29 Most Common Car Detailing Mistakes: Don’t Do Any Of These

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29 most common car detailing mistakes to avoid

Making mistakes is completely normal. Everyone does them from time to time, especially in the car detailing job. To help you avoid doing them, I decided to show you the 29 most common car detailing mistakes.

Doing some of the mistakes mentioned below could harm the car, which none of us want. 

Customer’s (or own) satisfaction is important, but I think that car safety is more important when we talk about car detailing.

If you forget to vacuum some parts of the car, it’s easy to fix it. However, if you make some damage to the clear coat, fixing is expensive, and you’ll do more harm than good.

So, be sure to check all of the mistakes, and if you did them in the past, make sure to never repeat them.

Avoid Doing These Car Detailing Mistakes

1. Detailing in Direct Sunlight

This is the most common mistake I see people are doing. However, I do understand them. Sometimes you just can’t choose when to wash your car because of the lack of time.

Detailing in direct sunlight, especially if it’s a hot day, will make more harm than good. Also, washing a HOT car is the same as detailing in direct sunlight.

It’s not good either for interior or exterior detailing. Many things can happen if you detail in direct sunlight:

  • The car dries too fast
  • Chemicals dry on the paint
  • Chemicals dry on the car interior
  • Water spots may occur

Try to wash it early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the sun isn’t too strong. However, if you are able, wash the car in shadow.

Solution – Get Canopy (Tent)

If you don’t have a place to hide from the sun, the best solution is to get a canopy. Canopy will help you with both sunny and rainy days so you can do detailing no matter how bad the weather is.

This is a great thing to help you with car detailing during the hot summer days. Check my article on What’s The Best Canopy For Auto Detailers.

2. Using the Wrong Car Wash Soap

Going to Walmart and grabbing the first car shampoo that’s on sale isn’t always a smart idea. Even worse, some people use dish soap to wash their cars.

Many cheap car shampoos aren’t pH balanced, and they are more likely to make some minor damage to the clear coat or remove waxes and sealants from your car’s paint.

Always choose trusted and pH-balanced car wash shampoo. One of the best shampoos out there is Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash (check the price on Amazon now).

If you don’t know how to choose a car shampoo, check these 4 Tips for Choosing The Best Car Wash Soap.

3. Using Only 1 Bucket For Washing

Even though everyone is recommending using at least 2 buckets when washing the car, I see people using only 1 bucket all the time.

If you use only 1 bucket for washing, all the dust, dirt, and grime from the car will finish inside that bucket with the car soap.

And what happens next?

Every time when you soak your wash mitt in the soap, it will pick up some dirt, and you’ll be scratching the car.

My recommendation is to always use a 3 bucket method. However, even a 2 bucket method is safe enough if you are careful.

4. Using a Sponge to Wash the Car

safe car wash 3 bucket method

Sponges always look so softy, right? Well, that’s not the case. I still see a lot of people washing their cars with sponges. A few years ago, a sponge was the best solution, but nowadays, there are many better products to use when washing the car.

Why is a sponge not good?

Well, the sponge doesn’t have the best properties for picking up dirt and trapping it inside. Instead, most of the dirt will stay on the sponge’s surface and will damage your finish causing micro-scratches on the clear coat.

What to use instead?

The best product to wash the car is Microfiber Wash Mitt. It’s soft and gentle and won’t scratch your car when washing. 

Check my recommendation for all the microfiber products every car detailer should have.

Over there, check for the Wash Mitts; you’ll be more than satisfied if you get them.

5. Cleaning From Bottom to Top

This is one of the most common reasons why people make swirls and scratches on their car. By washing a car from bottom to top, you’ll pick up all that dirt and grime from the bottom of the car, and spread it through the whole car. 

Also, those tiny dust particles will make swirls and scratches on the car’s finish.


Well, the bottom of the car is the nearest to the ground. It will pick up more specks of dirt than any other car part.

It’s very important to start washing your car from TOP > BOTTOM to prevent scratching and spreading that dust all over the car.

6. Using the Same Microfiber Towel for Different Purposes

There isn’t a worse thing than washing wheels and then using that same microfiber cloth and washing the rest of the car.

It’s important to always keep your microfiber cloths organized and color-coded.

This will help you to always know what MF cloth you shall use for which part of the car.

Why is using the same microfiber cloths a bad idea?

