I've been putting this thread off for a long time and since I now sit here with nothing to to this weekend, I figured I'd put this together. The point of this thread is to give you a step by step idea of how to properly detail a car. I did not buff my car, so that is one huge step that is not included in the photos, but I will explain further about it.
I'm a detailer professionally, I have worked on some very high end vehicles and just about everything that has been made in the past 10 years. Which is why I have a kickass setup a work. Buying this kind of stuff on a smaller scale would be pretty expensive. But I will try to explain things as if I was doing this at home. FYI, I do not own any of my own equippment. And, no, I will not detail your car. I took all the pics myself with my phone, so they don't look great and some are pretty shaky.
Back on Friday June 24th, I detailed the exterior of my car for Eurowerks V. I spent about 6 hours on the exterior, half an hour washing, and half an hour vacuuming the interior and doing the windows. So it was about a 7 hour deal, from about 6:15p-1:30a. Yes, to do a good job detailing you need to be really anal. That's just how it works.
Step 1: Washing
This is an obvious one. Hand washing is a far better way to get the car clean for two reasons: 1) the wash mitt picks up crud that a touchless sprayer just doesn't get, and 2) if your mitt is cleaned properly (or new) then you don't have to worry about putting in scratches that a typical gas station slap-n-scratch wash will so kindly do.
I always presoak the car in degreaser as it will start to eat away at things like brake dust on your wheels, excess dirt/dust on the paint, etc. It's already soaked in this photo. After that has sat for a minute or so, I powerwash it all off, making sure to spray out the door/hood/trunk jams as well as the side mirrors, and wheel wells.
Many people will need to get off the caked on and black/brown brake dust. They make special wheel cleaner that is often acidic. That stuff normally works very well. Use a stiff bristle brush to work it in. After a little bit with some elbow grease the brake dust will be mostly, if not entirely, gone. Leaving you with a wheel that looks like new.
I put in fresh water and soap and spray off the mitt to clean it out. So everything is fresh and good to go.
All soaped up. I typically soap the car in the following order:
Top painted surfaces (hood, roof, trunk)
Sides ABOVE the trim
Sides BELOW the trim, but above the rocker
This is all for what is visually important to the car. The top surfaces will suffer the most in the end result from any scratches put into it by the wash mitt. So I start where I need it to look the best. If something gets picked up by the was mitt, it may scratch, but it will be in a place that isn't as noticeable. So I go from most important to least important scratch-wise.
I make sure to get everything that could hold suds with the water. We have a Hosty at work, so this water sprays at anywhere from like room temp to 240 degrees. We have it set to about 150.
Now that the car is mostly dry, I can bring it inside to start the detail. It has now been a half an hour since I started the project. I use one of those California Car Blades to speed up drying the car off. It whisks the water off the paint and works well. People think that they'll scratch your car...they will...if your car is not clean. Since I just spent a half hour washing the paint, I'd say it's pretty clean.
Step 2: Drying the car throughly
Because the car has just been washed, there is still plenty of water hanging out in crevasses, jams, etc. So I take the compressed air hose to all the corners, edges, whatever to blow out all the remaining water.
Step 3: Initial inspection of the paint and surfaces
Here is what I start with. Keep in mind that because I am a detailer by trade, I do keep my car fairly clean. So I don't have any major scratches to speak of. But I do have plenty of other imperfections I want to address. I have 6 and a half more hours of fun so I have my work cut out.
But before I can buff, there are a few crucial steps you MUST take in order to not only achieve a better result, but prolong the life of your pads. You need to clean the paint further.
Step 4: Fixing plastic trim
First, I take an eraser (just a regular eraser) to the black plastic door trim to get rid of as much gunk as possible. Dried on wax, buffing compound, burn from buffing...it turns white and ugly. An eraser normally takes care of it I've found.
Step 5: Solvent wipe down
Now that I've taken care of the trim, I can start to soak down the car in a solvent. This does two things, it breaks down any greasy substance that may be on the paint (road tar, grease, etc) and lets you wipe it off. The other reason is that it kind of acts as a final wipe down of contaminants on the paint. I wipe the whole car top to bottom.
As you can see, I pulled up a bit of tar. The most common spots to find that is right behind both wheels front and rear, and on the vertical face of the trunk. Just like salt spray on cars in the winter.
