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Auto detailing is the practice of performing an extremely thorough cleaning, polishing and waxing of an automobile, both inside and out, to produce a show-quality level of detail. It can be practiced for personal satisfaction, and it is also performed to prepare a car for a Concours d'Elegance (often shortened to just Concours), a car show that features the appearance of cars. Elements of exterior detailing include claying, polishing, and waxing. Interior detailing involves the cleaning of the interior of a vehicle using vacuums, liquid cleaners, and brushes. Engine detailing involves cleaning the engine bay area of dirt and grease by using degreasers and all-purpose cleaners.

While there are no specific guidelines for what actually makes up a 'detail,' it is typically considered more extensive than washing and drying a car, and will often involve many steps. Main goals are typically beautification, but can also touch other areas such as minor paint repair, protection and sealant, surface restoration, as well as thoroughly cleaning areas which are normally ignored such as the engine and under chassis.

A variety of shampoos, cleaners, degreasers, protect ants, lubricants, polishes, clay bars, and waxes have developed over time to suit various demands of consumers and professionals.

Purpose of using Clay Bar

Clay is a mixture of clay base and various mild abrasives. Clay along with a clay lubricant is used to remove paint contamination. Road grime, tar, bugs, rust, tree sap and even paint over spray can be removed with a clay bar. Clay bars differ in color and density but what is most important, type and amount of abrasive particles they contain. All clay bars will be labeled from "mild" to "strong" abrasive quality. Claying does not remove the clear coat of the paint but can cause marring or dullness if used incorrectly. When using a clay bar sufficient lubrication must be present to avoid scratching the paint. It takes a few passes of clay to feel the difference on the surface of the paint. To evaluate the effectiveness of claying dry the area and assess the paint and the bar. The paint should become slick to touch. The clay bar used should be turning gray. If the clay bar is dropped it must be discarded. The clay bar should be folded over frequently to expose clean surface. Claying does not replace polishing. It is a process that should be used before polishing compound is used. Claying should be used once or twice a year.

Purpose of Polishing

The purpose of polishing is to remove contamination, swirls, scratches and other imperfections from the paint. In contrast to the clay, which removes contamination from the surface of the paint, polishes penetrate the clear coat or the paint itself on single stage paint. Polishes are classified based on how abrasive they are. Rubbing Compound will remove the heavy scratches and oxidation. It can be compared to a fine sandpaper. Polish is used to remove light oxidation and fine scratches. It can also be used to remove light imperfections such as swirl marks or water spots. Pre-wax cleaner is also a polish. It is used prior to waxing to remove very light contamination and dirt. Glaze is the finest polish. It does not remove the imperfections but has the power to enhance surface gloss. There are other products such as a "buff and wax" which contain a high level of cleaner and U.V.  protect antor carnauba, producing a polish and a protect effect.

Purpose of Waxing

Waxing is the ultimate form of protecting an automobile's finish. Wax comes in many forms such as cream, paste, and liquid. Many waxes contain carnauba which contains a high amount of fatty acids. This fatty acid creates a solid layer between the paint and the outside world which protects it, and gives it a shiny finish. Synthetic waxes are regarded as the most effective product available. Synthetic wax contains strong U.V. inhibitors. Synthetic waxes commonly mix low amounts of cleaners with high amounts of U.V. inhibitors to create the same protective layer that carnauba does.

Beyond waxing would be sealants. Synthetic sealants are polymer or acrylic based and provide triple the durability and much more protection than even the best carnauba wax. They are liquid in form and apply very much like a liquid wax. It is suggested that a sealant cure for 12 to 24 hours before layering additional coats on the paint, but that is rarely an issue for sealant users. The only tricky thing about sealants is that the surface of the vehicle must be properly prepared for a sealant. You cannot apply a sealant if there is any wax on the car or other contamination that would inhibit the bonding of the product to the paint. You must first polish and clean the paint prior to application. Once you top a sealant with a wax you will not be able to put additional layers of the sealant on without first cleaning the paint and removing all the wax.