Exterior Detailing: It’s More Than Just A Wash And A Wax

So, you just finished washing your prized ride. It’s pretty clean, but it doesn’t quite glisten like it used to. It could use a good detail to get it shining again, but where do you start? The auto parts store has shelves full of different compounds, polishes, waxes, washes etc. There’s clay bars, prewax, glaze, and even something called “quick detailer.”


Exterior Detailing takes know how.  You must know when and where to use the various produces and techniques available.

Well, you have the first step right, starting with freshly-washed ride is essential to the exterior detailing process.

The next step for every car is detailing clay.

This process basically removes the dirt that washing does not. This can include environmental contaminants such as air pollution, tree sap, and paint overspray. The clay glides across the paint surface via a lubricant that typically comes with the clay bar you purchase. As you move the clay back and forth, it picks up tiny particles on the clear coat, leaving a fresh and truly clean surface ready for further detailing.

Once claying is complete it’s a good idea to wash your car again to remove all the clay residue and lubricant, but it is not by any means mandatory.

Next, assess the condition of your car’s exterior generally characterized as good, moderate, or neglected.

Moderate and neglected paint may require compounding to remove imperfections in the paint and bring the finish back from all the damage. Compounding is an abrasive that basically removes scratches and imperfections within the layers of paint. The process of compounding can leave swirls, and if that is the case, then a swirl remover needs to be used, followed by finishing polish.

Polish is like compound, but much finer of an abrasive and acts to remove old layer of wax and minute imperfections. Polishing should be completed prior waxing any paint surface. Both compound and polish applied with either a circular buffer or a dual action orbital buffer. Care must be taken when using a circular buffer as they tend to create heat that can damage the surface of the paint.

After polishing comes the glaze.

Glaze will increase that “wet” look of your paint. It’s composed of various oils and wetting compounds that amp up the shine of your car’s finish. These are generally used by auto manufactures as well as body shops to boost shine and eliminate haze caused by the compounding process.

Now it’s time for wax or paint sealant.

This is what actually protects the exterior of your car. For your vehicle’s coat of armor, you have a couple of choices: carnauba wax, which is a natural product harvested from the leaves of a Carnaubeira Palm and traditionally been the go-to for protecting the automotive paint. It’s important to note that no car wax is truly “100%” carnauba wax, that claim is only referring to the purity of the wax that is in the product.

Wax is great for protecting your car’s exterior, but only lasts 6-8 weeks depending on the environment in which you are driving.

This bring us to paint sealants.

These products are basically the best of what science has to offer in the way of polymer technology. Paint sealants sit on top of the paint surface acting like a forcefield engineered to bond to the paint surface for 4-6 months, and some as long as 12 months.

Wax lovers say paint sealants don’t bring out the warmth and depth that carnauba wax does. So, instead many auto detail enthusiasts will apply the paint sealant first, followed by a layer of wax. This is a safe guard for when you don’t get to waxing in 6-weeks as the paint sealant will still protect the exterior detail of your vehicle.

For in between exterior detail jobs, there is quick detailer. Sometimes referred to as spray waxes, quick detailer products are designed to increase the longevity of your paint sealant or wax—not take its place. These products can make your car look freshly wax weeks after and in a fraction of the time.

And that completes the steps of detailing the exterior of your car. If, after reading all of that detailing your car’s exterior seems a bit too daunting for you, then you are in luck!

The detailing professionals at Car Wash Cleveland are highly versed in all the steps and techniques needed to bring out the best in your car’s paint. We offer a variety of services to fit all of your auto detailing needs. There is no detailing job we can’t handle, interior or exterior, big or small, we have you covered!

Check out our full list of services for more information.

steps for auto detailing