Auto Detailing Products:
What Would Darren Do
"Darren, I am frustrated and overwhelmed. Can you just tell me what you use. I don't want to read a thousand different reviews with a thousand different opinions. I just want to know what YOU use."
Darren's Advice: If you want to simply cut to the chase and start seeing what I use, simply scroll down to my specific list of auto detailing products below and get started. With that said, I do believe it would be worth your while to read your way down as I apply some critical thinking and a voice of reason I think most of you will find adds even more depth to your understanding.
Today is a world of information overload! When I first started in the business, I didn't have enough information.
Now you are literally drowning in a sea of endless opinions, from endless so-called experts and so-called professionals. The Internet and its endless platforms allows anyone to voice that opinion...regardless of its validity or not.
"Information is NOT the problem. Too much information IS the problem."
And now you find yourself bouncing from one opinion to the next, trying to find the perfect car wax, car polish, window cleaner, etc., etc., etc!!
Once again...I totally get it. We all want the best.
But your relentless pursuit of the "best" is likely preventing many of you from taking action.
Darren's Detailing Advice
Due to the amount of inquires I get from people looking for answers to their car questions, I need to add some "behind the scenes" info for your understanding:
- I am completely slammed (that means busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest) with not only maintaining my professional detailing business, but shooting videos for YouTube, posting on the endless social media platforms, and trying desperately to answer the flood of questions thrown at me from all directions.
- Because of the endless demands, I have created this page as a way of helping out the many, rather than helping out the few.
- This page is designed to fulfill many of the most basic questions I am so often asked.
"I could take any subject below and write an entire book, make endless suggestions as to what to use and how to do it. But many of you keep searching, never pulling the trigger on anything that would actually get you closer to where you want to be."
But read on....
I lost count as to how many people just like yourself have written in and told me how frustrated they get, or how worthless they feel every time they go onto another detailing forum looking for answers.
Trust me when I say; I know that feeling all too well. Precisely why I do not go on ANY detail forums these days.
After a couple minutes, my head wants to explode!
Endless opinions, endless "experts".
"So if you really want to get closer to producing professional level results; quit the endless searching and just start doing!"
Sure Darren....easy for you to say.
But once again; you are going to get a different opinion every time you ask!
SERIOUSLY, you will!!
It is a known fact that when a person is presented with too many choices, they literally become unable to make a decision. These are a few of the common frustrations I hear from guys like yourself:
- I can't make a decision Darren; I am stuck trying to decide what to do.
- I really want to simplify this process that so many other guys seem to make so confusing.
- I just want to know what you use Darren.
"With modern technology and chemical engineering, it is hard to go wrong. You could literally pick just about any product and get pretty good results."
But with that said, guys (and a few girls) still want to know what I use (or would use) if I were you.
What you are going to find below is my list of recommendations that to me represent a sure thing (I know; no sure thing truly exists in life other than death and taxes). But when it comes down to MY professional detailing business, I need products that I consider to be the closest thing to a sure thing as possible.
And the products below are what I consider "sure things".
Therefore I have come to rely on certain products that I know will perform regardless...hence the products I consider a sure thing.
Before I lay out "Darren's Secret List", let me add one of my biggest and most common words of advice that seems to help a lot of people who find themselves confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated:
Pick a product or tool (hopefully something from my list below) and just
start doing! Not only will you be pleasantly surprised, but you will
also be at least one step closer to getting more of what you want.
And guess what?
promise you that whatever product or tool you do decide to get....it
won't be your last one! You will continue to buy more products moving
Just accept this. But in the meantime you gotta start somewhere.
And that somewhere is exactly why I created this page. A place for you to start.
So quit overthinking everything to the point where you do nothing. Start slowly and work your way from there.
Get a hand on the basics, and build from there.
Auto detailing products:
Exterior Car Care
I will start with the exterior as this seems to be the priority of many car owners.
Exterior car care goes as follows:
- Washing car: Do this to remove superficial dirt as often as possible. (yes, you could literally do it every day if you like. At a minimum, wash once a month but preferably once a week.)
