How to Maintain a Car After Detailing (A Step-By-Step Guide)


If you’ve just had your car detailed, then you probably want to keep that shiny finish for as long as possible. But how do you keep a car clean and maintain it after a full detail?

In this article, I’ll be going through the steps of maintaining a freshly detailed vehicle to make sure your car looks shiny and new for a longer time. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

To maintain a recently detailed car, you should wash the exterior and hoover and wipe down the interior at least every 2-3 weeks. The paint protection can be topped up when necessary (usually every 2 months) using a detail spray or ceramic coating booster.

Here’s a quick table to explain how approximately often you should be maintaining your car after it has been detailed.

ActionFrequency
Cleaning the exterior glassWeekly
Washing exterior (paint and alloys)Every 2 weeks
Hoovering and wiping interiorEvery 2 weeks
Deep cleaning seats and steering wheelMonthly
Topping up wax, sealant or coatingEvery 2-3 months
Deep cleaning tiresEvery 2-3 months
Applying a trim dressingEvery 2-3 months

Wash the Car At Least Every Few Weeks

Washing your car regularly is the most important thing you can do to keep it looking good after it has been detailed. Not only does it help with the overall appearance, but it also really helps to protect the paintwork and stop it degrading over time.

Mud and dust are pretty easy to remove, but plenty of other things can make your car dirty too. “Contaminants” are things that stick to the paint, and make your car’s paintwork feel rough to the touch. They include iron fallout, tar, tree sap, water spots and stains and dried bugs.

These contaminants actually bond to the top layer of paint and build-up over time. The result is a gritty-feeling, and dull looking finish. They can also actually corrode the paint over time.

On a freshly detailed car, these will all have been removed in a process called “decontamination” using chemical sprays and clay.

Regular washing really helps to prevent this kind of contamination building up again. The longer these contaminants are left to sit on the paint, the more chance they have of bonding to it properly. Whereas if the car is washed frequently, they are more easily removed during the process.

It’s recommended to wash your car every 1-2 weeks to help keep these contaminants at bay and make sure the paintwork stays smoother for longer.

Of course, the exact frequency you should clean your car depends on a few factors like the climate, how often you drive it, where it’s stored etc. But every 1-2 weeks is optimal. The longer you leave it, the quicker your freshly detailed vehicle will start to look old, dirty and tired.

Prevent Scratches and Swirl Marks

Detailing often involves correction of the paintwork to remove any swirls and scratches that may be present. Paint correction is the process by which a layer of paint is removed to reveal a flat surface which reflects light more evenly, and makes the vehicle look much shinier.

Before detailing
After detailing

If you want to maintain the “detailed look”then you really need to try and prevent these scratches from occurring again. This process of paint correction can only be performed so many time before you run out of paintwork, so prevention is key.

But how do these scratches occur? The main cause, is during washing.

The paint on your car is very delicate, so any level of friction is likely to cause these micro-scratches. So you need to use the right tools and techniques when washing to minimise this friction and avoid these scratches. Here are some of the top tips.

  • Never use a sponge or brush to wash the paint, instead use a soft microfiber wash mitt.
  • Snow foam the car before cleaning it with a mitt to remove as much dirt as possible before making contact with the paint.
  • Ensure you use separate mitts and buckets for the wheels and paint.
  • Keep checking the mitt for dirt and rinse if necessary.
  • Keep the paint well-lubricated with car shampoo and water.
  • Dry the car using a leaf-blower (or car dryer if you have one) or a soft, clean microfiber towel instead of a squeegee (water blade), bath towel or chamois leather.

Check out this complete guide to washing your car without causing scratches.

Top Up the Protection

A detailed car will have been treated to a good quality wax, sealant or coating to help protect the paintwork from UV rays, dirt, contaminants and micro-scratches. But this paint protection doesn’t last forever. You can extend the life of the paint protection by regularly topping it up.

The product you use to do this really depends on what has been applied to the paint when it was detailed.

Ceramic coatings are usually topped up with a spray by the same manufacturer, which helps maintain the finish. These sprays are normally applied straight after washing when the car is still wet, and sometimes immediately after drying.

Waxes and sealants can also be maintained using spray waxes or detailers by the same brand to make sure they’re compatible.

You can mix and match from different brands, but remember, that whatever you put on the top layer determines the characteristics of the paint.

For example, say you had your car detailed and a very water-repellent coating was applied that you really enjoyed. If you topped this up with a spray wax that wasn’t very water-repellent, then you’d essentially cover up the effects of the coating underneath.

Most ceramic coatings should be topped up using a booster spray, every few months, depending on the durability of the coating. Usually, you should top it up when you start to see the water-repellency effects diminish, as this is a good sign that the coating is wearing down a bit.

Waxes and sealants should be topped up with a spray wax or detailer spray every 2-3 weeks to keep the protection well-maintained. But again it depends on the products your using.

Cars that are stored outside, driven daily and are in rainy climates will need to be protected more often than garage queens.

