How Long Does it Take To Detail a Car?

Detailing can be a pretty lengthy process, if you do it properly. There are so many different steps involved, and different parts of your car you can detail. But how long does it actually take to do a full detail of a car.

In this article, I’ll break down all the steps of a full detail and how long they each take. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

A full detail of a car can take upwards of 8 hours. This involves paint decontamination, correction and protection, glass, wheel, trim and interior detailing, Maintenance details often take around 2 hours, to top up paint protection and give the interior and exterior a thorough clean.

Wash Wheels (15 Minutes)

Personally, I like to start detailing by cleaning the alloys and tires, it takes me around 15 minutes to wash the wheels on a car.

I normally use an iron remover like Magma by AutoGlym, and then wash the alloys down using a soft bristle brush and a microfiber wash mitt dowsed in car shampoo. I also use a brush to get to the barrel of the wheel.

Then I’ll give the tires a deep clean using the method outlined in my article on how to make car tires look brand new. Check it out if you’re having trouble with tire browning or dullness.

Snow Foam (10 Minutes)

Now you can move onto the paintwork. In order to safely wash your paint without inflicting swirls and scratches, you can begin the process by snow foaming to remove as much grime as possible before actually touching the paint.

I prefer to jet wash the car thoroughly. Then I use a snow foam cannon to cover the car and let it sit for around 5 minutes before rinsing again.

Contact Wash (15 Minutes)

Now you’re ready to actually begin the wash process. Never use a sponge to wash your car, always use microfiber or sheepskin. I use a microfiber noodle wash mitt and a good quality car shampoo that produces plenty of suds to lubricate the paint and avoid inflicting swirls. Never use dish washing soap to wash your paint.

My shampoo of choice for a maintenance wash is Bilt-Hamber Auto Wash. When I’m doing a full detail, I want to strip as much of the old wax off as possible, so I use Chemical Guy’s Clean Slate.

Remember to wash your car from top to bottom. Keep checking your wash mitt every time you wash a section and then thoroughly rinse it by spraying it down with a jet wash, or swap it out for a new one.

I use 4 wash mitts to wash my car. One for the roof and windows and bonnet, one for each side and one for the back. This avoids the wash mitt getting too dirty.

Make sure the paint is always wet before touching it, and that your mitt is full of plenty of car shampoo.

It’s important to be patient when washing and keep checking your mitt. If you rush then you’re more likely to damage the paint. That’s why a normal contact wash takes around 15 minutes.

Chemical Decontamination (15 Minutes)

When doing a full detail, I think it’s best to follow the wash process with a chemical decontamination step. When your car is being driven around, or just sat on a driveway, contaminants can settle on the paint’s surface and bond to it. These contaminants won’t be removed by a normal routine wash.

One of the most common contaminants is iron fallout. In order to remove this, I use an iron remover. They can also be called bleeding iron removers because when you spray them on, they react with the iron which causes them to turn purple.

I’ve used Bilt-Hamber’s Korrosol and AutoGlym’s Magma and think they’re both great choices. Bilt-Hamber offers slightly better value for money though because you do get a larger bottle.

Simply spray it onto your paint and wheels when it’s wet and then rinse it off after the specified time.

Physical Decontamination (45 Minutes)

Now you can move onto the physical decontamination step, otherwise known as claying, using either a mitt or clay bar. This helps remove the rest of the contaminants on your paint such as bird mess, tree sap, tar and other invisible contaminants that make your paint feel rough to the touch.

You can check for this contamination by putting your hand in a plastic sandwich bag and running it over the paint’s surface. If it feels rough, then you need to clay your car, especially if you’re planning to do any paint correction.

I use Bilt-Hamber’s soft clay because it’s pretty gentle. Clay is an abrasive, so when used improperly, can swirl and scratch your car.

Always use plenty of lubrication, like a clay lubricant or car shampoo. Keep checking your clay to make sure it’s not dirty, and fold it when it is getting a bit grubby to expose a clean area.

Make sure you don’t drop it on the floor either. If you do, then throw it away and grab a new piece.

Once you’ve clayed the car, give it a quick wash and then rinse and dry using a microfiber towel.

