11 Most Common Car Detailing Mistakes Made By Beginners

Car Detailing Mistakes

Detailing a car can make it look almost as good as the day you bought it. Even better, by detailing your car often, you can keep it looking like a brand new car for a long time.

But beginner car detailers can make mistakes. Some mistakes are nuisances that will take you time and effort to go back and fix, while other errors can actually damage your car and are expensive to repair.

If you’re new to car detailing, read on to learn about the most common mistakes made by beginner car detailers so that you can avoid these errors and keep your car looking fantastic.

What Is Car Detailing?

Many people think that car detailing is the same as getting a car wash, but a wash is only one small part of a car detail. Instead, the purpose of detailing is to return a car to a like-new state on both the outside and the inside.

Depending on how in-depth you want to go, detailing the outside of a car usually involves washing, waxing, and polishing. The tires are also scrubbed and shined.

Inside the car, it is vacuumed, and every surface is wiped down. In some cases, a stain remover or steaming is used to remove any stains. Leather interiors may also be treated. Many detailers will finish with a scent to wipe out any residual odors.

11 Common Mistakes to Avoid

While car detailing may sound simple, it’s actually a lot of work. There are also quite a few pitfalls for those who are new. Fortunately, once you know these pitfalls, you can avoid them and return your car to its former glory. Read on to learn more.

1. Using Anything Other Than Car Wash

Gone are the days when it was okay to grab a bottle of dish soap out of the kitchen and use it to wash your car. Now, many soap brands are specially formulated for cars, and you should absolutely be using one of these.

Dish soap or other soaps not made to handle a car can leave streaks and spots and may even leave your car looking dull instead of sparkling clean. Even worse, certain dish detergents may strip your vehicle of its finish or paint job.

On the other hand, a soap that is formulated for washing cars will make your job easier. It’s made to remove all the dirt and grime your car accumulates and will leave your paint job shining.

2. Washing on a Sunny Day

All experienced car detailers know that it’s best to wait and wash a car on a cloudy day. Why? Because the sun will dry your vehicle quickly before you can get the soap rinsed off. Your vehicle will be left with streaks and soap spots.

Washing your car on a cloudy day can save you a lot of time. If the soap dries on your car, it’s not merely a matter of going back and rinsing it off. You’ll have to start over and reapply the soap to remove the streaks and soap spots.

3. Washing the Whole Car at Once

You’ll also run into problems if you try to soap up your entire car before rinsing. The soap will dry in some places, leaving streaks and spots. You should wash your car in small sections, focusing on cleaning and area and then rinsing it thoroughly before moving on to the next area.

4. Only Using One Bucket

One of the most common rookie mistakes is usually only one bucket. However, if you think about what you’re doing, you’ll understand how detrimental it is. Once you clean the car with your soapy mitt, if you put it back into the bucket, you are just putting all of that dirt and grime into your bucket of clean, soapy water.

Instead, you should have two buckets. One bucket should contain your soap and water. The other should just have water and should be used for rinsing your mitt between soaping up. You’ll be surprised at how much cleaner your car is.

5. Washing the Wheels and Tires Last

It’s a general rule in car detailing that you start at the top of the car and work your way down. However, you should technically start with the wheels and tires. If you save the wheels for last, you are only setting yourself up for failure, as you’ll likely wind up splashing dirt onto your just-cleaned car.

6. Using the Wrong Towels – and Washing Them Incorrectly

Many people still use chamois or even regular bath towels to dry their cars. Both are a bad idea, as they can scratch up your paint job. You should always use a microfiber cloth. It will dry your vehicle without any streaks, and it’ll protect your paint job.

It’s fine to throw your microfiber towels in the washing machine between car washes. You want clean towels to dry your clean car. Just make sure you don’t use fabric softener. The chemicals can damage your paint job.

7. Overdoing It on the Wax

Nothing looks better than a finely-waxed car. While this is true, going overboard on the wax will not give you that wet look you want. The only wax that works is the wax that is actually touching your paint.

The extra layers do very little other than waste wax. Ideally, you want to do two coats of wax. The first coat is the primary coat and the second coat is there to fill in any missed areas from the first coat.

8. Cleaning the Interior in Your Garage

While most people will wash their car outside, many will pull it back into the garage to clean out the interior. The problem is that you often have low lighting in your garage and your car. It’s hard to see any areas that might need extra attention. If possible, do the entire detailing outside so that you can get the best light.

9. Using the Wrong Window Cleaner

While it may be acceptable to use an ammonia-based glass cleaner on the windows and mirrors in your home, it’s not okay to use this type of cleanser in your car. While ammonia may give your glass a streak-free shine, it’s also a harsh chemical that can also break down some of the other materials in your car, like the vinyl and plastics. Use a gentle glass cleaner instead.

10. Spot Cleaning Stains

If you have stains on the upholstery of your car, you’ll obviously want to try to get them out while detailing. While it may seem intuitive to use a stain remover to get out the stains, you’ll also be creating another issue for yourself.

If you spot clean only the stains, you’ll create a disparity between those spots and the spots you don’t clean. Instead, it’s better to clean the entire surface with an upholstery brush. Use a brush to remove any stubborn stains.

11. Using the Wrong Cleaner on Plastics

There’s more than one type of plastic in your car, and they each need their own kind of cleaner. You should use at least two different cleaners, one formulated for softer plastics and another made for harder plastics. These materials can lose their luster and eventually their finish if you use the wrong cleaner.

Final Thoughts

By following these tips, you can avoid some of the mistakes beginner car detailers make. You can spend less time and effort cleaning your car while still keeping it looking as good as the day you bought it. Once your car is expertly detailed, you can get back to enjoying the ride.

Brett Gordon

The engine behind editing at DigMyRide and the brains behind its build. During the day, Brett is a thirty-something dude from SoCal climbing the corporate ladder, but by night, he spends his time contributing to the online world of automotive tech & trends.