1. Home
  2. Detailing FAQ

Detailing FAQ

What is auto detailing?

In a nutshell, it’s deep cleaning and maintenance on all surfaces of a vehicle, from paint to wheels to interiors. Anyone can learn it, and it’s a great skill for taking care of your vehicle no matter the age.

Where should I get my products? Do I have to order online?

You can find quality brands OTC (over the counter), such as Meguiar’s, Mothers, and Griot’s Garage. Many ‘specialty’ brands can only be bought through online vendors.

Check out our Products and Tools category for more info, specifically our Online Retailers article.

Holy crap! These products are expensive.

Yes, but you can spend as little or as much as you like. There may be an initial sticker shock. However, these products are designed to last. As the technology develops, companies are able to give us more and more products that are able to be diluted each year. Especially if you’re just taking care of your own car, that gallon of soap (for example) will last you throughout the year easily.

What are all of these acronyms?

It can get a bit confusing. Check out our handy Terminology & Acronyms page for more information.

What is claying? Polishing? Compounding? Wax? Sealant? Coatings? Which order do I perform these steps?

Claying refers to a piece of automotive clay, which is used to decontaminate the surface of your paint, wheels, and glass. Larry at AmmoNYC describes claying like exfoliating the skin. Paint is porous like skin. It needs to be clear of any debris if you want to have a complete shine. You should always clay before performing a paint correction. Typically, you only have to clay twice a year.

Polishing is a step in paint correction. Abrasives are used in conjunction to polishing pads on a Dual Action (DA) or Rotary machine to cut down the clear coat, removing the imperfections.

Compounding is a more aggressive polish. If you compound the paint, you should follow it up with a polish to remove the minor swirls installed by the compound.

Carnauba wax is a naturally occurring plant based product, produced by palm trees in South America to shield them from the extreme heat. Scientists have been able to harvest this wax and manufacturer it to give customers a high-shine, yet less durable wax. Typically, these last about a month. However, they give the most shine out of last step products (LSP).

Paint sealants are man made waxes. The durability of these range from 4 months to about a year depending on environmental and paint conditions. While they offer better protection, the shine is not as noticeable as carnauba waxes.

Coatings offer the most protection out of LSPs. Think of them as another clear coat. In most cases, they will last you about two years. However, they offer little room for error while applying them, and because of the toughness, imperfections will stand out easier.

The order to perform these steps would be:

  1. Clay
  2. Paint correction (polish/compound)
  3. Protection (coatings, sealants, waxes).

If you apply a coating, you do not need to apply a sealant or wax. Waxes will always go on TOP of a sealant, because you want the strongest product at your disposal to bond to the paint. A sealant and wax CAN go on top of a coating, but only after the curing period of time.

Which company/product/method is best?

There is no ‘best.’ But I understand, people just want the best, the quickest, the easiest. It’s all subjective. What works for Joe Schmo may not be my way of doing things, but it works for him. Most of the fun in this hobby comes from trying new products, different methods, etc. You have to take the time to experiment and see how you like to do it. Technique will always come first. Take the time to learn the proper ways to maintain your car.

My car is red/blue/black and this model and year. Does that matter?

Not really. Unless you’ve got single stage paint, then extra care should be considered because you’ll be removing actual paint vs clear coat.

The most commonly asked question online is ‘how do I take care of my black car?’ It’s the same as you would a grey or white or red car. Darker colors just show everything easier, so extra attention will be needed.

What are some other resources I can look at to help me understand detailing?

As discussed above, this subreddit is a spawn of reddit. For the largest unbiased detailing forum on the internet, your go to is r/AutoDetailing.

On Youtube, there are people like AmmoNYC, Junkman2000, Garry Dean, as well as companies like Autogeek and McKee’s 37. The Autogeek forums, as well as the Autopia forums are a great place to hang out and read. There are tons of professionals there.

Polymers? Hydro? Nano? Huh?

Buzzwords. Don’t look into it too much.

What’s on my paint?

This kind of question makes up the bulk of our posts. Check out the Surface Damage Field Guide article and see if you can match up your problem there.

I slapped X,Y, and Z products on my paint like this company said to do, but my paint doesn’t have that wet mirror finish! Help!

90% of your gloss will come from proper paint correction. You can layer glazes, sealants, waxes, and coatings until the cows come home, but if you skip the paint correction, you’re not going to be pleased. Junkman2000 has a video on his channel where he asks viewers to guess the wax on a car. Turns out, there isn’t any. All the gloss came from the correct paint correction methods.

What is a foam gun and foam cannon?

Foam guns connect to a regular hose, while foam cannons attach to pressure washers. Both serve the same purpose, to pre-soak the vehicle in soap so that any dirt can be rinsed away before performing a two-bucket wash. This is NOT meant to be a replacement to a regular wash, just an optional step to make washing easier. Plus, it’s fun to soak the car in soap!

Can I polish by hand? Those polishers seem expensive.

Not really, but sort of. Modern clear coats are extremely tough and not meant to be corrected by hand polishing. Your arm will sooner fall off before you notice any correction. However, it will take care of very shallow swirls and is useful in areas that machines cannot fit, such as door handle indentations.

Harbor Freight makes a cheap dual action polisher for about $60.

How do I prep my car for winter?

We have an article dedicated for winter car care.

Essentially, you want to prepare your car before winter hits to ensure everything is as protected as possible. For example, some people will polish their car and apply two layers of sealant on the paint.

It may get too cold to do much of any detailing during the winter, so you may be out of luck until warmer weather rolls around.

Does Dawn strip my wax?

No, this is one of the most repeated detailing myths. While it may appear as the soap has stripped your protection, all it has done is lay down surfactants to give the illusion.

The best method for stripping an LSP (Last Step Product) is an alcohol wipe-down or a similar detailing product such as CarPro Eraser.

Clay vs. Nanoskin?

This comes down to preference. Please search “clay vs. nanoskin” in the search bar on r/AutoDetailing when researching this topic.

Basically, Nanoskin products will last longer, can be dropped on the ground and rinsed off, and will cover more ground than clay. However, clay is more flexible, helps you feel the paint better, and it isn’t black, which allows you to see what you’re pulling off the vehicle. Clay is also readily available OTC in kits from Meguiar’s and Mothers.

Nanoskin has been known to cause more marring than claybars do, so some practice is necessary and buying a quality nanoskin is important.