- How to deep-clean and finish engine bays
- How to cut swirl marks with a machine polisher
- How to restore plastic trims and rear light clusters
- How to protect your interior trim from cracking and fading
Get a closer look behind the scenes of the video with our in-depth guide on this Mk8 VW Golf R full detail…
It has been said by some that the VW Golf is the standard by which all other cars are judged. Got a Rolls Royce? That's just a big, comfortable Golf. Fiesta - Little Golf. Maclaren - Extremely fast Golf. Get the picture? Of course you do.
Now, while we don't necessarily agree with that statement in its entirety, we can see the sentiment because we do happen to love a Golf here at Auto Finesse. In fact, we've detailed literally scores of them over the years, had more than a few of our own, and we've got to say that - over the entire model range - the Mk8 Golf R is one of the very best.
Then again, this one here is no ordinary Mk8 Golf R, it's actually a development car for Regal Autosport, and has spent the last year or so being put through its paces on the track, and more than a couple of long road trips, to test a whole lorry load of trick bolt-on tuning products. But what does that mean for us? Well, the fact that it's been used hard, and hard in all weathers to boot, throws up a few challenges when it comes to giving it a proper detail.
So, if you haven't already, take a look at the video below, soak it all in, and then we can get on with giving you a thorough break down of the whole job…
Now, that has to be one of our favourite detail videos ever! But it's pretty obvious that the real detail took a tad longer than 15-minutes. So, let's have a closer look the full process with an in-depth guide to every product used, how we used them, and why they were chosen for this particular job…
As with every detail we start with the wheels and tyres because these are traditionally the most contaminated part of any vehicle. It makes sense, in these are the only parts that physically touch the road. With their close proximity to the brakes, they also tend to suffer from the highest concentration of embedded metal contamination, which is chiefly derived from hot brake dust.
Because we're undertaking a full deep-clean on this particular car, we opted to remove the wheels first. This not only enables us to get to every part of the wheels, including much better access to the barrels and behind the spokes, but also gives us the best access to the inner arches, plastic liners, brakes and suspension components.
When removing wheels, it's important to keep safety in mind. Always use a workshop jack and axle stands, and remember that wheels must always be re-torqued to the correct spec before moving the vehicle.
Judging by the level of brake dust contamination on the inside of the wheels, this Golf R has clearly seen plenty of hard use when developing and testing tuning products.
Embedded brake dust is comprised of ferrous metal particles. These fly off the brakes when they're in use, and the hot metal shrapnel sticks itself into the top layer of your wheels. Whether the top layer is paint, lacquer or powdercoat isn't important, what is important here is that these iron particles are extremely corrosive and, if left on the wheels for an extended period, will eat through the top layer and into the alloy underneath. This can even compromise the structure of the wheel, and this means that, while you should clean your wheels every time you wash your car, periodic metal decontamination (say once a month for normal driving) is also important.
Sharp metal particles that are firmly stuck into the surfaces aren't easy to remove with traditional cleaners, instead they need to undergo chemical removal using a product designed to dissolve the metal molecules into a solute, freeing them from the surface and allowing them to be safely rinsed away. A good example of the type of contamination dictating the products you need to use in your detail.
As our wheels are also suffering from plenty of road-salt and heavy-grime soiling too, our main cleaning agent to use for this task was Reactive Wheel Cleaner. This product contains degreasers and surfactants designed to break down and lift the general bonded grime, but crucially there's the addition of a special metal fallout remover which reacts with brake dust, dissolving the metal into the solution.
For a little extra cleaning power and a little more lubrication to help any heavy, potentially harmful, particles slip freely over surfaces, we also opt to brush-in the Reactive using Revolution Wheel Soap.
Revolution is a shampoo specifically designed to remove the heavy contamination you'll find on wheels. It not only makes a great, stand-alone cleaner that's suitable for use on sensitive finishes, such as bare metal, chrome and polished wheels, but makes the best aid to agitation for other more heavy-duty cleaners and decontamination products. To prepare our Revolution for use we add a few capfuls to a bucket of clean water and froth up using our pressure washer.
Now, working on one at a time, the first task is to give the entire wheel and tyre a thorough rinse down with our pressure washer. This process rids the surfaces of the loose grime and heavy particles that can be removed by water pressure alone. Doing this first ensures that your detailing products get to work where they're most needed, and are not being wasted on contamination that's easy to remove without them.
The next step is to apply the main cleaning agent liberally over the wheel, inside and out. Here we try to cover every surface as much as we can, letting the product linger for a few seconds to get to work on the bonded grime and embedded brake dust.
As we're using Reactive here, you can see that the fallout remover in the solution begins to react with the metal contamination almost immediately. The blood red colour indicates that metal contamination is present and has been dissolved into the Reactive solution.
Now, we could start the agitation process here, but due to the extreme contamination present (especially on the inner barrels) it makes more sense to "pre-clean' the wheels. Here we're simply allowing the first application of product to work on the worst of the contamination before rinsing the wheels back down and whacking on a second application of cleaner ready to agitate. Although wheel finishes are generally pretty tough, far tougher than normal paintwork in fact, in extreme cases this helps to limit any surface damage that may be caused when brushing-in. It's extremely rare to inflict damage on painted/powdercoated wheels of course, but an extra rinse and second application is an easy way to eradicates any risk.
One of the most important wheel cleaning steps involves agitation, all wheel cleaners require this process for maximum effectiveness, and this is for two key reasons. First, moving the product around with your brush or mitt ensures that it makes physical contact with every nook, dirt trap and awkward recess around the wheel. Second, in any one area agitation moves any spent product - cleaning agent that's already reacted or encapsulating the maximum amount of contamination - away and refreshes it with fresh solution, to work on any remaining contamination.
