What is Car Detailing?

Firstly the question that is asked often is what is car detailing? In this article, we will answer the definition of the term car detailing over the more broadly used terms such as car washing and car valeting. The term originated from America in the 1990s with the words auto detailing, this term was picked up on the internet in the UK where the term was altered to car detailing as a derivative changing the word auto to the word car. The road traffic act 1972 stated that a vehicle must be kept in a clean and efficient condition and properly managed car cleaning services such as car washing became very popular.

What types of car cleaning services are there?

Fundamentally there are 3 main types of car cleaning services which include car washing, car valeting, and car detailing. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each type of car cleaning service including the advantages and disadvantages of each service.

car washing
Car washing
car valeting
Car Valeting
car detailing
Car Detailing

Car Washing

A general car wash is a service that some would describe as the bargain basement, over the years there have been a variety of car washing options from a simple drive through the car wash at your local garage to a basic car wash service provided by a car valeter which would normally include a basic exterior wash and interior vacuum.


  • A basic car wash is a cheaper option
  • Car wash keeps your car road legal
  • Removes some of the dirt from the cars paintwork


  • Contamination can still be present within the paintwork
  • Does not give long-lasting protection to a cars paintwork

Car Valeting

Car valeting is a service that goes one step further than a basic car washing service, a car valet would normally include a more in-depth car cleaning method by not only washing and vacuuming the vehicle but also cleaning areas such as the inner door shuts, polishing the paintwork and cleaning the wheels.


  • Can give moderate protection to the paintwork of a car
  • Provides a better-looking finish to a car than a basic wash
  • The exterior and interior is left clean and tidy


  • Protection is less effective and not as long-lasting than a full detail
  • some car valeting services use cheaper products that do not last as long as better detailing products

Car Detailing

So now we come to car detailing, this is a much more in-depth cleaning package compared to car washing or car valeting. Car detailing is a process that is performed by highly skilled car cleaners, we call them detailers because they clean every part of the car to the highest standard possible. The process of car detailing requires stronger chemicals that remove all contamination to a car’s paintwork or car interior.


  • Better products provide longer-lasting paint protection
  • The car is cleaned removing all contamination from interior and exterior surfaces


  • Can be more costly than basic valeting services
  • The detailing process is much longer than a standard car valet

Car Detailing Process

Exterior Detailing

Exterior Car Detailing
  1. Full Rinse – using a pressure washer rinse the entire car exterior including under the wheel arches.
  2. Wheel Cleaning – using a wheel cleaner and Tyre / Rubber Cleaner a wheel Brush to deep clean the wheels and pressure wash each wheel after cleaning.
  3. Pre-wash – apply Snow foam to the car using a foam canon once complete pressure wash the entire car with water, this will remove heavy dirt particles from the exterior of the car.
  4. Shampoo – use a high-quality car shampoo to remove old wax or paint sealant this process should be done using a two bucket method with grit guards.
  5. Decontamination Removal – using an iron remover such as Iron.x this will turn iron particles in the paint clear coat purple, once complete pressure wash off, then use a clay bar and lubricant to remove deep contamination within the paint clear coat, once complete pressure wash the entire car.
  6. Drying – The drying stage can be completed using a car drying towel and an air blower.
  7. Extra Detail – Polish chrome such as exhaust tips.
  8. Compound – Use a polisher to apply a compound cleaner to the paintwork to remove any swirl marks.
  9. Polishing – Using a good quality car polish use a rotary polisher to polish the paintwork of the car buffing off with a microfibre to a high shine.
  10. Protection – Apply paint protection to the paint surface using a ceramic coating this will give long-term protection to the freshly clean paint surface.

Interior Detailing

Interior Car Detailing
  1. Vacuum – remove any items from the car such as personal belongings, interior car mats, etc, using a car vacuum cleaner vacuum the interior carpets and seats of the car this includes any boot compartment to remove heavy dirt particles from the interior of the car.
  2. Dusting – Working from the highest point use a detailing brush to clean dust particles this includes heater vents, center console, and door cards use a microfibre to clean as you go and a vacuum to suck up what falls from the microfibre, including areas such as driving pedals and headlining.
  3. Trim Cleaning – using an all-purpose cleaner clean any trim within the car use a detailing brush to agitate the dirt then wipe clean with a microfibre.
  4. Seats – vacuum the seats thoroughly then clean the seats with either an upholstery cleaner or leather cleaner depending on what type of seats the car has an upholstery brush can be used to help with stubborn stains.
  5. Carpets – Use a fabric cleaner and upholstery brush to agitate the carpets wipe off excess using a microfibre towel.
  6. Jams and Sills – using an all-purpose cleaner clean thoroughly the door jams and upper sills also concentrating on areas such as tailgate surrounds, for example, wipe clean with a microfibre towel.
  7. Floor Mats – Vacuum the car’s floor mats that were removed from the car and clean with a fabric cleaner or all-purpose cleaner depending on what type of floor mats are in the vehicle carpet or rubber.
  8. Trim Dressing – Apply a trim dressing to all plastics such as dashboard, door cards, and center console, buffing off as you go.
  9. Seat Protection – Protect the seats by applying a leather conditioner or fabric guard which can also be applied to the carpets too.
  10. Windows – Clean the glass of the car with a glass cleaner making sure you drop each window as you go to reach the glass located into the doors rubbers, if the windows are tinted use plain water for this process, remembering to clean both sides of the glass.

For the ultimate car detail, the engine bay can also be cleaned we have covered this in a separate article engine detailing step-by-step instructions, tools, products, and tips.


The answer to the question what is car detailing? this term is determined by the quality of cleaning that is applied to a car, the detailing process is much more refined than a simple car wash or basic car valeting option.

Car detailing is a much more expensive option due to the amount of time and products used to achieve a perfect result when cleaning a car inside and out.

Car detailing is often used to protect a car’s exterior and interior for longer-lasting protection and to achieve the best possible finish to the paintwork of a car, its trim, upholstery, and wheels.

A detailed car can make the car more valuable if someone was selling a car, but ultimately it will make a car last longer with the protective coatings applied.