Don’t Forget About the Wheels

The wheels can also quickly become dirty and tired looking if you leave them for too long after detailing. This is especially true if your driving the car daily.

Driving through muddy puddles or on fast road either in the rain, or very shortly after it has rained will leave both the tired and alloys covered in dirt. And even in drier weather, the alloys will get covered in brake dust from the brake discs and pads causing them to look dull and grey.

Whenever you wash the paintwork, try and clean the alloys too. All you need is a microfiber wash mitt to wash the face of the alloys and soft detailing brush to clean the lug nuts and any tighter areas. Make sure you use separate tools for the wheels though and don’t use anything on the paintwork that’s previously been used on the wheels or you’ll likely cause paint scratches.

If you want to go a step further to keep your car looking fresh, then clean the wheel barrels using a longer brush every few weeks to keep corrosion at bay.

Maintaining the tires by giving them a good scrub with a hard tire brush and all-purpose cleaner, then wiping them with an old microfiber towel will help remove all the dirt and then you can add a tire gel to keep them looking shiny and black.

Maintain the Glass and Trim

Looking after all the “details” is what separates a clean car, from one that looks brand new. This includes the glass and the trim.

Keeping the glass clean is very important, not only to improve the appearance of the car, but also to make driving the vehicle much safer.

Make sure you clean the exterior glass weekly using a glass spray, or when you’re washing the rest of the car. When your car has been detailed, a glass sealant may have also been applied to help repel water when it rains to improve durability.

These glass sealants won’t last forever though, so you can keep them topped up with a water-repellent glass spray. Personally, I use Auto-Glanz Vision, or Car Chem Glass Spray which both leave a hydrophobic coating. These can also be applied on glass which hasn’t been treated with a sealant.

Don’t forget to give the windscreen wipers a clean with an all-purpose-cleaner and microfiber towel as well. Dirty wiper blades will stick to the glass causing it to get smeared, and reduce the life of the sealant or coating on the surface.

The rubber and plastic trim also needs to be washed at least every few weeks to keep it looking dark. Applying a trim dressing every 2-3 months or so will also help prevent it from fading and keep it looking cleaner between washes.

Keep the Car Clean Between Washing

So if you don’t have much time on your hands, you may struggle to wash your car weekly, and that’s fine, but you should definitely take some steps to help keep it clean between washes. Here are my top tips.

  • Don’t use a quick detailer spray between washes to remove dust or dirt as it will cause scratches and swirl marks.
  • Hose the car down and dry it by driving immediately afterwards if you have no time to wash the car properly.
  • Apply a very water-repellent sealant or coating to prevent dirt sticking to the paintwork between washes.
  • If you get home after driving in the rain, run a hose over the car to get rid of any muddy water that may have splashed up on the panels.
  • Never take your car to an automatic car wash as it will cause scratches. Just wait until you have time to clean it properly.
  • Be careful about taking your car to manual wash stations as some of them rush the process which causes scratches.

Clean the Interior At Least Every Two Weeks

Everything we’ve spoken about so far is about the exterior, because if I’m honest, it’s my favourite bit of the cleaning process. But you also shouldn’t neglect the interior. After all, you probably spend more time sat in your car than staring at the exterior.

I recommend cleaning the interior at least every two weeks to keep it in good condition. Here’s how:

  • Hoover the seats, mats and carpet.
  • Wipe all the surfaces using a lightly-damp microfiber towel.

It’s that simple, and will take around 10-15 minutes, so no excuses!

Every month or so, it’s a good idea to deep clean some areas like the seats and steering wheel. And of course, you should clean up any spillages as soon as possible.

Take a look at this complete guide to making your car’s interior look brand new if you want to go the extra mile.

When to Get Another Full Detail

So all this effort might seem a bit much, but the good news is, that if you keep up with it, you may never actually need to get the car fully detailed again.

In fact, I’ve never taken my vehicle to a professional detailer, and instead just keep up with the regular maintenance to keep my car looking fresh. Here’s my MX-5 which is now almost two years old.

I keep it looking new by following the steps in this article and then I do a few extra things every now and again to maintain the vehicle.

  • I wax or seal the car every 3 months to keep the paint protected.
  • I fully decontaminate the car using an iron fallout remover spray and a clay bar every 6 months to keep the paintwork smooth. This usually takes around an hour.
  • The interior surfaces (leather, plastics and fabric) are protected around every 3 months using some different sprays. Check out my recommended interior care products page.

If you’re careful not to scratch and swirl the paintwork during the wash process, then you won’t need to correct the paint ever again. I really recommend taking this cautious approach because you can only polish the car so many times before you run out of paint!

If you’ve not already done so, then definitely take a look at my complete guide to washing a car without causing scratches to make sure you’re protecting your cars finish.

Check out this complete guide to washing your car without causing scratches.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to take a look around the website to learn everything you need to know about keeping your vehicle looking its best.

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Heather

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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