In this way agitation isn't so much about physically scrubbing the from the surface, it's simply carried out to make sure the cleaning agent is as effective as possible, and ultimately that you're not wasting fresh product by prematurely rinsing it off.
After reapplying Reactive, we start on agitating it into the barrels using our Revolution solution and a scratch-free Barrel Brush, followed by using a super-soft Wonder Wool Wheel Brush and an Ultra Plush Wheel Mitt to make sure we've agitated our cleaners into every recess. Following your brushes with a dedicated wheel mitt is a great way to make sure nothing is missed. Mitts are ideal for getting to all the awkward areas in between and behind the spokes, along with the making sure any grime is removed from the back of the wheels. Only after our cleaner is agitated into every part of the surface can we move on.
Before we rinse the wheel down fully, we can also take care of those grimy tyres using Tread Tyre Cleaner. This product is a heavy duty cleaner and degreaser, but importantly one that's kind to rubber surfaces, not only ridding them of grime, oils and the remanence of old tyre dressings but offering the perfect surface for bonding of a fresh tyre dressing later. Like most cleaners it uses special surfactants to lift away bonded grime, encapsulating it into the solution, and allowing it to be rinsed away.
The difference between wheels and tyres though, is all in the agitation. Wheel surfaces are hard but can be scratched, tyres are soft but have to be extremely tough, so you're not in danger of abrading the surface when you agitate. This means that you can use a stiff brush - like our Rubber Scrubber Tyre Brush - to physically scrub the sidewalls and tyre tread to help draw out the ingrained grime. Simply apply your Tread liberally, scrub around the tyre and then rinse down the whole wheel to remove the contamination trapped in the solution.
For most details we'd be done with the first wheel and moving onto the next now. But, on inspection, we can see a lot of extra contamination that needs to be delt with on the inside of the barrel. This wheel still suffers from a lot of sticky glue residues - likely from old wheel balancing weights - along with quite a few random tar spots. These are both the sort of heavy duty contaminants that are generally impossible to remove by washing alone. Spotting extra contamination like this is the reason why ongoing inspection is so important, along with the ability to adapt your detail (and the products you use) for every situation.
These kind of sticky deposits require a strong solvent to chemically melt them away. Just like with our Reactive, the idea is to use a specialist decontamination product to dissolve them enough to allowing them to be safely broken free from the surface. In this case, we use ObliTARate Tar & Glue Remover to break down the contamination, before wiping away the residue with a Microfibre Work Cloth. Although this solvent solution is fine to use on paintwork too, it has to be extremely powerful to cut through the tough, sticky stuff. This means it lends itself to targeted use - either by spraying on to the area directly or via a Microfibre Applicator - and should only be used as and when it's needed.
With the deep-cleaning on our wheels complete (at least on one side of the car), we can dive straight into the arches before putting our rims back on. Obviously inner arches, and all the components you'll find under there, will be some of the most heavily soiled parts on any vehicle simply because they come in prolonged contact with the worst road grime, brake dust and salt of all.
The first step is giving them a good rinse, not only to make sure the cleaning agents we use later are getting to work where they're most needed, but to ensure that as much loose dirt and stuck-on mud is flushed out. Here the amount of contamination will depend on how, and where the vehicle has been used, but for most road cars it's safe to say that it's going to be pretty bad under there. With this in mind be thorough with your rinsing and let the water pressure do all the dirty work.
First it makes sense to clean up the brake calipers and rotor bells. These can be pretty complicated so a small Detailing Brush and some targeted spraying will do the job most effectively. The idea is simply to make sure we get into all the little recesses and dirt traps.
In most cases we'll use a little Verso All-Purpose Cleaner in these areas although, due to the heavy brake dust contamination here and the fact that the calipers are powdercoated multi-pot jobs (rather than the more common cast single pot calipers), we used a little more Reactive targeted directly on the worst areas. Reactive is safe to use on paint and powdercoat, and a small amount worked in with a Detailing Brush is just the thing to cut through the caked-on contamination. After a good rinse and we can start with our cleaning agent on the inner aches.
Next a good scrub is in order for the arch liners. These aren't going to get scratched with an Arch Blaster Arch Brush, so you can scrub away here as much as you like.
The cleaning agent we'll use here is Verso All-Purpose Cleaner, a 1:5 dilution sprayed on directly is more than enough to shift the heavy grime (in normal circumstances and on light grime we'd usually use a 1:10 dilution). This powerful dilute-to-suit APC is designed to break down the bonded dirt and heavy particulates and, once again, trap them in the solution allowing them to be removed safely. It also contains heavy degreasers capable of shifting the oily deposits typically found in these areas.
Once we've scrubbed out the liners and the inner wings, we use a little more Verso on the suspension components, agitating with a scratch-free Detailing Brush. These are a little more complicated than the plastics, so a smaller brush makes sure the solution gets into all the nooks, and refreshes any spent Verso as you work. Then it's just a case of giving the whole lot a thorough rinse down.
Due to the level of tar and sticky residues we found on the arch liners, the last part of the process us involved a little more ObliTARate sprayed directly onto the plastics and the contamination removed with a Microfibre Work Cloth. Again, this won't always be necessary and you should only use solvents as and when they're needed. In most cases we don't recommend using ObliTARate on plastic surfaces, especially headlights and exterior trim, but on the inner arches, which go largely unseen anyway, it won't have any adverse effects.
After that we could pop the wheel back on, and move onto the next one.
It may not be one for every single time we maintenance wash a car but, this time at least, the next task was to clean the engine bay. As with every time we detail, a task like this is assessed on a job-by-job basis, and how and when we clean an engine bay always depends on a couple of factors.
First is the level of contamination we find. If the bay is dirty enough to require a wet clean, it's always performed before cleaning the exterior bodywork. In some cases, particularly if the bay is extra grimy and covered in grease and oil, we'll deep-clean at the very beginning, even before the wheels and arches. This is to prevent contaminating the exterior with heavy grime and oily deposits that can potentially stain surfaces, especially after we've already cleaned it - in other words we don't want to wash the whole car twice.
