will
simply attract more dirt if left in the material. That
is, the material will stay cleaner longer if rinsed.
Clean the engine bay before washing the vehicle so that
any grease and dirt that lands on the vehicle during
engine bay cleaning will simply be washed off during
the wash step.
Drape wet towels over the front fenders to protect the
paint from the spotting and streaking that can occur
when using strong cleaners and degreasers. This also
protects against scratching while you lean over the
fenders to work the engine bay.
Wear safety goggles and an apron to keep yourself clean
Especially in foreign cars, the computer and electronic
modules are often located in a separate compartment
in the upper left- or right-
hand corners of the engine bay. Keep water out of this
area to reduce the possibility of damage to these components.
Instead, wipe them with a damp towel to clean off any
dirt or dust.
A dressed engine of course looks incredible, but also
attracts dust quickly. To reduce this, wipe off the
excess dressing with a clean towel.
Wash the lower areas first--wheels, wheel wells, kick
panels, et cetera--before washing the rest of the car.
In regular washing situations, especially with darker
colored cars, this has been extremely helpful: lightly
spray your favorite "quick" liquid wax directly onto
the dripping wet painted surfaces after the final rinse.
Then dry as normal with a chamois. Finish by lightly
buffing the painted surfaces with your finest "wax-off"
towel. This will remove any remaining water spots, add
some depth to the paint, and leave a great shine.
Always clay at least the horizontal panels (hood, roof,
trunk) before waxing or sealing, even in express detailing
situations. The impact of this activity is huge--have
the customer feel the resulting smoothness--and it only
takes a few extra minutes.
Some clay bars can be used during the wash step, using
the car wash solution as the lubricant. This is especially
effective for vehicles that are detailed frequently
because the build-up of fallout between waxings is minimal.
However, for heavy fallout or over spray removal, it
is best to wash and dry the vehicle and then use the
clay bar with the recommended lubricant (usually a "quick"
liquid spray wax); this allows you to check your work
Dress the trim (all rubber, plastic, or vinyl pieces
that are adjacent to painted surfaces) and tires before
waxing or sealing. This has two benefits:
ï It is much less likely that these surfaces will
absorb the wax product, thus greatly reducing the amount
of final wax removal in these areas
ï It takes much less time to apply the dressing
to these areas because there is less worry about getting
dressing on the paint--any sloppiness will simply be
taken up during the waxing process.
Don't forget to dress the wheel wells by spraying inexpensive
or diluted dressing into them. Most wheel wells are
lined with black plastic panels or black anti-rust coatings.
Both of these materials respond well to even the most
inexpensive dressings. Does this seem silly? Next time
you are driving at night and your headlights hit a clean
car, look at the wheel wells; are they clean and dark
black or dirty and light tan? Which one looks better?
There are many ways to distinguish between clearcoat
and conventional paint systems. An especially easy way
is to take a small amount of your favorite polishing
compound on a white rag and rub a small and inconspicuous
painted area of the vehicle. If the color of the vehicle
comes off on the rag, the paint is conventional. If
not, it is most likely clearcoat.
I hope you find these tips helpful. If even one of them
saves you some time or helps you achieve superior results,
this article will have been a success. Most importantly,
share your tips with other detailers and ask them about
theirs. If we foster a spirit of "friendly" competition,
we will all profit; and certainly, there are plenty
of vehicles out there that need the attention of the
relatively few truly professional detailers that exist.
1999, Prentice St. Clair.
First published in the October, 1999 issue of American
(Volume 28, Number 5)