Auto Laundry News - July 2012

IDA Certification Study Guide: Glass

By Prentice St. Clair

In last month’s column, I visited the concept of “certification” for automotive detailing technicians. I pointed out that there is an inherent lack of standardization in our industry. This is due to the relative ease with which one can initiate a detailing operation. Yes, there are seminars and workshops and even formal training centers, and, yes, it is important to go to these to further your knowledge of detailing. You will likely receive a certificate for your attendance.

It is important, however, to distinguish between “certificates of completion” or “certificates of attendance” and a certificate that actually indicates a tested level of competency. The former proves only that one was in attendance of a program. The latter proves that one knows the material to which the certificate applies.

This is the goal of the International Detailing Association’s Certified Detailer (IDA-CD) Program, which requires that the detailing technician pass a battery of 10 tests that assess the technician’s knowledge of generally accepted practices and procedures in automotive detailing. Let’s take a look at how the available programs compare.


For many years, the only answer was to attend some sort of training event. Choices included paying a fair amount to a for-profit “detailing school,” which can provide excellent training and a relatively valid “certificate of completion.” The challenge with this situation is that the for-profit school is likely to give you that certificate whether or not you completed the training or actually absorbed the trained skills — simply because you paid for the training.

Another option is the “detailing seminar” put on by the local detail supply store or truck-mounted distributor. This is typically a half-day or all-day event at no or low cost. You may receive another “certificate of completion” or a “certificate of attendance.” This is great, and it shows that at least you are doing something to add to your detailing knowledge. But the seminar certificate does not really give any indication of what you actually know. It does not really show that you have detailing expertise.

In both of the above situations, the main problem with the legitimacy of the “certificate” document is that the company providing the document is somewhat biased by the desire to have you as a paying customer. The detailing school stands to make a hefty profit from your attendance. The distributor who offers a seminar hopes that you will continue to buy products, especially those featured in the seminar.

Enter the IDA-CD program, which is offered by a not-for-profit organization that is supported by the very technicians that should be able to pass its certification tests. The IDA’s mission includes the establishment of standards of excellence for the industry. To that end, a committee of recognized detailing experts was commissioned to author the IDA-CD tests as a way to assess the general knowledge of the test taker.

The certificate that is issued upon passing the IDA-CD tests is thus a more valid indication of one’s detailing competency than a simple “certificate of completion.”

Now let’s be clear. I am not suggesting that detailing schools or seminars are bad. Quite the opposite is true. From my many years of writing articles about detailing, you know that I am a big proponent of formal training (or, for that matter, any training) in detailing, because the vast majority of detailing technicians have none.

So, go out there and attend as many seminars, workshops, and schools as your budget and schedule allow. But also make sure you register for the IDA-CD program so that you can obtain a real certification.


A common point of feedback since the introduction of the IDA-CD tests is that those taking the tests do not know where to go for information that helps them prepare for the tests. Certainly, the above-mentioned seminars, workshops, and schools will help you with at least some of the information. Then, of course, there are publications like the one that you are currently reading. You may also be able to find detailing training videos and reference manuals.

Still, getting the information that you need to pass the IDA-CD tests can be a challenge. So I thought it would be a good idea to offer some “study materials” through this column. Important caveat: reading this column will not guarantee passing the IDA-CD tests, and the information that I am presenting is not necessarily endorsed by the IDA. Nonetheless, I was on the committee that wrote the tests, so I am confident that I can help you in your efforts to have the right knowledge going into the test-taking experience.

With that in mind, let’s talk first about one of the topics of the IDA-CD tests — windows.


Most detailers that I have spoken with have the same thing to say: “I hate cleaning windows!” Everyone seems to have a favorite towel or a favorite glass cleaner. The truth is, however, that most of us struggle with windows.

There are actually many variables that go into a successful window cleaning. These include the chemical used, the towel used, the technique used, and the condition of the windows themselves.

First it is important to talk about the glass itself. Factory window tinting is usually built into the glass as it is made, and thus cannot be removed regardless of the window cleaning methods used. Aftermarket tinting (that which is applied by a local tint shop or at the dealer after the car is purchased) is simply a plastic film that is placed on the window. This can be damaged by such things as using over-concentrated window cleaner, using a window cleaner that is not designed for automotive glass, or using aggressive scrubbing techniques or tools (like steel wool or brushes).


To achieve clean windows in the most efficient way possible, it is important to start with the proper materials. First, use a glass cleaner that is designed specifically for the automotive detailing industry. Some glass cleaners made for household use contain chemicals that can damage aftermarket tint on vehicle windows. Simply avoid the issue by using only glass cleaners from recognized chemical suppliers to the automotive detailing industry.

Over-the-counter household glass cleaners tend to be more expensive per ounce than cleaners designed for the professional detailing industry. In fact, many detailing chemical suppliers offer concentrated glass cleaners, which must be properly diluted before using. Once properly diluted, these cleaners cost very little per use. (Using window cleaners in their concentrated form will cause streaking and may damage aftermarket film.)

Some operators choose to avoid the use of glass cleaning chemicals altogether by utilizing dry vapor steam to clean windows. The steam wand is held at a proper distance from the glass and the steam slowly and gently accumulates on the window surface, making is just damp and warm enough to then wipe with a clean, dry towel. Caution must be used, however, because dry vapor steam, when applied too closely, can lift or damage aftermarket window film.

In fact, vapor steam is a great way to remove aftermarket window tinting, should the customer request this. A much more aggressive, concentrated effort is used with the steam wand in the case of tint removal. The nice thing about using steam is that it is often possible to remove the tint in one giant piece, with little or no adhesive residue remaining on the glass surface.


The next variable in window cleaning is the towel. Ask 10 professional detailers what they like to use and
you will get 10 different answers. The answer list would include: terry, micro-fiber, disposable, newspaper, and huck towels. I am sure there is someone reading this right now who is yelling at the page: “What about such-and-such towels, Mr. Know-it-all?”

All I will say is this: use the type of towel for windows that works best for you in your shop. It’s not so much what type of towel you use but how you treat it. Window towels should be kept separate from all other towels in your shop. They should be cleaned separately, stored separately, and disposed of in containers that keep them separate from other used towels. These procedures will help to reduce contamination of the window towels with other chemicals and dirt that exist in the detailing shop. Such contamination can lead to streaks, no matter how well you clean the window.

If you are using the same towels in your shop for multiple purposes including windows, you are likely to have window-streaking problems. Separate those towels!


Most glass-cleaning challenges exist on the exterior of the window. For example, some water spots will not come off with normal window cleaning techniques. In this case, something more aggressive needs to be applied. There are chemicals designed specifically for polishing automotive glass. Some technicians also like to use super-fine steel wool. And detailing clay or surface prep towels can be effective at removing surface contamination from the outside of the glass.

It is important to remember that these problems are all on the exterior of the glass, where it’s okay to use the more aggressive techniques. Window film that might be damaged by such techniques is always on the interior side of the glass, so never use those techniques there.


Certification shows that you know something about your trade. The type of certificate indicates what you have accomplished. The IDA-CD program allows a detailer to confidently demonstrate his or her general detailing knowledge upon passing the battery of 10 tests. This article is one of several that will assist in preparing for those tests.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail or call (619) 701-1100.

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