The second consideration is whether an engine bay can be safely wet cleaned in the first place. The vast majority of modern cars are well protected, they have engine covers and other plastics to keep the spray out of vital components. But even then, we'll still be careful with where we're pointing our jet wash, simply misting over surfaces while avoiding electrics, air filters and alternators. Perhaps the only time where you don't want to use full-on water pressure to flush away grime. Some older cars, modified cars, and even the odd modern vehicle, can be a little more complicated when it comes to engine bays. These could be packed with unprotected components, or have such a tightly-packed bay, it's just not worth the risk of deep-cleaning using a pressure washer. If you check out our recent Porsche 996 Turbo Detail, you'll see that the lightly soiled and tightly packed bay was instead cleaned inside, without using water, relatively late in the detail. In that case a little 1:10 Verso was all that was needed.
Anyway, here the Golf R bay isn't overly oily, but it's dirty and protected enough to warrant a wet clean. So, the first step was a careful rinse down, starting with the underside of the bonnet, and finishing up in the bay itself.
The reason why we start on the underside of the bonnet is because it's unavoidable to have the grime and spent solution fall straight down into the bay as we work. Again, we don't want to be cleaning any areas twice, so we always start at the highest point.
Our main cleaning agent for engine bays is always Eradicate Engine Degreaser, a product that's specially formulated to tackle the heavy grime, fuel and oil typically found in these areas. Aside from being a powerful degreaser and surfactant-based cleaning agent though, it's specially formulated not to harm the materials you'll find in and around your engine. It won't degrade rubber, plastics or metal, making it ideal for easy, all-over use.
The cleaning process using Eradicate is extremely straightforward, too. Just spray directly onto all surfaces and lightly agitate around awkward or particularly grimy areas with a Detailing Brush. It gets to work immediately encapsulating the grime, and the residue can then be quickly rinsed away. Try it, it really is that easy!
We've said it before, and we'll say it again - the pre-wash stage is, in all probability, the most important process in car detailing. This is because it's here where we remove the heaviest grime from the relatively sensitive exterior surfaces, such as paintwork and gloss plastics, without physically touching them. This cuts down the risk of scratching or inflicting swirl marks by dragging heavy grime across the surfaces with our wash mitt. In fact, we can't preach the importance of this process enough, a through pre-wash should be performed on every single detail and maintenance wash before attempting to contact wash.
Luckily, it's an extremely quick and simple process, and the first step is a thorough rinse down to remove the largest biggest particles and loose grime. Starting at the top of the car we rinse downwards to limit the spread of muck, and to make sure it ends up where it belongs - on the floor. As we work around the car we always make sure we flush out any panel gaps, grilles and vents where there may be hidden grime, this stops it coming out later and affecting the rest of your detail. We also (carefully) rinse inside the door jambs, sills, inside the fuel filler cap and boot shuts.
Now that the loose soiling is off of all those sensitive surfaces, we also know that our pre-cleaning agent can get to work on the stuck-on particles. But, before we use a suitable pre-cleaner on the exterior, we'll deep clean the extra areas such as door jambs and boot shuts. Generally speaking, these are all notorious dirt traps, not to mention often neglected, so the grime can really build up. So, while we always avoid agitating pre-cleaners on the exterior paintwork, because it increases the risk of inflicting light defects in the most noticeable places, these areas tend to need a little extra attention. Again, we're only talking light agitation here, anyway. Just to help out the cleaning product. At no point are we looking to mechanically scrub away heavy grime.
In most cases, particularly during routine maintenance, the wax-safe pre-cleaner (we'll get to that) you use on the exterior will be spot-on for this job. In our case - where these areas are particularly contaminated - we've opted for a 1:10 dilution of Verso to lift and encapsulate grime. We simply spray our cleaner directly on the surface, agitate with a Hog Hair Brush and rinse.
Now it's time to utilise Citrus Power Bug & Grime Remover - the ideal, ready-to-use pre-cleaner for just about every detail that comes our way.
Again, this product is designed to lift and suspend heavy particulates in its own solution, allowing them to be safely rinsed away, and without touching your sensitive surfaces. The advantage here of course, is that Citrus Power is powerful enough to eradicate heavy grime without the need for agaitation.
While it's not vital here - because we'll be decontaminating, polishing and protecting this Golf as part of the full detail - Citrus Power is also wax, coating and sealant-safe. This means that, unlike many harsh pre-wash products and all-purpose cleaners out there, it won't degrade any previously applied-protection layers. This makes it ideal for use on routine maintenance washes. Best of all, too, it's safe on all surfaces, so you can simply apply it to the whole vehicle without worrying about your plastics or rubbers.
Perhaps the most important point is to make sure that you never miss this stage and move straight onto your snow foam. Every product has its place and your pre-cleaner's is to remove the heaviest, most harmful soiling, bird droppings and bug splatter, so the snow foam can work on the more bonded grime. Otherwise… well, you'll just be wasting your snow foam.
The best way to apply Citrus Power is to spray liberally it over the whole exterior, leave for a few minutes (without letting it dry) and then rinse away the grime from the top of the vehicle down. That said, a good little pro trick is to apply your Citrus Power to the dirtiest areas first (the lower sides, rear and front bumper), just to give it a little more dwell time. Once thoroughly rinsed, we can then move on to the snow foam stage.
The second pre-wash stage is using Avalanche Snow Foam to break the bonds of the stuck-on contamination. Snow foam is used on every detail for two main reasons. First, being a thick foam, it lingers on surfaces for as long as possible while it gets to work on the grime. And second, snow foam has a tendency to work its own way into panel gaps and shuts, cleaning the unseen areas, too.
