What is Car Detailing and What’s Included? (Complete Guide)

Car detailing is the process of deep cleaning, improving the aesthetic condition and protecting the interior and exterior surfaces of a vehicle. In this article I’ll take you through everything included in different types of car detailing service.

Car detailing involves three main processes:

  1. Cleaning the surfaces
  2. Enhancing the appearance
  3. Protecting the finish

Step #1 Deep Clean

Vehicle detailing goes a few steps further than basic valeting and hand-washing by giving the vehicle an exceptionally deep clean. The aim here is to get the car back to showroom condition to leave it feeling refreshed and prepare it for the next stages.

Here’s a rundown of the stages involved in the deep cleaning process:

Exterior Detailing Stages:

  • Tyre, arch, and alloy (face and barrel) cleaning
  • Pre-wash using citrus/ snow foam
  • Door shut and fuel filler cap cleaning
  • Contact wash (hand-wash)
  • Iron and tar contamination removal and clay bar treatment

Interior Detailing Stages:

  • Interior dusting and vacuuming
  • Hard surfaces cleaning & sanitising using anti-microbial cleaners
  • Steam cleaning & extraction
  • Window cleaning
  • Intricate areas e.g. vents and pedals cleaned

As you can see from the list, there are several stages involved which you wouldn’t see in a basic valet or hand-washing service.

For example, the exterior surfaces are “decontaminated” using iron removers, tar removers and clay bars. This process removes contaminants which cannot be removed by regular washing, and leaves the paintwork ultra-clean and smooth.

The interior is also given a deep clean using specialist tools such as steam cleaners and wet-vac extractors in order to “reset” the condition so it looks factory fresh again.

Not only are all the exterior and interior surfaces cleaned very thoroughly, but they are also done so in a manner that is safe for the condition and does not cause things like clear coat scratches/ swirls or staining.

These safe cleaning techniques include things like:

  • A pre-wash stage to remove as much dirt and grit as possible before touching the paintwork to avoid dragging these abrasive particles over the surface
  • The use of soft microfiber wash mitts and towels instead of abrasive sponges and brushes which cause swirl marks
  • Use of the two-bucket method which involves using separate buckets for the wash solution and rinse-water and helps keep the wash mitt clean throughout the process
  • Utilising premium car detailing chemicals which do not damage the surfaces unlike the aggressive, caustic chemicals used at most cheap roadside car washes which can cause staining and promote rusting

Step #2 Enhancment

Once the vehicle has been thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated, the appearance can then be enhanced.

The enhancement and correction stage of the detail mainly applies to the exterior 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. Even brand-new vehicles typically are littered with these clear coat imperfections which are usually inflicted when the vehicle is prepared for collection. 

In order to remove these defects, the paintwork needs to be machine polished. This process removes the layer of damaged clear coat in order to reveal a fresh layer. This fresh layer is nice and flat which means it reflects light evenly and looks ultra-glossy.

Most car detailers offer different “stages” of machine polishing designed to suit different budgets and requirements.

Auto Care HQ offers two options:

  • Single-stage polishing
  • Two-stage polishing

A single-stage machine polish can be used to remove the majority of clear coat defects efficiently. However, to tackle more severe defects, a two-stage of even multi-stage machine polishing service may be carried out.

Two-stage machine polishing first involves a compounding stage to tackle moderate defects, and then a polishing stage to remove any haze left by the compounding stage and refine the gloss.

Step #3 Protection

When it comes to applying protection to the paintwork, there are three options: waxes, sealants and coatings. Waxes are usually the least durable (usually lasting 2-3 months) but offer a nice warm glow, sealants typically last for longer (4-6-months on average) whilst ceramic coatings are by far the most durable option and last 3-years on average.

