Your DIY Car Detailing Checklist

Follow our step-by-step guide for a showroom-fresh finish right in your own driveway.
Published on December 3rd, 2020
  Written by 
Adrian Edlington
Adrian Edlington is PR & Communications Manager at Savvy. With a keen interest in personal finance, car loans, the mortgage industry, cost of living pressures, electric vehicles and renewable technology, Adrian's research includes conducting primary data surveys and analysis of up-to-the-minute secondary Australian data sources. His work on behalf of Savvy has been featured on ABC.net.au The Conversation, the Sydney Morning Herald, AFR, News.com.au, The Age, Herald Sun, Adelaide Now, SBS On The Money, 7News, Car Expert, Which Car, Drive.com.au and more. In his spare time, Adrian enjoys mountain biking and business podcasts.
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   Reviewed by 
Bill Tsouvalas


Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is the managing director and a key company spokesperson at Savvy. As a personal finance expert, he often shares his insights on a range of topics, being featured on leading news outlets including News Corp publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, Fairfax Media publications such as the Australian Financial Review, the Seven Network and more. Bill has over 15 years of experience working in the finance industry and founded Savvy in 2010 with a vision to provide affordable and accessible finance options to all Australians. He has built Savvy from a small asset finance brokerage into a financial comparison website which now attracts close to 2 million Aussies per year and was included in the BRW’s Fast 100 in 2015 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. He’s passionate about helping Australians make financially savvy decisions and reviews content across the brand to ensure its accuracy. You can follow Bill on LinkedIn.
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Owning a car comes with the responsibility of keeping it clean and well-maintained. But a basic car wash just skims the surface. A thorough detail tackles every nook and cranny, leaving your car looking showroom-fresh and protected from the elements. The good news? You don't need professional help to achieve a stunning detail job. This comprehensive DIY car detailing checklist equips you with the knowledge and steps to transform your car's appearance in the comfort of your own driveway.

Before you begin: gathering your cleaning supplies

Preparation is key to a successful detail. Gather the necessary supplies to tackle every aspect of the cleaning process. Here’s what you'll need:

Exterior cleaning:

  • Two buckets (one for soapy water, one for rinsing)
  • Car wash soap specifically designed for car exteriors (avoid dish soap!)
  • Wash mitts or microfibre cloths (separate sets for washing and drying)
  • Wheel cleaner suitable for your wheel type
  • Tyre brushes and applicators
  • Clay bar (for removing stubborn contaminants)
  • Glass cleaner or a dedicated window cleaning solution
  • Garden hose with a spray nozzle

Interior cleaning:

  • Vacuum cleaner with various attachments
  • Interior detail spray or all-purpose cleaner (choose a non-abrasive formula)
  • Microfibre cloths for cleaning surfaces
  • Leather cleaner and conditioner (if your car has leather seats)
  • Glass cleaner for interior windows
  • Compressed air (for hard-to-reach areas)
  • Bin bags and disposable wipes

Step 1: Exterior pre-wash

  1. Park in a shaded area: direct sunlight can cause water to evaporate too quickly, making the cleaning process less efficient.
  2. Remove loose debris: start by removing any loose items from the car’s exterior, such as leaves, twigs and rubbish. Open the doors and boot to remove any interior debris as well.
  3. Rinse the car thoroughly: use a strong stream of water from your garden hose to remove loose dirt, dust and road grime. Pay close attention to areas like wheel wells, bumpers and the undercarriage (avoid spraying directly at the engine bay).

Step 2: Exterior wash

  1. Prepare your wash buckets: fill one bucket with clean water and car wash soap and the other with clean water for rinsing your wash mitt.
  2. Wash the car in sections: dip your wash mitt into the soapy water, wring it out slightly to avoid dripping, and start washing the car in sections from top to bottom. This prevents dirt from being redeposited on already washed areas. Frequently rinse your wash mitt in the clean water bucket to remove dirt and avoid scratching the paint.
  3. Tackle the wheels: use a dedicated wheel cleaner and separate brushes to clean your wheels thoroughly. Follow the specific instructions for your wheel type (alloy, chrome, etc.), as some cleaners might be too harsh for certain finishes.
  4. Clay bar treatment: a clay bar helps remove embedded contaminants like industrial fallout and rail dust that a regular wash might miss. Use a clay lube and a clay bar in a back-and-forth motion to smooth the surface of the paint. Discard the clay bar when it becomes contaminated.

Step 3: Exterior drying and polishing

  1. Rinse thoroughly: once you've finished washing the entire car, use a clean stream of water to rinse off all soap residue.
  2. Dry the car: use clean, absorbent microfibre towels to dry the car completely. Work in sections to avoid water spots. Change towels frequently to prevent them from becoming saturated.
  3. Polish for extra shine: for an extra layer of protection and shine, you can apply a car polish or wax. Choose a product suitable for your car's paint type and follow the application instructions carefully.

Step 4: Interior cleaning

  1. Start with a thorough vacuuming: remove the floor mats and thoroughly vacuum the entire interior, including seats, carpets and cargo area. Use the crevice tool attachment to get into tight spaces like between seats and around the centre console.
  2. Clean the surfaces: use an interior detail spray or all-purpose cleaner on a microfibre cloth to wipe down all hard surfaces like the dashboard, door panels, centre console and steering wheel. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as they can damage the surfaces.
  3. Leather care (if applicable): if your car has leather seats, use a dedicated leather cleaner and conditioner to clean and protect the leather. Follow the product instructions carefully to avoid drying out the leather.
  4. Clean the windows: use a glass cleaner or a dedicated window cleaning solution on a microfibre cloth to clean the interior windows. Work in sections to avoid streaks. Compressed air can help remove dust and debris from hard-to-reach areas around the window edges.
  5. Don't forget the details: pay attention to often-overlooked areas like cup holders, door pockets and air vents. Use a damp microfibre cloth or cotton swabs to clean these areas.
  6. Replace floor mats: after cleaning the interior carpets, replace the floor mats. You can wash rubber floor mats with soap and water, while fabric mats might require vacuuming or spot cleaning depending on the material.

Step 5: Final touches

  1. Dress your tyres: apply a tyre shine product to give your tyres a clean and finished look. Choose a water-based formula to avoid attracting dust and dirt.
  2. Air freshener: use an air freshener or essential oil diffuser to leave your car with a pleasant scent. Opt for natural options to avoid harsh chemical odours.

Maintaining your sparkling ride

Now that your car is gleaming, here are some tips to maintain its pristine condition:

  • Wash your car regularly: according to research by Speedcafe.com, half of Australians don’t wash their cars regularly. However, washing your car every two weeks or after exposure to rain/dust can help prevent dirt buildup and environmental contaminants.
  • Park in a garage or shaded area: sun exposure can fade paint and crack interior materials.
  • Vacuum frequently: vacuuming the interior at least once a week removes dust, crumbs and pet hair if you travel with pets, keeping the interior fresh.
  • Clean up spills immediately: don't let spills sit and stain your car's interior. Address spills promptly using appropriate cleaning products.
  • Touch-up scratches: minor scratches can be addressed with scratch removal products. For deeper scratches or more serious car maintenance and repairs, take your car to a professional.


Taking the time to detail your car is an investment that pays off. By following this comprehensive DIY car detailing checklist, you'll have the knowledge and confidence to tackle the job yourself, keeping your car in peak condition.

If you’re in the market for a new car, Savvy can help you get on the road. With our free car loan comparison service, you can check your eligibility and search offers from dozens of lenders to find a loan to suit. Get started with Savvy today!

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