Exterior Detailing Necessities

Are you looking to get started as a detailer? Looking to get into the mobile detailing business, or add some interior detailing services at your car wash? Maybe you’re just interested in carrying a selection of products in your retail store to sell to DIY detailers and car nuts!

Exterior detailing is what takes cars from car wash clean to show room shine. It helps to make the paint look brighter, the chrome shinier, the windows clearer, and the tires glossier.

Polishers

These are the workhorses of exterior detailing. No one hand-polishes anymore!

Cyclo, Flex, and Rupes all make a variety of polishers, all of which help to produce great results. You’ll need to determine the type of polisher, the power you need, and the head size. You’ll probably need to purchase multiple polishers to get the right set-up for great detail work.

  • Types: Standard Orbit, Random Orbit, Dual Action, Rotary
  • Power: RPM ranges can go from hundreds of RPM to thousands!
  • Head Size: Common sizes are 3”, 6”, and 7”

Evaluating the polishers to find the right ones for your shop and skill level is important. Getting one that is to bulky or powerful for you to handle will lead to potential damage during use. Getting one that isn’t powerful enough or big enough will cause you to spend more time on projects than you should. Consider the full range and pick out one or two that work for the projects you’ll be tackling!

Pads

Beyond the polisher itself, the right pads for the right processes are necessary. Choosing the right pads isn’t always easy, particularly for beginners and novices. You’ll need to consider a few things:

  • What type of polisher are you using? You need to make sure you get the appropriate type and size pads to fit your polisher and backing pads.
  • Do you want the standard foam pads, wool pads, or newer textured or microfiber pads? Foam pads are the reliable standby, predictable, and widely available. Microfiber pads are newer to the detail scene, and are effective, but there is not as much information available on usage. Wool pads are generally used for DA polishers for heavy correction work, but lack the ability to finish the job – foam will still be needed due to the fibers.
  • Get the right set of pads for the entire process – you may need 3-5 separate levels of cutting to achieve the look you want. You’ll always want to have Compound, Polishing, and Finishing pads – but there are others to choose from. Make sure you have all the ones you need.
  • Combining pads and compounds – mix and matching these will change the results. Non-aggressive pads can provide a more aggressive cut by using an aggressive compound. You can’t make the pads less aggressive though. It’s easier to step up, you can’t walk back. Plan, and pick a level of pad aggressiveness accordingly.

Check out our wide selection of pads from Buff and Shine, Meguiar’s, 3M, and more!

The Right Chemicals

Using plain old soap and water will get a vehicle clean, but it won’t turn it into a head-turner. You need the appropriate exterior chemicals for the appropriate jobs.

  • Paint: The experts at companies like Mothers, Meguiar’s, and Simoniz have been producing both consumer-quality and professional-grade cleaners, compounds, degreasers and more for decades!
  • Chrome: Chrome needs special formulation pastes and polishes for the perfect shine. The chrome experts at Flitz offer both paste and liquid polish to get the best out of a vehicles chrome trim.
  • Wheels and Tires: Because of their composition, wheels and tires need special attention. You need to be cautious with the chemicals and careful not to overspray – some of these are caustic and can damage paint on tires or on the body! Tire cleaner, tire shine, wheel cleaner, whitewall cleaners, and tire/wheel dressing all come together to produce sparkling, glossy tires that help a clean car truly pop.
  • Glass: The same companies who offer the chemicals to take care of bodywork also offer specially formulated glass cleaners. These cleaners help to leave streak-free shines while removing dust and grime. They also offer special glass cleaning compounds for tough debris like bugs and bird droppings.

Spray Bottles

You can buy chemicals in regular usage size in branded containers – but if you’re really serious about the business, you’ll soon find that buying in bulk is the cost-efficient way to do it! Some chemicals are available in single gallons only, while others may be available in 5-gallon pails, or even 30- and 55-gallon drums!

If you’re buying in bulk, you’ll need smaller spray bottles to break those chemicals out into for individual use, and ease of use. You want to make sure to get bottles that can be labelled properly, both for occupational safety reasons as well as for making sure that chemicals can’t be confused in the shop. The last thing you want is someone mistaking caustic brake dust remover for leather cleaner and ruining an interior! Applicator bottles for cutting compounds are essential, offering convenience and accuracy, for laying down precise amounts and reducing fling or waste.

erie tampico detailing spoke brush
Erie Tampico Fill Spoke Brush

Task-Specific Brushes

General scrub brushes just won’t do it for some of the exterior detailing tasks. You may need a brush with specific bristle composition, length, or flexibility. Different Shapes can also help with specific tasks, such as cleaning spoked wheels. Some brushes don’t even use bristles, instead using other material for a specific task! Task-specific detailing brushes you may need to invest in include:

  • Wheel Brush
  • Tire Spoke Brush
  • Bug Brush
  • Multi-purpose Scrubber Brushes
  • Wash Mitts
  • Round and Oval Prep Brushes
  • Car Dusters

Towels of All Sorts

You want to make sure you have towels for every task and that you keep track of what is what. We recommend color coding your towels so you don’t inadvertently use towels for different chemicals and tasks. There are a number of microfiber and terry cloth detailing towels to choose from, in a variety of sizes!

Specialty Tools

Certain tasks require a specific tool. While buying single use tools in the kitchen isn’t always the best bet – do you really like using that garlic press? – they are necessary for some detailing jobs.

For instance, a Tire Dressing Applicator is specifically contoured for ultimate contact with tires. This makes sure that spots are not missed during cleaning and dressing. This then reduces the amount of time you need to spend working on them.

We talk about polishers and pads earlier – but if you want to get the longest lifespan out of them, you’ll want to invest in pad cleaners. Cleaning your pads regularly removes compound so it doesn’t carry over from one job to the next and keeps pads flexible and absorbent. This can keep them working through more projects, and cut down on pad reordering.

Steel wool can be a great tool for removing stubborn bugs and grime from glass surfaces. While you wouldn’t want to use it on paint or chrome, the stiff fibers can break free bugs that are dried in!

These and other specialty tools can make the difference between a good detailing job, and a great one!

Detailing Safety

detailing apron

Detailing is hard work, and you’re dealing with chemicals that are irritants, caustics, or worse. Make sure you are using the proper safety equipment when working on vehicles. Inhaling, ingesting, or sometimes even prolonged contact with the chemicals can be detrimental.

We recommend having a supply of gloves, masks, safety glasses and goggles on hand, either in your shop or in your mobile detailing vehicle. Detailing aprons provide safety and utility – they protect from caustic chemicals while offering pockets for tools, work orders, and more.

While stocking up a detailing shop or mobile business can be a major investment to start out, proper care can keep much of the equipment working great for years and years! It’s a great opportunity for a business of your own if you are committed to making cars look great. It’s also an excellent added service to offer at your car wash.

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