When I used to clean my cars and bikes before I started AutoMOTO Detail, I did everything by hand and with just a few choice products. Working on vehicles professionally meant I had to invest in quite a lot of equipment, so here's a run through of what I've bought, used and replaced in the past two years since AutoMOTO Detail was formed.
The first thing needed to start washing a car without touching it is a POWER WASHER. I started with a very old Karcher which broke. I did a deal to clean a friends car in exchange for an old Karcher he wasn't using, and although it helped me out short term it wasn't really powerful enough. I then bought a cheap Lavor branded washer which lasted for all of two washes before expiring, which went straight back to the shop and was replaced with an upgraded machine, the Karcher K4 I am using today. More powerful than the others, it creates good snow foam and runs with air cooling so shouldn't overheat and suffer an early demise from overuse, hopefully!
Next comes a SNOW FOAM LANCE. This is a nozzle attachment with a bottle attached into which you put shampoo and water. This is then connected to the power washer wand, and when water is passed through it, the shampoo in the bottle is forced out of the bottle as a thick foam. My first lance had a couple of leak issues though and didn't seem to have much adjust adjustability. I noted this problem on a detailing forum and the suppliers happened to read it, contacted me, and replaced it with an upgraded item which is a massive improvement, so thanks to them, and hats off for excellent customer service.
PH NEUTRAL SHAMPOO. I started with one brand, switched to a second, and have a 5 litre bottle of a third waiting in the wings which should offer even more foaming capabilities. For those wondering why foam is used, it's because it sits on the vehicle and eventually drips off taking dirt with it, meaning several layers of dirt have been removed with the power washer and snow foam without you even touching the car, therefore creating less chances of scratches being put into the paintwork.
MICROFIBRE WASH MITTS. Historically cars used to be cleaned with a sponge, but the truth is they are the worst thing on the planet for washing cars as they absorb everything. Rubbing a soapy sponge across the car does remove dirt, but as it's absorbent, all that happens is that you put the same dirt back onto the car even after you've dunked it into a clean BUCKET of water to wash it out.
Methodology changed and the new way was to use two buckets with GRIT GUARDS at the bottom . You'd wash the car with a microfibre mitt, dunk it in the dirty water bucket and rub it against the grit guard to shake out the dirt, then dunk it in the clean water bucket and use again, repeating as many times as necessary to complete the car. That method works but takes a lot of water, and nowadays I use multiple wash mitts and one bucket, saves time and water. I do however have a SECOND BUCKET which I use for the wheels only.
Wheels and arches are cleaned with a LONG HANDLED BRUSH for the arches and a HARD BRISTLE BRUSH for scrubbing the tyre itself. Baked in brake dust sometimes requires requires a special WHEEL CLEANER SPRAY to dislodge it, and there is a long handled WHEEL NUT LUG BRUSH and SPOKE BRUSH
Tyres are cleaned and dressed with special TYRE COATING whilst external trims are cleaned with IPA and coated with a specialist TRIM RESTORER for that factory black finish.
Once washed there is then a METAL DECONTAMINANT (FALLOUT) SPRAY stage, this removes iron filing particles which attach themselves to the vehicle thrown up from the road and the brake pads. This is used on the wheels too and leaves them with a long term shine, and you often see pictures of wheels appearing to bleed as the spray removes the iron particles. Next comes a TAR REMOVER for those pesky tar spots that appear far too frequently due to the way the French repair their roads, and if the vehicle was in really dirty condition there's the option of using a TRAFFIC FILM REMOVER. If there is no water supply I can wash the car using a RINSLESS WASH LIQUID, otherwise I connect to mains water supplies using a 15m HOSE.
The vehicles are dried after washing using a specialist high density MICROFIBRE DRYING TOWEL, I've probably got around 8 of those. To make sure water doesn't dribble down the paintwork from lights or mirrors I use a small BLOWER to get rid of any remaining droplets. If a vehicle is presented with water spots already in the paintwork they can be removed with WATER SPOT REMOVER.