Coatings are the industry-standard when it comes to offering the best protection after a paint correction. They offer the following benefits:

  • Keeps the car cleaner for longer and makes the car easier to clean
  • Provides UV protection, wash marring resistance and chemical resistance
  • Leave a long-lasting high-gloss finish
  • Excellent durability

That’s why all paint correction & enhancement packages offered by Auto Care HQ come with a 1-year ceramic coating as standard, in order to lock in the finish. You also have the choice of upgrading to a 3-year or 5-year coating. We offers a range of industry-leading coatings from brands including Pyramid Car Care, Garage Therapy, Diamond ProTech, and Gtechniq.

The protection stage doesn’t just apply to the paintwork, but also to the rest of the interior and exterior surfaces of the vehicle. Here are the options available:

  • Glass ceramic coating: repels water to help improve visibility when driving in the rain
  • Wheel ceramic coating: keeps the wheel cleaner for longer and helps prevent corrosion
  • Soft-top convertible roof protection: to shield from dirt and UV
  • Plastic trim coating: to restore the black finish and protect against UV
  • Interior plastic coating: protects against spills, UV and leaves an anti-static finish
  • Leather coating: helps to prevent cracking and spillages

Detailing Packages & Services

Most professional detailers offer a range of packages to suit the budgets and requirements of various clients. Here are the main types of detailing services available and what’s included in them.

  • Deep clean
  • Paint correction
  • Ceramic coating
  • Full details
  • Maintenance details

Deep Clean Detail

Deep clean details can go by a few names including decon wash, or decontamination and protection. This type of detail goes a step further than the maintenance detail by including processes such as iron & tar removal, the addition of protection, and an interior reset. However, the deep clean detail does not typically involve any paint correction. Here are the stages you can expect to see:

  • Complete clean of the wheels (tyres, arches, alloy faces and barrels)
  • Pre-wash using citrus/ snow foam
  • Hand-wash using a microfiber wash mitt, dedicated car shampoo and the two-bucket method
  • Chemical/ liquid decontamination (Iron, tar and mineral deposit removal)
  • Drying using plush microfiber towels/ compressed air
  • Tyres & trim dressing application
  • Paintwork sealant or wax application
  • Interior dusted and vacuumed
  • Plastics and steering wheel deep cleaned
  • Leather surfaces cleaned using a dedicated cleaner
  • Fabric seats cleaned using steam and extraction
  • Floor mats cleaned using steam and extraction
  • Intricate areas e.g. vents and pedals cleaned
  • Door shuts wiped and protected
  • Interior windows cleaned

Deep clean details typically cost upwards of £170 in the UK depending on the vehicle size and condition.

Paint Correction Detail

The next step up is a paint correction or enhancement detail. These include all the stages involved in the deep clean detail, but with the addition of a clay bar treatment and machine polishing stage(s) to remove clear coat defects (scratches and swirl marks) and enhance the gloss. It is essential that the paintwork is deep cleaned and decontaminated using the clay bar before polishing, as otherwise this will lead to a poor finish. Paint correction details almost always include the application of protection to at least the paintwork. This can be in the form of a wax, sealant or coating.

There are several types of paint correction details, with the most common being:

  • Single-stage: uses a 1-step polish to address minor defects
  • Two-stage: uses a compound followed by a polish to address moderate defects
  • Multi-stage: uses wet-sanding, compounding and polishing to address severe defects

Paint correction details typically start at £300-£400 in the UK but can cost up to £1000 depending on the level of machine polishing and protection applied.

Ceramic Coating Detail

The next type of detailing service is a ceramic coating. Ceramic coating services offered by professional detailers almost always include paint correction as well in order to remove clear coat defects which would otherwise be locked in by the coating. Hence, the stages are identical to the “paint correction” detail, but just with the addition of the ceramic coating application.

Coatings can be applied to pretty much any surface including the paint, glass, wheels, exhaust, trim, leather and interior plastics. Most professional detailers will offer the choice of several different coatings to suit different budgets, with the most popular options being: 1-year, 2-year, 3-year, and 5-year ceramic coatings.