- Decontaminate paint: Airborne pollutants collect on on your car and begin to etch into the car paint. These pollutants will create a gritty feel when you slide your hand across the surface of your car paint after you have washed it. Virtually every car will have some degree of airborne pollutants already attached to the paint surface. Even brand new cars generally will have accumulated a fair amount of pollutants between production time and the time you take delivery of it. Just know it needs to be done and it will be ongoing maintenance moving forward. This might be every 3 months, or once a year. This will need to be done on a freshly washed car before you do anything else to the paint. This means after you wash your car to remove superficial dirt/dust, you will need to decontaminate your paint before you move forward in polishing or waxing your car.
- Car Waxing: Waxing serves two purposes- protection and visual enhancement. Because there are two main objectives to waxing your car, and because waxes and sealants come in endless types and varieties, I have included my top two picks below. The manufacturers instructions and your level of commitment will determine how often you will need or want to wax your car. Just know it is an essential part of ongoing maintenance and will have to be done as often as once a week (for the OCD who demand that "just waxed" look), to once a year (for those on the bare minimum plan).
- Car polishing: Polishing your car is for visual enhancement only. This is performed to removed paint blemishes (spider-webbing, swirl marks, etc.) as well as to develop a higher level of shine and gloss to your paint. It is performed after you decontaminate your paint, and prior to waxing. Despite what you have read or heard; polishing a car is not going to make the paint last longer or make your wax last longer. It is purely to make it "look better". (if you know you want to polish your car you can see my page on car polishing for beginners)
I have some definite opinions to washing your car that are completely counter to what you probably think or have been told:
- I think most people would be better outsourcing the car washing part to a quality car wash in your local area. This would mean a 100% brushless, 100% cloth, or 100% hand wash. No tunnels with the big, nylon brushes.
Crazy as this seems coming from a professional detailer; it is one of my "voice of reason" moments. So let me be a voice of reason to you and your world:
"Most people will spend a good hour or more washing their car at home because they are overly worried about taking their car to the car wash, or they think it is the better way. The major problem with this is that most people will wear themselves out or run out of time simply washing their car."
If you have now worn yourself out of time and/or energy, then how are you ever going to get to the more critical and more fun parts of the detailing process?!
So there...that is my voice of reason.
Take your car to a trusted car wash, save yourself the time and effort, then go home and do the "fun" stuff of car care and detailing.
But I get it...
There are those of you that will insist on doing it yourself or simply don't have any other options.
- You don't really have any car washes that are both realistically convenient, or just plane suck all together.
- Some of you truly enjoy the car washing process and find it therapeutic.
- You are a person that simply cannot change from old processes. I also get this!
So for all of you who still want to wash their cars themselves, I recommend the car wash kit from Chemical Guys just below.
Chemical Guys HOL121 Best Car Wash Bucket Kit (11 Items)
Before you wax your car, you will first need to prepare the surface by removing embedded pollutants that attach to your cars paint and will not be removed with traditional washing and waxing or even polishing. There is this stuff floating around in the air you breathe called pollution. Tiny particles of "contaminants" (How is that for a very un-scientific label) settle onto your cars paint, along with the more traditional "dirt" and begins to etch and embed into the surface. You can test how significant this is by using a plastic sandwich bag.
After your car has been washed, place the baggy over your hand and slide across the "clean" surface of your paint and glass.
Pretty disturbing isn't it?!
If you do not remove these pollutants (also called industrial fall-out in the industry...I know; sounds way more dramatic and cooler than "dirt") you are in fact applying wax directly over all these tiny particles of pollution (fall-out).
You need to remove these before you do any else to your car. And the process is done on a clean car, where you have removed or washed away traditional superficial dirt. (you know the kind that actually washes away with soap and water)
Meguiar's G1016 Smooth Surface Clay Kit
Car wax serves two basic goals:
- Adds a layer of protection for your cars paint/clear coat.
- Enhances the visual appearance by creating a more uniform reflective layer, while covering and concealing blemishes in the paint.
Car waxes come in (3) basic types of car wax products: paste, liquid, and spray.
- Paste wax: typically the best choice for covering or concealing paint defects. Typically the choice for any dark colored cars where visual performance is often the main goal. (the major problem is people are far less inclined to use a paste wax consistently due to the extra effort required to apply a paste car wax)
- Liquid wax: Many people prefer a liquid wax over a paste wax as liquid car waxes are easier than a paste wax to apply and remove. (while liquid waxes are easier, they still require more effort than using a spray wax like the one below)
- Spray wax: the easiest to use of all waxes and my recommendation for most people simply due to the ease of use. (My main rule when people ask what the best wax is, I always answer by saying any wax that you are willing to use more often than not. paste and liquid waxes often discourage people from using due to the added time and effort of using these types of car waxes.)