The initial washing and preparatory stages take at least an hour!
If you are looking for optimum cleaning and removal of the most minute of particles, you then CLAY BAR the car. This putty like substance is rubbed over the car and removes everything you thought had already been removed, but wasn't. It's surprising how much this can attract, and showing customers how much dirt was still on the car even after washing is enlightening for them.
Polishing is done by machine. My first MACHINE POLISHER died after about 40 vehicles and forced me to buy another. The SECOND POLISHER has a more powerful engine and larger throw which improved results and is more efficient. I put new bushes into the original and now use that with smaller pads for tighter spots on the car like bumpers and boot areas. Finish is checked using an LED TORCH.
I have around 5 different types of POLISHING PADS which are graded in how much "cut" they put into the paintwork, then I have a choice of 3 different types of WAX POLISH, a SPRAY POLISH, a GLAZE, a SEALANT and a HYBRID SPRAYWAX/SEALANT, plus a PAD CONDITIONING AND CLEANING SPRAY. All final coatings are applied using SOFT APPLICATOR PADS.
Polish is buffed off with MICROFIBRE TOWELS of which I must have used literally hundreds!
Headlights are restored using 3 GRADES OF WET AND DRY SANDPAPER, specialist HEADLIGHT POLISH and UV COATING PROTECTANT.
A LINT ROLLER is useful on convertible roofs.
Chrome trims, and badges and exhaust tips require METAL POLISH, tips are cleaned with fine grade WIRE WOOL.
I also carry a STEP LADDER, SINGLE STEP, 40M EXTENSION CABLE, KNEELING PAD, and a 3x3 TONNEAU for protection in hot weather
By now you're perhaps starting to see how many tools and utensils are used and realising it's a lot? The interior needs just as many, here we go again with that list.
HOOVER- I'm on my second one currently. The first died after 1 hour and 20 minutes on a Range Rover Vogue riddled with dog hairs killed it. I have various attachments including a long reach CREVICE ATTACHMENT.
To agitate stones and mud ingrained into carpets and mats I use a CORDLESS DRILL with a BRUSH ATTACHMENT. Mats are removed and placed on a ROLL OF CARPET I have to keep them off the floor whist they are either shampooed or washed.
Seats are hoovered then FABRIC SHAMPOOED or steam cleaned with a WATER EXTRACTOR filled with a STAIN GUARD PROTECTANT.
Leather seats are cleaned unsurprisingly with specialist CLEANER and RESTORER.
Windsceen and glass are cleaned with GLASS CLEANER and polished with a WAFFLE WEAVE cloth, I've probably got 6-8 of those. Stickers can be removed with an ADHESIVE REMOVER and if on internal glass with a GLASS SCRAPER.
Door jambs and boot surrounds are cleaned using a STEAM CLEANER with either direct steam nozzle or microfibre mop end.
Dashboard and trims are cleaned with an APC (All purpose cleaner) using more of the ubiquitous microfibre towels, and then dressed with an ANTI STATIC UV COATING.
I probably have 30 BRUSHES of various types, a mix of soft, hard, foam or silicon, dependent on where they are used.
Engine bays need a strong DEGREASER and TRIM DRESSING
I carry my tools and utensils in around 8 STORAGE BOXES and sprays are contained in around 7 SPRAY BOTTLES with chemical resistant spray nozzles
I wear GLOVES and SAFETY GLASSES for protection, and a cap to protect my balding head (that last item is optional).
I have WET WIPES for cleaning hands or tools
Final items are a pair of SHOW PLATES with the AutoMOTO Detail logo.
All this goes into my "works" Audi A3
So there you have it. A very comprehensive list of what's in a detailers tool kit. It's a long list as you can see, and I'm constantly having to change or replace parts as they wear out or fluids and products run out. It's been over a 4 figure investment but has been worth it. I'm not getting rich doing the work, which make no mistake is hard, but I am my own master and I do enjoy it, providing you the customer, with a vehicle which you can be proud of again.