Auto Detailing 102

Vehicle Detailing 102 is Part Two of a three-part series written by Bull Whitaker for the Mountain Passages newsletter.  This webpage expounds on newsletter article due to space limitation.  Stay tuned for Part Three next month.

Vehicle Detailing 102

Detailing Products

No matter the season, keeping your vehicle detailed inside and out is essential if you want it to remain looking new, last longer and bring more when you decide to sell it. These handy car-detailing products are essential to the process and should be a part of your garage or shop vehicle detailing kit. The right products make detailing easier and keep your ride looking “fresh & new” throughout its lifetime!

Towels and Clothes

A collection of towels and clothes are required to make the job easier and get it done right. In general these products fall into two categories: microfiber and terry weave. There are also products for special applications like lint-free clothes for window cleaning and finishing. Microfiber towels are based on the application and include many different variations including dual weave wax removal, wash & scrub mitts, detailing, drying, spray on wax application, and cleaning pads. While traditional cotton is a natural fiber, microfiber is made from synthetic materials, typically a polyester-nylon blend. Microfiber is very fine — as much as 1/100th the diameter of a human hair — and about one-third the diameter of a cotton fiber.

You may have used cotton towels in the past. It is true that cotton is breathable, gentle enough that it won’t scratch surfaces. However, it is very inexpensive to purchase and unfortunately, it has a lot of drawbacks: It pushes dirt and debris rather than picking it up, and it is made of organic materials that can harbor odor or bacteria. It also requires a break-in period to disperse the cotton seed oil, dries slowly and leaves lint behind.

Microfiber is highly absorbent (it can hold up to seven times its weight in water), making it very effective at actually picking up and removing soil from a surface. It also has a long lifespan when properly used and maintained, and is lint-free. Microfiber has only a few limitations, it is more expensive than cotton and requires special laundering. When laundering microfiber you should use cold/warm water with a Microfiber & Foam Pad Cleaner (releases and removes residues, like wax, to restore your towels’ original effectiveness) and dried on the delicate setting (low or no heat) as High heat will literally melt the fibers. Additionally, fabric softener and bleach will eliminate the electric charge that makes microfiber so effective.

Terry weave is a heavy weight (860 grams per square meter) microfiber with a long-loop weave and is great for drying (one pass) and the removal of excess protectants. There are terry weave towels for both dying and detailing available in many different sizes and colors.

Pro Tip: use different colored microfiber and terry weave towels for each product/protectant and type of application during the process. This will help keep the right product on the correct area/surface of your vehicle. 

Wash and Detail

When it comes to detailing, washing your vehicle is the second step after completing an exterior evaluation. You may think a bucket is a bucket is a bucket and be tempted to use that old 5 gallon paint bucket from Lowes and that may be ok, but with some caveats. While most will serve the basic purpose you want to ensure the bucket you choose comes with or can be adapted with a lower grill to filter out dirt and grit and preventing scratching. Also, a lower grill filters dirt/grit to not contaminate wash mitt.

As discussed on last month’s article, with most products and protectants less is more. This is also the case with car wash. A concentrated car wash (16 ounce bottle) can produce 32 gallons of “sudsing” wash. Too much concentrated car wash to water can make rinsing and removal more time consuming. Lastly, make sure the brand you select is high-lubricity, is safe for all surfaces, and a gentle formula that cleans safely, preventing blemishes.

During the wash process, use a combination of a microfiber wash mitt, wash pads, and brushes (wheel, vent & grill) to complete the process and reach hard to get areas. Optionally, if you have bug jerky and road tar, you can use a stronger bug & smudge remover in conjunction with a four-finger mesh mitt that will soften baked on containments safely and easily (apply & scrub to area before wash). With your wheels you can apply a heavy-duty wheel cleaner as part of you pre-wash process, making certain that the formula is safe for all surfaces and that is a blended, thick solution that clings to the surface and breaks down/loosens brake dust and road grime.

Lastly, use a quality paint cleaning clay and lubricant to lift embedded contaminants and stubborn debris from the surface of your vehicle (more about clay bars in the Polish & Wax article next month’s issue).

Pro Tip: Use a two bucket system with one bucket for clean water and the other for clean water.


For your interior you will need a series of cleaner and protectants as well as towels and brushes to achieve the results you desire. Again, remember that with most of these products and protectants less is more and the goal is to keep your interior “fresh & new” not shiny and sticky (Armor All).

You may have heard that Armor All contains silicone which will break down the plastics in your car? Truth be told they have been a water based silicone for many years now, and their product isn’t a whole lot different than the other rubber/vinyl protectants available. They don’t have the higher concentrations of UV inhibitors that 303 Protectant, & Vinylex and a couple others do, but that’s one reason these products cost more than Armor All. UV additives are the most expensive ingredients.

Ultimately, what you are looking for are interior cleaning and detail products that provide UV protection and effectively clean and remove dust to maintain the look and feel of your interior surfaces without leaving a greasy feel or residue. Additionally, not all interior surfaces react them same, so use the right product for the type of surface you are detailing (vinyl, leather, rubber). Applying a vinyl or rubber dressing with a microfiber application pad is very straight forward. Remember that less is more and remove any excess product with a clean microfiber or terry weave detail towel. Leather on the other hand is generally a multiple step process to do it correctly. While there are 3 in 1 leather care products available that clean, protect (UV & cracking), and condition, more often approaching these steps separately will result in a better outcome for the life of your vehicle’s leather. The first step is to apply a leather cleaner to clean the surface of your leather and is an easy spray-and-wipe application. Second, apply a spray or cream leather care product to keep your leather looking, feeling and smelling factory new. Again, remember, less is more and the product should dry clear (even on perforated leather) and this should be a simple wipe and go process. Your last step, which we talk about last, but should actually be done first following an evaluation of your leather is conditioning. If you have older or neglected leather you should apply a leather conditioner/rejuvenator product. As the name implies this is a resuscitation type product designed with naturally penetrating oils that will nourish your leather. These products contain 100% conditioner and have no cleaning properties, so you now see why the multiple step process provides better outcomes. Especially in the dry climate of Colorado, it is vitally important to treat the leather in your vehicle at least once a month (unless stored in a humidity controlled environment) to drying, wearing, and cracking.

