7 Essential Tips for Detailing a White Car

Making a white car shine can be a bit of a challenge. It can be difficult to get that glossy finish that’s much easier which darker coloured cars. So how do you properly detail a white car to make it look brand new again?

In this article, I’ll be going through the best tips to detail a white car. So let’s get started.

White Car Detailing Tips

Here are some of the best tips for detailing a white car and making it look brand new again.

  1. Decontaminate the paint using clay, iron and tar remover
  2. Refine the paintwork using a compound or polish if necessary
  3. Alternatively, use a glaze to enhance the shine
  4. Use a sealant or wax to produce wet-looking paint
  5. Clean and dress the tires and wheel arches
  6. Take care of the trim to again provide some contrast
  7. Don’t forget to detail the exhaust tips

Now let’s talk through each tip individually.

Looking for some of the best detailing products to keep your car looking as fresh as possible? Make sure you check out my recommended products page for all my current top picks.

1. Decontamination

If you want your car’s paint to have that squeaky clean feeling and bright and shiny finish, then you can’t skip the decontamination steps.

Your car is subject to loads of different types of contaminants every day. These include bird mess, acid rain, road tar, tree sap, iron fallout and paint overspray. Unfortunately, these cannon be removed during the normal wash process.

These contaminants sit on the surface of your paint and affect the way that light reflects off it. It causes an uneven surface which ends up looking dull. The contaminants are particularly evident on white paint compared to darker colours. That’s why it’s essential to remove them.

You can check for contamination either visually (a lot of contaminants can be seen, for example road tar and tree sap), or by feel. This involves running your hand over the paint surface when it’s just been washed and dried. If it feels rough, then the paint is contaminated.

There are two types of decontamination.

  1. Chemical decontamination: using iron and tar removers
  2. Physical decontamination: using a clay bar or clay mitt

Decontamination should always be done on freshly washed paintwork. You should always perform the chemical decontamination first to remove as much contamination as possible before using clay.

Make sure you check out my complete guide to claying to learn some essential tips to make the process safer and more effective.

If your car doesn’t need a full decontamination, then you can use a paintwork cleanser to remove some water marks or waxes/ sealants that may left on the surface. There are several ways to do this. You can use a liquid like R222 Paintwork Cleanser or Dodo Juice Lime Prime, or you can use a panel wipe and IPA (40%).

I’d advise against using clay (physical decontamination) as part of a routine, and I would recommend only using it when necessary. Clay is abrasive so will likely induce some minor swirls and marring which should be corrected using a polish, or covered using a glaze (next steps).

2. Refine the Paintwork

Once the car has been thoroughly decontaminated, you can refine the paintwork if necessary. This is otherwise known as paint correction and involves two techniques: compounding and polishing.

One of the best things about white cars, is that it’s very hard to see clear coat scratches or swirls that have been inflicted by poor wash techniques.

However, just because they’re harder to see directly, doesn’t mean they’re not there. These clear coat scratches can cause your car’s paintwork to look dull and tired because the light won’t reflect off them evenly.

If you want your paint to properly shine, then the scratches need to be removed.

You can check for these scratches by pulling your car into a dark garage and using a strong light to inspect the paintwork. The scratches usually look like swirls, or spiderwebs.

This is where compounding and polishing come in. They can be done by hand or with a machine polisher, which get’s more effective results.

It’s when you cut the layer of damaged paint away to flatten the surface and remove the scratch.

Compounding is performed first, because the compound liquids are more aggressive and cut the scratches away more efficiently. Then this is followed by polishing which refines the paintwork to a high gloss finish.

Before compounding and polishing
After compounding and polishing

Keep in mind though, that you are removing a layer of paint and it should only be done when necessary. The clear coat is important in protecting your base coat against fading and corrosion, so it should be preserved.

Check out this article to learn more about when you should polish your car.

3. Use a Glaze

If you don’t want to actually correct your car’s paint, then you can use a glaze instead. These don’t actually cut away the paint, but instead, they fill in the scratches to create a smooth surface that light reflects off evenly.

This makes the paint look much glossier.

Glazes don’t work miracles in terms of filling in scratches, but they can go a long way in making the car look much shinier.

You can use them after polishing to further enhance the finish.

There are many different glazes available on the market, but my favourite is Poorboy’s. They produce a version for dark cars called Poorboy’s Black Hole, and a version for white cars called Poorboy’s White Diamond.

Check out my complete guide to glazes to learn everything you need to know.

4. Get the Wet Look Using a Sealant or Wax

The final step to make white paint shine, is to use a sealant or wax. Not only do sealants and waxes increase the level of gloss, but they also protect the clear coat from contaminants so you will need to clay your car less, and they repel water and dirt making the car easier to wash.

Here’s a quick comparison between waxes and sealants.

Last 3-6 monthsLast 3-12 months
Less protectiveHigher level of protection
Less water resistantMore water resistant
Produce a warm shineProduce a cold-hard looking finish
Can be applied over glazesNeed to be applied to fresh bare paint

5. Clean and Dress the Tires and Wheel Arches

One of the best ways to make white paint look cleaner and shinier, is by making the black areas of your car look darker. This provides contrast and really helps the white paint stand out.

One of the best ways to create this contrast, is by making sure the tires look very black. Here’s how to do it.

  • Ensure the tires a squeaky clean. Jet wash them, then scrub them with a hard bristle brush and all-purpose cleaner/ dedicated tyre cleaner then wipe with a microfiber towel.
  • Repeat this process until no dirt transfer can be seen on the microfiber towel.
  • Use a tire dressing to make the tires look darker.

Check out the full process to make your tires look brand new in this article I’ve written.

If you’re looking for a super shiny wet-look, then try Meguiar’s Endurance Tire Gel.

If you want something a little less dramatic, then try Garage Therapy Tyre Serum which is more durable, but not quite as glossy.

It’s also important not to forget the wheel arches. I give these a full wash using a power washer and a hard bristle brush to get them nice and clean. Then I’ll use a dressing to make them look black again.

6. Take Care of the Trim

Another great way to provide contrast with the paint on a white car, is to look after the trim. This means all the chrome or rubber seals and plastic on the exterior of your car.

This is a step of detailing that is often forgotten, but it’s so important if you want your car to look brand new.

Usually, I use something like Garage Therapy Tyre Serum on the rubber and black plastic on my car to provide plenty of contrast with the paintwork. It also helps to protect them from UV and fading over time.

Make sure you avoid getting this on your paintwork though because it can be a pain to remove. Keep a plush, damp microfiber towel on hand to remove any overspill.

7. Don’t Forget the Exhaust Tips

This is hands down, one of the most neglected areas of car detailing. I see it all the time. There will be a really great looking car with perfect paintwork, black trim and shiny tires, but it’s ruined by rusty looking exhaust tips.

If you’ve got a fairly new car, then it can be quite easy to maintain the exhaust tips. Simply wash them with a microfiber wash mitt (one that you don’t intend to ever use on your paint again) and give them the occasional treatment with a metal polisher and microfiber towel.

However, if you’ve neglected your car’s exhaust tips, then you’ll need to put in some more work to restore them back to new. Steel wool (0000 grade) is a popular option but you need to be careful not to scratch them up in the process.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog to learn more about getting your car looking its best.



Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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