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Ask an expert: How to professionally clean your car

A car detailer gives us their recommendations for products to keep in your car-cleaning kit – and the best methods to use them.

By Shell on Apr. 14, 2022

For some, a dirty car is a badge of pride. But what if you crave that showroom-floor sparkle? We asked Adem Temel, Directing Manager of Melbourne-based car wash, detailing and restoration service Timmy's Detailing, to nominate the top products every clean-car lover should keep handy. His list includes:

  • A foaming pre-wash
  • Car shampoo
  • Microfibre wash mit (and separate buckets)
  • Microfibre drying towel (or blower vac)
  • Wax and polish product
  • Plastic protectant spray.

But he has one big proviso. "The most important thing is how you actually wash a car rather than the products," says Temel. "You need to follow certain steps to ensure you don't end up leaving what we call 'love marks' through incorrect washing methods."

So, with that in mind, here are the ideal steps to take when washing your pride and joy.

1. Pre-wash

This is designed to soften and lift dirt, grime and other gunk from your car's exterior before you wash it. You spray it on, let the product foam up and do its dirt-lifting work, then rinse off. "If you wash a dirty car the wrong way, you can rub that dirt all over it and leave micro scratches which you'll see in the sun," says Temel. "So you want some form of pre-wash.” Many of these foaming pre-wash products come with spray guns. "You don't have to invest in a high-pressure machine,” says Temel. “There are systems that connect to the garden hose. They don't foam up as much but they actually do the job."

2. Shampoo and elbow grease

A pre-wash is an essential first step but you'll still need some form of 'mechanical' washing to get your car properly clean.

For that, combine a quality car-shampoo formulation with an microfibre wash mitt and two buckets. Use one for the shampoo and fill the other with water for rinsing the wash mitt as you go.

"That way you'll be dipping into a second bucket with a nice, lubricated shampoo and only lubricated shampoo will be touching your panels rather than dirt," says Temel. "You're keeping the dirt in one bucket and keeping the other bucket clean.”

3. Dry the right way

Leave a wet car to dry and you'll end up with unsightly water marks. Sticking with our over-riding anti-scratch focus, this step is also all about reducing the chances of rubbing dirt and other contaminates into paintwork. "You really want some form of air to dry the car, so get an air blower that you'd use around the garden and use it on your car," said Temel. "Try to avoid a chamois but if you have to use one, it should be a quality microfibre drying towel."

4. Protective products

You've got your car clean, now it's time to apply some products that will help maintain the condition of its various surfaces by acting as a protective layer. For the exterior, you need a wax and polish product, preferably applied by hand as buffing machines can damage paint in inexperienced hands.

For delicate cabin plastics, invest in a quality spray-on protectant or 'dressing' formulated to prevent plastic 'greying' and static. "A lot of dressings magnify the sun onto your plastics and they lose colour," says Temel. "And you want something that leaves a non-static finish because otherwise it will attract a lot of dust and, when you try to clean it, it's like you're chasing your tail."

For the most robust, long-lasting protection of your car's exterior, consider a ceramic or glass coating. "It's not very expensive and you can do it yourself," says Temel. "If you've waxed and polished your car by hand, you can probably have a go at ceramic coating."

Just don't expect the same pristine finish or longevity you'd get from a professional detailer's coating application, which typically involves a pre-coating process that decontaminates and 'corrects' the paint.

"Coatings don't last very long when the paint surface isn't decontaminated properly and it's not paint-corrected," says Temel. "There's a lot involved in trying to get these coatings bonded to the paint so they last as long as possible."

Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.