Car interior dressing is a love/hate relationship for me both personally and professionally.
As a rule I am not a huge fan of shiny, overly dressed car interiors. But car interior dressing has a place in the world of not only professional detailing, but in the world of cars owners and enthusiasts alike.
Whether we are discussing vinyl dressings or leather conditioners, the problem is that most people become hyper-focused and short sighted. As car owners they become fixated on rushing out and shopping for the best auto interior dressing thinking this is the cure-all to keeping their car's interior looking brand new, protecting it, and nourishing the many materials that a person might choose to use a dressing on.
"The world is full of short-cuts and most people look for quick fix solutions. Dressing the interior of your car is a perfect example where people grossly misunderstand how their ignorance and short sighted strategy actually produces the exact opposite result they were originally after."
There are (2) common mistakes people make when it comes to using a car leather and/or vinyl conditioner. First, they don't realize that 99% of the time the car leathers of today are finished with a clear protective coating. So all those fantasy's of using a high grade leather conditioner to work into your cars leather like we did as kids on a brand new leather baseball mitt, need to be dismissed altogether. What you are really dealing with is a synthetic coating, not the natural leather. Therefore depending on who you ask, conditioners become a non-issue and irrelevant. You can go to car leather care for more information regarding the process and the different types of leathers.
When it comes to conditioning the vinyl in your cars interior, you need to understand that unless you are in love with the glossy, shiny look of dressings or conditioners, your vinyl needs to be first and foremost kept clean. Due to advances in manufacturing, the vinyl's of today are far superior than the vinyl's of yesterday. What happens is most people become fixated on searching out the best car interior dressing and/or conditioner, and run off to slather layer upon layer of dressing in their car. Meanwhile, they forget the most important part of the process; CLEANING. What is then created over time is a greasy build-up of dirt and conditioner.
So often I am simply asked for a straight, no-explanation needed answer to people's questions. They don't want to know the "why", they simply want to know the "what"...as in what would I do.
So for people like that, I answer by telling them what I would do...or more specifically in this moment of dressing the interior of your car, what product do I recommend and use.
Darren's Note: Despite how the industry wants to sell you a dedicated product for every material and every tasks of detailing, the reality is that the industry has overloaded you with endless products that in many ways are simply redundant and a way in which to separate you from more of your money.
I prefer using a separate interior, all-purpose cleaner as can be found at my cleaning car upholstery page, then follow-up with this Nu Tyre Lotion that works amazing whether I am using it on my tires (great gloss with zero sling) or my car interior components for some protection and shine with a product that dries to the touch (no greasy residue or oily feel)
Yes, the industry makes a two-in-one product you can find below (Meguiar's) to both clean and condition your car leather or other car interior components, but like I said, I prefer to keep these tasks separate and find I get better results. having truly clean interior components/materials is a key factor before applying any type of conditioner or dressing.
Q. What is the difference between a dressing and a conditioner; they seem to have the same effect when I apply them?
A. No real difference between the two. Since most of us are not chemical engineers or formulators, none of really know for sure. Like so many areas of car care and life, we have to rely and trust on the industry, manufacturers, and so-called experts. As a rule, dressings and conditioners are interchangeable. A good place to start is by reading the product labeling.
Q. It would appear Darren that you are not a big fan of dressings as a rule?
A. You are correct! But for every rule, there are exceptions to the rule. There are times when the leather has aged and I believe that a leather conditioner or a car interior dressing of some kind, will in fact make the leather or vinyl within the car not only look better, but also feel better. I accept the trade-off of creating a more shiny appearance.
Q. How do you determine the appropriate time to use a dressing?
A. As a rule, I only apply an interior car dressing at the request of the customer, or if I determine that in order to achieve a uniform appearance, an interior car dressing is needed. Generally any black or dark colored interior will require the limited use of some form of dressing or conditioner. I also occasionally come across car leather that needs some form of dressing or conditioner to make it not only look "better", but makes it feel better. Usually the car leather and/or car vinyl will naturally look and feel better through traditional car interior cleaning methods.
This picture above represents what the car dash would look like with traditional car interior dressing on the left and after it has been cleaned on the right.
This is the rag I used to clean the excessive build-up of the car interior dressing the owner had kept reapplying year after year without cleaning the dash before each new repeat application.
I realize there are many of you reading this that like the ultra simple approach to everything car care. You accept that there are certain requirements, but don't want to over-think any of these areas.
You just want a direct and simplified answer and approach. Which is why I chose the Meguiar's product below.
Meguiar's Cleaner and Conditioner
Chemical Guys Black on Black:
Chemical Guys VRP Dressing:
I think I have made myself clear regarding dressings and conditioners. For the sake of clarity and recap, I will bullet-point the following tips and recommendations for you:
I hope this page is comprehensive enough so that you walk away with enough understanding to not only make an informed decision, but to put what you have learned into play. You can do me a favor and pay this page forward, sign up to my YouTube channel, or simply share the link to someone else you think could also benefit from all the info I have spent much time configuring into this car interior dressing page.