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What is Car Detailing? An Expert Guide by Duel Autocare

What is Car Detailing? An Expert Guide by Duel Autocare

Introduction: What is Car Detailing?

Car detailing is more than just a routine clean; it's an art and a meticulous process designed to preserve and enhance a vehicle's aesthetic and functional aspects. Unlike the typical car wash that focuses on removing surface dirt, car detailing dives deep into a vehicle's interior and exterior, restoring its condition to showroom quality or even better.

Detailing involves specialised procedures and processes that include cleaning, restoring, and protecting various car components, including but not limited to the paintwork, glass and wheels. This comprehensive approach rejuvenates the vehicle's appearance, extends its lifespan, maintains its value, and provides great satisfaction to the detailer. From the paintwork's glistening shine to the interior's pristine cleanliness, car detailing can transform a previously unloved vehicle into a masterpiece, with results often quoted as "better than when it left the showroom".

For car enthusiasts and owners alike, detailing is essential in maintaining the beauty and functionality of their investment. Using high-quality products and precise techniques, car detailing can address minor imperfections, protect against environmental damage, and ensure the vehicle remains in top condition. Whether you're preparing for a car show or want your daily driver to look their best, understanding and practising proper car detailing is critical.

Car detailing is a term that many car enthusiasts are familiar with, but its full scope and significance are often underestimated; in this expert guide, what is car detailing, we will explore the intricacies of car detailing, its benefits, and how you can achieve professional results at home using Duel Autocare products both for exterior detailing as well as the interior detailing. Get ready to discover what is car detailing and elevate the care of your vehicle to a whole new level.

1. Exterior Detailing

Exterior car detailing is the start of understanding what is car detailing. It is a meticulous process focusing on cleaning, restoring, and protecting a vehicle's outside surfaces. This aspect of detailing goes far beyond a simple car wash, involving a series of specialised techniques and high-quality products designed to bring out the best in your car's appearance and provide long-lasting protection.

The exterior of a vehicle is constantly exposed to various environmental elements, such as dirt, dust, road grime, tar, bird droppings, tree sap, and harmful UV rays. Over time, these contaminants can dull the paint, cause scratches, and degrade the overall look and feel of the car. Exterior detailing addresses these issues by thoroughly cleaning the vehicle, removing embedded contaminants, correcting imperfections, and applying protective coatings to ensure the finish achieved by these products and processes is 'locked in' or sealed to provide durability to the results.

Exterior detailing focuses on every part of the car's exterior, from the paintwork to the wheels and trim. Here's a step-by-step breakdown of what this involves:

1.1 Washing and Drying

The process of understanding what is car detailing, begins with a thorough pre-wash wash to remove loose dirt and grime. At Duel Autocare, we recommend using our pre-wash & degreaser, Nitty Gritty, first, followed by a layer of snow foam. This pre-wash stage is critical to ensure we have safely removed as much surface dirt and grime as possible before we make physical contact with the exterior using a dedicated car shampoo and microfibre wash mitts.

A dedicated snow foam lance is essential for the snow foam stage. We recommend our Duel Snow Foam Lance, which creates a thick foam layer that clings to the surface, softening and lifting away dirt without causing scratches. A careful rinse with a pressure washer follows to rinse off the softened dirt and grime.

Once the pre-wash stage is complete, we can safely move on to the contact wash. However, although we

Duel making light work of the contact wash using Bahama Blue Shampoo

have moved through the pre-wash stages, there may still be remnants or fine surface grime remaining, so we still have to follow some essential processes and methods when performing this contact wash. With this in mind, we recommend using a dedicated car shampoo like Bahama Blue. To learn why this is important, read our guide, Can I Use Shampoo To Wash My Car?

In addition to using the correct shampoo product, proper wash methods and tools are essential. We recommend the Two-Bucket Wash Method and a good-quality Microfibre Wash Mitt.

Must Have Products For Beginners

1.2 Decontamination

Even after washing, contaminants like tar, tree sap, and industrial fallout can remain on the paintwork. This is where our decontamination stage takes place. There are two types of decontamination: chemical and mechanical.

Chemical decontamination comprises tar and fallout remover, whereas mechanical or physical decontamination is achieved using a clay bar or clay mitt. A clay bar is a car detailing tool made from a synthetic resin or natural clay material. It removes contaminants from the surface of a vehicle's paint, glass, and metal. These contaminants include industrial fallout, tree sap, brake dust, and other dirt and grime that regular washing or chemical decontamination products cannot remove. We always start with the chemicals first, just like many detailing tasks. The theory is that we should start with the least aggressive method first and then work our way upwards until we achieve the results, rather than a heavy-handed approach, which may result in potential damage. Duel Autocare has a specific detailing kit specially designed for this decontamination process. 

Duel Toxin - iron fallout decontaminating the front wheel

1.3 Polishing

Polishing is the step that many think is the answer to what is car detailing, but this is one part of a larger picture. Vehicle polishing is where minor imperfections like swirl marks and scratches are removed. Detailers use this process to enhance the appearance of a vehicle's paint by removing surface imperfections such as scratches, swirl marks, and oxidation. The process involves using a powered polishing machine with various polishing pads and compounds, which remove layers of the vehicle's hard clear coat until one perfect smooth layer is achieved. This results in a super smooth and glossy finish.

