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11 Crucial Car Detailing Mistakes To Avoid

April 15, 2024

Wiktor Kownacki


Whether you’re an experienced auto detailer or someone who simply wants to keep their vehicle looking pristine, detailing your car is an essential part of maintenance. It not only enhances the aesthetic appeal but it makes it a safer environment to be in at the same time protecting the vehicle's value in the long run. However, even the most well-intentioned individuals can make mistakes that might compromise the results of their car cleaning efforts.

man detailing a car

Here are the top 11 mistakes to steer clear of when detailing your precious vehicle:

  • Not pre-rinsing the exterior
  • Cleaning the wheels last
  • Using dirty wash mitts
  • Using household cleaners
  • Scraping off hardened bird droppings/tree sap
  • Washing car in direct sunlight
  • Scrubbing in a swirling motion
  • Skipping the wax
  • Using regular glass cleaner
  • Forgetting the interior
  • Not seeking professional help when needed

Now that we know the main auto detailing mistakes, let's explore each one, as well as ways to improve your detailing expertise.

Not Pre-rinsing The Exterior

Many car owners have the habit of filling a bucket with soapy water and getting started, without first rinsing the paint. This step is extremely crucial to ensure a safe and successful detailing experience.

Pre-rinsing helps to loosen dirt, mud, and other debris that may be stuck to the surface of your car. This makes it easier to remove them during the washing process and reduces the risk of scratching the paint. Dirt particles can act like abrasives, and if you rub them against the paint, they will cause scratches and swirls.

Cleaning The Wheels Last

Rim and tire cleaning must be done before anything else for several reasons. Wheels tend to be the dirtiest part of a car, as they accumulate brake dust, road grime, and other contaminants. Washing them first prevents the transfer of this dirt onto the cleaner parts of the car during the exterior detailing process. If you wash the body of the car first and then move to the rims and tires, you risk transferring abrasive particles to the body, potentially causing scratches or swirl marks on the paint.

Many wheel cleaners contain strong chemicals designed to break down brake dust and other stubborn contaminants. Washing the wheels first allows these cleaners to work effectively without interference from other cleaning agents used on the rest of the vehicle.

Using Dirty Wash Mitts

A common misconception is that wash mitts are self cleaning. Some of my customers have asked me “don’t they clean themselves when I rinse them in the soapy water in my bucket?”. No. They don’t. While it is very important to rinse out your wash mitts as you're washing your car, it’s also crucial to use fresh, clean mitts every time. After all, they are the tool we use to lift and scrub contaminants from the paintwork.

Also, I’ve seen far too many times customers use the same mitts for both wheels and paint. As mentioned before, tires and rims carry lots of dirt. Using the same wash mitt means dragging all that nasty dirt across your vehicle’s surface, resulting in scratching, swirls, and an ineffective washing process.

Using Household Cleaners

You can find many DIY auto detailing videos and guides on the internet. Stay away from those which encourage the use of household cleaners. They can damage both the interior and exterior of your car.

Many people turn to dish soap to wash the exterior. What sounds like a great idea can quickly turn disappointing as these detergents are specifically formulated to cut through tough oils and grease. According to CleanTools this can severely damage paint sealants, waxes and the clearcoat.

All-purpose cleaners designed to be used at home often contain bleach and other harsh ingredients. Applying these to your dashboard, upholstery and leather could lead to irreversible damage.

Just like with anything else, it's best to use dedicated cleaners specifically formulated for car interior and exterior surfaces.

Scraping Off Hardened Bird Droppings/Tree Sap

Scratch Alert! Reading through this article you’re probably starting to see a trend. Most of the above “mistakes to avoid” have to do with preventing scratches and swirl marks. This pointer is no different.

Unless you’re crazy like me and wash your car every few days, there is a big chance you’ll find some hardened bird droppings, tree sap, tar, and bugs on your paintwork. Although it might seem like they’re welded on and scrubbing might seem like the most logical solution, I promise you will regret it immediately after due to the amount of scratches you will cause.

