Car Wash & Auto Detailing

A Beginner’s Guide to Car Detailing

Here at Washos, we get asked a lot of questions. There is one question that keeps popping up, however: “What is the difference between car detailing and car washing?”

We realize that for most non-car enthusiasts, the difference probably isn’t very significant. However, all car owners, enthusiasts or not, should look at getting their car fully detailed every so often, and should also perform smaller details regularly to have their car looking at its best all the time.

So, to help our customers understand the many benefits of car detailing, also known as auto-detailing, we are going to outline what you can expect when you choose to have your car detailed. Trust us when we say that you’ll never go back to normal washing!

I. What is Car Detailing?

Simply put, getting your car detailed means a top-to-bottom thorough cleaning of your vehicle using specialized tools and products. Normally, a detailer will also perform some light cosmetic touch-ups, but the process does not include paintwork or body repairs.

Car detailing involves cleaning and reconditioning the interior and exterior of the car. The aim of this is to restore the paintwork by eliminating scratches or swirl marks to make the car look almost brand new like it did when you first drove it out of the shop.

what is car detailing

A simple car wash gets rid of dirt on the outside of your car, and if you clean the interior you might catch some of the grime with a vacuum, but car detailing takes this process much further. Every car we detail has every last imperfection buffed, polished, or vacuumed out, leaving it fit for display in any showroom.

Since there are no set guidelines, you will see a great variety in terms of the services included in a complete detail. At Washos, our complete detail package consists of an exterior detailing using clay treatment and high-end wax, an advanced interior cleaning with stain removal and leather treatment as well as dressing on all the plastics.

II. What is the difference between a Car Wash and an Auto Detail?

Now that you know what car detailing is, we are going to quickly outline the differences between a car wash and auto detailing, before going on to talk some more about why car detailing is a seriously good idea.

Aside from cost, which ranges from $10 to $40, a typical car wash only covers a fraction of the cleaning that you can get from a detail, and so only achieves a fraction of the result.

car detailing versus car wash

So what does a car wash include?

Most car washes take between ten and twenty minutes to go from washing to drying. A car wash can be done by hand or by machines (a drive thru car wash) that run bristles, soap, and water to clean your car’s exterior.

A car wash tends to be a superficial cleanse while an auto detail is more thorough and restorative.

III. What are the steps in Auto Detailing?

A thorough car detailing consists of two main phases: interior detailing and exterior detailing. We are going to break down each phase so you know exactly what to expect when you get your vehicle detailed. Feel free to ask your technician if you have any questions about the process, as most of them love to share their art of detailing with others.

car detailing process

Exterior Car Detailing

We begin with an exhaustive exterior wash to remove as much dirt as possible. By allowing the soap to foam, dirt and mud are softened and lifted off the surface.

Next, using special brushes and wheel cleaning products, the detailer takes off all the dust and filth from the wheels; brake calipers, lug nuts, etc. The wheels are usually the dirtiest parts of the car!

After the wheels have been cleaned, the paintwork is washed and dried from top to bottom using washing mitts and soft microfiber towels. The paintwork is then clayed using automotive clay bar that removes the tightly bonded dirt of the surface of the car, which is your car’s clear coat.

If required, the paint is polished to eliminate any light scratches, oxidation, and swirl marks. The paint can be polished by hand or by a polishing machine. This can be the most time-consuming part of the detailing service depending on the car and the state of its paintwork.

Finally, the paint is waxed to give it an additional protective layer using high-quality carnauba based paste wax. This added protection results in a noticeable shine too, the kind that you saw when you first bought it!

The remaining exterior parts, like the windows and other rubber parts, are then polished and methodically cleaned, adding the finishing touches in all the corners of the car’s body and exterior trim to make the entire car sparkle.

Interior Car Detailing

All of the upholstery inside the car is thoroughly vacuumed and shampooed to remove stains and dirt. If the car has leatherwork, this is often conditioned and scrubbed to remove dirt that is deeply ingrained. Plastics and vinyl are also properly cleaned and dressed.

Lastly, the interior glass is also cleaned and polished.

An Important Optional Step

Cleaning the engine bay is an important step but a lot of people simply don’t do it. The reason for this is probably that some people don’t care what their car looks like under the hood, or that they think only mechanics should venture to clean anywhere under there.

