Matt turned this in almost two seasons ago, but due to a variety of screwups on my part it didn't get published until today. So... consider this a warning of what you'll have to do in Spring! --- JB When the snow melts here in Ohio it can only mean two things: there are more potholes in the roads, and it’s time for me to start detailing cars again! Let me tell you, one of my favorite things to do is get a winter’s worth of salt off a car. Since my hose is still frozen under a few inches of snow, let’s start by looking at cleaning the inside of the car, specifically, the carpet. The interior carpet and floor mats are an important part of your vehicle. Anyone who has ever felt how hot the floor of a Jeep Wrangler gets without carpet or had water splash on their shoes through a rusted hole in the floor boards of an MG knows what I’m talking about. If you don’t take care of the carpet in your vehicle, this can happen to your floorboards. Every time you get in your car after walking through the parking lot sprinkled with salt, that salt and dirt has no where to go once it finds its way into your car. Over time that dirt will keep getting ground into the carpet if you don’t get it off. That can lead to the dirt and salt eating away at the carpet and eventually the floorboards. Worn out looking carpet also makes your vehicle appear older than it may be. Cleaning your car’s carpet is more than just grabbing a battery powered Dirt Devil though. First, let’s start with what you will need. Since these are tips for the average auto enthusiast, I will only mention products that you can (and should) own. Paint brush – any old paint brush will do, sans ones that actually have paint on them. Shop vac – There are many great shop vacs on the market. Here is what I recommend. At least 4 hp. It should be wet/dry. The size does not matter though. I recommend Ridgid products. Lightweight, strong, on wheels and does the job better than others I have owned. Car accessory kit - although not necessary, a kit like this will make the job much easier. The time you save will more than pay for the product. Small brush – This is the number one product that you need to clean your carpet. Make sure it’s thin and the bristles are fairly stiff. Large brush – This is second in importance only to the small brush. Make sure the bristles are not too stiff. Shampoo – Again, many options available. Be careful with what you use to make sure it does not damage or discolor your carpet. I use a concentrate from Meguiars. I recommend using a concentrate like this one for a couple reasons. You can decide how strong you’d like each bottle to be (sometimes I use different strengths of the same product). It’s way cheaper than purchasing the individual bottles with attached brushes. Of course, the bottle of concentrate will last you 120 years if you only use it on your own car. Old towels – The more the merrier. I have found old Champ Car t-shirts work great. STEP 1 Remove all mats. Take them away from the car and slam them on the ground. Then slam them again. Especially the front two mats. Then slam them like Ricc Flair hitting Macho Man Randy Savage over the head with a folding chair. It’s amazing how much crap you can get out of your floor mats just by whacking the heck out of them on the ground. Don’t forget to open the trunk and pull everything out of it as well. For a real deep cleaning removing the seats is also an option. I usually only do this in mini vans where they are easy to remove and reinstall though. For most sedans it’s easy enough to reach all areas of the carpet even without removing them as long as you are willing to contort your body like you’re playing Twister. Plus, if the seat you are thinking about removing has a side airbag, is heated or has weight sensors, leave it the heck alone. STEP 2 Grab your paint brush and go to town. The point of this is to stir up dirt and dust from other parts of the car so you can vacuum it up. Run it over each air vent, dash, stereo, window sill etc… STEP 3 Vacuum. You will need your small brush for this. If you have a car accessory pack for you shop vac, use the attachment with the stiffest bristles for this portion. Basically, they help get extra dirt stirred up from the carpet. Lead your vacuuming with the small brush. Use it to pull as much dirt from tights areas as you can. Scrub around the door jam, under the seats, in between seats and center console while pulling any dirt into the main area where you can suck it up. When you are done in the car, be sure to vacuum the floor mats as well. This is vacuum #1 of 2. STEP 4 Shampoo. I have used extractors in the past and for the most part I am not a fan. The small hand held ones that the average car enthusiast would be interested in has never impressed me. Except for the very pricey ($700+) I feel like I can get more dirt out of a carpet with my own elbow grease than expecting a machine to do it for me. Any good wet/dry vac can do the same or more than most extractors. Grab your large brush and some old towels. A. Do one section or floor mat at a time (you don’t want the shampoo to dry on the carpet as it can fade the color). Lightly spray shampoo over the area. Use the large brush and scrub the section. Follow that up by rubbing the carpet area with an old towel. You’ll notice the dirt from the carpet is now on the towel. I will usually spray down each carpet area twice. Now check over the carpet and look for specific stains that could use special attention. Spray those areas with an additional shot. When scrubbing with the large brush, be sure to