  • You’ll be spreading the dirt all over the car.
  • Chemicals stay on the microfiber towel, and then you use another chemical which isn’t good.
  • The car will never be 100% clean
  • You could harm your car by doing this

Also, various microfiber cloths aren’t all-purpose cloths when we speak about car detailing. There are many types of microfiber towels, and all of them are for different purposes.

7. Making Circular Moves When Washing

Have you ever seen a black car in direct sunlight? If you did, you must have seen those tiny swirls on the car paint, which look awful.

Well, most of those tiny swirls and scratches are made by improper washing of the car

People are used to circular moves when washing something, especially a car.

Probably, the reason is that they think that it’s a more effective way to loosen up the dirt and clean the car.

Actually, that’s okay – but not when cleaning the car!

When washing a car, we always have to be gentle to prevent any damage to the clear coat and paint in general. 

So, to prevent car paint damage while washing, always do straight moves (up > down, left > right), and don’t go over the same area more than twice.

If there is some more dirt, don’t scrub it. Use more shampoo to get it loosened, and then rinse.

8. Picking the Microfiber Rag From the Ground

We all know the great properties of microfiber towels – they pick up all kinds of dirt, water, etc. 

And since it’s great because of microfiber cleaning properties, it’s not good in all kinds of situations.

One of those situations is when the MF cloth drops to the ground. 

The same way microfiber cloth picks up dirt from different surfaces, and it’ll pick up dirt from the ground as well.

Now, by picking that MF towel from the ground and continuing to wash your car, you are very likely to do some minor damage and scratch your car with the dirt that your MF cloth just picked up.

My advice is very simple. If a microfiber cloth fall to the ground – immediately replace it with another one, and don’t use it until you wash it.

9. Cleaning Wheels & Tires in the End

As I said, all the bottom parts of the car are very dirty, so it is with wheels and tires. 

Wheels and tires are like a car’s legs. It’s always on them, making them the dirtiest part of the car.

Wheels and tires are always full of dirt and brake dust – which, if not cleaned, may cause corrosion. 

Always wash your wheels and tires first, then continue with a car wash.

You don’t want all that dirt and brake dust to be spread on your freshly washed, shiny car. 

Also, chemicals used for wheels are very strong and may cause some harm to a clear coat.

10. Driving the Car to Dry It

Uhh, I remember that during the winter, my dad would always drive the car fast to dry it after the car wash. 

Even though it seemed funny to me, nowadays I see that’s a big mistake.

By driving a car to dry it, the car will pick up all the dust from the air (because it’s still wet), and some water spots may occur. 

The best method to dry the car is to use Micforiber Drying Towels, which will pick up all the water without scratching the car or leaving watermarks on the finish.

11. Drying a Car With Regular Towel

regular towel car detailing

Regular towels are made mainly for drying ourselves after the bath. And even though they pick up water, they aren’t good for the car.


Well, regular towels aren’t so soft and gentle and may cause scratches to the car. Also, a regular towel doesn’t absorb enough amount of water.

RELATED: Microfiber vs. Cotton Towels – Which One Is Better For Car Detailing

Just imagine how many times do you have to wipe your body to dry. 2-3 times per any part of our body.

You don’t want to do it with the car; good microfiber towels will absorb so much water that you’ll only have to wipe every car part once.

12. Wiping Missed Spots With a Drying Towel

I must be honest, and I did this as a teenager. It always happened after I’d go to a self-car wash service. Since it’s eating coins so much, I’ve always tried to be as quick as possible.

By being so “quick” at washing, I just jumped over the few parts and didn’t wash them.

So, when I dry my car, I would see those missed spots and just wipe them with a drying microfiber towel.

Well, that’s a terrible idea. Since it’s a missed spot, that means that there is still dirt and dust on it, and wiping it with a drying towel will surely make some scratches.

If you missed some spots, take a few more minutes, and wash it again with soap and water – don’t scrub it with a drying towel or with anything else. Just rewash that area.

13. Using Water as a Clay Bar Lubricant

Using pure water as a lubricant when claying your car isn’t a smart idea.

The reason is very simple, pure water isn’t good enough at lubricating the surfaces, and you may cause some scratches.

Also, water (if it dries) will leave some watermarks on the car paint, which you don’t want to happen just before waxing or polishing.

The best thing is to use one of the following methods mentioned in the video below.

14. Pouring Waxes Directly Into the Paint

Pouring waxes directly into the paint is never a good idea, but still, many people do this.

By pouring wax directly to the paint, you’ll spend too much wax, which can be expensive or not profitable if you’re doing a car detailing business.

