Every car enthusiast has a different approach when it comes to detailing. While David just waits for rain, I break out the chemicals and get to work. Compared to most of my friends, I’m a little bit obsessive over how I keep my cars. Comments have ranged from “Did you just clean the interior,” which is flattering, to “Your car smells like car,” which is both a compliment and a horrifying statement on what that person thinks cars smell like.
As the holidays roll around, car enthusiasts all over the world dread receiving a box full of Armor All tat. Maybe you like your dashboard to feel like a slip-n-slide, but for everyone else here are some car cleaning products that won’t get chucked in the bin hours after being gifted.
[Ed note: This is one of our holiday gift guides, which is a service we’re doing to help everyone with their end-of-year shopping. This post also contains some affiliate links, which means we might get paid a commission if you buy something listed here or, usually, anything else on one of the sites. We won’t do this often, but it’s a way to support the site if you’re so inclined.]
If you’re a regular reader of the site, you may have notice that I’ve already detailed the usefulness of Optimum No-Rinse. I use it on pretty much everything when I don’t have the time or need for a traditional wash and it does an amazing job of pulling dirt and dust off the exterior surfaces of cars. It doesn’t leave deposits on unpainted trim and, unlike a waterless wash, it keeps the paint well-lubricated and shouldn’t introduce any new scratches. Optimum No-Rinse is an especially great detailing product for people who live in condos or apartments and might not have hose access, as it doesn’t take much product to do the job. It’s also generally okay to use in areas where at-home car washing is restricted, saving a car’s paint from the local scratch-o-matic.
Where to buy: Amazon
Poorboy’s World Black Hole
Owning a black car sucks sometimes. Sure, black paint looks amazing when it’s perfectly clean, but dark colors really show swirl marks loud and proud. Sure, swirl marks can be compounded and/or polished out, but that’s not always the best solution. Ideally, you wouldn’t be constantly correcting paint because compounding removes a thin layer of clearcoat (or paint if you have a single-stage paint job) every time you do it, reducing paint thickness and therefore reducing the number of times paint can be corrected before it gets too thin. However, there is an old show car trick that won’t get rid of swirls but will do a great job of masking them. I’m talking about using a glaze.
Glazes are filler products that work to mask light swirl marks in a car’s paint, and Poorboy’s World Black Hole is one of the most user-friendly glazes out there. It’s easy to work with, specifically-formulated for dark paint, and is relatively cheap. While it won’t magically make your paint perfect, it’ll look like you’ve done a light polish with a very mild compound. Likewise, Poorboy’s World has a counterpart product called White Diamond that works great on light colors. However, glazes don’t last very long unless they’re locked in with a wax or sealant, so you might want to pick up the next item in this guide.
Where to buy: Directly from Poorboy’s World
Collinite 845 Insulator Wax
While ceramic coatings are all the rage these days, there’s something to be said for a good coat of wax. Good ceramic coatings are tricky to apply at home, which is why many go for the ease and cost-effectiveness of a traditional wax. Collinite 845 isn’t the flagship product in Collinite’s wax range, but it’s been a favorite of detailers for years due to cost, ease of use, and durability.
While a traditional wax may seem inconvenient at first, Collinite 845 has a little secret. If you shake it up really well, it takes on a fairly liquid consistency that can then be sprayed on paint much like any spray wax. However, unlike most spray waxes, 845 lasts ages. I routinely see five to six months of protection on my 325i in Toronto’s highly varied climate.
Where to buy: Amazon
3D Orange Degreaser
Everyone should have a good all-purpose cleaner on tap as they’re just so versatile. From cleaning up engine bay grime to getting embedded dirt out of upholstery, think of degreaser as the jack-of-all-trades in a detailing arsenal. These days, I mainly use Canadian Tire’s house brand because it’s so cheap, but I’ve had great luck with 3D’s Orange Degreaser in the past. It’s powerful enough to really pull dirt out of textiles and, unlike many degreasers, you won’t feel it in your lungs. It’s perfect for people who are sensitive to harsh chemicals. As this is a bulk cleaner that’s generally considered professional-grade, it works best diluted for maximum clean-per-dollar. Figure a 1:10 dilution for light grime, a 1:4 dilution for heavy stuff, and a 1:6 dilution for dirt that falls somewhere in between.
Where to buy: Directly from 3D Products
Sonax Upholstery & Alcantara Cleaner
Alcantara, Ultrasuede, Dinamica. Whatever name you use, these artificial suede textiles look and feel great when new but are absolutely awful when dirty. What’s more, they’re difficult to clean and are often used for high-touch surfaces. So, how do you keep this stuff clean?