Having the engine bay cleaned can make identifying any engine problems easier and faster. Mechanics love working in a clean engine bay, and if the car owner is having the car detailed before selling, a clean engine bay can make a big impression on how well maintained a car is. Anyone that purchases a used vehicle will likely glance under the hood, and a clean engine bay can only raise the value

However, there are steps you can take when you have your car detailed to protect some components from wear and tear. The detailer cleans the engine bay by lightly spraying it with water, and then wiping it down with a degreaser before rinsing everything clean. Once properly dried, all silicone, plastic and rubber components should be properly dressed to protect them from cracking. This is a simple process that ultimately serves to protect the car from everyday problems of wear on rubber and silicone.

IV. What are the benefits of getting your car detailed?

A complete car detail will bring your car to its best condition. You can then perform mini details to keep your car looking as good as new.

benefits of getting car detailed

Car Value

Keeping your car in good condition will help maintain or restore the value of your car. This is particularly true of older or classic cars, especially if you’re looking to sell your car in the future. You simply cannot get the same results from car washes. A good detailer will bring your car to its original beauty and increase its resale value.

A good detailer will bring your car to its original beauty and increase its resale value. Having a regular exterior and interior detail can increase your car's resale value by 10-15%!Click To Tweet



Another benefit of auto detailing is the added protection against the elements. When a wax coat is routinely applied to the exterior painted surface, it protects the finish from contamination and oxidation (rust).

Attention to Detail

Since detailing is an incredibly thorough process, you can expect the detailer to meticulously assess every crevice of your car to suggest customized solutions. You will not get this kind of personalized service at a car wash.

V. How much does a car detail cost?

You’re probably thinking ‘Alright, I’m sold… but I don’t know how much this is going to cost me’. Well, according to this article, the size of your vehicle is a major factor in determining car detailing prices. So, a Humvee won’t cost the same as a Prius – but the difference isn’t as huge as you might think.

A basic car detailing package ranges from $50 to $125 for an average sized vehicle, while an SUV or van tends to cost between $75 and $100. However, additional services like clay bar treatment, leather conditioning, and pet hair removal, as well as the quality of these products, can increase the cost (so keep those dogs under control!).

car detailing add on services

Mobile Car Detailing Prices

You can expect to pay more for a mobile car detailing service since they come to your location (office or home) at a convenient time. This saves you the trouble of having to drive to a detailing shop and wait around while your car is serviced. An average mobile auto detailing service takes between 1.5 hours to 3 hours.

For example, at Washos, our detailing packages (Reveal and Outright) range from $89 to $189. We offer many optional services that you can add to your package.

VI. How to Choose a Car Detailing Service?

Now that you’ve decided to get your car detailed, and you know roughly how much it’s going to cost you, you will need to do some research to figure out where to take your car. The quality and experience of the detailer makes all the difference here.

car detailing servicesYou will also want to study the different packages offered and whether they provide services your car needs. The whole idea of detailing is centered on its bespoke nature. If it doesn’t work for you – your car, your needs, your vision – it doesn’t work at all. Be picky! That’s the point! So, we are going to give away our best-kept secrets to help you find the perfect detailer for your car.

  1. Services Offered

Start by looking for a detailer that offers exactly the kind of services you’re looking for. If you’re looking to get rid of all that dog hair in your car but the company doesn’t offer pet hair removal then you’re not going to get the best results.

  1. Pricing

Car details can become very expensive quite quickly due to their use of high-quality cleaning products, and you will want to find someone that provides the best bang for your buck. Keep in mind though that a complete detail is worth the short-term investment, because of the long-term value it provides!

  1. Reviews

These days it is impossible to not look for reviews before making a decision, and it’s always a good idea to search on Yelp or Google to see what other customers have had to say about their experiences.

At Washos, we take pride in our customer satisfaction and we work hard to maintain our five-star rating on Yelp. There will be times when things don’t go right but our responsiveness in fixing any mistakes goes a long way to proving our commitment to the highest quality service.

  1. Mobility

We understand that modern life can be incredibly busy and that taking your car to a washer is something that some people simply don’t have time to do. If that’s you, you should keep an eye out for mobile car detailing services. These detailers will come to your location, at home or at work, and provide the same high-quality service you would get by driving to a detailing shop.


While we have only scratched the surface of detailing, the world of auto detailing is very exciting and highly detailed. There are tons of forums where you can find in-depth guides for all of the different parts of the detailing process, or you can ask other car enthusiasts about car detailing.