Step 6: Claybar
Now I claybar the whole thing. Using a spray wax as lubricant, I wipe the clay across the paint in a constant speed/motion. This will pick up the harder to remove things, such as really tough dried on tar, bugs, overspray, whatever. Pictured is a place on a car that is a usual bad spot...right behind the front wheel.
I didn't pick up a whole lot of stuff, the solvent got the majority. However, most cars I work on are worse since the people aren't keeping their cars as clean as I try to. When a piece of clay gets dark, you should fold it over ad start with a fresh side. You can do this many times before the chunk of clay becomes worn out. It has not been about a half hour since I brought it inside from the wash.
Step 7: Taping
I spent about an hour taping off every piece of exposed plastic and rubber with 3M masking tape.
Step 8: Buffing
Like I said above, I did not buff any part of my car as there was no need to. But when you buff, you need to follow roughly the same techniques you'd use when polishing (I will be referring to it as "foaming" below, because it uses a foam pad). The biggest issue with wool buffing pads is that the fibers will cut too hard and create circular cuts in the paint which is just about my least favorite thing ever, because they're a PITA to get out. Cleaning your wool pad is priority. If you have a spur or something you can use to periodically clean the compound out during use is a good idea, that way the compound doesn't cake up in the pad. If that happens, the pad will not cut as well.
To remove a scratch with a rotary buffer (I use a DeWalt), you should always start slowly and without much pressure until you get a feel for what the paint need. This is absolutely an aquired skill. But putting more pressure on it will heat the paint up and actually start to melt the clear coat to the point where the scratch will start to fill itself in. This is all done while moving back and forth at a constant speed.
It is very difficult to describe how to buff in text, it is really something you must see to learn.
Step 9: Foaming
Well this is normally done after buffing, but I knew that most of the scratches in my paint I could get out with a foam pad. So I jumped right to this step.
If you notice, you'll see concentric circles, this is the compound from my pad that was left when I finished foaming this area. The light I am shining onto the paint is called a Sun Gun, made by 3M. It replicates the suns light to help me see things in the paint (such as swirls) that artificial lighting doesn't expose.
But note that I use a side to side motion with a 50% overlap. I do 3 passes per section. First pass is left to right with a high amount of pressure, The second pass is up and down with medium pressure, and the third pass is left to right again with light pressure. This is to eliminate as many swirls as possible.
I use that yellow pad on the whole car, then do the same thing again with a softer pad to eliminate any cuts or swirls left behind by the yellow pad. All wiped down with a new microfiber towel.
Step 10: Waxing
Most people will use a paste wax and an applicator pad, or a liquid wax and rub it on by hand with a microfiber. That all takes too long, so I use a liquid wax on a soft foam pad with the orbital to apply wax. This option benefits me twofold: 1) It takes a fraction of the time to apply wax to the whole car, and 2) with a orbital motion, it helps to fill in any faint, remaining swirls.
1/2 wiped off.
Finished result. We are now several (like 4.5-5) hours into the detail.
Step 11: Wheels
Everyone has different wheels. Mine are polished aluminum two piece BBSs. After washing the car, they're free of dirt for the most part, so the only thing I needed to do was polish the barrels. I took liquid metal polish and polished each one twice. Then when I had done that, I took a paint sealant and let that sit one each barrel for a minute and wiped it off. Paint sealant will seal protect anything, not just paint.
This was after the first pass.
Step: 12 Finishing
Pull the tape off, wipe out every jam with a towel and blow all the dust off the surfaces, jams, windows, etc. I put a plastic/vinyl/leather care cream on the tires instead of greasy tire shine (at least in this case, tire shine goes on every car I do at work otherwise). I like it waaaaaay better becaue it doesn't have a wet shiny look. It just looks like a nice and clean tire. I used the same stuff on all of the plastic and rubber that I had taped off earlier, to give it an extra little pop.
Wipe down the windows and clean the tailpipes and you're pretty much golden.
So I may have spent 7 hours in this case, but I'm super picky with my car. I normally wouldn't even spend half that time on just an exterior of another car.
Hopefully you learned something and have a better understanding of what goes into a half decent detail. And remember...TAKE YOUR TIME!!!! DON'T RUSH!!!!