Always put some wax on your applicator pad and then apply it to the surface. 

It’s just needless to waste so much product by doing some things improperly.

15. Over-applying a Wax

This is tightly connected with pouring wax directly into the paint, but here’s the difference.

Many people think that the more wax the better. But that’s not true. You don’t need a thick layer of wax to protect the paint and get that shiny look.

RELATED: Best Car Waxes To Make Your Car Shiny

Always apply a very thin layer of wax, which will save you a few bucks, and will make it easier to remove that wax when needed.

16. Using the Wrong Chemicals on Steering Wheel and Pedals

The steering wheel and pedals are one of the most sensitive areas that you need to be very careful with.

Applying some products (usually for shine) that have oils in them will make the steering wheel and pedals slippery. 

You never want to do this, and this is both dangerous and uncomfortable when driving.

Imagine that you have a situation where you need to brake immediately and turn left. Now, let’s assume that the pedals and steering wheels are shiny and slippery because of the wrong product used.

You’ll end up in a traffic accident because there wasn’t enough grip for you to do this properly. Your foot and arms will just slip from those areas, and you’ll lose control.

Personally, I just clean the pedals and the steering wheel with the APC, and that’s all – except the middle area of the steering wheel. I add some protection over there.

17. Not Wearing a Protective Gear

Well, many people overlook this part. Even though we all think nothing could happen, it’s better to always protect yourself.

There are three most important things to wear:

  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • Glasses

Check out the full list of protective gear for car detailers.

Gloves are the most important thing, especially when detailing the interior of the car. You can get them in almost every shop in the world.

Mask is also a great piece of equipment that will make sure you don’t inhale any bad odors or chemicals (for instance, when cleaning wheels).

Mostly, you don’t need an expensive mask unless you’ll do some paint correction jobs, then I recommend you use some professional masks that will save your lungs.

Glasses are also important to wear while doing paint correction. There are always some particles that may end up in your eyes. Your health should always be in the first place.

18. Using Household Glass Cleaners

You may think that all glass cleaners are the same. Unluckily, it’s not like that. I see many people using household glass cleaners when cleaning car windows.

I’ve written a great article where you can learn how to clean car windows like a pro, so make sure to check it out.

It’s just a simpler and cheaper solution, and what’s better – you always have it at home. But wait!

You shall not clean your car windows with household glass cleaner because it has ammonia inside. Also, household cleaners tend to leave streakings, and even fogging of the glass was reported.

Check this article out: Auto Glass vs Household Cleaners.

Ammonia is a very strong cleaning power, but it’s not always good. Ammonia will slowly break down your window’s tint and leave you with possible fading.


You have two solutions:

19. Treating Only the Dirty Upholstery Areas

This often happens with upholstery cleaning foams which are used to clean dirty upholstery. However, many people will just use foam on a specific part that’s dirty – and that’s okay in some situations.

If you just spilled coffee on your seats and you clean them immediately with foam – then it’s okay.

However, if you’re detailing the whole car that has many dirty spots – you shouldn’t clean only the dirty spots.

You should clean the whole seat to get the best results.


You’ll clean some areas that will be 100% clean, but the chances are that other parts will be dirty as well. And the end result will be pretty bad – the spots you cleaned will stand out a lot, which will make the seats look dirty again.

20. Using the Dirty Vacuum Hose

Using a dirty vacuum hose is nothing dangerous or can damage your car, but it will surely make you more work when detailing a car.

We bring our vacuums everywhere, and there is always some dirt on the vacuum hose. 

When you stretch that hose from one side of the car to another, it will scrub the seats and leave dirt on them.

To prevent this happens, I suggest you do the following:

  • Wipe your vacuum hose with a microfiber towel before using it
  • Don’t stretch the hose from one side of the car to another. Work only on the side that your vacuum is on.

21. Not Letting Seats Dry Out Completely

This is one of the worst things you can do when detailing a car interior and deep cleaning the seats.

I’m not going to talk you some science behind this answer, but if you don’t let seats enough to dry, it could be an expensive fix. Moisture will be trapped in, which will cause batteries to grow and spread all over the car.

Look at this seat, my friend brought his car to a local deep cleaning service, and they didn’t dry the seats enough. Two weeks after, this happened.

mold on the seats

Luckily, there was no temporary damage, I cleaned his car again, and all the problems were fixed. 

If you thought that drying the seats properly isn’t as important, just look at the picture, you’ll see all the downsides of it.