Avalanche is a citrus-infused cleaner and, just like Citrus Power, it's also wax, sealant and coating safe. Classed as an aqueous cleaning agent, this one uses a mixture of surfactants and water-molecules to physically pull grime off of surfaces, surrounding the particulates and stopping them from touching - and hence scratching - the surface. The main difference to a spray-on pre-cleaner is that it stays on the surface, and stays wet, for a long time before you have to rinse away the residue. This helps it provide the deepest clean.
Using a professional Snow Foam Lance attached to a pressure washer is the most effective way to apply snow foam. This is an essential piece of kit because it both mixes the concentrate and pushes it through a special metal gauze before it exits the nozzle. This action activates the cleaning agents and surfactants, and whips the concentrate up into the thick, lingering foam we all know and love.
We add around an inch of Avalanche concentrate to our Foam Lance bottle, before topping up with water from our bucket. Then we apply the foam over the whole vehicle from the top down. We spray-on our Avalanche this way because the lower down the vehicle you go, the more soiling you'll typically find. Applying from the top avoids spreading any contamination upwards to cleaner areas.
Letting the Avalanche linger for as long as possible, without letting it dry, is the key to success here. While the solution is lingering, and assuming you've carried out a thorough pre-clean in the previous stage, it's perfectly safe to agitate your snow foam to ensure it gets full contact with the more awkward dirt traps such as window rubbers, door handle, fuel flaps, around badges and front grilles. We used a Hog Hair Brush for this process, and again, we're only looking to help the cleaner penetrate every area, and to refresh the solution, not to mechanically scrub away the grime.
All the while you're agitating, a good tip is to keep an eye on the glass, as this will start to dry out first. As soon as it does, rinse away the residue, from the top down, being sure to flush out any panel gaps, grilles and shuts.
With the pre-wash stages complete it's safe to move onto the contact wash. Now, it's always worth keeping in mind that your contact wash is vital for removing any remaining small particle grime… but doing it the professional way is the only way to minimise the risk of scratching, marring or inflicting swirl marks. In other words, a good contact wash is all about damage-limitation, and there's various safety precautions we use in the process and the products we use along the way.
The first precaution is always utilising two buckets. First of all, to avoid cross-contamination of potentially harmful grit and metal contamination, these need to be different from the bucket you've already used to clean your wheels (use Wheels, Wash and Rinse Bucket Stickers, if you're likely to get mixed up between details). The first bucket is for your shampoo solution, and the second should be filled with plain water and used to wash out your mitt after every pass. Again, this process helps prevent cross contamination, along with the risk of picking up grime in your bucket and transferring it back to the paintwork. We also recommend using professional Detailing Buckets because the large 20-litre capacity will help cut down on the chance of dirt recirculation over smaller standard buckets. They also contain a grid guard to prevent the heavy particles that sink to the bottom from getting back on your mitt.
Aside from our bucket duo, we also use Lather Car Shampoo as our cleaner. Classed as a lubricant as well as a cleaning agent, Lather is not just designed to lift and encapsulate any grime, but it will also allow any gritty particles to slip and slide safely across the surface, allowing you to rinse them away without scratching.
This product is also wax, sealant and coating-safe, and a true "pure' cleaner. This means that it contains no waxes, shining agents or coatings itself - it's purely used to clean surfaces. In our situation here, that's ideal because there's no advantage in using a shampoo that offers protection, fills surface defects or bolsters previously-applied protection layers. These types of car shampoo are ideal, not to mention advantageous, for maintenance washes, but they're not needed here.
So, to start our safe, swirl-free wash, we add a few capfuls of Lather to our wash bucket, and froth it up with our pressure washer.
Next, we dip our wash mitt to load up on the suds, here we're using a Plush Wash Mitt which is ideal for sensitive paintwork.
It's worth noting here that using a professional wash mitt is just as vital as using two buckets or the correct shampoo for the task in hand. This is because the best quality mitts are designed not for heavy scrubbing or moving grime around the surface (as with a sponge) they're simply for swirl-free agitation of your wash solution. We're looking here to apply the shampoo, move it around to refresh when needed and to make sure that it makes contact with every area, nothing more.
Our selection of professional Wash Mitts are also constructed from microfibre or lambswool - materials that glide freely over the surfaces, picking up gritty particles and the grime trapped in your shampoo solution, and locking them away deep within the fibres. Here they will stay, crucially away from surfaces, until they're rinsed out in your bucket.
The final thing to consider for the safest possible wash, is the route you take around the vehicle. The idea is to tackle the cleaner areas first, to prevent spreading contamination form the dirtiest areas to the cleanest. Washing in straight lines (rather than circular motions which may promote swirls) we start on the roof, then the windows and upper-sides, and then move on to the bonnet, front bumper, lower sides and finish up on the rear. Basically, you're washing from top to bottom, but picking the cleaner areas as you go for the best chance of keeping the process as safe as possible. Only after every surface has been contacted, can you rinse away any residue left over.
A full 3-stage decontamination - otherwise known as a decon wash - is a collection of steps using specialist products designed to remove the kind of tough, engrained contamination that washing alone can't. It's not a process that's carried out during routine maintenance, but one that's essential periodically, especially prior to polishing or any other paint correction process. The goal here is to rid the paintwork and other sensitive surfaces of harsh contaminants that could cause damage when polishing, and flaws to the final finish. As you can imagine, sticky tar and glue residues, sharp metal fallout and even protein and mineral deposits from environmental sources (such as acidic bird droppings and tree sap), being pulled out and whizzing around on your machine polishing pad isn't ideal for getting flawless, swirl free paintwork. The decon process is designed to clean deeper, often further than is obvious to the eye.