Ceramic coating details typically cost £500-£1000 in the UK, depending on the level of machine polishing carried out and the durability of the coating.

Full Detail

The “full detail” is the hardest to define, as it various so much between detailers. Some detailers will consider a full detail to be a ceramic coating service and interior deep clean, whereas others use it to showcase their most premier service which includes all their add-ons and extras in one single package.

These add-ons and extras can include services like:

  • Wheel polish and ceramic coating
  • Glass polish and ceramic coating
  • Exterior plastic trim coating
  • Interior plastic, fabric and leather coating
  • Exhaust tip restoration
  • Metal polishing

The price of a full detail really varies between detailers and the exact service being carried out. However, in the UK you can expect to pay upwards of £750 for most full detailing packages.

Maintenance Detail

Maintenance details are typically only offered to clients who have previously car booked in for a more premium service first (e.g. deep clean, paint correction, ceramic coating). They typically include a light interior and exterior clean and are usually performed on a monthly basis. Here’s what the process usually looks like:

  • Wheel faces, barrels, tyres and arches cleaned
  • Two-stage pre-wash (using citrus and snow foam)
  • Safe hand-wash
  • Drying stage using a plush microfiber towel
  • Tyres and black plastic trim dressed
  • Door shuts wiped down and protected
  • Exterior & interior windows cleaned
  • Interior vacuum
  • Interior wipe-down
  • Floor mats vacuumed cleaned

Maintenance details generally need to be completed every 4-6 weeks for the vehicle to qualify for the service, which generally costs upwards of £70 in the UK.

What are the Benefits of Car Detailing?

Car detailing is a service aimed at vehicle owners who take pride in the appearance of their vehicle and want to keep it looking as new as possible for years to come.

Enhanced Appearance

Having a vehicle freshly detailed will ensure it really turns heads


Ensures it stays protected and looks newer for longer

Improved Resale Value

Maintaining the car means it will command a higher price

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between car detailing and valeting?

Valeting involves deep cleaning both the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Detailing goes a step further by restoring and protecting the finish to get the car in the best condition possible. Hence, most detailing services usually costs 2-3 times more than valeting services. For more information, check out this in-depth comparison between detailing and valeting.

Do new cars need detailing?

New cars benefit from detailing for several reasons:

  • When new vehicles are transported they collect environmental contaminants (namely iron fallout) which causes the paintwork to feel rough and if not dealt with, will lead to the formation of small rust spots on the surface. The detailing process removes all types of contamination including iron particles.
  • When a new car is prepared for collection at the dealership it is almost always washed improperly leading to scratches and swirl marks being inflicted. Detailing a new vehicle will remove these defects and enhance the gloss.
  • In order to keep a new car looking as new as possible for as long as possible, it needs to be protected. Having your vehicle professionally detailed will ensure protection is applied to both the interior and exterior surfaces so they stay in excellent condition.

How much does car detailing cost?

Car detailing prices vary according to the level of service. Deep clean details usually cost upwards of £170, whereas ceramic coating and paint correction details are typically £500-£800. Please visit my price list for more information.

How long does it take to detail a car?

Detailing services typically take between 1-3 days to complete depending on the work involved. Interior and exterior deep clean packages can generally be completed within a day. Single-stage machine polishing and ceramic coating services will usually take 1-2 days and multi-stage corrections often take several days to complete.

Here is a guide to how long different car detailing services take for more information.

Why should I choose a professional detailer?

  • Professional car detailers have an eye for perfection. We have worked on hundreds of vehicles and know which areas to pay special attention to which less experienced car cleaners won’t spot.
  • Detailers also have access to high quality chemicals and invest in expensive equipment to ensure high-quality results.
  • Services such as machine polishing and ceramic coating require experience and knowledge to avoid damaging the finish.
  • Hiring a professional detailer saves time and effort. Not only is the detailing process labour intensive, but professional detailers have also spent years improving their skills to achieve the best results.


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 autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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