Detailing Made Simple: Saving Time in the Prep Bay

Many professional detailers and novices as well are plagued by the amount of time spent just to prep a vehicle before performing a full detailing. Many spend 2, 3 and even 4 hours just to prepare a car for the detailing process!! I can’t help but to scratch my head when I read how in-depth a person feels they need to go just to prep a car for a detailing operation. Even though properly prepping a car is unarguably the most important step in the detail process, some are under the false notion that the vehicle has to be surgically clean prior to polishing the paint and/or cleaning the interior. And as a result they spend unnecessary amounts of time performing the wash prep process. Things that include and are not limited to would be using multiple wash buckets to sterilize their wash media after wiping down each panel. Dousing the car down with a thick & expensive layer of car wash soap foam thinking it is deeply cleaning the car’s surface. Using a barrage of tiny little brushes on every crack & crevice of a vehicle so they can justify that every nook and cranny is extra clean. Using expensive, slow working chemicals to clean & decontaminate a vehicle’s surfaces. Little do they realize that pretty much most of these extra steps actually cost them valuable time & money unnecessarily. So, as a result, I’ve decided to come up with a simplistic approach to prepping your car for the detail process. This car be used in all detailing environments. From mobile to fixed location. High end to mass production.

1st we need to understand that there are certain factors that may or may not need to be considered when doing a prep detail. This would 1st and foremost directly depend on the agreements you’ve made with your client and to what extent you feel comfortable going in your details normally.

Variable processes that can directly affect your overall times are as follows:

**Extent to which you clean your wheels. (faces vs. barrels vs. behind spokes)

Hands down, the extent to which you decide to clean a wheel can play a huge factor in the amount of time spent on a detail. Depending on the wheel AND the client’s expectations, dialing in on what is required can dramatically affect your total touch time. Some wheels, based on their design, don’t show off/expose their inner wheel barrel. As a result, this area of the wheel might not require extra cleaning steps for the specific job. Having this discussion with your customer before the onset of the detail to determine their expectations is critical. If a client is only anticipating a clean wheel face, it might not be in your best interest to clean the barrel and behind the spokes. Also, making sure you have the proper tools for the job will not only save you time, but improve the outcome.

**Chemicals used to clean wheels. (acid vs. APC vs. iron remover)

Hands down acid based cleaners take a fraction of the time to work than ANY other wheel cleaner on the market. Most times agitation on the outer wheel face isn’t even required. Just spray, dwell & rinse clean. And when needed, light agitation to the wheel face, lug slots and barrel with the proper brush breaks up years of dirt instantly. Follow up with pressurized water and the results are even quicker/better. The key to using acid effectively is knowing when it’s not a safe option to utilize and knowing how to use it. This would include detecting uncoated alloy wheels, cars with ceramic brakes & wheels with pre-existing coating failure. In all actuality, pretty much most OEM factory wheels these days have a powder coated finish. This typically means that this coating is many times harder and resistant to wear/tear/harsh chemicals than your vehicle’s delicate clear coated colored surfaces found on the body. Most wheel acid is designed to be safely used with these wheel finishes. The important things to understand when using acid is wheel surface temp, product dwell time and neutralization. This means making sure the surface is cool, not allowing the product to dry on the surface and if neutralization is required, applying an alkaline based cleaner (degreaser/APC) after rinsing the acid from the wheel.

**Level of decontamination (clay towel vs. clay vs. iron remover vs. combo)

Unless a client is wanting a 110% contaminant free finish, a clay towel in conjunction with a good lubricant will make your paint finish feel super smooth which is the most important and popular attribute of a proper detail. And with the current technology of most clay towels now being offered on the market this is making the clay bar pretty much obsolete. I can’t helping seeing people get really carried away with their contamination process doing extensive clay barring (over an hour with a tiny piece of clay) and then using an iron remover after. Unless there’s a major contaminant build up on the vehicle, this could certainly be overkill. Again, determining the condition of the vehicle and knowing your client’s expectations is critical in relegating the correct decontamination route to take.

**Letting the chemicals do the heavy cleaning

Most cleaners like alkaline degreasers and All Purpose Cleaners (APC) are typically not meant to be applied to the surface and then immediately rinsed. They typically work best when left to marinate (dwell) on the surface. What this dwell time does is allows the chemical to work into the soiling, loosening it up and breaking down the bond it has made with the surface. If you shorten this step up, you then can in turn lessen the cleaning ability of the product. When prepping a car, understanding adequate dwell time with pretty much all cleaners (soaps, acids, degreasers) is critical to not just cleaning power, but also the mitigation of any possible damage. Allowing the chemical to dwell for several minutes on the jambs, engines & wheel wells is mandatory. In most cases when we blast them with the pressure washer, all the grime is already loosened by the chemical and the dirt comes right off. I see some people using fancy brushes in their jambs and engine compartments and wonder just how necessary this is if they were to use the proper chemical? Look below for more info on suggested dwell times in the prep process.

**Drying of your vehicle after washing

Now this step alone could either save you or cost you a lot of time. Many people I’m sure spend way too long making sure the vehicle is totally dry before moving onto the next step in the detail process. To me, doing this is a major waste of time on a complete detail (inside & out). 1st and foremost is knowing the water quality that you’re using and if it will cause an issue if left on the surface to dry. Now obviously if you’re a mobile detailer and have no experience with this water source than you’ll need to use realistic caution. However, simply asking the client about their water quality could save you a ton of time. Especially if their water is filtered.