If you have any questions about auto detailing that you’d like to put to us after reading this, please write them in the comments section and we will help you out.

Try Washos!

washos cta 2

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  • Reply
    February 22, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Another outstanding post.

  • Reply
    Dave Anderson
    March 20, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    I didn’t realize that car detailing was cleaning the inside and outside of the car and making sure that it looks like it did when you first bought it. Because car detailing also deals with cosmetic touch ups I think that it is worth the extra money. Because it requires so much work it is more expensive, but it also lasts longer. I would probably get my car detailed once a month and go through the car wash multiple times throughout the month.

    • Reply
      Jamie D Morse
      September 4, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      going through the car wash ruins everything the detailer has worked so hard and doing to your vehicle.

  • Reply
    Trevor Bari
    March 31, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    It is one thing to look great while driving a freshly detailed car, but the resale vale and keeping your car in good condition for the long term is a thing many should remember to consider.

    We also always have our engine bay cleaned even though people never see it, it is great to clarify how it is easier and faster to identify problems. Very thorough and honest article.

  • Reply
    Amanda Drew
    June 9, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    It certainly sounds like the most time-consuming part of detailing services would be polishing the paint. My car usually sits outside, so it may get some of those light scratches in the future. A good auto detailing service would certainly help my car to stay looking nice for a longer time.

  • Reply
    nwigwe john
    June 25, 2017 at 6:32 am

    Wow. Thank you for this piece, please can i get a video of it? It’d Help me in my little car wash start-up here in Lagos Nigeria. Thanks a bunch

  • Reply
    Helen Cox
    July 15, 2017 at 6:07 am

    When you talk about car detailing, it indicates a much broader view as compared to car washing. The former constitutes a thorough cleaning of the vehicle without undertaking paint works and repair. On the other side, car washing signifies a little cleaning. According to the demand of the vehicle’s condition, the mechanics would suggest which is the right option for you. Similarly, the price of both services differ. The professionals use the most advanced tools for effective services. They become extra cautious while dealing with its sensitive parts.

  • Reply
    Signature Detailers
    October 1, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    This is such a great piece. A lot of people have this vague idea of what auto detailing and most do not understand how it works. So articles like this can definitely benefit the car detailing as a whole because it promotes awareness to more people.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    I have a metallic blue honda and have always wanted to preserve it beautiful color and metallic shine but have never had it detailed. After reading your article I am definitely making an appt to get it detailed tomorrow.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Awesome post! I wish more people understood the importance of detailing their vehicle. It is just as important as maintaining wants underneath the hood. The outside and the inside everyday life really takes a toll. Definitely make an appointment to get it detailed!! Detailers make it so easy on their customers to make it more convenient for them. Even coming to them in some cases. Keep on writing these articles definitely helps get the word out!

  • Reply
    Her Garage
    October 25, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    This is an awesome educational post! More people really need to learn the importance of taking care of their car. It’s as important as looking after what is underneath. Mobile car detailers can definitely help if you are unable to take care of your cars exterior yourself and surely they are able to give out some professional advice. There is a huge difference between car washing and car detailing, and articles like this are so vital in highlighting the importance of both. Gone are the days where both males and females chuck a sponge into a bucket and go for it, the gentle female touch and slight OCD/perfectionism makes for a fabulous mind when looking after a vehicle.

  • Reply
    Gray Ramos
    November 17, 2017 at 5:42 am

    Auto detailing means performing a thorough reconditioning and washing the automobile’s interior and exterior. It employs a detailed progressive method to help protect our speed machine and the funding we have in it. In addition that, it also makes the vehicle more comfortable for driving. Every car manufacturing industry recommends detailing the vehicle at least twice a year in order to protect the prized-possession from oxidation and several contaminants. As it is the most appropriate way to ensure that our car is clean and secure, hence, we must detail our car by appointing a skilled detailer to grab the maximum benefits out of each penny.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Should car detailing include the hinges that show when doors are open? I recently had my 2015 Mazda CX-5 detailed for $140. A friend pointed that out, among other things, that I wouldn’t have noticed. In the future, I will ask what specifically is done. This was supposedly a special, but I didn’t ask questions that I should have asked prior to work being done. It took about 2 1/2 hours for two people. There were other things that were missed that I didn’t notice. The hinges were most noticeable to me. Thank you for educating me and others.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    December 9, 2017 at 4:18 am

    The post was really helpful.
    Thank you for sharing the post.