Well, Sonax has a dedicated Alcantara cleaner that’s extremely effective. Use a detailing brush to gently work it into the material, then take a clean microfiber towel and completely ruin it with all the grime coming off of the Alcantara. Finally, perk up the fabric with a brush for that soft Alcantara feeling. It is disgusting how much dirt gets trapped in this fabric, so a way to safely and effectively clean faux suede is a godsend for anyone who has to live with the material. A little goes a long way, so don’t be fooled by the small size of this cleaning product.
Where to buy: Directly from Sonax
P&S Brake Buster
While alloy wheels look great, all those pockets between spokes can be a pain to clean. This is doubly so on performance cars or German cars where brake dust builds up like dust on a coffee table. Sure, Sonax Full Effect wheel cleaner does the cool color-changing thing, but P&S Brake Buster offers a great clean, is quite cost-effective, and doesn’t give off a strong odor like some other wheel cleaners. Simply spray on, agitate, and rinse. Keep in mind, this is an alkaline wheel cleaner so don’t let it dry without rinsing. A dilution of 1:5 also helps when it comes to ensuring safety.
Where to buy: Amazon
Synthetic Wool Wheel Brushes
Speaking of agitating wheel cleaner, let’s talk about wheel brushes. While it’s cheap and easy to just pick up a bristled brush, they can really swirl wheels with gloss black elements plus they don’t do a great job of getting to the wheel barrels. For that, you’re going to want synthetic wool wheel brushes, a staple of detailers for years. The carpet-like fibers are a lot softer than cheap plastic bristles, plus they offer a ton of reach. It’s amazing the difference clean wheel barrels can make, especially on wheels with fairly open-spoke designs. Tons of brands make these things and there generally isn’t a massive quality difference between mid-price options and higher-end versions, so it’s okay to save a few dollars here.
Where to buy: Amazon
Sure, the dreaded Armor-All may be a dressing, but not all dressings are bad. Good dressings used strategically on exterior surfaces are safe for rubber and plastics, can be used on tires without producing a ton of sling, and leave a tasteful satin finish. Take CarPro’s PERL, for example. Not only can it function as a wonderful satin tire shine if you knock it down with a towel, it has a great darkening effect, and it doesn’t attract dirt like some dressings do. Expect it to last about a month on an outdoor-stored car, work on a variety of plastic and rubber materials, and be a good value for the money because it’s a concentrate. Word to the wise, don’t use this stuff on rubber floor mats, it’s extremely slippery despite the relatively flat appearance.
Where to buy: Sky’s The Limit Car Care
As several of the detailing solutions in this guide are concentrates, a big set of spray bottles with measures is a fantastic gift for people looking to keep their cars tidy. Not only does having an array of bottles with measures make diluting solutions easy, it also allows for multiple dilutions to be on tap for tackling different surfaces. While bulky, these are cheap gifts that will help make detailing easier and save your gift recipient money in the long run.
Where to buy: Amazon
The Grit Guard is one of those things that everyone who washes their car wants but few have had the chance to pick up. Simple in principle and really effective in execution, the Grit Guard is a plastic grate that goes at the bottom of a wash bucket. As you dip your wash mitt into the bucket and drag it across the grate, dirt falls off the mitt and into the bottom of the bucket. However, since the grate prevents mitts from touching the bottom of the bucket, it prevents you from picking up dirt and rubbing it into your paint. Every professional detailing shop uses some variant of the Grit Guard, and they’re cheap enough to make excellent stocking stuffers. Granted, they are sized for three-to-five-gallon buckets, so actually stuffing them into a physical stocking may prove challenging.
Where to buy: Amazon
So there we are, ten great detailing products for the cleaning-obsessed gearhead in your life, none of which should break the bank. You don’t have to be a pro detailer to appreciate these products, they’re all friendly enough for a DIY-er to use in their own driveway or garage. You don’t have to own a Rupes or ceramic coat your dog to enjoy a properly clean car either, you just have to either be willing to pay a professional or be ready to break out the elbow grease. For many of us, the elbow grease method is a whole lot of fun.
Photo credits: Amazon, Poorboy’s World, 3D Products, Sonax, Sky’s The Limit Car Care
Does anyone have any ideas for a windshield that has a million of the micro rock hits on it? I have used Invisible Glass stripper with good quality glass cleaners and it still looks like I was on Mars for the last year. I am in the DC/Baltimore area, so there are a lot of chances to get debris from trucks, etc.
