Since the Svending Topics poll went up, it has become pretty clear that people want to know more about products first and foremost. This seems logical as you can't technically svend a car without some products. Now, the title may say 101, but we're going to get to 301 level in some places.
In life, if you're going to do something, it’s worth doing it properly. When it comes to Svending, that means following an order. When you're first getting into detailing (sorry I need this article to translate beyond oppos walls), you will be tempted by SO many ads, labels, and flashy shiny things that you will want to skip steps, take short cuts, and do less while being promised more.
That isn't how it works.
1.) Exterior Cleaning
The exterior of your car will have many different surfaces and textures. A lot of manufactures will advertise products that work on all surfaces (usually say are safe), but that doesn't mean you're going to get the results you want. As you'll see in the above photo, there are 9 different products there, and no 2 do the same thing. Best part? I have even more than that. Here is the list of products you should acquire in order to complete a decent, safe wash on the exterior of your vehicle.
- Non-Acidic wheel cleaner - can contain fallout removing chemicals (usually makes it more expensive when it does).
- Tar Remover - Stoners is a great option that is big box stocked.
- Fallout Remover - Stand alone, colour changing type. These are safer than acid based ones of the past.
- PH neutral body wash - Must not contain waxes or any water beading agents.
- All Purpose Cleaner/Degreaser - Something SAFE on car surfaces that can be diluted. Some are more interior focused so read the description and see how they sell it (Meguiars APC is more interior focused, for example).
- Waterless wash - Optimum ONR (No rinse). Perfect for touch ups and works as a clay lube for very little money/bottle.
This should cover a basic but thorough wash. Optional extras include acidic wheel cleaner (sometimes, you need to drop acid to get clean), SnowFoam Pre-Wash (which requires a pressure washer - this will be discussed in tools), and possibly a rinse/drying aid. These are handy when you're toweling off a car but the water is sticking to the paint. They do, however, have a time and a place and you'll need to know the cars detailing history and it's future before you decide to use one.
By history and future, I mean this.
If the car is freshly ceramic coated with perfect beading, you would not want to "cover" that up with a rinse aid. It also wouldn't need it, as it's just been freshly coated. If the rinse aid is based around the same system/brand/maintenance regime as the coating, then you can explore that option, but it shouldn't be used every wash. Likewise, a rinse aid will put down a temporary level of protection, causing beading and slickness/gloss. If you just polished a car and gave it a wash to remove polishing oils and dust (which is a common thing to do when coating) you have now put something on the paint that will prevent the coating/wax/sealant/whatever from bonding as well as it can. Some brands have systems designed to play with one another and these events are not an issue, but they're few and far between.
Anyway, moving on....
2.) Interior Cleaning
Interior cleaning is largely a tool heavy process, so there isn’t a ton of stuff to mention here besides the fairly obvious. You will need cleaners designed for the surfaces you are working on (Carpet, Leather, Pastic, Alacantara, Glass, Rubber etc). Luckily, most Interior focused APCs can handle almost all of these. The trick is the strength you mix it to. I highly recommend buying concentrates when possible, but starting with a 16 ounce bottle is safe (and when you buy the concentrate, you’ll have a bottle to decant it into!). 2 things I ask EVERY customer is if they like glossy dashboards, and if they are sensitive to smell. Everything else will be right inline with restoring the interior. Here is a rough list of things to get for a beginner.
- All Purpose Cleaner - concentrate, read the list of compatible surfaces as exterior ones are often too strong (Meguiars APC is a great option).
- Glass Cleaner - Stoners Invisible glass is great, but there are others as well (Hint - it’s the cloths that make the difference). Check for tint safe labelling, use inside and out.
- A cleaner for leather - APC works but it needs to be very mild. If you are using a Leather cleaner and following with conditioner, see if the brand of the conditioner makes a cleaner, they should be the most compatible.
- A leather Conditioner - brand choice explained above.
- Carpet shampoo - APC will work, but if you have an extractor you’ll want extractor shampoo, as it is low foaming.
- Dash/trim dressing - Always get a matte finish one, and then add glossy if requested. Usually, people prefer matte, especially after the car is restored to new.
- Scent - I stick with “new car” or “leather scent” (the one in the photo smells the same as the new car version. I also have a smoke remover spray and a new car scent bomb handy in case I have a really bad car.
- Scotch Guard - This is only used after thorough shampooing, but once the carpet is dry, this will help it stay clean longer. This has to be wiped off ANY trim it over sprays on as it makes a crusty film.
- Shop Vac - I use the rigid with the detailing kit, you should too.
Okay, that should cover it.
3.) Paint Correction
Paint correction is another form of paint cleaning, it's just done using different means. Paint polishes, compounds, cleaner waxes, and coating primers all serve a similar function - chemically or abrasively clean paint, using the force and work of a polisher or a human hand to scrub the paint on a microscopic level. Polish strengths and ingredients vary wildly from brand to brand and product to product, but there are basically 5 main types.