22. Using Hard Brushes When Cleaning The Upholstery

You have to be careful when choosing brushes for upholstery cleaning, especially if you’ll use drill brushes.

There are many softness levels of drill brushes, and you need to know which ones to use.

If you use a too “hard” brush, you’ll end up with damaged fibers on the upholstery. 

Mostly, brushes are color-coded, so you always know which has which level of softness. I’ll show you which color you should use:

  • Red and Yellow brushes for carpets – these are very hard brushes and are good only for carpets.
  • White brushes for the seats – white brushes are softer and will clean your seats without harming them.

Check out my Recommended Types of Drill Brushes for Car Detailing.

23. Wiping Off The Interior Without Vacuuming It

Mostly, people do this mistake on the car dashboard. You may think that it’s not very dirty and just wipe it off with some APC and microfiber towels.

If you just wipe off the interior without vacuuming it, you’ll be just spreading dust and dirt all over the surface and probably make some minor scratches on the surface.

Always use a vacuum first; vacuuming all interior areas will make sure there aren’t dust particles that can damage the interior, and then use APC and microfiber cloth to clean it.

Also, my advice is to use interior brushes and wipe off the surface at the same time while vacuuming. That way you’ll pick up all the dirt trapped inside tiny pores.

24. Using APC Everywhere

Even though APC is All-Purpose-Cleaner, which makes us think we can clean anything with it, it’s not always a smart decision.

APC is a great chemical, but I wouldn’t use it for the following:

  • Cleaning the upholstery – there are specific chemicals for upholstery, and you should use them.
  • Car exterior – APC is very strong and will remove waxes and sealants from the car paint, so don’t use it unless you want to get rid of wax on your paint.

Mostly, I use APC only on the car interior (dashboard, steering wheel, doors, plastics, etc.)

25. Using Cheap Products

There are so many companies making products for car cleaning, and it’s a very big industry nowadays. As you can imagine, not all companies make high-quality products.

Many cheap products won’t be good for your car because of cheap chemicals and bad formulas used. 

Some of them may even cause damage to your car. But mostly, these products won’t clean your car well enough, and you’ll have to do it again and again.

Always use well-known high-quality products that are proven to get the cleaning done easily.

26. Diluting Products With the Wrong Ratio

This often happens with APCs and Upholstery Cleaners. People think that they should use stronger products to get the best results.

Always follow the instructions on the product, start with the weaker dilute ratio, and then if it’s not enough, add more product.

Having a too strong product may cause damage to your car, and you’ll also end up spending the product too fast – which isn’t profitable.

27. Washing Microfiber Towels The Wrong Way

Even though microfiber is one of the best inventions in the past few decades, when we speak about the car detailing industry, they are pretty sensitive.

Microfibers are very sensitive to heat, which can destroy them in no time.

Check out the most common mistakes people do when washing their microfiber towels.

In the article above, you’ll see all the mistakes people do and also learn how to properly wash microfiber cloths to extend their life.

28. Not Cleaning The Brushes

In the car detailing world, we use brushes everywhere. Cleaning wheels, tires, plastics, dashboards, pedals, etc., is much easier with brushes than without them.

However, we can’t always see when the brush is dirty and when it’s not. That leads us to a problem.

People sometimes think that their brushes are clean and then clean the car with them even though they are dirty inside. 

That way, you’ll never clean the car properly. It’s like you use dirty water to wash your clothes.

Always clean all the brushes before you start detailing a car, no matter how clean they look to you.

29. Rushing

Rushing? Well, yes. Even though it’s not a typical “mistake”, rushing will make you forget to clean some spots.

Take the time, and detail the car in a proper way, no matter how long it lasts. 

A clean and shiny car is our goal, or a happy customer if you’re doing a car detailing business. 

Extending the cleaning time is better than leaving some dirty spots. Check out the picture below. I was in a rush and forgot to clean this.

car detailing missed spots

Luckily, I detail only my and my friend’s cars. If this were a customer, he wouldn’t be happy to see the seatbelt plastic dirty.

This is the most important advice, don’t ever rush, you can’t do anything good that way. If you need 8 hours to wash and clean the car, take 8 hours, don’t rush to try to make it under a 6. When you get more skills, detailing time will shorten. But it’s important to be thorough when detailing, that’s why it’s called detailing insteade of just washing and cleaning.

If you like this article, feel free to share it with others. I’ll be thankful. 🙂

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