Squeaky Clean – A Guide to Cleaning and Detailing Supplies and Techniques
Whether you’re cruising for a coffee or displaying at a big indoor car show, it’s always good to have your car looking as good as possible. Show-level detailing is skill in itself and takes a lot of work, not just on your car’s paint (which is more like a science), but also the interior, engine compartment, glass, tires and wheels, and so much more.
The good news is that there are so many great cleaners, polishers, waxes, and protectants available to help bring out the most in your classic car or truck. Not only are there effective cleaners, but the manufacturers also do a terrific job of showing you how to use their materials! Each manufacturer we reached out to have useful how-to videos on their websites but better yet is when you talk to them first hand at an event to see exactly what they offer for your cruiser and just how you use it.
Here’s a look at some of the latest detailing supplies along with a few tips from the pros.
Adam’s Polishes offers many specialized cleaners and conditioners for your interior such as their Cleaning Gel, Leather Cleaner, Rubber Mat Cleaner or even an Enzymatic Cleaner to serious clean up. One of their latest additions is their Total Interior Cleaner.
This new compound is similar to their Interior Detailer with Microban, but has been modified to be a jack of all trades, meaning it is suitable for use on literally every single interior surface of the vehicle including glass, navigation screens, leather, carpet, and upholstery. The water-based substance produces a new-appearing matte finish and is highly effective at removing light dust, fingerprints, smudges, and other contaminants. It also serves as an UV absorber and finishes with a pleasant Maine blueberry scent.
The wheels of your car are exposed to heat, brake dust, grime, and a battery of nasty road contaminants. The detailing pros at Chemical Guys have developed a quick way to clean and protect your glossy painted, powder or clear coated, chrome, or anodized wheels with their HydroSpin Wheel and Rim Ceramic Coating and Quick Detailer.
HydroSpin provides a slick, durable barrier that repels water while adding protection against grime and dirt. By forming a semi-permanent bond with the surface, HydroSpin creates an effective barrier of protection that can last for up to 12 months while creating a deep ceramic shine! The versatile formula is easy to use and can be used as a standalone ceramic coating on untreated wheels and is also perfect to use on top of existing coatings for added protection.
Pro Tip! Mark Giambalvo – Creative Rod & Kustom
“For general detailing on your hot rod or classic car, I think most people can do it themselves. Depending on how dirty the vehicle is we generally stick to a good quality microfiber cloth and detail spray before and during a show. We like using Griot’s Garage detail spray and microfibers. When you get into more serious paint correction and detailing, I feel that is best left up to a professional; you can definitely do some damage with a buffer.
“One of the things we found that works well on upholstery, especially lighter color leathers, is a mixture of Woolite laundry detergent and water in a spray bottle. We like to use Wenol metal polish on stainless, aluminum and chrome. Sprayway glass cleaner is the only glass cleaner I have found that does not leave streaks. With the ever-growing trend of matte finishes, we recommend using a detail spray that does not have a wax or shine component to it because this will add gloss to the matte finish over time from wiping. Mother’s Professional detail spray is a good choice and I believe Adam’s makes a product for matte finishes as well.”
Chances are that you know Driven Racing for their line of high-performance oils and lubricants, so it may surprise you that they also offer a few effective cleaners such as their Race Wax. Once applied, Race Wax leaves a smooth, glossy finish that helps shed tire rubber from burnouts, along with grime, dirt, and bug splatter.
Race Wax is ideal for use on fiberglass cars, decal-wrapped race cars, and hot rods. It can be applied in direct sunlight, making it perfect for an afternoon touchup and shine during a show or between rounds at the race track. It can even be used on windows, chrome, and custom decals.
Time and miles will eventually take their toll on your vehicle’s paint, where there can be a buildup of mild scratches or defects. With the right tools, materials, and time, you can bring the life and shine back into your paint with the help of Griot’s Garage and their Best of Show System.
Griot’s BOSS Correcting Cream is designed to eliminate moderate defects while their Perfecting Cream will proficiently remove swirl marks and hazing areas. The cream has a high lubricity formula that allows for extended buffing cycles so you can create a pristine surface that is ready for waxing. It is recommended to use a Correcting Foam Pad for application with one of Griot’s orbital buffers.