Based on how you think and the conclusions you have personally come to, I offer my top picks in car waxes for each of the categories.
Spray Car Wax
Darren's Note: If I had to choose a single wax (which is what I have done in my personal life) I would pick the Q-7 spray wax from CSI. Since I am so often asked what is the best car wax, I simply respond by saying that the best car wax is the car wax that will make it onto your cars paint the most often. And that is one of the major reasons I prefer the Q-7 wax over alternatives is my willingness to wax my car far more often with this wax than any other wax.
This is has been one of my "dirty little secrets" for many years. Only recently has it become available to the general public. I know the founder/formulator of this wax personally. He was the original founder/developer/formulator of System One. (The original Single Product Polish system on the market)
- If I had to choose a single wax product, this would be the one due to its quality ingredients (one of the few times I have had the ability to verify first hand) and ease of use.
- Thicker than most spray waxes. (If you understand the "power of suggestion", you will really like this aspect as you feel like you are really applying a healthy level of protection to your paint.)
- Has been formulated to be used in direct sunlight on hot paint (I mean seriously hot paint. So far I have used it on paint that I have measured as hot as 152 degrees)
- Is what is called a non-staining formulation. Will not stain black trim.
- Does not haze up to a chalky residue that creates annoying dust.
- Will actually protect and enhance any and all your black trim on your car; SERIOUSLY! (one of the top reasons I love this wax so much is that it can not only be used on any of the hard or porous black trim, but truly enhances it to make it look better than before; just like it will do with your paint. It does not create an overly shiny or greasy appearance to your black trim, but you will definitely be able to to see a noticeable difference. Use this on a regular basis and both your paint and black trim will remain healthy and beautiful.
- Very economical.
- Not as easy to use as the "thinner, lighter" spray wax like the Meguiar's Quik Wax, but you will realize you are getting far more actual wax during application onto your car. (trade-off's right?)
- It is literally one of the waxes I use regularly in my professional detail business due to its versatility in benefits. It's what I call a sure thing.
- No "out-gassing" that can be a problem with other spray detailers or waxes I have tested in the past. (out-gassing is when the chemicals of the wax product react to the air/heat and produce a cloudy layer on your cars paint surface after you have removed the wax. Imagine if you drove through thick fog or smoke and it stuck to your paint. If your cars paint is very light in color, you would never notice it. But use one of those inferior waxes that out-gas on a dark colored car and you will be very frustrated.)
If you are interested in reading my additional car wax reviews you can read my best car waxes review page.
CSI Nu Tyre Lotion
- True waterborne technology
- Dries to the touch
- Zero tire sling if used as recommended
- Can be layered for additional shine
- Excellent for use on any rubber, vinyl, plastic on both exterior and interior of your car
- Can also be used as a leather conditioner on coated car leather if you are looking for a more supple feel and shine to your car leather
- When used on exterior black plastic trim; will withstand repeated washings and will not create a greasy feel
Darren's Note: Since this is labeled as a tire dressing, most people will be using it initially as a tire dressing. What most manufacturers don't talk about is the fact that the rubber compound used on tires varies dramatically. This means that the rubber compound on your particular tires will affect the appearance/results of ANY tire dressing just as much if not more than your choice in a quality tire dressing. Off-road tires in particular do not "dress-up" particularly well as compared to performance street tires. his is due to the rubber compound far more than the tire dressing itself. I add this as a note so you will not have unrealistic expectations for this or any other dedicated tire dressing.
Like most of the ClearCoat Solutions Inc, products (CSI), this tire dressing has so many uses:
- Tire dressing
- Exterior black trim enhancer/restorer/maintenance dressing
- Interior dressing for any rubber, plastic, vinyl, and coated leather
- Engine dressing
For additional tire dressing reviews you can read my best tire dressing reviews.
