Starting a Mobile Detailing Business: Essential Supplies and Equipment

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A mobile auto detailing business does everything a brick and mortar vehicle detailing business does, but generally at a lower price and in a more convenient way for customers. They bring high-quality detailing services right to the customer! Starting a mobile detailing business can be a very lucrative opportunity. With low overhead and relatively low entry costs, on the whole, auto detailing can be highly profitable. Depending on your area/demographic, services offered and the number of jobs you book each week, income can vary. However, a one-person detailing business can bring in as much as $90,000 per year! This is based on an average of 3 jobs per day, 5 days a week at $120 per job, according to guidetodetailing.com.

Starting a mobile detailing business requires some essential supplies and equipment, and the know-how to utilize these tools to their full potential. Let’s explore the best car detailing tools and other necessities to make your mobile detailing dreams a reality.

How to Start a Mobile Detailing Business

Here are the essential pieces of car cleaning equipment and supplies needed to start a mobile detailing business:

No formal certification or training is required to be an auto detailer. Of course, a detailing certification may show your customers that you work to the highest possible professional industry standards. In addition, working experience in the auto detailing or car wash industry can give you a leg up on competition. Knowledge of best detailing practices, as well as fluent knowledge of how to handle chemicals and equipment will pave the road to your success. Be sure to research state and local requirements for business licensing. Also, familiarize yourself with any regulations on how and where you operate, as these may vary.

Exterior Detailing

Exterior detailing goes beyond a quick wash. An exterior detail should make a car gleam! This process should generally include, at least, a hand wash and dry, clay bar, polish and wax. It cleans and restores vehicle’s surface and seals it for long lasting shine. A thourough exterior detail addresses chrome trim, windows, wheels, and tires, as well as other visible outside parts. The amount you charge may be all inclusive of these services, or you may choose to create different packages or levels that include “add on” services for closer attention to specific areas. Different packages allow you to offer a variey of options to fit the budgets and needs for your clients.

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Polishers

It’s best to have a little practical experience with polishers to make sure you have the technique down, and to avoid damaging someone’s paint or trim. You’ll want something light, efficient, easy to use and low noise for residential communities. Aim for the versatility you need in whatever tool you find that you’re also the most comfortable with. Your best bet for mobile detailing is a reliable dual action (DA) polisher. Dual action polisher heads rotate and vibrate at high rates of speed. They provide very safe, very friendly performance with a little practice, leading to a guaranteed swirl free finish. Maximize your polisher with a variety of quality pads, polishes and waxes to customize your work.

Not all polishers are created equal. While some of the best known brands like Cyclo, Flex, and Rupes, all produce high quality polishers, each has features that may suit your individual needs and skillset best.

Cyclo polishers are the only polishers with patented dual orbital heads that move in an overlapping, circular motion. This action mimics the motion of hand polishing and produces impeccable shine with proper handling. However, with a bulky design and the added head to clean, changed or replaced this polisher may not be the best option for detailing on the go.

Flex polishing machines offer reliable service, fast performance, and smooth operation. These devices are best for detailers who have had their fair share of experience in using and handling various types of polishing tools. Flex offers several different types of gear driven polishers available for novice to professional experience. As the name implies, this brand has a good deal of flexibility as far as pads and polishing compounds that you can use as you like. Flex devices are polishing tools, designed to apply and remove your choice of polishes and compounds.

If you are just learning to detail, don’t hesitate to choose a Rupes polisher. For one, their polishers are extremely lightweight, so for someone just starting out in detailing, you’ll spare yourself fatigue. The long neck on the device makes it easy to reach difficult areas. These devices are high quality, so they’ll serve you and your business for a long time before you need to replace them. Rupes makes a variety of DA random orbital polishers with a range of polishing diameters. More than a tool, the Rupes polishing system is designed to utilize their specifically polishing compounds and pads.

Car Detailing Pads

Once you have your DA polisher in hand, you’ll need to stock up on applicator pads. Polisher pads are engineered to maximize the performance of compatible polishing products. Some are specific for use with a particular brand or type of polisher, so be sure to familiarize with your machine so you know what is compatible for proper performance and results. For your mobile detailing business, you’ll want different types of car detailing pads. Select different styles, materials and sizes, so you have what you need when you’re out on the road.