Pro Tip! Troy Ladd – Hollywood Hot Rods
“We always like to trust a professional detailer for show detail and prep. There is so much money in paint on a high-end car that we don’t want to be responsible for any aggressive polishing or detailing. Of course, we can do minor detailing with microfiber towels, detail spray, and polishing chrome, but when it comes to using machines on the paint, we leave that to professionals. Many times we even send the car back to the painter (typically Mick’s Paint) and they will cut, buff, and polish it for us.
“I also think that a decent display is a great way to show off the details of a build, especially in a show situation. Our displays always have the car level, and at ride height. One side typically allows you to see the car as it would be seen on the street – ride height, doors closed, etc. Then we usually have the other side of the display with mirrors, the door open, etc. to allow the details to be seen. Lighting is hugely important. Always use soft diffused lighting or overhead lighting if available. It is also easy to hide small LED lights in the interior or under the car to help illuminate details.”
Sprayed and Sealed
Whether you’re looking for a quick detail and protection before a show or looking to maintain the surface after a complete clean and wax, Spary & Seal from Jax Wax is up to the task. The liquid spray is a durable resin- and carnauba-based paint sealant that can be applied to a clean, dry surface resulting in a durable base layer of protection and shine.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Jax Wax manufactures their car cleaning products in-house using the finest American-made materials. The Spray & Seal is just one of their detail and vehicle maintenance offerings, plus it can be used on glass, chrome, black plastic, and more exterior surfaces. It’s guaranteed to not streak or smear and produces a brilliant shine while helping to restore color on plastic accent pieces.
Whether you have a huge variety of cars or projects to keep detailed like super-enthusiast Jay Leno, or just one favorite classic, there’s bound to be a metal surface or two that needs to be cleaned and polished. One handy cleaner that is available through Jay’s own line of detailers and cleaners is this All-Metal Polish.
All-Metal is safe to use on all metal surfaces including uncoated wheels, aluminum, brass, magnesium, diamond plate, and more (even try it on your wife’s jewelry!). Its advanced combination of cleaners will remove stains, tarnish, oxidation, and mineral deposits from all types of automotive metals. It can be applied by hand or with a machine polisher and will leave your bumpers, metal trim, exhaust tips, radiators, and more looking like new.
Pro Tip! Heath Murray – Murray Kustom Rods
“We’ll clean up and detail our builds for outdoor shows and road tours, but when it comes to handing off a fresh build to a customer or a serious indoor event, we turn to a professional detailer. They come in with all the right materials and cleaners, know how to use them, and two guys will spend an entire day on a car to get it dialed in and looking its best.
“If there is any paint buffing or correcting required, we definitely leave that up to the painter’s team or a detailer. There are too many variables when it comes to paint, how fresh it is or the materials used, and too much risk for us to burn through the paint or damage it. For paint work, we like to leave it to the experienced professionals.”
When you think about waxes and cleaners, you can’t help but think about Meguiar’s and their deep line of proven car care products and finishes. One of their latest additions is their Ultimate Insane Shine Paint Glosser. This spray detailer tunes up the surface color and saturation while enhancing the gloss finish by nourishing the paint.
The Instant Shine also helps fill in light swirls and other minor defects, making them visibly disappear while producing an increased gloss with a brilliant mirror-like finish. Use it after each wash to boost the finish or as a quick detailer when you settle into a car show or your local cruise night. The Glosser can be used on its own or paired up with Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Wax for an extra step in car care and protection.
Shine with Wizards
After rolling into the show grounds, it’s time for a quick detail and Speedway Motors has put together a handy Car Show Essentials Kit with the help of Wizards Products to get your ride clean and shiny for the day. The first step is to clean off any bug goo with Wizard’s Bug Release spray to effectively wipe away any residue before going over the entire surface with Mist and Shine, Wizard’s professional detailer.
The last step is to treat the tires and interior with their Tire & Vinyl Shine for a clean, natural look. A leather chamois is included along with Speedway’s purple car duster for a quick touch-up throughout the day. The kit even includes an insulated six-pack cooler koozie and Speedway ball cap so you can kick back and bask at the glory of your shiny, detailed car or truck once the work is done.
Pro Tip! Randy Borcherding – Painthouse
“We typically handle all the detailing and final prep work on a vehicle that we build before handing it over to the customer or before a big show. Our team can put in 10-20 hours in detailing the interior, chassis, engine compartment, and of course the paint.