The first stage is always removing any sharp ferrous metal particles embedded in your paintwork, glass and other trim. As you'll already know from the wheel cleaning stage, most of this kind of contamination comes from hot brake dust making contact… and not just the brake dust produced by your car, either. But from all the others on the road, too.
Again, this type of contamination has to be chemically dissolved to free it from the surface and allow it to be rinsed away. But, instead of using Reactive, which has been specifically developed with degreasers and other surfactants specifically suited to all the contamination typically found on wheels, here we're using Iron Out Fallout Remover. In a way this is a concentrated form of the chemical agent found in Reactive, but one that's chiefly used on paintwork, glass and trim.
Iron Out is another product that turns blood red when metal is present, dissolving the molecules into a solute, and trapping them harmlessly in the solution. It can also be used over all over the vehicle because, contra to popular belief, metal contamination will hardly ever be limited to on your front bumper, bonnet and lower sides. Because we're spraying Iron Out on paintwork that's free of heavy grit and grime, it can also be lightly agitated using a microfibre Polish Pad, to refresh the solution on the worst affected areas.
Spray on liberally, agitate and rinse thoroughly.
The next stage is the targeted removal of any tar and sticky residues using ObliTARate Tar & Glue Remover. Most of these kind of contaminants will be found around the bumpers and lower sides, so it pays to inspect closely now to avoid any mistakes later. ObliTARate dissolves these residues allowing them to be quickly wiped away, and it can be applied either by spraying directly onto the affected area, or via a Microfibre Applicator (we're doing the former here). On tough residues, it can also be lightly agitated using your applicator, or a Polish Pad.
It's a relatively quick process, ObliTARate doesn't need to dwell to cut through the residues, but it is important to re-wash the treated areas using your Lather shampoo solution when you're finished. This process neutralises the solvents so they don't make a mess of your Clay Bar during the next step.
The final decontamination process is using a detailer's Clay Bar, along with Glide Clay Lube to remove any protein and mineral deposits. In this way these bonded contaminants are literally pulled from the top layer by the clay, leaving behind a glass-like surface.
There are two things to note here, first of all you should use clay on all the paintwork, glass and gloss plastics, not just the bumpers or the bonnet. It's not a targeted job this, complete the whole car, making sure you use a fresh piece of clay as soon as it gets dirty.
Second, keep the clay lubricated with your Glide to prevent it sticking as you run it lightly over the surface. This very light pressure will be enough to remove the deposits, and you'll actually feel the difference as you work. Finally rewash the car with your Lather solution and rinse thoroughly, this will eradicate any left-over lube, stopping any smearing and interference when you dry.
Even on a routine maintenance wash you should never skip the drying stage, and there's no doubt that it's even more important on a full detail. This is because tap water - the stuff you've just used to clean your car - contains a huge number of mineral impurities. If left to dry naturally the water molecules will evaporate off, but the mineral deposits will be left behind, causing waterspots that may require even more polishing to remove. In some cases, particularly in hard water areas, these can scratch surfaces, so it's crucial to eliminate them before they get the chance.
The easy way to remove these deposits is to absorb them while they're still dissolved in the water, and this is why we use an absorbent microfibre Drying Towel (in this case our Silk Drying Towel) to soak up all the moisture from all the panels and glass. This process literally takes seconds, and is achieved by simply passing the towel over the surface. Here you can let the microfibre do all the work.
For tighter areas - and to avoid dragging a large towel on the floor - we tend to use an Ultra Plush Microfibre, which is super-soft and similarly absorbent. We'll use this towel on awkward recesses like the ones found on wheels and in door jambs. We'll also use this one to mop up any random drips from handles, badges, panel gaps windows and mirrors.
With the car inside the bay, and before we break out the machine polishers to start testing compound and pad combos, a little preparation is in order to safeguard potentially vulnerable parts, such as window rubbers, matt plastics and weather strips, basically all the parts that can't be polished, but may come into contact with our pad. These are not only easy to damage if you accidentally run over them with your polisher, but they'll inevitably pick up polish stains, which can be extremely fiddly to remove. Masking up these areas along with potentially sharp or venerable areas, such as edges, badges, side repeaters and mirror bases (when applicable), will also help to prevent any damage to your pad should you catch them when you polish. Here we've chosen to mask the windows and trim fully, just to cut down on any extra cleaning at the end of our polishing - if it's blocked off with paper and Masking Tape, it can't trap polish dust that will need to be brushed away later, right? It's not something you have to do at home, and it's not something we do every single time, either. We assess the situation on every detail.
Because we have a ramp, we've also removed the wheels so we can get better access to finish the inner arches later, this can be done one-by-one on a jack during the finishing stages if you find that easier.
Now we can move on to inspecting the paintwork over the whole car. The idea here is to look out for any damaged areas that shouldn't be polished and to gauge the extent of the defects that need to be (and actually can be) removed.
First, we'll turn off the main lights and then inspect the paintwork using a Swirl Spotter Detailing Light, this direct light source imitates direct sunshine to highlight any defects, making them much easier to pick out. It has the same effect as the sun shining on your car outside, so these are the defects that will show up in the real-world, the Swirl Spotter is just a way of targeting the strong light for our needs.
It's important to inspect every inch of the paint, looking for scratches, swirl marks, oxidation and orange peel. The extent of the blemishes, or more specifically the worst ones we can remove through polishing, will always dictate the polishing products we use, giving us a starting point for our testing.
Here we'll also look for other areas, aside from the paintwork, that can benefit from a little polishing. Obviously, what you're inspecting will vary from car to car, but for the most part we check gloss, clear and painted plastics such as trims and light clusters, along with headlights and mirror caps.