Make sure you have enough pads for each type of product you are using and have a lot on hand if you are doing multiple details a day. You may eventually choose to invest in a polishing pad cleaning system to save on the on the number of pads you use. There are many types of pads so the ones you’ll need will depending on your polisher, polishing compounds and the services you want to perform.

Exterior Car Detailing Chemicals

There are so many products available for exterior detailing, the selection can be daunting. Many detailers are brand loyal, and you may need to do some research or experimenting to find the products you like best for jobs. The exterior of any vehicle has several areas that need to be cleaned and/or dressed: paint, trim, wheels, tires and windows/lights. You’ll need an arsenal of exterior detailing chemicals to tackle each of these effectively.

Exterior detailing starts from the ground up. At minimum you’ll need a quality wheel and tire cleaner & degreaser, tire rubber dressing, soap for the body, various polishing compounds for paint, vinyl and chrome, clay bars to remove contaminants, and wax or some other sealant to preserve your hard work and lock in the shine. You may also offer specialty coatings like ceramic as a premium service.

Spray Bottles

You can save a lot when you buy concentrated cleaners and bulk containers of fluids. Well-made spray bottles are your friends when you’re dealing with chemical concentrates and bulk containers of cleaners and chemicals. Mixing smaller amounts of the products you need on the road will save you space and keep everything close at hand for easy use.

Task-Specific Brushes

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A good variety of brushes is key to precision detailing for both interior and exterior. Exterior brushes allow you to effectively clean areas like tires, wheels, and painted surfaces, while interior brushes are shaped or designed to handle more specific jobs. Some of the specialty brushes offered include:

  • Various multi-purpose scrubbing brushes
  • Wheel and Spoke Brushes
  • Tire Brush
  • Single, Dual and/or Triple Head Detailing Brushes
  • Wash Mitts
  • Bug Brushes
  • All-Arounder Round Prep Brushes

Towels of All Sorts

Quality towels are a sizeable yet invaluable investment for a detailer. Like brushes, towels come in a variety of materials, colors, sizes and piles and each has purposes better suited than others. While size is usually a personal preference, colors are important for color coding for different uses. The quality and material of the towels is more important in regards to purpose and performance, and having at least 5 or 6 different towels is best so your needs are covered. Buy bulk towels to supply yourself with the following, as you’ll need multiple towels of each type per vehicle you detail. Make sure you clean and maintain them with care! You’ll need towels dedicated to:

  • Washing
  • Drying
  • Glass
  • Tire/wheel/engine
  • Interior/upholstery
  • Polishing
  • Waxing

Detailing Safety

Keep yourself and employees safe (if you hire) by keeping a supply of gloves and safety glasses available for use. Chemical cleaners and pressure washing equipment can pose a variety or hazards to skin and eyes. With simple consideration and safety supplies for personal protection you can avoid common injuries and irritations.

Interior Detailing

Interior car detailing typically includes a deep vacuum job, vinyl cleaning, dressing, carpet shampooing, and leather conditioning. First, a thourough vacuuming to remove all the crumbs, dust and other debris from all compartments including the trunk. Next, you shampoo, steam clean or otherwise refresh upholstery using specialized methods and products, depending on the seat material. Finally, clean and/or dress windows, air vents, door handles, dashboards, steering wheel, gear stick and all other surfaces including dials and switches. After the cleaning, detailers may add fragrance to leave the cabin smelling fresh.

Cars today are big investments. They’re lasting longer and need more intricate care. Increasingly, people want professional car washes and details. This prioritizes the longevity of their vehicles over purchasing new. These trends mean repeat business, as customers are paying for regular reconditioning and detailing services to keep their cars like new!

Vacuums and Carpet Extractors

When it comes to mobile detailing, a versatile vacuum with a variety of attachments is essential. If you want a world class interior detail, an extractor will raise the bar. This can depend on the state of the client’s vehicle, and whether you have the time and energy to manually scrub car upholstery and carpets. A vacuum cleaner is designed for dry debris like loose pet hair, gravel, crumbs and dust. Not all types are compatible with cleaners and moisture. Extractors clean and sanitize, permanently removing soil from the surface and safely storing it in a recovery tank for disposal. An extractor can dramatically reduce cleaning time and effort, especially on particularly dirty interiors with dried on spills or stains and odors.

