The essential beginners car detailing kit – 5 must have products
As a beginner, a great way to get into dealing and iteeping your car clean is by picking up a car detailing kit. These detailing kits often include a number of products that allow you to get up and running for a relatively lower cost than it would to but them separately.
But, I want to show you 5 products that I think are going to work better than any off-the-shelf detailing kit and also save you money in the long term.
One of the issues I have with these kits is that you are not only limited to one brand more often than not, but you are also likely going to be picking up products that you might not need or use. Whilst some products in the kit might work fine, others might be poor, which can often happen within one brand.
My method of forming your own beginners car cleaning kit allows you to select the products that are right for you from brands that you can be sure work. I know this as I’ve tested them and use them with EVERY single wash.
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I’ve been down the route of picking up a load of products all once. I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on products that I don’t use, so I want to highlight to others that this isn’t the way to go. Whilst the equipment I bought all had a role, I realised I could have saved myself so much money if I’d just worked from the ground up.
You see, the key to detailing is working out what works for you. For example, if you’re not going to buy a machine polisher, then you won’t need heavy compound polish or cutting pads. And if you’re like me and have an obsession with keeping your glass clean, then you’re going to want to invest in glass cleaner and specialists glass cloths.
The importance of the maintenance wash
The single best way to learn what you’re going to need is to get the basics right and dial in your maintenance wash.
A maintenance wash is your wash routine for when you just need to give it a once over and bring the car back to life. The hard work (waxing, polishing, claying etc.) has all been done and you need to remove the dirt and grime from the past few weeks.
But, it’s this stage that’s the most dangerous to your cars paint. A poor maintenance washing stage is going to undo all of your hard work, inflicting swirls, scratches and marring to your paint work.
It’s this part of your routine that is going to make you aware of what you are able to do and what products you can add to your car detailing kit.
Be warned though, it can get highly addictive, then you end up like me with shelves full of all forms of products from £500 tubs of wax, to makeup removal wipes, stolen from the Mrs!
Product 1 – 3 x buckets with grit guards
That’s right, you need 3 buckets and at least two of those buckets – ideally three – with grit guards.
You may be aware of the 2 bucket wash method, which is where you keep the car shampoo with warm water in one bucket and the other with cold, clean water only to rinse. Simply dip your wash mitt in the shampoo, clean a small area on the car, before rinsing in the clean cold water.
The grit guards that you add in to the bottom of the bucket have been designed to keep any dirt and muck at the bottom of the bucket and to stop it from getting back into your wash mitt. The idea is to rub the mitt on the guard and then wring out to clean.
The 3rd bucket comes in for the wheels. I only ever use this bucket for wheels and it’s actually a different colour to my 2 wash buckets to make sure I don’t cross contaminate.
The wheels will be the dirtiest part of your car. They consume break dust, road grime, salt, dust, dirt, you name it, they take an absolute battering. The 3rd bucket allows you to keep all this from getting anywhere near the paint.
Buckets are generally pretty affordable, and usually you can pick one up with a grit guard for about £10. Keep an eye out for sales and “deal days” (Black Friday, Boxing Day, Holiday’s) for offers where you can get discount the more you buy.Pro tip – I’ve known some detailers to take this one step further, introducing a 4th bucket to have 2 buckets for the paint and the wheels. I’d state this was overkill for most, but I certainly wouldn’t advise against anything that gives you a little more cleaning power.
Buckets of choice…
To be honest, you can choose any bucket with grit guard that you like, but the set up below works just great for me. A little expensive for buckets, possibly, but they are super strong, super sturdy and mine have lasted me for hundreds of washes and still no sign of any wear, even around the handle.
- Capacity of 5 US Gallons (22 Litres)
- Bucket Diameter: 32cm (top)
- Bucket Height: 35 ½ cm
- Significantly reduces potential swirls and scratches
- Radial agitation grid removes dirt and debris from your wash mitt
Product 2 – Wash Mitt
The second product is getting a good quality wash mitt.
I’m shuddering at the thought of even mentioning the word sponge to wash a car, but I see so many using them, I have to mention it. Before we go any further, please, please bin the sponge when washing your car. Thanks!