While the paintwork here was in decent condition with regards to oxidation and orange peel, on this Golf R there was clearly a lot of swirling and light scratches which we'll need to cut away. These are usually derived from bad wash techniques and can be delt with relatively easily using the correct products. We also found significant damage on the rear light clusters and, a problem that's nearly always found on modern hatchbacks (especially Golfs) - the B-pillar trims. These gloss plastic items are relatively soft compared to paintwork and tend to suffer the most when washing, it's something that's obvious on many cars in direct sunshine but, again, they can be fixed.
Back to the paintwork and our final inspection involves using a paint depth gage to test multiple areas over all the bodywork. The reason for this is simply because it's not our car and we don't know the history.
While it's obvious that this Mk8 Golf is a modern vehicle, and the paintwork looks to be in good condition, we don't know if there's been any smart repairs, resprays, body filler and more extensive repairs. Our gauge can give us an indication of areas to avoid by showing abnormally high readings where we wouldn't expect them. In many cases when a repair has been carried out, the painter will blend the new paint in so, to the naked eye, there are no obvious hard edges. If we polish away this light blending we can risk revealing masked edges, so we look for these sort of repairs so we know where to avoid using our compound.
Of course, this process also tells us if there's enough paint/lacquer on there to actually polish. Older vehicles - especially those that have been polished time and time again over the years - may have low readings. Each time you polish you take a few micros off of the surface and these can add up over time. Basically, we want to know that we're not going to burn through the top layer of paint. It's unlikely here of course, but we'll check anyway, both on the middle of the panels and around the edges where the paint may be thinner.
In this case we had consistent readings all around the Golf R, indicating that it's factory paintwork, and there hasn't been any repairs. So, we can move on to choosing the correct polishing compounds and pads.
As with all correction stages we're looking to remove the defects while preserving the thickness of the top layer as much as we can. This is why we always test to find the correct combo - or combination of compound/polish and pad - that will cut out the worst defects without being any more aggressive than necessary. In other words, ideally, we're after an abrasive that's course enough to only remove the defects and no coarser, just so we're not removing more of the pant/lacquer than we have to.
When you polish, the goal isn't to remove the defect directly, that's actually impossible. Instead, you cut down the entire layer around the blemish until you reach the bottom of the defect, in this way the defect disappears. We also test to cater for differences in paint hardness. Some paintjobs will be harder than others, and a harder paint layer requires a compound and pad combo with a higher level of cut to get the same result as you would on softer paint.
Experience comes into it too of course; our detailers can get a good indication of the starting point just by looking. If you have heavy swirling, you'll be looking at using a coarse compound and firmer pad to cut the defects before refining. Conversely, if it's only oxidation and very light swirling, you may get away with using a lighter compound or polish and a softer pad. In all cases the lighter the product you use the better.
So, when we test the best way is to start with a combo that we think is going to be less than we need, and if we're correct and it doesn't cut the defects, work up to a coarser compound to see if that does the job. If it does, we can use this as our cutting compound, and then work back through finer and finer compounds to finish down the paint. To learn more about the full process, check out our guide -The Basic Guide To Machine Polishing.
After testing a few different combos with our DPX Dual Action Machine Polisher, the products we settled on here is One Step All-in-One Compound and a medium Revitalise No:2 Polishing Pad. These are ideal in this situation for a couple of reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, One Step is designed to cut through heavy swirling, and on testing with we can see that it removes worst defects on the Golf.
Second, when it comes to finishing down the paintwork, this advanced compound has been developed to make life easier by transforming a multi-stage paint correction into a single stage process.
As we said, with traditional polishes and compounds, you work back through progressively finer and finer abrasives to refine your paint after cutting out the defects, this is because they tend to have a limited range of cut. The process also involves switching compounds and pads for each stage of polishing. With One Step, it's denoted as an all-in-one because the advanced abrasives it uses start out as course cutting particles but break down to finer finishing particles as you work it through. That means that One Step can take care of the entire process so you don't have to swap combos and perform multiple polishing stages on the same panel. On testing we can see that, as well as cutting the defects on this car, it also refines down to a glossy finish - which is exactly what we're after.
So, now we know which compound to use to tackle the similar swirling around the rest of the vehicle.
First of all, the route you take around the vehicle isn't crucially important, although we tend to work from the top down to avoid rubbing against any freshly polished areas. What is most important however, is that you cover every part of the paintwork that you can using your One Step, and that you keep checking the results with your detailing light throughout the process. For larger panels we're using the 5-inch DPX Polisher and for smaller areas a compact MPX Dual Action Polisher fitted with a 3-inch backing plate and the equivalent Revitalise No:2 Spot Pad) medium pad.
Despite being a single-stage correction for us, polishing always takes time, and it pays to be thorough to get the best results, cut corners and that may reflect in the final finish. The key is to complete a small area at a time (around 8 or 9 times the size of your pad) and make sure you're working the compound all the way through, until the residue turns clear. Only then can you wipe off any residue, buff with your Microfibre Work Cloth, check the results and move on to the next area. Don't forget that, if you're using a new pad, a quick spritz of Pad Prime before you apply your dots of compound will give it sufficient lubrication to stop any unwanted scrubbing.
After completing the paintwork, in many cases we'd be done with the correction part of the detail. But, as we mentioned, we also found a few defects that we can easily correct on the rear lights and B-pillars. Because these have reasonably heavy swirling (although it's not the worst) again we can use One Step and a medium pad on our compact MPX Polisher to eradicate the defects.
The key thing to remember here is that working on soft plastics is different to paint over metal, this is because they tends to hold onto heat for longer. In other words, it won't be quite as effective at dissipating the heat from your polisher so it pays to go careful and carry out reasonably quick passes on slower speeds. In many cases soft plastics will also need more refinement (with a finer compound) to finish down to flawless.
We started with the rear lights, carrying out a pass on a medium speed (speed 4), before one more pass to really dial in the finish. No further refinement was needed here, the One Step did all the work. The added bonus too is that, what with One Step finishing down as a fine polish, it reduces the chances of the surface hazing up. If further refinement was needed however, we would have followed up with a pass or two of Revitalise No:3 Refining Compound, with a soft Revitalise No:3 Spot Pad.
