How to Make Your Car Look Professionally Clean

15 Steps to Professionally Clean Your Car Yourself

Professionally detailing your car can be expensive. However, it’s worth it to learn to do it yourself for numerous reasons. Firstly, if you do it regularly, it keeps your car in better condition. Secondly, doing it regularly keeps it cleaner and makes it easier when you do. Thirdly, when it comes time to sell, a professionally cleaned car sells easier and often for a higher price.

Were you to outsource it (and you certainly could), look to spend $100 – $300 or more for a standard auto detailing, according to


Consider detailing the car yourself. You can do it. I’m going to show you how in 15 easy steps.

Image of white car with head lights on. Text reads 15 Steps to Professionally Clean Your Car Yourself

How I Learned Car Detailing

Image of woman cleaning her steering wheel.

The summer after my high school graduation, I got a job as a car detailer’s apprentice. Cool title. No dancing broomsticks. To this day, this was still one of my favorite job experiences.

What I learned was a long list of simple and effective cleaning tips. Combined, they turned grimy cars into masterpieces.

More importantly, the owner, Vicki, worked directly with me on each car. Ten years later, I can still remember what I learned.

Anyone can do this.  

There are probably hundreds of steps people could take to detail their cars. I’m giving you 15. Things like “wash and wax your car” didn’t make the list. We’re going for the details.

What You Will Need

You’ll need a variety of items and remember, while it might seem expensive to start with, you will use these items over and over again, even the cleaning products. Here is what you need:

2 Buckets
Scrub brush
Tooth brush
Towels (or use the cloths above as they are super absorbent and come in a pack)
Air hose
Pessure washer (if available)

Cleaning Products

Car wash
Spray Nine – Multi-Purpose Cleaner
Armor All Ultra Shine Protectant
Glass Cleaner
Engine Degreaser


1.  Vacuum – Air hose – Vacuum

This is the most powerful, deep cleaning combo in the whole arsenal. Empty your car and pull out the floor mats. Vacuum every surface, move seats around, all of it. Then use an air hose (it’s like a pressure washer but with air) and spray every small surface, edge, crease, vent, console, etc. You’ll be amazed how much dirt this brings out. Vacuum thoroughly one more time.

Image of inside of car after Vacuum, air hose, vacuum

BONUS TIP: Swing open each door and use the air hose to blast dead leaves and twigs from your door jams.  

Image of Spray Nine Multicleaner

2.  Spray Nine

Your second most powerful, deep cleaning tool is my good friend Spray Nine. This stuff is strong. It works almost like acid to cut through deep stains and grime. Spray directly on carpet stains then scrub with a brush and water. WEAR GLOVES and a mask.  

3.  Scrub The Ceiling

Take a minute and look up. See any dirt? Wipe it down with Spray Nine and a rag.

4.  Detailed Wipe Down of Dash and Console

Use Spray Nine to clean the dash, console, door panels, cup holders, etc.

WARNING:  Spray Nine will remove the white symbols on your paneling – i.e. turn signal, door lock – so do a quick wipe with a damp cloth, toothbrush or Q-tip.

5.  Diluted Spray Nine on Leather

Never spray solution directly on leather, unless you want it to look plagued. Apply solution to a damp cloth, wipe leather, then dry immediately with a clean towel.

6.  Scrub Seat Belts

Pull seat belts out as far as you can. Apply Spray Nine. Use a scrub brush and water. Scrub hard, front and back. Those things get filthy. Wipe with a towel.

Image of wiping seatbelts

7.  Pressure Wash Floor Mats

Set floor mats in driveway and scrub with Spray Nine and water. For best cleaning, use a pressure washer. If one is not available, use a hose. WARNING: Leave floor mats out until they are 100% dry. If you put them back in the car while damp, it will create a musty smell.

8.  Use Interior Protectant

This gives a professional look to the car so use it on the dash, console, door panels, floor boards, cup holders. Use Q-tips for vents and tight edges. Apply to weather strips to add extra POP.

Image of wiping steering wheel

WARNING: Do no apply protectant to the outer rim of the steering wheel or the gas and brake pedals. These surfaces cannot be slippery while driving!  

9.  Crack Windows and Lift Wipers

By cracking the windows, you can wipe the dirt line at the top then roll them up and clean the rest. By lifting the wipers, you can clean the dirt line on them as well.

Image of wiping top of glass
Image of wiping seatbelt

10.  Use Glass Cleaner

Aside from glass, glass cleaner is great to use at the end to shine your metal seat buckles. Don’t forget mirrors and your sun/moon roof. Again, this adds that extra “finished” look to your car.

Image of car seats

11.  Pop your Hood and Spray the Engine with Degreaser  

Wash it off with the hose. Make sure your engine is not hot when you do this though!

Image of gas cap.

12.  Open Gas Tank Lid and Spray with Degreaser

Also open all car doors as wide as possible and spray degreaser into hinges. Use a hose to wash hinges and gas tank. Wipe clean with towel.  

13.  Clean Tires

Dampen your tires, apply degreaser, scrub with a brush and water, then wash off with a hose. Once they’re dry, add protectant and wipe with a cloth to make tires shine.

14.  Wash Your Car

Use the two bucket method to clean your car and do it in the shade. The two bucket method is where you have one bucket to rinse and one bucket with soapy water. Each time you are putting the spone or cloth into the bucket to get fresh soap and water, rinse it in the other bucket FIRST then put it in the soapy bucket.

This way, you aren’t putting the dirt from the car into the bucket with the soap and putting the dirt back on the car. It’s a cleaner, more effective way to wash your car. Be sure to open the doors and get all the little spots we’ve talked about above to ensure no water or soap is sitting in them. Towel dry to prevent streaks.

During this step, you can also cut and polish if you feel confident to get out any scratches and bring the car up to look like new.

15. Wax

Waxing the car will give it the shiny look and protect it further. It takes time but is worth it. Again, do it in the shade.

Image of red car. Text reads 15 Steps to Professionally Clean Your Car Yourself

Like I said, I’m no pro at this, so you don’t have to be either.  I’m just looking for one more way that you can accomplish your goals while saving money.

Happy Cleaning.

Have you tried any other detailing steps that make your car really shine?

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8 thoughts on “How to Make Your Car Look Professionally Clean

  1. Ha! I can tell by the interior shots that you drive a vehicle nearly identical to mine! Funny 🙂 We always detail our cars ourselves. Good for saving on resale value too without having to spend several hundred to get it done. Great post, Laura!

    • Thank you, Laurie. Way to be frugal AND to keep up with detailing your cars. It’s the upkeep I’m terrible at.

      This was my brother’s SUV. He’s selling it, if anyone wants a Yukon. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your informative! These tips will help me/us to keep car nice and clean, and would be able to sell it at a reasonable price. Keep up the good work!

  3. Wow, I have never even thought to do some of the tasks you have outlined here: (ceiling, gas cap). Although getting done with cleaning my car can seem endless the tips you suggested with the ‘nine spray’ will be a great time saver in the future. I have been looking at ways to preserve our newly purchased vehicle and your tips are really good. Thank you for sharing this post.

  4. What a fantastic guide to DIY car detailing! I love how you break down the process into 15 manageable steps, making it seem less daunting. Your personal experience as a car detailer’s apprentice adds a unique touch and certainly boosts confidence for those of us looking to give it a try. One thing that’s worth considering is using a soft toothbrush to gently clean hard-to-reach areas like air vents or intricate patterns on the dashboard. It really helps to achieve that extra level of cleanliness. Thanks for sharing!