How to Detail Your Car or Boat Step by Step

Luckybudmall Oct 19, 2022

The following information is meant to give you a basic insight about detailing a car or boat.

While both forms of transport are different, some basic rules apply to both cars and watercraft.

Before you can pluck away at the dirt and grime, you need to get rid of any junk.

The Importance of a Clean Interior

When deep cleaning the interior of a car or boat, you need to remember that the interior often serves as a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

The germs often settle on certain touch-points, such as the steering wheel, controls, and switches. In this time, when cleanliness is paramount, it is important to keep this fact in mind.

Both boats and cars frequently become repositories for germs, mold, girme, empty snack packs, and grease.

Therefore, to begin the detailing process, you have to get rid of the junk and focus on removing crumbs, surface marks, and odors that accumulate from smoking or eating on-the-go.

Cleaning Supplies You Will Need

To give your car or boat a complete interior valet, you need to free up an afternoon of your time. You will need the following items to begin the process:

  • A vacuum cleaner (with the necessary nozzles). Use crevice tools to capture debris in corners.
  • Quality microfiber cloths (ideally, 300g/m)
  • An all-purpose cleaner in a spray bottle
  • Window cleaning fluid
  • A cleaning liquid to clean plastic
  • Brushes
  • A pH neutral cleaner for leather, if your car or boat has leather seats

Get Rid of the Trash and Junk

Remove all the junk from your car or boat. Get rid of half-eaten sandwiches, wrappers in the glove compartment, trash from containers, and unnecessary stuff in your car’s trunk.

Use an all-purpose cleaner to loosen the grime and dirt and compressed air or your vacuum to blast out the grit from hard-to-reach spots, especially from corners and between the seats.

Wipe Away the Dust

To get rid of dust, use a microfiber cloth or a soft brush. You will be surprised how dust builtds up, especially in places, such as air vents.

Clean the Floor Mats and Floorboards

Pick up the mats on the floor and clean them separately. Vacuum and clean the floorboards.

Vacuum Your Car or Boat

Start with vacuuming by moving from the top to bottom. Make sure your vacuum exerts plenty of power and comes with adaptors and detailing tools and brushes.

Vacuuming is challenging, as this is when you really need to focus on those hard-to-reach areas.

Run a Damp Cloth Over the Dashboard

Use a dampened microfiber cloth (not wet) across the dashboard and similar surfaces.

Doing so will remove any residual dirt before you treat the surface with a specialized cleaning liquid.

Using a microfiber cloth is helpful, as it will not leave hair or fluff behind - stuff  that tends to cling to surfaces.

Treat Surfaces with the Proper Products

Interior surfaces made of plastic last a long while. They are also sensitive to the sun’s UV rays.

As a result, they tend to fade. While colorfastness is improving, it still is necessary to use the proper products to strengthen the plastic.

By using the right plastic liquid, you will preserve the plastic and give it a pleasant-looking matte finish.

To treat leather, use a solvent that is acidic but neutralizes on contact. Properly treating leather will give it a soft and vivid sheen.

You can also find abrasion-resistant leather coatings that you can use to keep the leather preserved. Use these products about every six months.

Wipe Away Treatments and Cleaners for a Flawless and Polished Finish

To give your surfaces a polished and flawless look, use dry microfiber cloths to wipe away sprays or liquid treatments.

Never use a paper towel or damp tissues, as doing so will leave a papery residue.

You can access the proper products more easily if you buy them directly from a car or boat dealer or auto parts retailer.

They can be hard to find at a gas station or a grocery store.

Clean the Windows Until They Shine

Next, you want to clean the insides of the windows.

You can use an all-purpose spray or a glass cleaner. Again, use dry microfiber cloths to wipe away the product.

3 Tips for Laundering Microfiber Cloths

  1. After using the microfiber cloths, launder them at a low temperature in your washer.
  2. Use a natural and gentle detergent, then spin them dry in the dryer. Doing so will get rid of hairs and further soften the cloths.
  3. Never use fabric softener when you wash the cloths.

How to Get Rid of Those Hard-to-Remove Stains, Including Gum

Some stains or products, such as gum, are a challenge to remove. The following tips will help you get rid of them more easily.

Getting Rid of Hard, Stuck-on Gum

To remove gum, use a freezer spray before using a blunt knife to remove the offending left-over gum.

You can also use white vinegar instead of the freezer spray to dislodge the sticky and gooey mess.

Removing Chocolate Stains

Using a plastic scraper, remove chocolate. Don’t move the scraper back and forth. Instead, scrape in one direction.

Apply a damp sponge to the stain, then repeat. As a follow-up, apply a cleaning foam to a soft cleaning brush and get rid of the remaining stain.

Milkshake or Smoothie Stains

If the stain is new, soak it up right away. Use either a clean towel or cotton cloth.

You can also use dishwasher  powder, if needed. Let the area air-dry. Otherwise, if the stain is milk-based, it will smell like sour milk.

Exterior Detailing

Detailing a Boat

  • To detail a boat on the outside, you will need to loosen the debris and grime. Start at the top and work your way down. Use a soap that is made especially to remove dirt and grime. Wash each segment of the exterior to prevent streaking.


  • To remove waterline stains, use a more aggressive product - one designed to remove scum and algae.


  • For black rubber marks, caused from docking, apply some acetone on a clean rag to wipe the smudges clear.

Cleaning a Car

  • Start at the top of your car and work your way down, as with a boat. Start by soaping up the car to remove and loosen the dirt and follow up with a soapy spray.


  • Rinse the car a couple times to ensure you have removed both the dirt and soap.


  • Towel dry before using a water spot remover.


  • A clay bar is helpful in removing extra buildup.


  • Apply wax to the finish.


  • Map out what you need to wash and rinse - don’t forget the hubcaps and tires.

One Last Piece of Advice

To make sure everything is done right, it is best to take your boat or car to a professional detailer.

This is true, as well, if you don’t have time to do it yourself.

Because a detailer is used to professionally deep-cleaning cars and boats, it is well worth the investment.

Going to a detailer will keep your car or boat looking its best for a much longer time. 

Detailing an auto or boat gives you a sense of accomplishment, even if the work is done by a professional.

So just give yourself some rewards for improving the looks of your auto or boat.


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