I recommend using the services from Superior auto image you can check out their Advance ceramic coating services here – superiorautoimage.com
I suppose TH gets a kick back in Canadian Tire dollars….
Rust Eze forever….!!!!
“I routinely see five to six months of protection on my 325i in Toronto’s highly varied climate.”
Is that an indoor or outdoor car? I’ve recently discovered that the Turtle Wax ICE spray wax I use and love on my garaged cars only lasts a month or two on the one parked outside, especially in the summer.
It’s unfortunately an outdoor car, although it needs a whole bunch of PDR and a lick of paint (stone chips) before I can justify indoor storage. I’ve had a similar experience with most dedicated spray wax products, they stop beading after just a few weeks. While it’s a bit laborious to shake up the Collinite 845, the longevity is worth it.
Good to know, thanks!
Any wash that doesn’t involve soap and water is going to leave swirls. Maybe not critical to the target readers of the article, but it’s true nonetheless. Especially if you’re planning additional detailing steps like applying wax, you must use water.
Haven’t used Perl, so maybe it’s better, but…c’mon…the default “new to detailing” plastic and trim product recommendation is marine 303. Everyone knows that. It’s great stuff. I am using Pinnacle’s Vinyl and Rubber treatment because it smells good, but 303 performs as well as anything I’ve tried.
Wheel cleaner sucks, it eats the finish and it’s not necessary. Soap and water and one of those wheel woolies is all you need. Even if you’re not up to ceramic coating your car, ceramic coating the wheels is absolutely worth it. Application is a bit less critical than on the main bodywork. It will last multiple years and 80% of the brake dust just rinses off. Agitate just a little with soap and a wheel woolie and the rest of the brake dust is gone.
People swear by Collinite, especially for longevity with a wax. Wouldn’t argue with that. A Polymer based sealant can outlast any wax and can be incredibly easy to apply, if minimizing work is the goal here. It’s a bit more expensive, but Pinnacle Black Label Diamond Paint Sealant (not Diamond Paint Coating, that’s ceramic) is worth every penny. You can get a year out of one application with two coats and it is literally the easiest paint protection product to apply that I have ever used. Apply thin and…”buff” is too strong a word for what you actually need to do…just lightly wipe it with a microfiber cloth and you’re done. Smells good too.
Collinite makes awesome stuff. Regularly use 845 and 915. 915 doesn’t have the longevity of 845 but man does it make a dark colored car pop.
With all due respect… without the approval of Svend, this list is just a list.
Any recommendations for getting off pitch? Both the old and unseen hard crusty stuff and the oh-crap-pitch-just-dropped variety. I personally use butter, yes, butter, after chipping the hard stuff off with a plastic scraper. Works great on hands too. Has someone found something better?
Let’s have a moment of love for that old H-body hatchback up there. A design that deserved better mechanicals under it.
So I doubt I am in the minority of wanting to know how to get pet hair and goldfish dust out of interior fabrics. Give me products for these tasks.
Best bet is a shop vac with car attachments.
A paintbrush will be of great help for this. You want something with bristles that are stiff enough. Agitate, vacuum, apply cleaner, agitate again and blot off with a MF.
And for pet hair a simple dish washing rubber glove will pull them right out. Ideally you want those with the little dimples.
It took me a minute to realize that goldfish dust referred to the crackers and wasn’t part of the pet hair problem.
As others have noted, a good brush and a strong vacuum work wonders for Goldfish dust. As for pet hair, I’ve previously used pumice stones, although I’ve heard good things about silicone and rubber-based brushes.
Nanotech Protection’s Wet Coat, it gives out the water beading effects of ppf in a spray bottle, spray it to a wet panel and rinse, boom, hydrophobic, usable on glass too, but needs to be properly re-buffed after the paint is dry
I’ve used both the All in One Polish and the High Gloss Sealant Glaze from Klasse.
Acrylic and it lasts. But I’m traveling on a winter long ski trip and just used
It’s a spray on, a bit easier/quicker to apply, and works fairly well. All three products wipe off with microfiber clothes. I’ve also used a more complex.ceramic coating in the past, lasted well over a year. Was not that difficult to apply.
+1 for the Black Hole Glaze, and it’s counterpart, White Diamond Glaze. The Black hole made my Mazda6 a deeper blue, and made my white pearl Sonata seem like it’s own light source when wax was applied.
I am going to say it outright, ceramics are great, but don’t pop like a nice glaze and wax.