“When it comes to touching up and maintaining the paint of your car, one of the best tools you can use is an orbital buffer and treatment process like those offered by Griot’s Garage or other detail companies. Their orbital tools are so much safer for the paint than high-speed buffers. Of course, you still need to be careful, but it gives someone a chance to safely maintain their paint and feel the satisfaction of seeing that shiny finish. In fact, we’ve coached a lot of customers on the process and use of an orbital buffer so they can be more involved and successfully detail their own paint.”
A lot of different materials and tools are needed to perform a complete detail on your hot rod and Summit Racing Equipment has narrowed it down to a kit that includes 21 pieces to help you get the job done – and done right!
This 21 Piece Detailing Kit has the basic items you need to give your ride a solid going-over, starting with a wash bucket and grunge-soaking sponge. From there you’ll receive their Carnauba Wash and Wax along with a Quick Shine Instant Detailer for weekend touchups. The kit includes microfiber cloths, a wax applicator pad, a window towel, wheel brush, Tire Shine and wipes, and even detailing brushes for lug nuts and A/C vents.
Sauce for Patina
Baked and crusty sheet metal surfaces are here to stay, but how can you protect and preserve these finishes that time and nature have created over the years? Just ask the enthusiasts at Sweet Patina about their special sauce – the Patina Sauce.
Patina Sauce is a simple wipe-on, wipe-off application process that results in a luminous finish that highlights the character, depth, and beauty of a patina finish. It also helps prevent further deterioration, offers a layer of water-resistant protection to help inhibit rust, and polymerizes to a hard finish – all without a glossy, oily look. Even with the raw, natural finish on the surface, the Sauce will continue to repel water for months. For a quick detail before a show there is also the Happy Ending Detail Wipe that can be used to freshen up everything including glass, gloss, or satin finishes.
Five DIY Tips from a Pro
When we asked Troy Ladd of Hollywood Hot Rods about detailing a car for a judged show competition, he suggested we call Claude Harris Jr. of Final Appearance Detailing & Protection. Claude’s been in the detailing game for 30 years working his magic on numerous hot rods and builders including the Mulholland Speedster, the Nickle Roadster, Hollywood, Boyd Coddington, Bruce Meyer and many others.
Claude explained that getting a car detailed for a big show, without any serious paint finish work, would typically take 10-20 hours. “But when you get really into it and have the vehicle up on hoist for the undercarriage, nooks and crannies, you can easily commit to 30-50 hours,” he said.
With years of detailing experience, we asked Claude to provide five tips for our readers to help when it comes to detailing their cars or trucks for the upcoming show season.
EXTERIOR DETAIL: “Before you even think about applying a polish, shine-wax, or detailer of any sort, you need to dust the surfaces of the car. Dust is just a real fine form of dirt, so if you just start rubbing on a dusty surface, it’s going to leave scratches. I recommend spraying the cleaner on a microfiber towel and lightly just mop it across the surface to get the dust off. Then you can break out with detail polish or wax.”
INTERIOR: “There are a lot of really good, advanced formula products available, and I recommend using them! Most of the quality interior cleaners are designed not to leave an oily residue behind and will provide a matte finish to your interior. The lower end products leave a film and residue – you get what you pay for. “
GLASS: “I like to start with distilled water in a spray bottle. I’ll also use another high-end/pro product called Optimum No Rinse (ONR) which is great for windows. Even a few drops with distilled water will provide an amazing streak-free finish. That’s mostly for show cars, for hot rods that get driven an important tip is to have two towels; one for cleaning the grime, one to finish. Most window cleaners from the big detailers are formulated to clean, but then I recommend going over the glass again with a different towel.”
WHEELS/TIRES: “Before you even get started on the wheels, understand what you’re working with – meaning do you have polished or chrome wheels? A wheel brightener might be great for chrome wheels, but it could damage the finish on a polished wheel. With aluminum you’ll need a good metal polish to really get those wheels to shine. Be sure to use a non-acid based cleaner and read the instructions first.
“For tires, I prefer a matte to neutral finish. Beyond Black from Surf City Garage is my favorite tire dressing. It’s water based and leaves a like-new appearance but is not oily or too shiny, and it lasts for a long time. An important tip with tires is to thoroughly clean the tire before applying any tire treatment. For whitewalls, I prefer an old school route by using an SOS pad and distilled water – it’s the only way to go.”
SUPPLIES: “Don’t cheap out on towels. Always use good quality microfiber towels, especially for detailing and paint protection. You can get away with a lesser quality for tires and some wheels, but have good towels for the exterior and interior, and be sure to wash and maintain those towels after every show.