continually switch which direction you are rubbing to hit the carpet fibers from all directions. Keep wiping up dirt with a towel and you’ll be surprised how much dirt and stains will come out. B. If the floor mats are extremely soiled you can skip the last step if you have a water hose and shop vac. In that case, spray down the mat with shampoo and then use the hardest setting on your hose and spray the mat. With the mat soaking and soapy, use your large brush to scrub the carpet. Again spray off the mat with the water hose until you see all the soap and dirt removed. With the carpet still soaking wet use your wet/dry shop vac to suck all the moisture out. Be sure there is nothing else in the basin before you suck up water or it’s nasty gross to clean out. Also, don’t make the mistake I did the first time and leave your air filter in the shop vac. That’ll earn you a quick trip to the hardware store to buy a new filter. Always remove the filter before using the wet function of a shop vac. Then, just for the heck of it look inside your shop vac to see all the black gross water you have collected. Think to yourself, all that dirt was on my shoes. Lay the mats out to dry. Dry out the shop vac and reinstall air filter. After you have cleaned the rest of the vehicle go back the mats and re-spray them with a little shampoo. Scrub them one last time. If you don’t do this one additional time once they have dried, the carpet fibers will be very stiff to the touch. STEP 5 Re-vac. I always vacuum twice. Always. With all the scrubbing and dusting you have been doing, you should have stirred up a lot more dirt. Start by using the soft bristles attachment for your hose and run that all over the dash and electrics. If you do not have a hose attachment specifically made for this, don’t do it! Stiff bristles (or even the plastic end of a normal hose) can easily damage some electronics, particularly navigation screens, so be very careful. I use the wide plastic attachment now to go over everything. Lastly I use the thin attachment to get between all the little nooks and crannies. You have now officially cleaned the carpet of your vehicle and potentially added years to its life (or at least it doesn’t smell like that old Jeff Gordon air freshener hanging from the mirror). Closing Cleaning the floor of your vehicle can also be a safety precaution. It is not uncommon for me to find things stuck up under the brake or gas pedals. In the pictures below, the Mercedes had the floor mat, numerous dry cleaning bags and candy stuck behind the accelerator. This was literally causing the accelerator to not respond correctly (which is a shame on a car this nice). I felt so good on the inside after cleaning it out.
It’s so fun to do this because you never know what you’ll find: French fries (the 5 second rule applies since it actually hasn’t touched the ground they are fair game), pens, video games, CDs, money, or even raw chicken (don’t worry I charged that customer extra for that one). Be warned, after doing this level of cleaning you will become obsessed with wiping your feet before getting in your car, will yell at the first person to get mud on the carpet and will be tempted to try to drive without your feet touching the ground. That’s how I deliver cars back to the owners, trust me it’s not safe.
How often I do it:
My car – Every 2 months
My wife’s car – Every 4 months
Category - Spare Me The Details
(Yet another new contributor! Matt Fink brings us his detailing tips. Be nice to him! - jb) Welcome to the first edition (and potentially last if none of you like it) of ‘Spare me the Details’. Your author is an
amateur Professional Car Detailer. I'm not sure what exactly makes one a professional car detailer, except that people pay me to do it, so I’m claiming to be a professional. Plus I have hordes of fans that follow me wherever I go. I have worked for a car detailing business as well as a car wash and now have my own small business of auto detailing that I run out of my home. I detail cars on the weekends and have a “regular” job the rest of the time.
To my neighbors I am the creepy guy who cleans his car like 3 times a week… but to you guys I’m just your friendly neighborhood car detailer giving you unsolicited advice. I have never been to school for car detailing nor do I claim to know anything about the chemical makeup of a cleaner wax compared to a paint sealer. What I do know is what works for me. I have detailed hundreds and hundreds of cars and I want to share with you, the readers of S:S:L some of the things I have learned. ‘Course, you’ll have to pay me, seeing as I am a professional.
For my own detailing business I pride myself on doing everything by hand. That means on average it takes me at least 6 hours to clean a vehicle. The nice thing is that most of the products and tools I use are readily available to the average Joe Accord driver, and that is the point of this column. Most S:S:L readers should be able to do anything discussed here if you care enough about your ride.
The first topic I will cover is clay barring, mainly because I get more questions about that than anything else. Also, I get the impression that people view clay barring as some kind of detailing secret that lay folks just won’t understand. Well, I have more faith in S:S:L readers than that, plus let’s keep no secrets between us. Just last week I had a friend get his vehicle damaged by an automatic car wash. They paid him off and told him to go get it “clay barred”. If you keep reading, you will understand why he should have been upset with their advice.