Tire Dressing Applicator
Kraft Tool PL600L General Purpose Large Turtle Back Cellulose Sponge Box
- The best dressing applicator I have ever used (ideally suited for exterior use, but still capable for interior use)
- I cut mine in half (now I get two for the price of one) and makes for the perfect size when using as a dressing applicator
- When cut in half, you now have multiple size areas and angles for precise application of dressing based on areas you are working
- I get mine wet first, wring out as tightly as possible, apply dressing directly to sponge and then apply dressing to car
The topic of wheel cleaners is a much debated topic filled with many opinions. The biggest debate being between the type of wheel cleaners people choose to use. I have numerous videos addressing this debate between acid or non-acid based wheel cleaners.
Since I am trying to simply this page into letting you know exactly what I use, I am only going to give you 2 choices based on acid vs. non-acid. If you want to see the comprehensive discussion on wheel cleaners and the different types I recommend if you have a problem with what I use, you can see that at car wheel cleaner.
Wheel Cleaner (acid base)
Meguiar's D14001 Wheel Brightener - 1 Gallon
- Concentrate; dilute based on label instructions. ( I dilute mine down 10:1 despite what the labeling recommends)
you struggle with the fact that this is an acid based wheel cleaner,
just realize that not only are your wheels going to be clear coated (a
very similar chemical formulation of plastic), but the acid based wheel
cleaner that is also a concentrate is bottled in an actual plastic
container. (somehow the "acid is bad for your wheels" camp has an
inability to observe the obvious and casually assumes that any and all
types of acids are just bad... regardless. Never mind that vinegar and
certain fruits that we ingest directly into our bodies are also acidic.
But once again; not all acid are created equal, and I am speaking from
decades of experience)
- I can't really say more than I already
have about this. You will either embrace the idea of using an acid based
wheel cleaner like this or you won't.
- You might think a
gallon is over-kill if you are a driveway detailer simply looking to
take care of a single car. Just know that wheels (especially any foreign
makes) are typically the dirtiest part of your car. You will go through
a lot of wheel cleaner; especially if you plan on cleaning and
maintaining the inside of the wheel barrels as I do. So a gallon of
concentrate will actually be appropriate regardless of whether you are a
driveway detailer or an up and coming detailing professional.
I no longer use this or any other acid based wheel cleaner due to
environmental concerns. The run-off from these products is of no good to
the environment never mind my own personal health. Since I no longer do
any mobile detailing I do not have to deal with overly dirty wheels. My
own cars are maintained on a very consistent and regular basis so
cleaning the wheels is not a problem for me due to my vigilance. See the
Simple Green product below
You must also note that when cleaning
wheels, you will go through a disturbing amount of wheel cleaner. I
think most guys come to this conclusion very quickly when they buy a
16oz. or 32oz. of traditional, dedicated wheel cleaner that is consider a
"ready to use" (RTU) product. For this reason I recommend the gallon
sized concentrates like this Meguiar's wheel cleaner or the Simple Green
cleaner just below.
Also note that if you are dealing with
wheels that have years of accumulated brake dust then an acid based
wheel cleaner might be your only solution at the beginning until you
have cleaned your wheels as thoroughly as possible at which time you can
switch to a much safer wheel cleaner like the Simple Green product
Wheel Cleaner (non-acid)
Simple Green 19128 Crystal Industrial Cleaner/Degreaser, 1 Gallon Bottle
Darren's Note: The obvious concern you may have with this product is the fact that not only is it not a dedicated wheel cleaner, but is a product that is not officially labeled and produced by a dedicated car detailing company like Meguiar's or Mothers, etc. If you are new to me and my presence on the many social media platforms, you may not be familiar with one of my "unique value propositions" to guys just like yourself. And one of the key factors I have brought to the wold of cosmetic car care and auto detailing is the use of products and tools from outside of this industry. Simple Green is an all-purpose cleaner that I have been using for decades and one of my own personal secrets that I have only begun to reveal to the industry through my YouTube channel.
I love this product for so many reasons:
- Rinses clean
- Environmental friendly
- Effective as an all-purpose cleaner capable of countless uses including cleaning the wheels on my own car as well as any car (if your car has years of accumulated brake dust, then you may have to use this product full-strength with repeated uses until you have desired results. Moving forward you can dilute down and use as a maintenance cleaner like I do on my own car wheels)
- I dilute my mixture 10:1 when using as a wheel cleaner on my personal cars.