1.) Cleaner wax - A wax with chemical or abrasive ingredients that remove oxidation, haze, dirt, and fill/remove minor swirls while leaving behind a layer of protection. These don't always have abrasives in them, and it's usually the opposite, but either way they will usually improve the looks of neglected paint. The waxes in these typically don't last as long as normal, non cleaning waxes (some do, some don't), but they save time by combining the steps. It's a popular practice to buy the cleaner wax and then a dedicated wax from the same brand and layer them. This doesn't always work unless they are meant to be used this way.
2.) Glazes - Glazes are similar to cleaner waxes except they contain no sealing properties. These are commonly used at body shops after repair work to make the paint looks glossy or wet without putting down a wax (fresh paint needs to breath or gas out for ~ a month before it can be waxed/sealed/coated). Some glazes can be layered with waxes or sealants, but this is usually only for particular brands with cohesive products.
3.) Pure Polishes - A light cutting form of polish with no waxes or fillers inside. These are usually the first and the last polish used - first to see if it's enough to remove the paint defects, and last to remove any remaining haze from heavier compounding passes. Note, they're not always used and a medium compound can handle the swirls and not leave behind haze. These are usually easy to use and spread, and have long working times. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being small cut and 10 being heavy cut, they're usually in the 1-3 range.
4.) Medium Compounds - Heavier cutting polishes that can remove more swirls and defects (usually given a sanding grit removal grade as a max cut - 2000 grit wet sanding haze for example) while still sometimes finishing down cleanly and without left over haze. They aren't usually hard to use and depending on the type of abrasive makeup, work on multiple types of pads (Foam, Microfiber, Wool). Usually, I recommend a pure polish and a medium compound to start for beginners, as you won't get into trouble. Rated 4-7 out of 10 on a cut scale.
5.) Heavy Cutting Compound - Extremely abrasive, hard hitting, maximum removal polish that usually leaves behind machine haze. These are not always that easy to work with due to the abrasive levels (typically, the more a polish cuts, the more abrasives, not necessarily stronger abrasives). Sometimes they're poorly lubricated (Meguiars M105 and M110) which makes working times very short. Typically used on Wool and Microfibers pads due to the increased cutting abilities of each. 8-12/10 on a cut scale (yes, Meguiars M105 and M110 are 12/10).
There is more to polishes than just their cut levels, they differ in the type of abrasives and therefore, the methods in which they should be used. Warning, getting into 301 levels here.
DAT abrasives are diminishing abrasive technology. This means, as you work the polish, the abrasive particles break down and get smaller until they no longer cut anymore, or don't cut harder. This is an older style of polish, usually using aluminum based abrasives. The upside is the polish eventually stops cutting, and never cuts harder than it's designed, but the problem is that you have to finish it off before you can lift the machine and wipe the panel - it has to be fully broken down each time you apply it.
SMAT polishes (Super Micro Abrasive Technology) are polishes where the abrasives don't break down. Instead, you adjust your machine speed and pressure in order to vary the cut. They come in aggressive and gentle forms, but they are more flexible and offer the ability to finish better and faster than a DAT polish. Meguiars uses these heavily in their professional and consumer lines.
The only polishes we haven't gone over are primer polishes. These are designed to clean paint and leave it "prepped" for a wax/sealant/coating to be applied over top. In the photo above, the Mothers CMX 3n1 Polish and Coat is that type of polish. It is designed to clean, abrade, and prime the paint for their ceramic spray coating to be applied over it. It’s also compatible with other ceramic products (I've tested it with a 45% solids coating and it worked fine). The benefit to primer polishes is they let you polish and prep paint for a coating, without having to go around and degrease and strip it after regular polishing. This saves time, chemicals, and guarantees a proper bond.
**4.) Paint Protection
Okay, this is the juiciest subject in detailing at the moment. Paint protection is what prevents dirt, water, minerals, bird shit, and many other contaminants from sticking to your vehicle. Over the years paint protection has evolved from carnauba wax, to polymer sealants, to ceramic coatings, and now “graphene” coatings (I say “graphene” because it’s not actually a proper flat lattice of graphene, it’s an oxide emulsion in normal siloxane/silica based products - IE, Ceramics).
So then, let's get started.
4a.) Paste “waxes”.
Although many manufactures use the word wax on their products, they usually don’t contain any wax (as in, the one from a tree in brazil). While this is how it all started, as soon as synthetic polymers were invented, waxes almost universally went to what is know as a hybrid - carnauba and polymer based, with some bees, paraffin, ans other waxes thrown in depending on the flavour or desired performance characteristic. What does this mean to you? Pretty much nothing. Read reviews and check the label on products you’re interested in, and watch some youtube Videos on them, you’ll understand if they’re what you’re after. There is a fairly high end market to paste waxes, some of them reaching $15,000 - $20,000 a pot. These are largely stupid and mainly for show and wanking off. You can get a solid, durable, slick, glossy paste wax for around $25-$50 bucks no problem.