There are generally two types of machine polishers: forced rotation or rotary machines and a dual-action polisher, often known as a DA.

Rotary Polisher : A powerful machine that spins a single polishing pad in a circular motion. It effectively removes deep imperfections but requires skill to avoid creating new swirls or burning the paint.

Dual-Action (DA) Polisher : Also known as an orbital polisher, this tool moves the pad in both a circular and oscillating motion, making it safer and more accessible for beginners. It is effective for most detailing tasks and less likely to cause paint damage if you are less experienced.

AB Detail removing light scratches

1.4 Protection

Once the paint is polished, it's at this point that a detailer would look to protect the finish.

Detailers use various protection products to maintain and enhance the appearance of a vehicle's surfaces, including paint, glass, wheels, and interiors. These different types can be determined by budget, expectation and specific requirements. These products help protect against environmental damage, UV rays, dirt, and contaminants. Here are some examples of types of protection products used by detailers:


Natural and synthetic waxes provide both warm, glossy finishes and short durability. The more durable waxes are often a blend of natural and artificial materials, such as our Element Hybrid wax, which contains no less than four different types of waxes and some synthetic material to provide both fantastic depth of shine and durability.

Natural Waxes like Carnauba provide a deep, warm gloss and excellent water beading. Typically, these last a few weeks to a couple of months, whereas Synthetic Waxes, usually made from polymers or acrylics, provide longer-lasting protection (up to 6 months) and are easier to apply than natural waxes.

Ceramic Coatings

Silicon Dioxide (SiO2)- Based Coatings offer superior protection, often lasting 1-3 years or more. They provide a hard, glossy, and hydrophobic layer that resists scratches, UV damage, and contaminants.

A ceramic coating is a liquid polymer applied to a vehicle's exterior surfaces. When cured, it forms a hard, protective layer that bonds with the factory paint clear coat. It also enhances the vehicle's gloss and makes it easier to clean due to its hydrophobic properties, which cause water and dirt to bead and slide off. Ceramic coatings typically last several years, providing longer-lasting protection compared to traditional waxes and sealants, which we mentioned above.

Graphene Coatings

These are a newer technology similar to ceramic coatings. Research on these types of coatings is limited. They are still a relatively new concept that has yet to take off within the UK market as well as it was expected to do so. From our experience, this is due to the need to understand the key differences between ceramic coating and graphene coating and the differences they provide.

Spray sealants

Spray sealants are a protective product used in automotive detailing to enhance and protect a vehicle's exterior surfaces. They are designed to be easy to apply but still provide a durable layer of protection and shine. Two examples of spray sealants from Duel Autocare are Flex Polymer Sealant and Oxide Hybrid Detailer.

Spray sealants like these are selected by either the user if they are not entirely confident applying something more permanent like a ceramic coating, or they want something quicker to apply then a wax for example. Professional detailers may also select a product like this if they are working towards the customers budget and expectations.

Both products will provide you with around 8 weeks of durability per application and are fairly quick to apply, require minimal effort and still guarantee fantastic results.

You may occasionally see products labelled or termed as ‘Ceramic Detailers’, this is more often than not clever marketing terminology designed to catch the attention of enthusiasts who wish for a ceramic ‘coating’ but either do not have the skills or the budget to match their requirements. These kinds of products may offer you some form of ceramic ‘like’ protection for a very short term but are absolutely not a ceramic coating. A true ceramic coating cures to a certain hardness which is measured with a pencil hardness test, each true ceramic coating will reference a certain hardness, most high quality ceramic coatings will be measured at 9H, much like a drawing pencil will be marked with its own hardness, HB etc.

In summary, Duel Autocare Flex and Oxide are high-quality spray sealants that offer durable protection, hydrophobic properties, and enhanced gloss for vehicle surfaces. They are designed to be easy to apply and provide durability of around 8 weeks, making them popular choices among both professional detailers and car owners.

Duel Autocare's Award Winning Sealants

What our customer's think of Flex...

"Nice and easy to use which is what I want. I’m not a detailer and just want something quick and easy to use. Flex ticks the boxes and performs well with good beading and a nice shine."

Wayne Jenkins

Paint Protection Film

These are often known as PPF, a transparent, durable film applied to high-impact areas like the front bumper, hood, and mirrors. They provide physical protection against rock chips, scratches, and minor abrasions.

It is a transparent polyurethane film applied to a vehicle's exterior surfaces to protect against physical damage. It is typically installed on high-impact areas such as the front bumper, bonnets, mirrors, and door edges. Still, it can also be applied to the entire vehicle for total surface protection.

PPF works by absorbing the impact of small stones, road debris, insects, and other hazards that can cause scratches, chips, and abrasions to the paint. Some of these films are self-healing, meaning that minor scratches and swirl marks can disappear when exposed to heat, such as sunlight or hot water. PPF is widely known as more of a protection product than an enhancement of the finish. Ceramic coatings provide both protection, granted not as comprehensive as ppf, but can enhance the finish.