Next, we could finish up the pillar trims, as you can see here the difference on the right is a little more obvious on the black acrylic. Again, two reasonably quick passes on speed 4 was all that was needed to cut and refine to a great finish.
Here - as with the light clusters - if the swirling was much heavier we would have switched to a Revitalise No:1 Restoring Compound and an orange Revitalise No:1 Spot Pad for the cutting, and worked down through Revitalise No:2 Polishing Compound on a yellow Revitalise No:2 Spot Pad to refine. In this case it wasn't necessary.
In the video you can see that we also carried out the same process on the other exterior plastics, such as the front grille and rear diffuser. As always we assess and carry out these touches on a job-by-job basis.
In the case of most details, we'll finish up engine bays with a few spritzes of Dressle All Purpose Trim Dressing, this water based product is ideal for breathing the back into life into matte plastics and rubber, and safe for use on all surfaces under your bonnet. Basically, it's just a case of spraying on your Dressle and leaving for a few hours to cure… we can even do this while the engine is still wet during the wash stage. Here however - with our Golf being a bit of a modified special - the engine bay is packed with posh, carbon fibre parts, and because they're clear-coated, these will benefit more from a quick hand polish with Tripple All In One Polish.
Tripple is our flagship all-purpose polish and it contains both light abrasives and deep-cleansing solvents, so it lends itself well to enhancing paint, lacquer and gloss plastics by removing light defects and cleaning away oxidation. This is one of the reasons it's classed and an all-in-one, because it not only polishes, but it cleans, too. The other reason for the name is that this product contains carnauba wax to leave behind a glossy layer of protection, something that's ideal in this situation to add a little finesse.
Here we applied the Tripple using a Microfibre Spot Pad on a Handi Puck Applicator, and gently worked it into all the carbon, before buffing to deep, rich gloss.
While we were at it, and we still had the wheels off, we also hand polished those with Tripple, just to eliminate a few light defects and really bring back the shine there, too.
Now we could get into a spot of finishing by tackling the inner arch liners. Here we're using Revive Trim Dressing, a silicone-based product that will quickly bring back the original black colour and add a water-resistant barrier to the elements. Because we cleaned our arches so thoroughly earlier, the Revive will have no issues fully bonding with the plastic, so it should offer a long-lasting, dry-touch finish.
Application is extremely straightforward, we just put a generous amount on a Foam Applicator (you can also use a Microfibre Applicator) and wipe it over the whole surface - be sure to apply even more liberally on seriously faded plastics, you'll see it start to soak in. After a 10-minutes or so the Revive will be cured, so we wipe away any excess with a fresh microfibre, and we're done. That's it.
Now we'll move onto the interior cleaning process, so we'll remove all the masking. If you're doing this at home, and without the aid of a ramp, you may want to refit your wheels now before you jump inside. Safety first and all that.
When it comes to cleaning interiors (yep, you guessed it) we aways assess these on a job-by-job basis. The processes we use and the products we need along the way will always change according to the level of soiling and the materials used on each interior surface.
Despite the state of the outside, the cabin was reasonably clean here, just showing a few signs of use. Here we mostly had fingerprints and the odd bit of debris to deal with - quite the contrast to the outside. We'll by no means need a full complement of cleaners and other products here, in fact all that was required for the whole job is a little Total Interior Cleaner and Spritz Interior Quick Detailer. So, for full rundown of every product and what they're used for we'd recommend checking out our Ultimate Interior Cleaning Guide.
The process here is relatively straightforward and, as is appropriate for the type of car, we started by completing the boot. A quick vacuum to remove any loose debris, followed by a little Total on any plastics was all that was needed here.
Total Interior Cleaner is a surfactant-based cleaning agent designed to pull grime out of every surface from carpets and upholstery to plastics and rubber. Again, it locks on to grime, breaks the bonds and safely surrounds it in the solution, allowing the contamination to be wiped away. The difference between this product and one that you'd typically use on your exterior is that it's formulated for regular use inside, so it won't dry out or damage sensitive surfaces when used over and over again for routine maintenance.
Total can either be sprayed directly onto surfaces or sprayed on to a Detailing Brush and agitated for more targeted use on hard plastics (the reason why we're using a brush for the plastics in the video). Agitation, as always, is solely a matter of getting the product into every awkward nook, and refreshing any spent product with fresh solution. Once again, we're not physically scrubbing away grime here, were simply agitating and then wiping away the spent solution, and the lifted dirt, with our work cloth. On carpets, cloth and leather, you can also agitate Total with an Upholstery Brush, this action helps to draw out the grime from the fibres, ready for you to wipe away.
In any case, by completing the boot area first we can then shut it up, knowing that it's finished, and move on to the inside… where cleaning is much the same story. We start with a thorough vacuum on the carpet and seats, dust off any awkward recesses and dirt traps using a super soft FeatherTip Detailing Brush to avoid any scratching, and then get to work with the Total on our plastics, carpets and upholstery.
Another infinitely useful product for us here is Spritz Interior Quick Detailer. Again, this is a surfactant-based cleaner, but it's also packed with UV-inhibitors and special anti-static agents. This means that it lends itself particularly well to cleaning dashboards and other hard plastics that are always exposed to sunlight, simply because it leaves behind plenty of protection against UV fading and cracking. Spritz also gives a subtle, satin sheen that's non-sticky to the touch - perfect if you're after the clean factory look.
Screens are also ideal for the Spritz treatment, it will cut through grime and fingerprints with ease, and the anti-static agents help avoid dust a dirt being drawn back. Just mist over the surface (or straight onto your cloth) and wipe.
