What Is Car Detailing ?

3 stages of car detailing

Gleamers car detailing can now go a bit further into each aspect to understand exactly what the process involves, and how it contributes to the end result.


The first aspect of car detailing is the cleaning process. The main goal of detailing a car overall, is to improve the condition of the interior and exterior surfaces to prevent deterioration and to improve the visual appearance. This of course, starts with a proper clean. Detailing goes a step further than washing and valeting in terms of how thorough the clean is, and how it is performed.

Many car owners use sponges and brushes to clean their cars, and don’t realise the damage this causes to the paintwork. Abrasive tools, such as sponges and brushes, cause micro-scratches in the top layer of paint, known as the clear coat. The dirt and grit that builds up on the paint also acts as an abrasive when wiped along the paint during the wash process.

These clear coat scratches are very obvious in direct sunlight, when they often look like spiderwebs, or swirls in the paintwork. Not only do they look terrible in direct sunlight, but they also cause the finish to look duller as they affect the way that light reflects off the paintwork.

Detailing a car involves a thorough wash of all the surfaces, but also a safe wash. This means that extra care is taken to minimise the risk of these scratches and swirl marks to help preserve the clear coat.

How the process can be broken down.

  • The car is thoroughly pre-washed using a snow foam to remove as much dirt as possible without touching the paintwork.
  • High quality car shampoos are used to gently clean the exterior using a wash mitt, instead of a sponge.
  • Two buckets are used, one for the shampoo, and another for the rinse water. The mitt is frequently rinsed in the water bucket before being dipped back into the shampoo bucket to remove any dirt or grit.
  • The wheels and paintwork are washed separately using different tools and buckets to make sure to avoid any cross-contamination which would increase the risk of scratches.
  • Microfiber towels are used to dry the paintwork following the wash process, as these do not inflict clear coat damage like bath towels or water blades can.

As well as making sure the dirt and grime is removed from the vehicle’s exterior in a safe manner to preserve the paintwork, an extra step is also included, called “decontamination”.

If you’ve ever ran your hand over your car’s paint and realised it feels rough, then you’re actually feeling “contaminants”. These are things that stick to the car’s paintwork and cannot be removed by routine washing. They include:

  • Water spots
  • Tree sap
  • Road tar
  • Iron fallout (from railways, industry and brake disks).

These contaminants easily build up on the car’s exterior and need to be removed to ensure the surfaces feel smooth and look cleaner. This involves a process called decontamination.

There are two types of decontamination: chemical and physical. Chemical decontamination removes tar and iron fallout using chemical sprays. Physical decontamination involves using automotive clay to remove any remaining bound contaminants. The result is a completely smooth surface.

In Summary:

  • When detailing a car, extra care is taken when cleaning the exterior and interior to prevent damage to the surfaces.
  • Detailing involves a very thorough clean, which is much more extensive than simply washing the car.
  • To properly clean the vehicle, it must be “decontaminated” to make sure the surfaces are smooth and free from bound “contaminants” such as tree sap, tar and iron fallout.


Detailing also includes restorative processes, which predominantly apply to the paintwork, however, can also include other areas such as the exhaust pipes, badges, exterior plastics and trim. It also includes the interior, applying mainly to the leather, plastics and fabrics.

Detailing does not always completely eliminate any defects which prevent the vehicle from looking brand new, and it does not deal with major defects such as deep scratches or dents which would require a trip to the body shop. The overall aim is to refine, rather than completely repair, in order to improve the vehicle’s appearance.

As mentioned earlier, most cars have some clear coat scratches caused by improper wash technique. Even if you’ve purchased a brand-new car, it’s likely that it will still have some swirl marks as unfortunately, most dealerships do not take enough care when washing the vehicle.

Detailing can improve the appearance of the clear coat in order to make it look much glossier, by correcting or enhancing the paintwork. This involves three process: wet-sanding, compounding and polishing. Here’s what they mean.

  • Wet-sanding: this technique is used to remove severe clear coat scratches and may not always be required. It will cause some “hazing” which will need to be removed by compounding and polishing afterwards.
  • Compounding: this technique is used to remove moderate clear coat scratches. The process is not as abrasive as wet-sanding, however, can sometimes lead to low-levels of hazing.
  • Polishing: this is designed to refine the paintwork following compounding. The aim is to get the clear coat as flat as possible to improve the gloss levels.

All three techniques require a high level of skill to improve the clear coat’s appearance safely. These processes often take more than a day to perform to get optimal results. However, this process of paint enhancement is really the only way to get the shiniest finish possible.

IN Summary:

  • The second aspect of detailing is the enhancement process, which can apply to both the interior and exterior surfaces.
  • The aim is to improve the overall appearance by refining it, not to repair it, which would require the work of a body shop.
  • The most common enhancement process is paint enhancement or correction which involves either wet-sanding, compounding or polishing to reveal a mirror finish.



This is where everything really ties together. Once the car has been thoroughly cleaned, decontaminated and the finish enhanced, it needs to be properly protected.

All areas of the interior and exterior can be protected in some form:

  • The paint can be protected using a wax, sealant or coating.
  • The glass can also be sealed or coated.
  • The exterior trim and the tires can be dressed to both improve the visual appearance and to protect them.
  • The interior leather, plastics and fabrics can be protected to shield against UV rays, spillages and stains.

Arguably the most important area of the car to protect, is the paintwork. Applying a layer of paint protection helps to:

  • Keep the car cleaner as dirt and contaminants are less likely to stick to the surface.
  • Provide a water-repellent coating to reduce the risk of water spots.
  • Shield the paintwork against UV rays which can cause fading over-time.
  • Enhance the gloss and shine.

There are three main choices when it comes to paint protection: waxes, sealants and ceramic coatings.

Waxes typically offer the least amount of durability, but are the most straight-forward to apply. Sealants offer a step-up in terms of longevity. Finally, ceramic coatings offer the most recent development in paint protection technology, providing a tough layer of protection which lasts for several years.

Gleamers car Detailing is pleased to be able to offer some of the most advanced Ceramic Coatings, waxes and sealants available in the UK including:

  • Swissvax accredited-use only coatings
  • Ceramic Coating Pro – a 5 year paint protection by Pyramid Car Care
  • Ceramic Coating Premium – a 2 year paint protection by Pyramid Car Care