Car Detailing vs Valeting: What is the Difference?

If you’re looking for someone to keep your vehicle clean and shiny then you have probably heard of the terms detailing and valeting, and wondered what the difference between them actually is. In this article I’ll take you through the differences between these services and how to decide which is the right option for you and your vehicle.

What is Car Valeting?

Car valeting is a service which is used to deep clean and maintain a vehicle. There are various levels of valeting, ranging from basic washes and interior maintenance through to deep cleans and the application of waxes and sealants to protect the finish.

Exactly what’s including in a valeting service varies from company to company. At Auto Care HQ, we offer several valeting services to suit different budgets and requirements:

  • Exterior Maintenance Valet (from £40): includes a safe wash of all exterior surfaces, and a tyre & trim dressing
  • In-And-Out Valet (from £65): exterior maintenance valet plus interior vacuum and wipe-down
  • Exterior Deep Clean from £90): exterior wash plus iron & tar removal, and the application of a paintwork sealant
  • Interior Deep Clean (from £100): interior vacuum and wipe-down plus stain-removal, steam-cleaning and wet-vac extraction

At Auto Care HQ, all valeting services use safe-wash techniques which include a thorough pre-wash stage and two-bucket contact wash, and uses premium car care chemicals. We also include features which you would not typically expect to see in a valeting package, including a thorough clean of all the wheel surfaces (e.g. the arches and wheel barrels), the application of a trim dressing to exterior plastics, dusting of the interior vents, and cleaning of the foot pedals.

Be careful of using cheap valeting services and always check exactly what’s included in the service. Some valeting service do not use safe-wash techniques and as a result cause paintwork defects such as scratches and swirl marks, and also use caustic chemicals which can promote staining and rusting.

What is Car Detailing?

Car detailing is not only about the deep clean process, but also about enhancing and protection, and that’s the main difference when it’s compared to valeting.

Enhancement primarily refers to the paintwork, however other processes can be involved including exhaust tip polishing and headlight restoration. As mentioned previously, improper wash techniques and tools result in swirl marks and scratches in the clear coat layer of paint that sits above the colour coat. In order to remove these defects, the paintwork needs to be machine polished which results in a high-gloss mirror-finish. Please read this article for more information on machine polishing.

When it comes to protecting the finish, there are three main options available: waxes, sealants and coatings. Any of these options can be applied in a car detailing service, but generally ceramic coatings are the preferred option as they offer the most durability (up to 7-years) and best level of protection. Ceramic coatings can be applied to most surfaces including the paint, glass, wheels, plastic trim, and leather. Please read this article for more information on ceramic coatings.

Like with valeting, there are various different detailing services available to suit different requirements and budgets. Auto Care HQ offers the following car detailing services:

  • Single-Stage Machine Polish: designed to address minor clear coat swirl marks
  • Two-Stage Machine Polish: designed to address moderate clear coat defects
  • Ceramic Coating: these can be applied to the paint, wheels, glass, trim, exhaust and interior.
  • New Car Protection: includes an enhancement machine polishing and protection of the exterior and interior surfaces
  • Other Restorative Processes: e.g. headlight restoration, exhaust tip restoration, soft-top convertible deep cleaning

All these services include a thorough safe-wash of the exterior, tar & iron removal, and clay bar treatment to remove any remaining bonded contaminants and leave the paintwork feeling ultra-smooth.

Differences Between Valeting & Detailing

In order to really dial in on the specific differences between detailing and valeting services, I’ll be comparing them in the following categories:

  • Level of Cleaning
  • Method of Cleaning
  • Restoration & Enhancement Process
  • Application of Protection
  • Time Required
  • The Cost

Level of Cleaning

When assessing the level of service provided by most UK detailers and valeters, you will notice that their “detailing services” typically involve a deeper level of cleaning. However, this does depend on the exact services and packages being compared. For example, a “deep clean valet” may offer the same level of cleaning as a detailing service from the same company.