- When used with a pressure washer I don't even have to use a scrub brush/wheel brushes to break the dirt/dust free. I simply spray mixture on my cool dirty wheels and pressure wash them clean. If you do not have access to a pressure washer than you will likely need to manually agitate your car wheels while using this product for a clean rinse of any accumulated brake dust.
- Since this is an alkaline based leaner, it also is effective at cleaning the tire sidewalls and wheel wells
- Can also be used as a very effective engine cleaner/degreaser (you may want to increase the strength of your mixture if your engine is overly oily/greasy)
- Can be used to clean oxidized black plastic trim before any application of a dressing
Every car owner needs a quality quick detailer to extend and maintain any of your car washing or detailing efforts. These products are so handy for light touch-up's to remove light dust, smudges, finger prints, road grime, etc. I also carry a bottle in my car for any mishaps while out in my travels: bird droppings, sprinklers, etc.
Darren's Note: One of the reasons I am so in love with this particular detailers is the versatility of it. If you read the list of features and benefits below you will begin to see why.
- Thicker in consistency than most spray detailers (you might find this a good thing or prefer the thinner detailers. Only you can decide)
- Can be used in direct sunlight on hot paint
- Non-staining formulation can be used on virtually any non-porous surface on both interior and exteriors (this means no white residue on black trim specifically)
- Ideal for all paint types/colors
- Gloss enhancer and brightener for paint, chrome, stock wheels, etc.
- Can be used on your cars interior to do light dusting/cleaning of all vinyl, dashboard, leather upholstery, plastic, etc.
- Can also be used as an excellent window cleaner (see my page on window cleaning for an in-depth tutorial)
CSi Ceram-X Polish
- Not a compound, but a polish
- Made with highly refined abrasive technology
- The only polish required for 99.9% of all jobs on any type of paint and/or clear coat (fresh paint, fully cured paint, hard or soft clears, ceramic or non-ceramic clears)
- For use by hand, any type of machine buffer, any type of polishing pad
- Body shop safe
D1 Polish Enhancer
CSi D1 Polish Enhancer
- A finer grade of polish
- Only needed for the extreme perfectionist
- For use on dark or black cars by a person with a highly developed eye
- Can be used independently if you are a hobbyist or car owner looking for slight paint defect removal and gloss enhancer
- For use by hand, any type of machine buffer, and type of polishing pad
- Body shop safe
The CSI Ceram-X car polish is my absolute favorite and what I consider my "sure thing". It never let's me dwn and I know I can use it on any paint, any color, in any situation.
But when it comes to polishing your paint, there are many levels of engagement or commitment as to what polishing your car means in you and your world:
- Are you an experienced detailer looking to see what I recommend when I do high-level paint correction?
- Are you a beginner with little to no time behind a car buffer looking to know what I recommend?
- Are you looking to ease into the subject of paint correction/polishing and want to know what I recommend as a starter polish?
- Are you trying to polish your entire car or simply touching it up by hand polishing a few problem areas of your car?
Since each of you reading this page will come at this moment with different needs, I am including the two different sizes of my favorite car polish. With that said, I will help you decide what the winning size for you might be:
Ceram-X 8 oz. size:
- Perfect for anyone looking to simply try this car polish out without committing to the full sized quart.
- A person who has a few problem areas of your car paint and want to touch these areas up either by hand or machine bu haven't very limited need for more than 8 oz.
- Can be used as a replacement for the traditional car paint scratch removal products that are typically sold in 6-8 oz. sizes.
Ceram-X 32 oz. size:
- Perfect size for doing full pant correction jobs whether this be as a professional detailer or in doing your own, personal car
- More economical than the 8 oz. size as you are getting much more product for your money
- If you have come to trust my judgement and experience and simply want to convert from the current inferior polish/compound you may be using and get some of what I use professionally to perform at the highest levels of paint correction and car paint polishing.
Auto Detailing Products Summary
I will continue to add more and more of my "What Would Darren Use" products to this page as I move forward with developing this site. Hopefully this will give you a very good starting point in helping you achieve better results when it comes to detailing your own cars.
Endless opinions exist as to the best auto detailing products. I hope you will come to appreciate the products I have come to love and use during my long career as a auto detailing professional1