The more contaminated the car is, the longer the claying process will take. For most cars, claying takes around 30-45 minutes.

Paint Cleansing (15 Minutes)

This step is optional, and really depends on how clean and free from wax the paint surface is following claying. If when you do the final rinse, there is any water beading, then there is still wax on the surface.

That’s when paint cleansing needs to be done. 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%).

Don’t overdo it with the paint cleansing, because it can dry out your paint if done too often. Twice a year is usually fine though.

Paint Inspection (20 Minutes)

Now we can move onto the paint inspection step. If you’re planning to perform any paint correction, it’s important to inspect the paint first to see when level of damage you’re dealing with.

Light swirls can usually be removed with a polish. Whilst deeper clear coat scratches will need to be removed using a compound.

Inspect the car either in your garage or at night with a torch, or in direct sunlight to properly see the damage. Check out this image.

On the right, you can see the car before polishing, you can see the lines towards the upper left hand side. This is light damage that can usually be removed by polishing, and does require the use of a more aggressive compound. On the left, you can see the panel after polishing.

Here you can see the scratches look a bit deeper, and require a compound to remove them.

Compounds cut the paint faster than polishing so are more aggressive, but remove more of the damage. See the diagram below.

After polishing
After compounding

If you can get away with it, you should only polish your car because it removes less of the clear coat which helps protect the finish from fading and oxidation.

It is also much faster to just polish your paint.

This is because compounding can inflict light swirling as it is a more aggressive cutting method. Hence you need to follow it with a polishing step to refine the paint and get the gloss mirror finish.

Don’t skip this step. Spend at least 15-20 minutes inspecting the paint before getting the polisher out.

Compounding (3-5 hours)

To properly compound a car, it takes around 3-5 hours, depending on how large the car is, and how much damage there is to remove.

It’s important to be patient with the paint correction process to get the best results and remove as little of the clear coat as possible to get with of the scratches.

Most sections usually require 2-3 passes (times you cross the section) repeated at least twice so it can take around 5 minutes to cover a 0.5m x 0.5m section.

Polishing (2-3 Hours)

Polishing is a little faster than compounding because you typically can move the machine polisher a bit quicker and don’t have to do as many passes.

With that said though, it will take at least a couple of hours to do a good job and get the finish looking as glossy as possible.

Paint Protection (30 Minutes)

Once the finish of the paint is refined, you can move onto paint protection. There are three main methods of paint protection.

  1. Waxes
  2. Sealants
  3. Ceramic coatings

Waxes are the least durable and easiest to apply, whilst ceramic coatings are more complicated to apply but can last for years. Sealants are somewhere between the two.

Whichever method you choose, the process shouldn’t really take any more than 30 minutes.

Trim and Tires (10 Minutes)

This is where things start coming together. I usually apply a tire dressing and some trim dressing to my car following the paint protection stage.

It’s a pretty quick step, but it makes a huge difference. You can make your car look brand new by just paying attention to details like this.

Alloy Protection (10 Minutes)

I usually like to apply some protection to the alloys when I’m doing a full detail. You can use a ceramic coating or a wheel wax to do this.

Again, it’s a pretty quick step but can keep your car looking newer for longer.

Glass (10 Minutes)

It’s very important to detail the glass to get the complete look, and also to make driving safer. Having a clean windshield, mirrors and windows is essential. I use a glass cleaner to give them a deep clean, and a waffle weave microfiber towel to buff them and avoid any residue build up.

Then I apply a water repellent glass cleaner called Vision by Auto-Glanz to help water bead off the surface and improve viability when driving in the rain.

Interior (20 Minutes+)

The last step, is to give the interior a good clean. The time this takes really depends on what you’re dealing with.

I keep the interior of my car very clean and clutter free, so it doesn’t usually take that long. Here’s what I do:

  • Quick hoover (5 minutes)
  • Wipe dashboard and plastics with damp microfiber towel (2 minutes)
  • Apply a dashboard protectant (2 minutes)
  • Clean leather using mild leather cleaner and microfiber towel (2 minutes)
  • Apply a leather sealant (5 minutes)
  • Hoover and shampoo the carpets (5 minutes)

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 to look it’s best.


I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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