The Most Common Auto Detailing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

In automotive detailing, you are not assessed by how good the car looks, you are actually judged by how many mistakes you make. It is somewhat safe to say that a significant determining factor of an auto detailer’s excellence is his or her infallibility on the job.

Theoretically, there are a ton of common detailing mistakes that can easily be avoided. For this list, let us look at some of the more prevalent errors, as well as practical tips on how to prevent them.

Mistake #1: Not Protecting Yourself from Head to Toe

One of the first things that come to mind involves protecting your skin while detailing. It is absolutely important to wear gloves. It does not really matter if you use either a pair of disposable ones that come in boxes of 100 or those washable ones made from quality materials.

It is easy for some to just jump in, all excited, to detail their vehicle. In hindsight, however, there is no excuse of not protecting yourself—from head to toe if necessary. Remember: you are dealing with different chemicals, substances that can be—or are definitely—harmful to your skin.

A simple rule of thumb for this is that if you are not going to take a product, meaning anything underneath your sink does not matter what it is, then do not put it on your skin. So just protect yourself as much as humanly possible. 

Mistake #2: Using Automotive Clay for Scratches

Automotive clay is a huge source of confusion in the industry, thus creating a lot of mistakes when you are detailing your car. Think of it this way, when you have scratches on your paint, people tend to think that clay is going to remove them. That, plain and simple, is not true.

So, if you have a deep scratch or medium scratch, or even a light scratch on your car, then know that it is not going to be removed with clay. In addition, there is this theory or this thought that, “hey, when I am cleaning my car, maintaining my car, or detailing my car, I must use clay,” which, in reality, is also false. 

Do not get us wrong. Clay is unbelievably helpful to any auto detailer—from beginners to pros. Using it too often, on practically everything, especially without proper lubrication are definite no-nos.

Mistake #3: Applying All-Purpose Cleaners for Vehicle Interiors

Mistake number three is using an all-purpose cleaner (APC) on the interior. APCs typically leave the fibers in a high pH state after the cleaning process. This residue can make the fiber stiff and crusty, all while setting the stain permanently in the fibers.

If you happen to use APC, and it does dry the next time you would get in the car with wet shoes, it actually reactivates the cleaner and creates more stains in the process. The bottom line is this: keep APCs out of your vehicle’s interior.

Mistake #4: Rubbing Sealants and/or Waxes on Black Trimmings

This will discolor the black plastic and require heavy cleaning—or worse, black dye—to remove. Simply stick masking tape on the sensitive areas or stay one inch away during the wax application.

One mistake we often see at professional car wash or gas stations is the process of pulling the vacuum hose through the vehicle to reach the other side. The vacuum hose is always on the ground and usually rolls around in water or driveway grease, collects dirt, and then is rubbed against the side of the seat as it is being pulled through the car. So, you have to be extra mindful of this.

Mistake #5: Substituting Car Soap with Dish Soap

Another common mistake when washing your car is the use of dish soap as car soap. Now, a lot of the beginners are going to point out the cheap yet effective alternatives they see all over the internet but allow us to dispute this claim and tell you the short explanation as to why this is a bad idea.

Imagine washing dishes, let us just say you had a nice, hearty, and greasy lasagna. That tray has fats and oils, what they call lipids on it. So, you use your favorite dish soap to remove the lipids and end up with a squeaky-clean dish like those you see on commercials. You do not want to do that on paint, because we will just damage the exterior’s coating. What we want is to have that nice and hydrophobic feeling.

Mistake #6: Washing Detail Towels Incorrectly

Detailing towels are pretty much one of the most—if not the most—important tools to have, so caring for them properly is essential. The key is to never wash them with other clothes or towels because the microfiber materials collect the lint and become useless.

Additionally, when washing your detail towels, always use a liquid detergent not a powder because any undissolved powder residue could scratch the paint. Furthermore, dry the towel separately from clothes on low heat. If you happen to use high heat, it will actually singe the hooks causing them to curl over and not pick anything up—defeating their purpose.

Mistake #7: Dry Wiping the Paint

Touching the paint without proper lubrication is worse than actually not touching it at all. Your hand is an abrasive so wiping your hand across the paint is going to scratch it. Unless there is an emergency like a bird poo on your paint, just leave the dust and dirt alone until you can wipe clean and wash it properly with water as a lubricant.

Mistake #8: Cleaning the Wheels Last

Cleaning your wheels last is not only inefficient, it is potentially dangerous to your paint. So, if you do clean your wheels last that inherently means you have to clean the paint first.

If, however, you wash the paint first, then you must dry your paint immediately to avoid watermarks. But if you dry your paint after the wash, then you rinse your wheels down and clean them, you inevitably splash your paint with water and have to wipe it again and again. This is not only inefficient, but it will also add to the time it takes to complete a carwash, so always do your wheels first.

Mistake #9: Using a Car Duster

Contrary to popular belief, this tool is not suitable for safely picking up the contaminants because no lubricants are used in the process. Instead, it is dragged across the paint creating love marks or fine scratches.


We sure hope this article clears the air a bit when it comes to the common misconceptions of auto detailing. If you have any more comments, suggestions, and tips, be sure to leave a comment down below.

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Timothy Morris
Timothy Morris
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The team’s expert in executing different strategies and techniques used to attract customers, and future dream car drivers.
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