Wash your car, wax your truck, shine the chrome and polish the paint. Settle down to clean the wheels while Back-to-Black® Tire Shine works its magic. Stand back and examine the work you’ve done; look for the little things you may have missed. The time spent cleaning your ride is an investment in its health and beauty – leveraging elbow grease and painstaking effort so people can admire your ride as much as you do. The folks at Mothers® feel the same way.

Mothers® has been in the car-care business for decades, and helping you keep your vehicle looking its best is what we do. In this detailing guide is a collection of useful tips and tricks put together by our chemists, body-men, mechanics and gearheads for your detailing pleasure. We’ve also identified the car-care tools and materials you need to be successful, and laid out a detailing calendar to help you understand when to do what needs to be done.


To  get  all the details down before starting, we suggest going through this guide from cover to cover. Perhaps you’ll find a new trick, or discover that a technique you’ve used in the past wasn’t such a good idea. If you’re one of those caffeine-fueled folk with no time to spare, then use this manual as a quick go-to reference for important info. Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between detailing your car and giving it a quick wash job – we’ll help you do both, or either.

Mothers® encourages you to be thorough in your approach and execution to any car-care project, because doing a half a job means you’re only half-done, and your vehicle’s still half-dirty. Find the right cleaner or polish for each project, use the correct tools, and don’t cut corners.


Go ahead: plan your detailing efforts to get an accurate idea of what should be accomplished. Evaluate the condition of your vehicle: tires, wheels, paint, trim and interior (headliner, carpet, upholstery, and dashboard). From there, you can determine what you’ll need for materials, tools and time. You’ll also need to pick a good location to do your work, preferably out of the sun. In addition to the obvious need for water and power (for a buffer, vacuum, tunes, etc.), you’ll want to make sure you have room to operate (chrome cleaner does wonders for your wheels, but you don’t want to get it on the roses).

After assessing  your vehicle’s needs, you may feel a bit overwhelmed – a complete detail job can involved a lot of steps, and many small processes. Let this guide help.

  • To make things easier, break down the process into smaller tasks to be done in order.
  • Use the step-by-step Cleaning & Detailing Planners below.
  • Generally speaking, it’s better to work from the inside-out and from the top-down.
  • Exceptions to the in-out/top-down rule – take care of wheels and tires first, and if you’re planning scratch repair or spot removal, do it before polishing and waxing.
  • How often you’re able to wash and/or detail your ride is another important factor to consider. Whether you’ve got free time or not will often determine if detailing can be a weekly or monthly affair – plan, plan, plan.
  • Figure out which weekly events you can parlay into monthly ones when time doesn’t allow more frequent attention.


Cleaning & Detail Planner:

Regular Joe Appearance Care

Wash weekly to monthly
Detailing: jambs, underhood, wheel wells, etc. when you wash
Clean trim, gap, crack and seals when you wash
Apply preservative, protectant, detailer monthly, or when you wash
Clay bar: all paint biannual
Focused paint care: polish, coat and wax biannual
Wheels and tires: clean and coat when you wash
Wheels and lugs: detailed polishing every two-three months
Interior and glass: vacuum, clean stains, etc. monthly
Leather: condition monthly
Leather: cleaning, surface maintenance and reconditioning every two-three months

There  are plenty of exceptions to this planner. Use common sense, use your awareness of how often you drive your vehicle, specific needs of your car, truck, disco van or lead sled:


  • Parking outside? Washing and and a protective coat of wax are a necessity, not an option. Buying a car cover might not be a bad idea.

  • What region are you in? Cars in Texas, for example, get a more aggressive beating from the sun on a daily basis than a car in Idaho. More sun means more exterior care, more often. More rain means more glass care, more dirt or time on rough roads means more attention paid to the undercarriage, and more sun means more restorative products like Mothers® Back-to-Black® Trim & Plastic Restorer.


Seasons matter

  • Is it winter in a weathery region? Wash more, and pay attention to interior care because things like road salt wreak havoc on carpets and leather. Is it summer? Wax more. Is it fall? Get a coat of wax on before it’s too cold to do so.

  • Are you a clean freak who never eats in the car, or a burger and French fry-snarfing slob? Be honest – what’s your contribution to the state of your auto interior? Clean accordingly.

  • Live at the beach? Don’t let sand sit around, as it’s very abrasive – vacuum, vacuum, vacuum – and try to kick-off your sandals before getting in the vehicle.

  • Work truck? Customer expectations mean you need to look good, especially for first impressions, so exterior appearance is primary, but interior and storage areas are not so important – heavy on the basic cleaning, light on the extensive detailing.

  • Race car, trail truck or adventure rig? Functional requirements outweigh appearance needs, so most cleaning is about removing mud and dirt, tire scuffs, preserving cockpit operations and figuring out what parts you broke.

  • If you’re showing your rig or you’re maintaining the appearance of something special, regular cleaning ain’t going to support the state of perfection you insist upon – refer to the Tough Guy schedule we’ve prepared for you below that will keep the vehicle from ever having a chance to be dirty.

Cleaning & Detail Planner:

Tough Guy Intensive/Show Car Appearance Maintenance

Wash weekly
Intensive detailing: jambs, underhood, wheel wells, etc. monthly
Clay bar: all paint biannual
Paint care: prepare, polish and wax every eight-12 weeks
Trim, gap, crack and seals: clean and inspect weekly to monthly
Apply preservative, protectant, detailer monthly
Wheels and tires: clean and coat biweekly
Wheels and lugs, bead to tread: clean and polish monthly
Specialty/aftermarket wheels: clean and care weekly/per instructions
Interior and glass: clean and vacuum when you wash
Interior: clean stains, vacuum trunk, etc. monthly
Leather: condition monthly
Leather: cleaning, surface maintenance and reconditioning every two-three months
  • The intent of including a detailing schedule for show and display-level cleaning is to emphasize the preservation of that level of appearance – it’s one thing to clean up dirt, but another altogether to keep clean.
  • Regular car washing (as prescribed in the “Regular Joe” cleaning section) is designed to maintain the vehicle’s appearance, and the integrity of its exterior and interior. Enthusiasts and car-show folks, on the other hand, expect the best, and this more assertive cleaning plan provides for that.