Finally, in this section we will discuss cleaning glass and windows (inside & out). Your choice of window cleaner is important to achieve a perfectly clean and streak-free surface. Ensure you window cleaner contains no ammonia so it is safe to use on tinted windows as well as no dyes, perfumes, or any other chemicals that will contaminate your glass surfaces. During this process, more is less does not apply and you should use a generous amount of product during the spray and wipe phase of the process. To finish, utilize lint free or dual weave microfiber glass towels, to remove the excess product while producing a streak-free, and haze-free result. Superior lint free towels are made of polypropylene, not paper, leaving behind no lint or glue residue and grab dirt and grease as they clean.

Pro Tip: Small paint brushes or long reach specialty tools with microfiber ends can be used to clean and reach air vents and hard to reach cavities of the interior.


There are as many detailing products and protectants for the exterior of your vehicle as there are sections of the chassis and suspension. Like the interior, choose the product you apply to the exterior sections by the type of material being treated (vinyl, metal, wheels/tires, glass, chrome, rubber) and with the exception of glass and tires…less is more! To address just the basics we will focus on major sections of the vehicle starting from the bottom up with the Wheels and tires. Depending on the type of wheel (chrome/metal vs. painted or alloy), simply cleaning the surface of the wheel with a heavy-duty wheel cleaning, then rinsing and drying may be enough to remove brake dust and other debris and leave you with a clean, original factory looking wheel. In the case of metal or chrome wheels the application (by hand with a 3” foam metal/chrome polishing pad) of a metal or chrome polish every 6 to 8 months can turn back time, restoring the original brightness without scratching or damaging the wheel surface. A quality metal or chrome polish will have anti-oxidizing ingredients to provide a barrier that will assure lasting protection. Finally, there are a variety of tools that can help make wheel cleaning and detailing easier and more effective in those hard to reach spots…these include long reach wheel scrubber brushes, microfiber wheel wands, bendable wheel brushes, and three-finger detail mitts. One very helpful tool is a drill operated lug nut cleaning brush for the cavity of the wheel enclosing the lug nut itself (a common place for brake dust and debris to hide).

The tires themselves can be a source of great consternation for some vehicle aficionados when it comes to detailing and protecting them. Some like the look of a heavy gloss dressing, while others definitely no not and believe most of the tire dressing itself ends up on the wheel wells and lower quarter panels of the vehicle. Luckily, there are options for both glossy and natural tire dressing and the higher end protects will provide UV protection and conditioning as well. For those that prefer the high gloss there are both spray-on protectants and wheel dressing (gel or liquid applied with detailing pad, longer lasting) products available. Additionally, for low-gloss (satin look), there are sprays available that offer protection without the high-gloss look and the added benefit of protection from water/rain and a mess-free application. The most natural look for your tires can be achieved by applying a liberal amount of rubber dressing to the tire and removing the excess with a microfiber detailing pad depending on the look you desire.

Finally, a variety of products, tools and accessories are available to address the remaining areas of the vehicle depending on the material. The same vinyl and rubber dressing used on the interior of the vehicle can be used on those exterior surfaces of the same material (in perhaps more generous amounts). Plastic parts, such as rear view mirrors, sections of the trim and bumpers, and grills can be detailed effectively with a waterless speed shine product in combination with a spray-on wax and a microfiber or terry weave detail towel. Detail brushes and finger pads are ideal for getting into hard to reach areas and removing water spots or residue from driving or the washing stage. For older vehicles, with black rubber bumpers or sections of trim, there are a variety of “Back to Black” or Black Shine Trim Restorer/Re-conditioner products that will safely (foam applicator pad) bring back the luster of rubber, vinyl and hard plastic areas.

In general, when it comes to detailing products and protectants, you get what you pay for and the less expensive brands may not contain the UV protection or non-silicone based formula required to keep your vehicle protected and looking “fresh & new”. In the end there are many good car care product manufacturers and here just a few: Adam’s, Griot’s, Lexol, MOTHERS, Meguiar’s, Pinnacle, and Swissvax and there are many more out there. Good luck, have fun, and enjoy your garage!

Pro Tip: Avoid brake dust clinging to your painted wheels, (1) after washing/cleaning your wheels, (2) clay bar them, and (3) apply a heavy coat of 3M silicone spray being careful to avoid the tire & rotors. (4) Use a hair dryer to heat (very warm, not hot) the wheel one spoke at a time, let cool and wipe down with a microfiber towel.


Mark “Bull” Whitaker is the owner of Whitfield Motorsports, Inc. in Falcon, CO, a Griot’s Certified Car Care Dealer specializing in automobile restoration and detailing. Additional content provided by Griot’s Garage and All product names, logos, and brands are property of their respective owners. All company, product and service names used in this article are for identification purposes only. Use of these names, logos, and brands does not imply endorsement.