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

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guy don't know how to wash a car, illustration

Knowing how to wash and detail your car is important if you want to keep it in pristine condition. You’ll probably ruin the car’s paint, interior, and more if you constantly make mistakes. And that’s why I decided to write this post and show you the 29 most common mistakes people make when washing their cars.

I made literally every single one of these mistakes in the past, but luckily, I got introduced to car detailing pretty quickly and learned a bunch of things in just a few months. Anyway, let’s see those mistakes so you can avoid doing them.

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 do 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.

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.

Strongway Pop-Up Outdoor Canopy Tent - 12ft. x 12ft. Open Top, Straight Leg, Cool Gray

This is a great thing to help you with car detailing during the hot summer days. Check my guide on choosing the right canopy for car detailing.

2. Using the Wrong Car Wash Soap

guy using dish soap to wash a car, illustration

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 cause 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 I’ve tried is Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash.

3. Using Only 1 Bucket For Washing

I see too many people using only one bucket while washing their car, even though everyone recommends using at least two buckets.

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

I recommend that you use a 3 bucket car wash method, which is so far the best and safest car wash method.

4. Using a Sponge to Wash the Car

washing car with a sponge

Every single market (and even some detailing stores) sells car wash sponges. One would say that it’s because they’re best for washing the cars. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth.

Sponges don’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.

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

5. Cleaning From Bottom to Top

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. As an end result, your car will have tons of swirl marks and scratches all over the clear coat.

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

You should have dedicated microfiber cloths for different purposes. You don’t want to wash wheels with a microfiber wash mitt and then clean the dashboard after that. Just imagine the damage you could make by making that mistake.

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

Color coding microfiber towels for detailing is much more important than you may have thought, and you should learn all the benefits of it. The idea is to use different color microfiber cloths for different purposes.

For instance, you’ll only use yellow towels for cleaning the dashboard and plastics, blue for washing the exterior, red for wheels, etc.

7. Making Circular Moves When Washing

Have you ever seen a car with tons of swirl marks on the paint? These are some kind of circular scratches, not straight ones. That happens when you work in circular motions while washing the car.

People think that by doing circular motions, they’ll remove all the dirt more easily. And while that’s the truth to a certain degree, it will cause more harm than good.

To fix this car wash mistake, always make 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 Rag From the Ground

If the rag falls to the floor, it’ll pick up all the dirt and dust particles, and if you continue using it for detailing your car, you’ll end up with a scratched vehicle.

Shaking the microfiber towel won’t help either since dirt is trapped inside hundreds of tiny fibers that don’t let it go out so easily.

If you accidentally throw a towel to the floor or any other dirty area, don’t use it until you wash it. That’s the only way to keep your car scratch-free.

9. Cleaning Wheels & Tires in the End

detailing car wheels

Wheels and tires are some of the dirtiest areas of any vehicle, and if you wash them in the end, some of those iron particles and dirt will end up on your car’s paint again, making it look dirty just after washing.

You should always wash car wheels and tires first and then continue with the rest of the car (from top to bottom).

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.

Driving a car to dry it 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 a microfiber drying towel, which will pick up all the water without scratching the car or leaving watermarks on the finish. You can also use an air compressor or even a pet hair dryer – both work just fine.

11. Drying a Car With Regular Towel

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.

Just imagine how many times 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.

RELATED: Microfiber vs. Cotton Towels

12. Wiping Missed Spots With a Drying Towel

Scrubbing missed spots with a drying towel is one of the most common detailing mistakes I see. To be honest, I made that mistake as well. I’d always do it after washing my car at a self-service car wash because I was rushing to save a few bucks, and then I’d miss some spots.

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

By pouring wax directly into the paint, you’ll spend too much wax.

Using too much wax means two things:

  • You’ll use too much of a product, which isn’t good for your wallet.
  • Using too much wax prevents it from bonding to the paint, meaning that it won’t last that long.