We opted to use a hard wax for protection on this car, and that's for reasons that we'll explain later. Before we can apply our wax though, it's important to make sure the surface is still spotlessly clean. After all, it's almost inevitable that we've picked up a little dust and a few fingerprints while we've been busy correcting paint and cleaning the interior.
To ensure that nothing is left on the surface to mess with the finish of our protection layers, or prevent them bonding, we'll always give the paintwork a final wipe down using Finale Quick Detailer. Just a light mist over each panel, followed by a spread and buff with a super-soft Ultra Plush Microfibre is all that's needed to perfect every surface.
It's worth noting too, that Finale does the job of lifting light dust and fingerprints immaculately, but it also contains an infusion of carnauba wax itself, so it will also add a little protection. This makes it ideal for a quick top up (and a great show time perfecter) for use after maintenance washers. On a big detail like this, if a few hours or days have passed before we hand the car back to the owner, we'll often repeat this wipe down process at the very last minute. A great tip for the professionals. You can even use Finale on glass and trim - this one is a kitbag essential for sure!
Now for our protection and in this case we've chosen Spirit Car Wax, which has been specially developed to get the best from metallic paintwork by accentuating the sparkle of the microscopic metal flakes locked in the colour layer. It also offers a crisp finish and the all-important warm glow associated with a natural wax. Spirit contains 50% Brazilian T1 Grade carnauba so the protection here will last for up to 6-months.
Now, while we could have added a ceramic coating or a paint sealant and they would have looked extremely glossy, not to mention offer plenty of protection, we firmly believe that nothing beats the look of a wax… it's the warmth that only a wax can provide that makes the very most of your paintwork.. And, as the look is the priority here, it's only natural that we'd opt for one of our Signature Hard Waxes to protect and add the extra shine. Again, the desired result will usually dictate the product used.
To make life extremely easy we apply our Spirit our Desire using a sponge Waxmate XL, which incidentally, fits right in the tin. In a controlled environment like this, we can apply the wax over the whole vehicle before buffing off after 10-minutes or so, but you may choose to apply and buff one panel at a time to make life easier, especially when working outside.
For the best results we apply or wax in small overlapping circles, and to try and spread the wax as thinly and evenly as possible. Just a quarter turn in the tin should do a whole large panel or two. You only need a very thin layer over the surface, any more than that will be removed when you buffed off - laying it on too thick is simply wasting your wax. It's always a good idea to add another coat later, which will bond to this thin layer, but always wait 3-4 hours in-between, so the first layer can fully cure. We can also apply our Spirit wax to all the gloss plastics to keep them shiny and protected, too.
When it comes to buffing away the excess and bringing on the shine, we opted for a Micro Tweed Microfibre. This cloth is specifically designed for removing wax residues as safely as possible, collecting them in the special pockets in the material to help prevent clogging. To get the best possible finish with any hard wax the Micro Tweed just can't be beaten.
Just like paintwork and plastics, it's good to fully protect your rims, too. Here we use a slightly different type of wax - our synthetic Mint Rims Wheel Wax. Again, this will add plenty of high-gloss shine, but it's been specifically developed to be able to stand up to high temperatures, heavy road grime and hot brake dust, making it the ideal protection for any kind of wheel finish.
Naturally, applying wax to wheels is a little fiddlier than your average paint job, but it's still one of the easiest jobs in the whole of detailing. Just apply your Mint Rims over the whole wheel using a Foam Applicator, and then buff to high-gloss shine using a fresh Microfibre Work Cloth. This minty wheel wax will then offer up to 3-months protection. Simple.
The first thing to say is that every detail is different, and what's left over here will dictate the products you use to add those all-important finishing touches. It could be polishing tailpipes with Mercury Metal Polish, restoring matte plastics with Revive Trim Dressing, topping up ceramic protection with Caramics Gloss Enhancer, or any number of other processes. The condition of the vehicle is always specific, so the detail needs to match.
In our case, this Golf R is modern car and all that was needed was two processes that just happen to be the final finishing steps we compete on every single detail - dressing the tyres and cleaning the glass.
Starting with the tyres we're finishing up here with Satin Tyre Crème, applying a generous amount of product using a specially-contoured Tyre and Trim Applicator. This water-based dressing leaves a subtle, new-look satin sheen with a single application, but you can build up a few more layers for a wet-look gloss if you prefer. With Satin You get to choose your own finish.
This dressing is also deigned to nourish and condition the sidewalls, along with adding a physical barrier to the elements. You also get the advantage of in-built UV protection to help prevent fading and browning in the future. A master finishing touch for every detail.
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle - cleaning the glass inside and out using Crystal Glass Cleaner. There are two reasons why we generally leave this process until last. First, you don't want streaky windows detracting from the rest of your immaculate detail, that's a given, right? But second, you may have built up a little dust, fingerprints or overspray over the course of your work, so now's your chance to rid those for the ultimate finishing touch.
Crystal is fast-flashing solvent-based formula that makes light work of sticky residues and lifts away dirt and dust, allowing any remaining contamination to be wiped away without leaving smears. A light mist and a wipe is all you need here - it's seriously powerful stuff.
If you're wondering what the best cloth to use on your windows is, we'd always recommend utilising a Superior Waffle with any of our spray-on glass cleaners. This item is specifically designed for glass cleaning because it incorporates a special weave that's engineered for safe cleaning. The pockets in the material are just the thing for picking up grime, residues and debris, keeping them away from the surface you're trying to clean. This and the fact that the Superior Waffle is extremely absorbent means that you have to work pretty hard to get any smearing at all!
So, that's the in-depth, step-by-step explanation of our Mk8 Golf R detail and here are the results that you could achieve, just by following the same process. Why not adapt this one to your next detail and see if you can push your finish further than ever before?
See more of our big details and even more in-depth guides in the Guides Section Of Our Blog.