At Auto Care HQ, our valeting services are split into “maintenance” and “deep clean” packages. The difference being that the deep clean services also offer:

  • Tar removal
  • Iron fallout contamination removal
  • Stain removal
  • Steam-cleaning & wet-vac extraction

The only difference between the level of cleanliness you can expect between our Deep Clean Valet, and Detailing Packages, is that the latter also include a clay bar treatment in order to physically remove any remaining contaminants. The reason being that all our detailing packages also include a machine polishing stage, which is essential after using a clay bar. Since our valeting services don’t include machine polishing, the clay bar treatment stage isn’t included.

No matter whether you choose our Deep Clean Valet or one of our Detailing Packages, you can expect an extremely thorough clean which will “reset” the vehicle and get it back to a showroom level of cleanliness. Just keep in mind that some other valeting services do not provide this level of service so you should always check exactly what’s included before booking your vehicle in.

Method of Cleaning

This refers to how “safe” the wash technique and cleaning methods being used to clean the vehicle are. Again, it is difficult to pinpoint the differences between detailing and valeting here because it really depends on the company providing the service and what they include in each of their packages.

At Auto Care HQ, safe cleaning techniques are used in ALL detailing and valeting services in order to minimise the risk of inflicting clear coat defects. Here’s how we do it:

  • Separate tools including the buckets are used to clean the wheels and paintwork to avoid cross-contamination
  • A two-stage pre-wash is used to remove as much dirt as possible from the paintwork before making contact
  • Only ultra-plush and soft microfiber wash mitts and microfiber towels are ever used to touch the paintwork
  • The two-bucket wash method is used to keep the wash mitt clean
  • High-quality and well-lubricated car shampoos are used during the wash process to reduce the risk of marring

Be weary of valeting services which do not use these processes. Often cheap valeting services and roadside car washes skip important stages like the pre-wash, and don’t use high-quality microfiber wash mitts and towels. This will result in swirl marks and clear coat scratches. When choosing a professional detailer, you can almost always guarantee that safe-wash techniques will be used.

Restoration & Enhancement Processes

Processes which enhance the appearance of the vehicle beyond simply getting it clean typically only apply to detailing services. These processes include:

  • Paint enhancement and correction via machine polishing
  • Headlight restoration
  • Exhaust tip polishing

Application of Protection

It is possible to find both valeting and detailing services which include a protection step (e.g. wax, sealant, or coating), however with detailing services you can expect this to be included in every package available, whereas with valeting services this is typically only included in the “deep clean” packages, or as an optional-extra.

Valeting services also generally only use waxes or sealants to protect the finish. These do a decent job but usually only last a few months. Ceramic coatings on the other hand, last several years and are often used in detailing services. Be weary of terms like “ceramic spray” or “ceramic sealant”, as these are not true coatings and will usually only last a few months (the same as regular waxes and sealants), so you shouldn’t pay a premium for them.

Detailing services also often go a step further, by not just protecting the paintwork, but also other surfaces including the glass, wheels, exhaust, plastic trim and interior surfaces.

Time Required

Car valeting services do not involve as many stages compared to detailing services, and as a result take a lot less time to complete.

Most valeting services can be completed in 2-4 hours, although this does depend on the condition of the vehicle. If the vehicle requires more attention then deep clean valets can take up to a full day to complete. Detailing services almost always take at least a day to complete, and in some cases several days may be required if a multi-stage paint correction is being carried out.

The Cost

Since valeting services are quicker to carry out, and less complicated to perform, they are also cheaper compared to detailing services. Auto Care HQ offers valeting services in the UK which range between £40-£200, whereas the detailing services cost between £400-£800. The prices depend on the level of service being carried out, and the size of the vehicle.

Which Service Should You Choose?

Choose a Valet Service If…

  • You want a cheaper option
  • You’re not concerned with making the car look brand new again
  • You’re just planning to spruce up the car before selling it

Choose a Detailing Service If…

  • You want your car to look in the best condition possible
  • You want to get a glossier finish and remove paint defects
  • You’re planning to keep the car for a long time and want it to be protected so it stays looking new

Really, it comes down to how much you are willing to spend, and the level of service you’re after. If you are interested in booking a detailing & valeting service, or need more help deciding which is best for your vehicle please get in touch. You can also view my price list for more information regarding what’s included in each service.


To book your car in for a valeting or detailing service get in touch today by either calling, emailing or completing the contact form and Heather will be in touch shortly

07894 074109
8:30-6:00 Mon-Sat


Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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