Your car’s paint is always accumulating “stuff” on it that takes away from its shine. Over time, despite how often you wash and wax it; you won’t be able to get that new car shine back. That’s because some of that “stuff” won’t come off simply by washing it, and it prevents light from reflecting off the paint. The stuff that doesn’t come off with washing is what we are attacking with a clay bar. These include invisible things like pollution, paint over-spray, car exhaust, oxidation from acid rain, brake dust, and rail dust (which even some new cars have after being delivered by train). Along with some visible things like road tar, tree sap, and bug guts.
How will you know if your vehicle has these contaminants? Wash it as best as you can, and then run your fingers over the hood. If you feel a rough or slightly bumpy texture anywhere on a painted surface, then you have contamination. That’s where clay barring comes in to save the day. On top of your car’s paint is a very thin layer of clear coat. These contaminants pile up on the clear coat, but won’t come off with a normal wash (having your car waxed does not prevent this). You have two options: You can use some kind of abrasive compound to basically cut the contamination off… but this can only be performed a few times before removing too much of the top clear coat. Or you can clay bar, which is basically pulling the contamination off the surface. If done correctly, clay barring will not do any damage to the paint.
For any female readers out there, you can think of it as exfoliating the dead skin off your car paint.
There are different types of clay bars available. I recommend using a mild clay bar that does not advertise being abrasive or the ability to do “cutting”. A nice mild clay bar that I regularly use is by Meguiars and comes in their Surface Clay Kit. The kit includes a 16 oz. Quik Detailer lubricant, a case, micro-fiber towel, sample of cleaner wax, and two bars of clay for around $21.
Supplies needed to clay bar your vehicle:
1. Clay - Not from your yard, but the real stuff from an auto store.
2. Lubricant – There are many to choose from, any type of quick exterior detailing type product should work fine. I use the Meguiars Quik Detailing lubricant that comes in the kit. DO NOT USE WATER as it does not have the same lubricating principles.
3. Clean towel - Preferably micro-fiber or soft cotton.
4. A car you care about.
Basic steps you should take:
1. Wash and dry your car.
2. Warm up the clay (yes, a clay bar feels like a regular piece of clay) by kneading it with your hands or letting your kids play with it like Play-Dough for a few minutes.
3. Spray lubricant over a 2’x 2’ painted area. This part is key. You must always have enough lubricant on the painted surface. Don’t do more than a two or three-foot area or it will dry before you get the clay to it. Never rub dry clay on your paint.
4. Rub the clay bar back and forth over the area until it feels smooth. If it starts to stick, spray more lube onto the area.
5. Wipe off the small section with a towel. Move on to the next section.
-Always keep the clay bar and bodywork wet. As you work the body panels, the clay will keep accumulating dirt, so make sure to continually fold it over so you have a clean surface touching the paint.
-Claying (is that a word??) should not take much elbow grease at all or you’re doing something wrong. To give you an idea, it takes me about 20 minutes to do my car.
-Store the clay in a cool dry place to keep it fresh. I keep mine in the plastic case it came in which works great. Just make sure it is a little wet when you put it in the case.
-Most clay bars can be used on windshields and wheels as well.
-Don’t use the same bar of clay forever. After many cars, it will eventually fill up with dirt and need thrown out.
-Be very careful if you ever drop your clay! The clay will pick up dirt from the ground, which will then be rubbed into your paint if you don’t clean it off and fold over the clay.
**Since clay barring is designed to remove things from the surface of your paint, it will remove wax from your car!! This means the first thing you should do after claying your vehicle is to put a layer of wax protection on it. Do not reverse the order of those steps! Always clay, then wax.**
So to review, claying lifts contaminants off the surface of the paint, it does not remove scratches that are in the paint. That means swirls marks, scratches and some oxidation will not be affected by clay barring as they are below the surface (why in the world would a car wash tell someone to get their car clay barred to remove scratches??).
So why should you clay bar your vehicle? Well, if you are looking for that smooth as glass feel for your baby, then claying is the way to go. Until you have clayed your car it is very hard to explain just how smooth it makes the paint. Try a ‘Dukes of Hazard’ hood slide to experience it. Removing the contamination in your paint will also help it last longer. Plus, more light will be able to reach the paint and reflect off it creating a much shinier vehicle.
In closing, for all of my detailing tips I will put a self-explanatory rating system for how frequent you should perform each task.
How often I do it to my car: Once a year
How often I do it to my wife’s car: Once every other year
(For clay barring you can certainly do it more often, and there are a few reasons why some of you should. If any of you work at a factory or live near one, you may need to clay more often. Also, if you plan on showing your vehicle in a car show I recommend clay barring it.)
See you all next time!