There are a few tricks to think about when needing to dry off a vehicle. When necessary, the key is to quickly get the *bulk* of the water off the car to avoid possible water spots and then go right to detailing the interior. Once you’re finished with the interior, the exterior will mostly be dry. It makes no sense to dry parts of a vehicle (rocker/lower doors/lower bumpers/jambs) when there’s no chance that the sun will cause spotting to these parts due to angle/exposure.

Next, make sure to use the most absorbent towel possible. No, this doesn’t mean you need to break out your $12 a piece ultra plush towels if they aren’t all that great for capturing water. Many times, a cotton bath or hand towel will outperform even the most absorbent microfiber or waffle weave towel. Yes, that’s right….cotton! Not like any possible marring that could result won’t polish out. I’m sure you’re doing more abuse to the surface in the clay process so using a towel that works will only save you time (and the lifespan of your pricey towels).

The more and more we use our water blade, the more and more we are blown away at how much time it saves to get the heavy standing water quickly and effectively off a vehicle. Many claim that these tools can cause damage to the paint. In all actuality they might be somewhat correct. Especially if you’re not careful when using one. This is typically the case when a vehicle isn’t rinsed properly and dirt particles are still present on the vehicle. To avoid this, I suggest only using your water blade on the top half of the vehicle (above the door moldings) until you are confident in your process. These areas are much less likely to have dirt seepage run out after the final rinse. And make sure to constantly check and clean your blade of contaminants which could include dirt particles or oil film.

**Water pressure (garden hose vs. power washer)

Hands down a quality pressure washer saves you time and provides much greater cleaning power on all aspects of the wash process (engines, wheels, wheel wells & door jambs). Even places that a brush or wash mitt cannot reach, abrasive dirt particles will be flushed clean easily with a power washer. It really doesn’t matter if the car is clean or dirty, large or small. A power washer will make your life a ton easier and the vehicle a whole lot cleaner. By properly pre-rinsing a vehicle with a power washer, you remove most, if not all, or the abrasive dirt particles from the vehicle. This means surgically washing a car isn’t as important because basically all the harmful topical contaminants are released from the surface, thus mitigating any user induced marring.

**Methods of washing (foaming vs. pre-rinse)

In my opinion foaming a car wastes time and money. If a vehicle is that greasy, you’d be much better off pre-soaking with a paint safe APC. Soap doesn’t provide much cleaning power on heavily soiled vehicles anyways. Using a pressure washer to quickly blast away heavy build up will provide much greater cleaning advantages than allowing foam to dwell on a car. And I also notice that some people rinse their vehicles multiple times throughout the prep process. A good pre-rinse and final rinse is really all that is needed. No need to wash down 1/2 the car then rinse and repeat. Especially if your environment is prone to water spots. Keep the soap on there because it won’t water spot.

Also, be mindful of the frequency you dunk/submerge your mitt/wash towel into your bucket to rewet. There is absolutely no need to constantly keep dunking your wash media into your bucket. I see people doing this after every panel and just scratch my head as to the time wasted here alone? If your wash media is wet, it will clean the surface just fine. It doesn’t need to have 6 inches of suds pouring out of it in an effort to maintain lubricity. This is a prep wash and not a maintenance wash….BIG DIFFERENCE! And again, you only need to wipe over (I didn’t say scrub) the surface once or twice to remove the dirt film. I see people in videos making multiple back and forth, up and down passes in an effort to clean the vehicle’s surface. Again, if it’s that dirty, spray some paint safe APC on there 1st.

**Floor Mats (ala carte or wash bay)

I see so many people waste time by not properly cleaning their floor mats. On most mainstreammats, there is nothing more effective than power washing them. I’ve seen people try extracting them, steaming them and doing them by hand which all takes not only extra time, but the end results are not fully clean either. Again, allowing the proper chemical to dwell on the surface then power washing them will get them the cleanest they can possibly be. And if you look below at my regiment process you’ll clean them quicker and they’ll dry faster. In fact, probably dry by the end of the complete detail process.

Step By Step Basics in the Prep Wet Bay

  1. To drill into how we do things I prepared a quick step by step of our process:
  2. Pre-rinse heavy dirt/grease from exterior, engine, wheels & wheel wells
  3. Pre-soak engine, jambs, wheel wells, rockers, front bumper & floor mats w/APC
  4. Acid wash wheels
  5. Hand scrub wheel wells, tires & floor mats
  6. Power wash engine
  7. Leaf blow critical engine components
  8. Dress engine
  9. Power wash jambs
  10. Hand wash exterior with MF towel as well as jambs, underside of hood & floor mats when needed
  11. Rinse complete vehicle & floor mats
  12. Clay towel with Waterless Wash solution
  13. Water blade as needed
  14. Vacuum floor mats & hang dry

Hopefully these processes can save detailers some very valuable time in the prep bay. Another thing that could help is the implementation of a low water wash (next segment) depending on the vehicle and how dirty it is. You really need to analyze the time you spend and how unnecessary some of the things you do can affect your overall time. Some people may feel that some of these processes are directed towards a high volume environment, when in fact they really aren’t. If you can achieve the end overall result with less time, less water & chemical use then you are ahead of the curve.