Best practice is to use a dedicated product such as CarPro BugOut and TarX. These are specifically formulated to be non-abrasive, chemically softening the contaminants making them super easy to remove. One household product that is also effective is rubbing alcohol. Simply apply a few drops, give it a minute to work, and wipe away. This may take a few passes.

Washing Car In Direct Sunlight

Do you love the look of watermarks all over your car’s paint and windows? Didn’t think so. Unless you are a seasoned auto detailer do not wash your car in direct sunlight. Even for us professionals this can be quite a task, one we only take on when no other option is available.

What makes detailing your car in direct sunlight a difficult task is the temperature of the vehicle's surfaces. Although not as significant when it comes to the interior areas, it does play an annoying role on the exterior. Water droplets on the paint can quickly evaporate due to the heat, leaving behind mineral deposits and water spots. These spots can be difficult to remove and may require additional cleaning or polishing to restore the paint's appearance.

Scrubbing In A Swirling Motion

Always move your wash mitt up and down, left to right. This will ensure whatever micro-scratches are caused will be least visible. Scrubbing in a swirling motion will result in your car looking like the photo below.

Skipping The Wax

What is wax? It’s paint protection. Remember all the bird poop you just fought with for an hour? Applying a wax or paint sealant will protect the paintwork, making it way easier to clean. These products create a layer on top of your clear coat providing unparalleled protection from things like acid rain, tree sap, tar, bugs, and yes, bird droppings.

Skipping The Wax

Household glass cleaners contain ammonia for its cleaning power. Although great for home use, it can cost you lots of money in the long run. Using ammonia on tinted windows inside your car will cause them to break down, bubble and fade. With prolonged use it will cause the tint to peel off completely.

Forgetting The Interior

Skipping interior car detailing can lead to several drawbacks. Let's break them down point by point.

Build-up of Dirt and Grime

The interior of a car is prone to accumulating dirt, dust, food crumbs, and other debris. Skipping interior detailing allows this build-up to worsen, leading to a less pleasant driving experience and potentially causing bad odors.

Deterioration of Materials

Without regular cleaning and maintenance, the interior surfaces of your car, such as upholstery, carpets, leather, and plastic trim, can deteriorate faster. Dirt and grime can cause staining and fading, and even degradation of the materials, reducing the overall lifespan and resale value of your vehicle.

Unpleasant Odors

Accumulated dirt, spills, and food residues can lead to unpleasant odors inside the car. Neglecting interior car cleaning allows these odors to linger, making them harder to remove in the future.

Health Concerns

A neglected car interior can harbor germs, bacteria, and allergens, potentially affecting the health of passengers, especially those with existing allergies and respiratory conditions. Regular detailing helps remove these contaminants, promoting a healthier environment inside the car.

Aesthetics and Comfort

A clean and well-maintained interior enhances the overall appearance and comfort of your car. Skipping interior cleaning can result in a dingy, cluttered, and uninviting interior, detracting from the pleasure of driving or riding in the vehicle.

Resale Value

When it comes time to sell or trade-in your car, a well taken care of interior can significantly enhance its resale value. Omitting this important step of the cleaning process can decrease the appeal of your vehicle to potential buyers and bring down its price.

Skipping The Wax

While DIY detailing can be rewarding, some tasks are best left to professionals. If you're unsure about tackling a specific detailing task or dealing with stubborn stains and imperfections, don't hesitate to seek the expertise of a professional detailer.


Detailing your car is a labor of love that requires attention to detail and the right techniques. By avoiding these common mistakes and following best practices, you can achieve professional-grade results and keep your vehicle looking its best for years to come. Remember, the devil is in the details, so take your time and enjoy the process of pampering your prized possession.

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Here at Polaris Auto Detailing we specialize in all things detailing. From intensive interior cleaning to exterior brilliance, you're sure to find a package that will suit your needs. Got questions? Feel free to reach out by calling or send us a message via the Contact Us form.