OK, so public service announcement out the way, I need to explain why this is so important.
The more you come into contact with the paint, the bigger the chance of messing it up. Unfortunately, most of us will be washing outside where it’s impossible to prevent particles in the air from landing on the cars paint (dust, dirt, leaves, bugs etc.).
A good wash mitt will help alleviate these issues to a certain extent. Ideally you want to be looking at lamb’s wool wash mitt that offer dense, yet soft microfibre particles. My youngest often states it feels like stroking the dog!
The long fibres mean that any dirt that does come up off the car will then go deep into the fibres and away from the paint. When you then go to rinse in your wash buckets, the dirt should come out with a thorough rinse.
Wash mitt of choice…
My weapon of choice is the Meguires Luxurious Lamb’s Wool Wash Mitt. The mitt is made from deep pile, high quality, Australian and New Zealand Lamb’s Wool. It’s super, super soft and works great with the elasticated cuff for a secure wash.
The back of the mitt also includes a mesh with a soft microfibre backing. This is used to pick up bug’s that have splatted on your paint. It offers a little more abrasion, but not too much that’s going to scratch your paint.
- Meguiar's Luxurious Lambs Wool Wash Mitt
- Plush Lambswool for scratch free cleaning
- Gentle Mesh Netting on the rear for hard to shift bugs
- Natural Lambs Wool product
- Deep pile to keep grit & dirt away from your paint
Product 3 – Basics cleaners
So, this is going to include a couple of items for your car detailing kit, but they are essential cleaners that you need to have in your detailing bag.
The first one is a good quality shampoo. There are dozens upon dozens of shampoos to use, but not all are as good as they appear.
In my opinion, you’ve got two realistic choices for shampoo:
- PH Neutral Shampoo
- Shampoo that includes some form of wax/sealant
I use only PH Neutral shampoo as I like to wax and seal the car properly as part of my detailing obsession. A PH Neutral shampoo means that the shampoo won’t strip the already applied wax from the paint.
But, it should be noted that if you don’t use the recommend levels of dilution, you can still remove wax by using too much, so bear that in mind.
Shampoo of choice…
- Super-slick - water sheets away
- pH-neutral, biodegradable formula
- High-foaming - lifts dirt away from paintwork
- Wax-friendly - will not remove wax layers
- Made in the UK & smells of peaches!
The next product is a good wheel cleaner. Wheel cleaners can be a tricky one to work with as some are pretty much just acid, so you’ll need to make sure they are safe for your particular cut of wheels.
A lot of wheel cleaners you can buy in bulk and then dilute down each time you need it. To be honest, this is by far and away the most cost-effective way of using these types of products as they will be used each time you wash your car.
Ideally, I like to get something with a fallout remover included as well. This means that it goes to work on any imbedded particles and break dust.
However, I know a lot of people who clean their wheels regularly with simply their paint shampoo. This can work really well if you are cleaning your car on a regular basis (weekly, ideally). It’s a good way to save a few quid when starting out as well. Just make sure you get dedicated microfibres/wheel brushes that are ONLY used for this job.
Wheel cleaner of choice…
The last of the cleaners that I think are essential is some form of quick detailer (QD). A QD is usually some form of spray wax/sealant that offers a small layer of protection.
Basically, if you compare it to a hard wax, you might get a week or two’s worth of protection from a QD, whereas a dedicated wax can last anywhere from 1-12 months, depending on which product you choose.
What I like about the QD is that it gives the car a bit of a pop and shine after the wash and dry process. It reinvigorates the paint and whilst not always needed, it allows me to see some great results from my wash, no matter how short lived they might be.
I also use my QD as a drying agent. So, when I’ve finished washing the car and rinsed it down, I spray my QD over the sitting water and use my drying towel to remove. It basically adds as a layer between the paint and the water, meaning that water is removed much easier, creating a 2 in 1 for my car detailing kit.
Quick detailer of choice…
- Quick paintwork care any time
- Gently and thoroughly cleans slightly soiled surfaces without scratching
- Improves the paint finish, and produces a smooth surface and a brilliant deep shine
- Renews waxing and provides an additional water-repellent effect
Product 4 – Microfibre towels
A good microfibre towel is worth its weight in gold, and they are relatively inexpensive providing you take good care of them.