Glad someone mentioned it. I have a black Mini Clubman and I feel like I’m CONSTANTLY chasing swirls around it. It looks so good from 3′ away, but I get close and I see every blemish. I’m anal about it and no one else sees the swirls even after I point them out. Going to give this stuff a try. Thanks!
I’d add a good window cleaner and a ceramic glass coat. Mine usually last 6 months and reduce the reliance on wipers while greatly improving visibility.
Given the fleet owned by much of the staff here, I totally expected to see air chisel listed as a detailing tool.
Or a flamethrower.
I would add my cleaner to the list. 50% rubbing alcohol, 50% water, and a splash of liquid dish soap
Hmm, no Simoniz products from Canadian Tire?
Take a cue from James MaY and add a toothbrush to your list. It’s the gift of will have fresh(er) breath and when they grow tired of brushing their teeth they can go out and use it in the car. Plus, Crest or Colgate would make great sponsors.
My god you guys miss so much. Get these companies to be sponsors rather than letting companies buy credibility. Put a package together and sell as a present. I didnt notice a leather cleaner/restorer. I suggest getting a reputable restoring company. Let them write restoring artickes with recomendations and ask that company to pay.
Agree with this 100%. You guys need to monetize this site to make sure it keeps running. I genuinely hope you’re doing things behind the scenes to make some coin.
We are experimenting with a bunch of ways of making this place sustainable and will have more info on that soon. One thing we’re trying is leverage our expertise when it comes to buying certain things. Clearly, Thomas is the only person here obsessed with keeping his car clean, so he wrote this up. It doesn’t seem like anyone took issue with yesterday’s book post but I think this one ended up looking a little generic just by virtue of, aesthetically, they’re bottles and that’s not particularly exciting. We’re each going to do one of these so I’ll see how they perform and how people respond to them.
Seriously. Have you seen the condition of Torch and Tracy’s vehicular conveyances? Like any of Tracy’s cars and the Scion xB filled with mold. Mercedes went to town on her Smart that turned into a petri dish after long term storage; that’s called taking care of business. Thomas is the outlier, keeping his vehicles sparkly.
Yep. This just feels a bit like one of those auto-generated articles meant to generate money off of affiliate links.
Maybe the author has experience with all of these products though?
To add to this: I seriously would not mind sidebar ads. I have no idea how you make money and as long as you don’t go insane with ads I’ll leave my blocker off? Is there another way to generate a revenue stream off of a site like this? You won’t find me parting with my money but you will find me putting up with a bit more than I would on other sites.
Yeah, okay, maybe this one felt a bit more generic. Maybe we should have had more home-brewed cleaning solutions like my patented mayonnaise-and-ammonia insect remover. I don’t know. We’re trying to figure all this stuff out so we can keep this whole thing going! Cut us some slack!
“my patented mayonnaise-and-ammonia insect remover”
Oh and Thomas DOES have experience with these things. He loves this crap.
Good to know! To me it’s the format I guess. Google is full of similarly formatted articles these days that are clearly someone (or a bot) just reading descriptions and writing a few sentences. This article is fine because it’s you guys, but my gut reaction was just kinda “ew, these articles are ruining search engines”
Good to know Thomas actually knows what he’s talking about. In a sea of people who pretend to know what they’re talking about it can be a little hard for fools like me to differentiate.
The Autopian really stands out in quality and type of content.
I am an idiot so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I love what you guys are doing with this site and I hope you can keep it afloat. It doesn’t matter what your commenters think, what matters is your actual data on what works! I’m practically begging you to put (clearly marked) ads on your website though.
I think a lot of it is a detailed – “why choose this over any other brand/type” felt like it was missing, since the guide tells you the brand in the big name rather than “Car Wax – we suggest this for X,Y,Z reasons.” It feels more like a “buy this item, oh and this is what to use it for” rather than a helpful “my sig other is always waxing their car, look this site suggests Collinite 845 Insulator Wax, i’ll get them that.”
As for ads, I think my big problems with ads are as follows:
1. Their size/space is not loaded initially, so when the ad does load everything moves around – really tiresome, same problem with images on some sites. Designate the space for it, so even on slow internet everything stays fixed, just images take a while to load. Nothing should move with my as I scroll.
2. Interactive / videos / noise making sucks – plain images with a hyperlink, even a tracking ?= is ok, assuming it meets #1 above.
3. This is petty – but keeping the ad layout and coloration and such similar to the aesthetics of the website is nice. I get that a product image/brand name/logo may be garish, but the background / fonts for everything else could be simple still. It’d be there, but not obnoxious.
+100000000 for the Sonax Alcantara cleaner.