4b.) Polymer Sealants.
Polymer sealants came on to the scene in the 90s, offering a better user experience vs a paste wax, while promising better durability and greater slickness/looks/protection/etc. In my personal opinion, the medium of the product is more important than the ingredients, if that makes sense. Paint Protection is super subjective from a looks and feel standpoint, that it makes more sense to focus on costs, durability, and water beading (hydrophobics) for your decision making. I have literally…. 50-60 waxes/sealants/coatings/sprays/detailers, and I’ve tested them all. They largely never vary in performance, and when you have a winner, you have a winner. I only have this mayn for reviewing purposes and my alter ego on youtube.
4c.) Spray Saxes/Sealants/Ceramics Coatings/Detailers (this is a big category but a small paragraph).
Spray based protection products have gotten VERY popular over the last little while, born mostly out of laziness and chemical engineers getting better working with SiO2 and other super durable polymer/Ceramic formulas. I’m not going to get too wordy here as most of these are made to be applied quickly with minimal effort. I will say that some of these perform VERY well in real world durability tests, but the most durable paste waxes on the market will still beat them, and true ceramic coatings will literally laugh them off.
Spray Wax - A wax based (though most have polymers in them) spray protection product. Usually spray and wipe application method.
Spray Sealant - Same as a wax, but with polymers in it only.
Spray Ceramic Coating - same as the above, but with “SiO2/Siloxane” based protection. Some of these require being sprayed into an applicator, wiped in a cross hatch pattern, and then removed after flashing. They can last 6 months or 1 year for very hitch solids versions (Adams Spray Coating for example).
Spray Detailers - A form of spray wax that can clean dust and light dirt such as fingerprints. Has a lot of lubrication and isolation properties to prevent marring. Applies protection but not usually as much as a dedicated spray wax.
4d.) Ceramic/Graphene Coatings
The word ceramic and graphene are going to be rammed so far down your throat you'd think you were a mine. They’re both thrown around quite loosely, and due to the potential strength and there for easy-to-fuck-up-ness of true high solids coatings, you’re likely never going to see one in a big box store. Any spray ceramic coating is not high solids, as the trigger would jam as soon as you left it for an hour after spraying. They’ve “infused” them into nearly every product category, from wash soap, Leather protection, carpet protection, tire coatings, you name it.
What you need to know about ceramic coatings is mainly the solids %. A light ceramic coating is anywhere from 20-45%. An entry level high solids coatings is ~70%, and professional only coatings are in the 80-90% range (You need to be certified to buy and install these). The solids % isn’t bullshit either, it’s a real, hardening product. I applied my 45% solids coating to a cotton makeup pad and it went crusty by the next morning.
When it comes to application, ceramic coatings need massive amounts of prep.
First, the paints need to be thoroughly and meticulously cleaned, any dirt left behind can cause a weak spot.
Next, the paint needs to be polished well, as the coating will “lock in” whatever defects are left behind until it fails (or you polish it, which would be stupid to do after applying a coating).
After that, the car needs to be degreased or polished with a suitable primer polish so the coating has a substrate to bond to.
Then, it needs to be applied, allowed to “flash” (the point where the solvent carriers evaporates - loose like those oily rainbows you see when oil is in water) and removed, all while in a temperature controlled environment (no direct sunlight, and no super cold temps).
After ALL that, it needs time to cure. Some Coatings (light) need 2-4 hours before getting wet, some need 48 hours. That's a lot of downtime. Most professional shops speed the curing using IR lights, something most home gamers don’t have.
At the end of the day, ceramic coatings are the longest lasting protection product, and when done correctly, will protect your car like nothing short of PPF (and you can get coatings made for PPF too).
Dealer coatings (last 2 on the right) are a very weird middle ground. I have applied them to my cars before, and they have performed... well. Basically, they beat all the flashy store bought spray coatings, but didn't hold a candle to true high solids coatings. If you come across one for free and know what you're doing, you could do worse. If you're about to drop $2k on it, don't.
Most coatings require “upkeep” in order to meet their “durability in years”. This means regular cleaning, decontamination, and top ups using ceramic detailers, rinse aids, shampoos, or all of the above. There are also ceramic coating toppers that are still true coatings, but they have different gloss/slickness/beading characteristics that the base coatings give up for long term durability. Basically, you put down your foundation coating, and top with one of these within an hour or so (labels vary) before the full curing.
Okay, that’s enough for this post. There is a few spots you could go deeper, but then you also run into product variation. Since this is an overall product guide, this seems like a fair place to stop. If there IS anything super specific you want to ask, just comment below and either me or @svend will answer it.
Thanks for reading!