Upholstery Detailing Tools

If you decide to invest in an extractor, there are a variety of accessories you can add to tackle upholstery. If you prefer hand cleaning these surfaces, you’ll need a selection of chemicals designed for upholstery, a reliable hand sprayer or multiple spray bottles, as well as towels, brushes and applicators to handle leather, vinyl and different cloths used for seats and trim. Cleaning markers and pens are also nice additions for addressing small spots, stains and scratches.

Interior Detailing Brushes

Specialty brushes are available for cleaning auto interior spaces. It’s to your advanage to have a wide array of these brushes to spruce up every inch. Slender vent and dashboard brushes are made to sweep interior AC vents, around the tight angles of the dash, radio buttons & knobs, instrument panels,speakers and other small nooks like door arm rest panels. Toothbrush-style detailers are also handy for these spots, and their sturdy bristles work well on stuck on debris. Several leather/upholstery brushes and carpet scrubbers should also be in your kit, with bristles of varying firmness or materials.

Don’t forget pet hair removers! Your vacuum should suck up most loose strands in pet friendly cars, but stubborn hairs in carpet and upholstery may mean extra work. Rubber brushes, blocks and scrapers use friction and static to pick up stray strands. Adhesive lint rollers are also useful for low pile fabric and car ceiling materials.

Interior Car Detailing Chemicals

There are cleaners engineered to clean and refresh interior surfaces. These include general cleaners for leather, cloth and vinyl, stain removers, deodorizers/fragrances, dressings, conditioners and glass cleaners. Dressings and conditioners protect interiors from UV and extreme temperatures. These products also leave dashes, etc, with a like new appearance that’s sure to please. Premium leather surfaces also require special attention, and proper cleaning and conditioning will result in clean and supple seats. A good glass cleaner is important for streak free windows and will be safe for use on screens as well.

Odor Elimination

Deodorizing Kit

Not every freshening product is designed for deep detailing. Many simple auto air fresheners simply mask odors temporarily, as opposed to neutrilizing or eliminating odors at their source. While a cute little tree, vent clip, can or spray may provide a pleasant scent, they won’t get rid of any foul funk or deep-seated stench. As a detailer, you have the ability to address stinky seats and carpets with effective solutions.

Steam cleaning is the best and most efficient solution to detailing all interior car surfaces and freshening the air. After a full vacuum to remove odor causing debris, a commercial quality steam cleaner will deep clean AND sanitize, vanquishing odors at their core. Some detailers also invest in an aerator/deodorizer kit for ozone generator. An ozone cycle after deep cleaning will eliminate lingering chemical smells in the vehicle.

Specialty Equipment For Detailing

When you’re first starting out, it may take some time to realize if your supplies are sufficient. Perhaps your jobs will be easier with certain specialty cleaners, tools or equipment. These are things you can add as time and profits progress. For example, the extractor is a costly tool that isn’t necessity for your start up. Carpets can be cleaned manually until you’re ready to make the upgrade. A good line-up of essential supplies will get you started. They’ll also help you to learn more about what works or not for you and make you more efficient. Keeping supplies secure and organized will help each job go smoothly. Whether you’re working out of your trunk or you move around with a van or utility vehicle, carts, caddies or cabinets can prevent spills, splashes and damage. Consider containment equipment early on to save yourself time and money down the line.

Costs of Starting a Mobile Detailing Business

The average cost of starting up a mobile detailing business can vary greatly, with the average initial investment ranging between $5000 and $25k. This cost will, of course, be dependent on the services you plan to offer, and what you may already have access to. It’s generally wise to invest in necessary tools and equipment, plus a “start-up pack” of cleaners, chemicals and dressings that you can replenish as needed. If you invest in high-quality tools and products, you can expect better performance better and longer life with minimal maintenace. Buying consumables in bulk can save you money over time, but you’ll also adequate space to store them.

Since your business is to be mobile, a reliable van, truck or trailer will be an asset and a more costly start-up expense. A vehicle with adequate cargo space, dedicated to safely conveying chemicals from job to job is a key to success.

Don’t forget to consider ongoing monthly expenses in your overhead beyond initial start up costs. These include fuel, insurance, work vehicle maintenance, advertising and supply replenishment. Start-up costs should also include any legal, permit or licensing fees you may incur to operate. These may be required from your state, city or municipality, so be sure to research.

Now that you have a an idea of what statring a moble detailing business entails, be sure to check out other articles in the blog for more info about detailing and related products!

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