Installation of Paint Protection Film is typically performed by professionals trained in automotive detailing and is not recommended for the home user. Several renowned brands, such as Xpel and Suntek, manufacture PPF material. The process involves cleaning and preparing the vehicle's surfaces, precisely cutting the film to fit each panel, often using a plotting machine to achieve incredibly accurate pattern shapes, and applying it using specialised tools to ensure a smooth and seamless finish. 

1.5 Glass and Alloy Wheel Sealants and Coatings

The protective coatings don't stop at the paintwork; specific coatings and sealants are also designed for use on other exterior surfaces, such as glass and alloy wheels.

Glass Coatings : These coatings provide long-lasting hydrophobic and oleophobic properties, making glass easier to clean and enhancing clarity.

A window and glass ceramic coating is a specialised protective product that enhances the clarity, durability, and performance of vehicle glass surfaces. Unlike traditional coatings for paint, these ceramic coatings are formulated specifically for glass surfaces and offer unique benefits.

When applying a ceramic coating to glass surfaces, it is essential to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and ensure that the surface is adequately cleaned and prepared beforehand. Professional installation may be recommended for optimal results, but enthusiasts can apply these at home.

GTechniq - Complete Glass Coating Kit

Alloy Wheel Protection:An alloy wheel ceramic coating is a protective layer applied to the surface of alloy wheels to enhance their appearance and durability. This specialised coating is formulated to bond with the wheel's surface, providing a strong and long-lasting barrier against various environmental and physical elements.

Alloy wheel ceramic coatings create a hydrophobic and oleophobic surface on alloy wheels, making them resistant to water, dirt, road grime, brake dust, and other contaminants. This helps to prevent staining, corrosion, and damage caused by everyday environmental factors.

They also offer superior resistance to brake dust buildup, a common issue with wheels exposed to high-temperature braking. The coating makes it easier to clean brake dust off the wheels and reduces the frequency of maintenance required.

A good quality coating will provide scratch and swirl resistance for alloy wheels, helping protect against minor abrasions and surface damage caused by general road grime and wheel cleaning tools. This helps to preserve the wheels' appearance and integrity over time.

These high-quality ceramic coatings for alloy wheels are formulated to withstand high temperatures generated during braking without degrading or peeling off. This ensures that the coating remains intact and effective under extreme driving conditions.

Treated alloy wheels are easier to clean and maintain due to their hydrophobic properties. Dirt, grime, and brake dust are less likely to adhere to the surface, allowing quick and effortless cleaning with water and a mild cleaner than most designated wheel cleaning products.

Finishing Touches

The final step in exterior detailing includes dressing the trims and tyres. A product like Profile Tyre & Trim Dressing revives faded plastic trims while applying the same product to your tyres will provide them with lustre. It adds that icing on the cake look and feel to the result of any car cleaning process. 

2. Interior

Understanding what is car detailing isn't only about the exterior cleaning process, we have to get the interior finished too. Interior detailing is about creating a clean and comfortable driving environment. And to the detailer, it is just as crucial as any exterior process. Here's what it involves:


Start by vacuuming the seats, carpets, mats, and other surfaces to remove loose dirt and debris. There are many professional vacuum machines on the market; our preferred machine is the Kranzle Ventos

However, domestic machines are also more than capable.


All interior surfaces, including the dashboard, door panels, and centre console, should be cleaned. Logic Interior All-purpose Cleaner from Duel Autocare removes dirt and grime without residue. It can be used on almost all interior surfaces including, but not limited to, Leather seats, carpet floor mats, all plastic trims and rubber/PVC.

Glass Cleaning

Clean the interior windows and mirrors with Optical Glass Cleaner for a streak-free finish, improving visibility and overall look. Cleaning the windscreen regularly is essential to ensure safe visibility for the driver.

Duel Finger Scrub Mitt cleaning door shuts

3. So why is car detailing important?

Regular car detailing offers several benefits that go beyond just having a clean car:

  • Preserve Vehicle Value : Detailed maintenance helps maintain and enhance your car's resale value.
  • Protects Against Wear and Tear: Detailing provides a layer of protection to the interior and exterior surfaces, prolonging their lifespan.
  • Improves Appearance: A well-detailed car looks newer and more attractive, reflecting positively on the owner.

  • Enhances Driving Comfort: A clean and fresh interior makes driving more enjoyable.
  • Environmental Protection : Protective coatings shield your car from environmental damage, such as UV rays, acid rain, and pollution.

4. Conclusion

Car detailing is essential for maintaining your vehicle's appearance and value. It also gives the owner a sense of pride when their car is meticulously maintained. Whether you opt for professional services or prefer the DIY route, using high-quality products like those from Duel Autocare ensures outstanding results. Dive into the car detailing world and give your vehicle the care it deserves.

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Sam Fallow - Duel Autocare Co-Founder

The Author: Sam Fallows

Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls. 

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