The Selection Process
The selection of detail chemicals is one of the most difficult
tasks the professional detailer needs to master. Confusion is the
key word. Look at the product lists of most chemical companies who
supply products to the detail industry. Is there really a need for
all these different chemicals to do a basically simple job?
For the most part, every major chemical supplier to the industry
offers a similar line of products to do the same job. After months
of research and discussions with chemical manufacturers, distributors
and detail shop operators, we found that product choice is very
simply explained: user preference.
Just about every chemical company claims to have the "best
this" or the "best that." It was found that even
a high rate of usage wasn't so much a reflection of the quality
of the product, as of the sales effort of the distributor, the price
per gallon, or the availability of credit.
To facilitate the selection of the appropriate chemicals, we have
devised the following criteria:
1. Chemicals that work in a pressurized dispensing system, that
are free-flowing, and that do not separate or have to be agitated
after sitting in the system.
2. Chemicals that are versatile enough to be used for more than
3. Chemicals that have proved themselves in both laboratory comparison
tests and on-the-job testing for several weeks.
Using these criteria, we found that the chemicals listed below
will provide a professional detail center everything needed to detail
almost any car, boat, truck, RV, or motorcycle.
These are chemicals used primarily for engine and complete exterior
cleaning of the vehicle.
Car Wash Shampoo - a concentrated streak-free formula to
dissolve dirt and grime without harm to wax. It should be biodegradable,
Degreaser (Water-Based) - a concentrated water-based product
that will dissolve grease and dirt. Can be used for engines, whitewalls,
vinyl tops, and RVs.
Engine Degreaser (Solvent-Based) - a ready-to-use solvent-based
gel that clings to all surfaces and dissolves heavy concentrations
of engine grease. Flushes off with water.
Wheel Cleaner - a non-acid wheel cleaner that is ready to
use for cleaning wire wheels, chrome wheels, and wheels with radical
styling features to remove disc-brake dust and dust. Friction scrub
and rinse off with high-pressure water.
Overspray Remover - a product formulated to soften and dissolve
various types of paint overspray. Must be tested before use.
These chemicals are formulated to clean and protect most interior
surfaces of a vehicle including carpet, fabric upholstery, vinyl,
leathers, plastics, and metal.
Stain Removers - ready-to-use products formulated to remove
all types of stains in carpets and fabric upholstery including protein
stains, tar and grease stains, red dye stains, tannin stains (coffee
and tea), rust stains, and pet urine.
Carpet Shampoo - a concentrated cleaner formulated especially
for fabric, carpets, and upholstery. Diluted between seven and 10
parts water to one part chemical.
Vinyl/Leather Cleaner - a stronger concentrated cleaner
formulated for all leather, vinyl, and plastic surfaces. Leaves
no residue. Available ready-to-use or as a concentrate.
Deodorant - a concentrated water-based fragrance that provides
a clean fresh smell to the interior without any heavy fruit or flower
Fabric Protectant - a ready-to-use product that provides
an anti-stain shield on all fabric carpets and upholstery.
Odor-Rid - a ready-to-use biological odor eliminator formulated
to absorb rather than cover most odors in a vehicle interior including
urine, smoke, vomit, milk, etc. Normally used for special situations.
These chemicals are at the heart of the detail process and the
source of most of the confusion. It is only with their proper application
that a vehicle finish can be effectively restored and protected.
One of the key factors in proper chemical usage is the type of pad
used and the follow-up product applied. For example, you need to
know when to use a cutting or finishing pad, and whether to use
wool or foam pads.
Compounds - These are strictly correction products used
to remove oxidation, scratches, water spotting, etc. They must be
used with a rotary buffer and cutting pad. Follow with a swirl-remover
800 & 1200 Grit Compound
A heavy- or medium-duty liquid compound for use on mainly single-stage
vehicle finishes with heavy oxidation, scratches, discoloration,
etching, or acid-rain spots. Application and removal: rotary buffer
and cutting pad.
A light liquid cleaner for use on vehicle finishes with light oxidation,
surface scratches, and mild water spotting. Excellent for paint
blending and spot-ins. Application and removal: rotary buffer and
A micro-fine compound designed especially for clear-coat finishes
to remove spider scratches. Application and removal: orbital waxer
and terry bonnet, or by hand.
A single use product containing both light cleaners and protection
agents. Only used for dealer and wholesale vehicles that don't require
long-lasting protection and are not severely oxidized or scratched.
Application and removal: rotary buffer and finishing pad, or orbital
waxer and terry bonnet. Which process to use depends on the vehicle
Polishes - The purpose of a polish is to blend the paint-removing
swirl marks and create a deep, high-gloss shine. Some swirl-removing
products are only fillers and do not actually remove swirls.
A specially-designed liquid product formulated for use after compounds
to remove swirl and smear marks left by the cutting pad. Will also
restore a high gloss to the paint finish. It can also be used on
newer paint finishes that have no oxidation, scratches, or weathering
to create a deep high-gloss shine. Application and removal: rotary
buffer and foam polishing pad.
Waxes/Sealants - Different than polishes, waxes and sealants
are applied for final protection and enhancement of the shine.
Carnauba Liquid Wax
A liquid carnauba wax that provides the final coat of protection
and shine for the paint finish. Will provide an extremely high gloss
on black and other dark finishes. Lasts about 30 to 95 days. Application
and removal: orbital waxer and terry bonnet, or by hand.
A polymer-based product that bonds to the paint finish. Can be sold
with a one-year-guarantee basis with a six-month renewal, based
on the fact that a sealant will last only six months. The product
must be applied to a new or clean paint finish. Application and
removal: by orbital or by hand with moist sponge.
These are chemicals used throughout the detail process for engines,
trunks, exteriors, and interiors.
Tar and Grease Remover - a product used for removal of asphalt,
tar, and grease on the body and for use in the engine compartment.
Kerosene - industrial grade kerosene is used to remove many
types of sap and pitch that will not dissolve with a solvent.
Lacquer Thinner - typically used in detail shops
as an all-purpose cleaner. It is not recommended for use in a professional
detail center because of the possibility of damage to certain paint
finishes. It is required as thinner for semi-gloss black lacquer
paint used to paint engines and wheel wells.
Semi-Gloss Black Lacquer Paint - a
quick-drying paint used to paint engine compartments and wheel wells.
Usually only required for wholesale accounts. This service is not
recommended for retail customers.
Glass Cleaner - a ready-to-use or concentrated cleaner
that will remove bugs, wax, and road film from glass and chrome
surfaces without streaking. Can also be used in automatic windshield
Dressing (Water Based) - a milky colored, ready-to-use
product that can be used to protect all exterior and interior vinyl,
tires, and plastic. Can also be used as a protective spray for cleaned
engines in lieu of engine glaze. Will not discolor.
Dressing (Solvent Based) - this should not be used on a
vehicle. Solvent breaks down and deteriorates rubber.
With the above chemicals at hand, you should be able to detail
99 percent of the vehicles that come into your center. Those you
couldn't, you probably shouldn't.
Joe Sipowicz is technical services manager at Portland, OR-based
Detail Plus. He has been involved in the detailing industry for
nearly 20 years both as an owner/operator of detailing centers and
as a manufacturer. Joe has written on the subject of auto detailing
for over 10 years. He can be contacted at