  • Reply
    Car enthusiast
    December 13, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Man what an awesome representation of the difference between detailing a car and just your everyday washing! Vehicles are oneof the most expensive expenses we have and should be taken care of with regular maintenance just like your house or business. Thanks for writing this amazing blog!

  • Reply
    December 27, 2017 at 7:07 am

    Great post it was really helpful.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Larry Weaver
    January 11, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    I didn’t realize that steering wheels are usually the dirtiest parts of a car! My car’s detailing is pretty beaten up, and I would like to work on it so that it looks nice and new again. Working with an auto detailing service to improve my car, and especially in the interior with the dirty steering wheel, is something that I would really like to do.

    • Reply
      May 27, 2018 at 8:27 am

      He meant the wheels that,have tires on them not the steering wheel although as a detailed I have seen many steering wheels that were extremely dirty

  • Reply
    January 20, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Wow ! great info about car detailing.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    great info about car detailing.

  • Reply
    Auto Detailing Service
    March 9, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    As a detailer myself it blows my mind how many people don’t know the difference between a wash and a car detail. It’s my goal to change that lol

  • Reply
    March 26, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Great info here, thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Glen Smith
    April 28, 2018 at 3:01 am

    Awesome post. A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CAR DETAILING useful for me.complete guidance mentioned in it. thank you for sharing with us.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2018 at 8:24 am

    I dislike the fact that you make detailing look like a thing were your car is restored to “new” most cars sent to us detailers are filthy with tons of stains that sometimes won’t come out. Our job is to do our best but most cars I detail and have seen detailed were never able to be returned to factory condition. Now that doesn’t mean it didn’t look 1000 times better it just means that detailing will almost never make your car look perfected again.

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    Melanie Greenway
    August 3, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    Just had my car detailed. Should the hidden area exposed when the trunk is raised have been cleaned and waxed ? I don’t even know what to call it. Is it under the trunk lid? There is a seal that keeps the trunk from leaking. Anyway they missed it. I will be out there tomorrow doing it myself…

  • Reply
    Brittny Wright
    September 9, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Very informative. There are alot of people out there who don’t know the difference between washing a car yourself and a true auto detail service.

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    Thomas Westgren
    November 13, 2018 at 10:29 am

    It’s interesting how you said that car detailing will be polished to get rid of some of the scratches. My wife and I have really had a lot of scratches lately because of hail and things like that. We’ll have to take it to a car wash to see if we could get some of the scratches filled in as well.

    • Reply
      November 13, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Hello Thomas, we get that one a lot! Minor scratches can often be removed with a clay treatment and buffing. Washos offers both of these services in the Ace package priced at $299.The package generally takes about 280-320 minutes and includes:

      Full exterior hand wash
      Tire dressing & rim cleaning
      Exterior window cleaning
      Thorough interior & trunk vacuum
      Interior wipe down
      Door jambs
      Window cleaning inside
      Leather cleaning & conditioning
      Clay bar paint treatment
      Water spot removal
      Outside plastic dressing
      Mats & carpets shampooed
      Seat Shampooing
      Plastic dressing inside
      Single-stage paint buffing
      Sealant wax

      Feel free to email us at [email protected] if you have any questions.

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    Car Detailing Birmingham
    January 8, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Our guys usually recommend cleaning your interior leather every 3-4 months if it tends to get dirty just to make sure nothing is overdone with an intense cleaning. In my experience, a more frequent light cleaning is easier on it and produces better long term results. That said, great write up. A lot of people think auto detailing is as simple as vacuuming and wiping the inside + washing off the outside, but there is much more to it than that!

  • Reply
    January 26, 2019 at 8:32 am

    We can always use new tips for better car detailing. It’s such an important aspect of what we do, so thanks for sharing!

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  • Reply
    Greensboro detailer
    September 24, 2019 at 2:28 am

    We recently started a car detailing service and this article was very helpful. Really appreciate you taking the time to go over this with us, there is still so much to learn. Car detailing is not the most exciting subject but you did an excellent job keeping us entertained. Thanks a ton.

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    February 26, 2020 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for taking the time to write this, super informative! Its so important for car owners to remember that regular detailing of their vehicle can substantially increase the resale value and overall longevity of their vehicle.

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    We are car detailers in the Northwest and I can’t even begin to talk about how often people think detailing is just a wash. Not even close!

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