The first port of call for me would be a good drying towel. These are often deep pile and fairly large in size, often around 30cm x 70cm, but can be even bigger than this.
Microfibre’s are measured in weight or grams per square meter; g/m². The higher the number, the heavier the towel. Drying towels will need to be heavier than your standard microfibre, and as a rule of thumb I look at anything above 500 g/m².
Drying towel of choice…
- Luxury drying towel
- Ultra deep 1200g/m² pile
- Safely dry your vehicle with ease
- Quickly absorb all surface water
- 500mm wide, 700mm long
You’re also likely going to need towels that are smaller in weight. These are great for things such as cleaning class, removing wax, cleaning wheels and just general use. You can get batches of good quality towels for fairly cheap from places like Amazon.
A good tip with the lot below is to stick them on a cool wash then tumble dry to just before dry. Let them dry naturally and it will remove any fibres that might be loose from manufacturing. Also, the different colours mean you can assign each colour to a certain part of car. Paint, wheels, trim, interior etc.
- Ultra soft, non-abrasive microfiber cloths will not scratch paints, coats or other surfaces
- Cleans with or without chemical cleaners, leaves lint and streak free results
- Absorbs eight times its own weight
Product 5 – LSP (Last Stage Protection)
Finally, you want something that’s going to really make your car pop and turn from clean to wow. For this you’ll need an LSP.
An LSP can come in so many variations; waxes, sealants, liquid wax, ceramic coating, polish/wax hybrid’s, QD spray.
This final step is very much a personal preference and will likely depend on how much time you want to invest in both cleaning and maintenance.
My choice is that of wax, as you’ll be able to tell from the site. I love the stuff and whilst it doesn’t necessarily have the longest durability compared to something such as ceramic coating, it gives just enough that I can keep trying new products fairly often whilst enjoying my car.
To start with, I would advise on a bit of compromise that is an all-round product. For this, I’d run with a wax.
Waxing will not only offer your car protection from the elements, but will also allow you to get the best (in my opinion) visuals as well. I’ve found that the right wax can create amazing results in the right paint and I’m yet to be convinced that there is a better product.
But, there are an awful lot of waxes out there and it can be quite overwhelming which one to go for. The beauty of the wax game is that you can keep testing until you find what works for you.
In fact, if the prospect of waxing the whole car is too daunting a project, just wax one panel and see how that goes. Take a look at the finish and see if you’re happy. Not what you’re looking for? Move on to the next one.Pro tip – To get the most from your wax, the process of washing and preparing the paint is paramount. Ideally, wax would go on to paint that has been machine polished and sometimes have a sealant on the paint as well.
But, I know that you can still get great results from less than ideal paint with the right wax. As you become more accustomed to your maintenance wash and also more tuned as to what you want from detailing your car, these steps can be added in.
Wax of choice…
If you’re just starting, it’s likely you’re going to want to keep initial costs down. For this reason, I’ve gone with Colinite 845 wax. It offers great visuals, piece of cake to apply and remove, is great value for money and give you durability of anywhere between 2- 4 months in my experience.
If you want to know more on this, wax check out my article on Cheap Car Waxes.
- Long lasting Carnauba car wax
- Automotive, marine, RV, aeronautical and industrial use
- Easy to use
- Contains no abrasive or cleaners
- Clear coat safe
Final thoughts on my car detailing kit
I’ve given you a few products that are the backbone of my car detailing kit. These are the products that you simply can’t be without and will need for pretty much every wash (aside from the wax).
I can’t stress enough how important it is to really nail this process though, especially the wash and the dry stage. I’ve written plenty of articles already on how to go about these processes properly, so feel free to dive in and take a look.
Try not to fall into the same trap that I did and buy loads of products at once and getting overwhelmed by the process. Take your time with these basics, get to know them and how they work, then you can start to jump into increased number of steps and then ultimately, increased number of products.
If you bought all the products here it would cost you less than £100, which isn’t bad value at all. Given that you can buy single pots of wax for over £500, it doesn’t put it in some perspective.
If you feel there is something that I’ve left out, drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!