Always pour some wax on the applicator pad and then apply it to the car. That way, you’ll be able to spread it evenly, and you’ll be much more efficient.

15. Over-applying a Wax

Car waxes last up to a few months, and there’s no need to re-apply them every few days. That’s like throwing money into the trash, and your car won’t benefit from it.

You should only re-apply waxes and sealants when they’re worn and don’t offer any protection or shine to your car anymore.

16. Using the Wrong Chemicals on the Steering Wheel and Pedals

how to clean and protect car steering wheel

The steering wheel and pedals are some 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 usually apply some dressing 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 always to protect yourself.

There are three most important things to wear:

  • Gloves. 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. The 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)
  • Glasses. Glasses are also essential 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

While household glass and window cleaners have fantastic cleaning properties, they will damage car windows if used over a long period of time.

Household window cleaners contain ammonia, which, while being a great cleaning agent, is harmful to window tints and films. Furthermore, household cleaners often leave plenty of streaks, and may even cause car windows to fog during humid days.

Check this article out for a detailed comparison: Auto Glass vs Household Cleaners.

You have two solutions:

  • Using a dedicated automotive glass cleaner.
  • Using water only (I had amazing results using only water).

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.

Why? You’ll clean some areas that will become 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 a 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.

Vacuum hoses often drag all over the floor, which makes them dirty. When you stretch that hose from one side of the car to another, it will scrub the seats and make them dirty.

To prevent this from happening, 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

I’m not going to tell you some science behind this answer, but if you don’t let seats dry enough, 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 later, this happened.

moldy car seats

Luckily, there was no temporary damage. I had to deep clean the car, and all the problems were fixed. 

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

22. Using Stiff Brushes When Cleaning The Upholstery

Stiffer brushes remove dirt quickly, right? Well, not exactly when it comes to cleaning cars.

Stiff brushes can’t enter so many pores in fabric, so a lot of dirt will be still trapped inside the fabric even after cleaning it. And even worse, stiff brushes will damage the upholstery, which may cause car seats and carpets to wear.

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.

23. Wiping Off The Interior Without Vacuuming It

Mostly, people make 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 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 ensures there aren’t dust particles that can damage the interior. After that, use APC or interior cleaner and microfiber cloth to clean the surface entirely.

Related: Best Vacuums For Cars Under $100

24. Using APC Everywhere

Even though APC is an 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 diluted APC only on the car interior (dashboard, steering wheel, doors, plastics, etc.), and sometimes when washing the engine bay.

25. Using Cheap Products

While cheap products are great for your wallet, they are pretty bad for you and your vehicle. Cheap products often have too harsh chemicals, or they’re too weak to clean anything.

With too harsh chemicals, you’ll clean your car pretty quickly, but over time, they’ll damage your vehicle.

With weak chemicals, you’ll be cleaning your car over and over again without any efficiency and good results.

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 dilution ratios to get the best results.

Always follow the instructions on the product. Start with the weaker dilution ratio, then add more product if it’s insufficient.

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

I’ve found a great guide on dilution ratios, so make sure to check that out if you are making this mistake.

27. Washing Microfiber Towels The Wrong Way

microfiber washing mistake

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

I see too many people washing microfiber towels the wrong way, causing them to wear and tear after just a few washes. Microfiber cloths, if used and washed properly, should last anywhere between 200 and 500 washes.

28. Not Cleaning The Brushes

Car detailers use brushes everywhere. Cleaning wheels, tires, plastics, dashboards, pedals, etc., is much easier with brushes than without them.

Brushes get full of dirt after detailing your car and should be cleaned immediately after you finish. Otherwise, you’ll end up using them again and again, which may cause scratches on all surfaces you brush.

I recommend that you use an air compressor to dust out all the detailing brushes you use. And for the ones that you use for the exterior (especially wheels and tires), you should thoroughly rinse them in water after every use.

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. 

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 want to learn from the industry’s best people, I suggest you check out The Best Car Detailing YouTubers. I’m sure you’ll benefit from watching their videos.

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