One question I get asked a lot by family and friends is “how long does detailing a car take?”. Once they realize how often I clean my car ( sometimes twice a week ), they think I am insane….which may be true I’m not sure, but that is a whole different discussion.
I get comments such as “You must spend your whole life cleaning your car “, or “how dirty can your car get in a few days!” etc.
The general public typically has a gross misunderstanding of how long it takes to detail a car. It is either underestimated or completely overestimated.
So how long does it take to detail a car?
I’m sure that most regular readers of this blog will know that there is no cut and dry answer to this question and it can depend on many different factors. In my own experience the time it takes to detail a car can vary wildly and can be influenced by several different things. These include
What Steps Need to be completed on the car?
Current Condition Of the Cars Interior / Exterior
How Efficient/Knowledgeable the person carrying out the detail is
Materials Used (Eg is Ceramic Coating being applied )
With the rise in popularity of detailing and the “glamification” of the practice over recent years, the lines have been blurred so to speak between a simple car wash and an actual detail. So what does detailing mean in 2020? In my opinion, this term is now used to cover all aspects of car cleaning and paint protection, no matter how small a job at hand.
It turns out the world and its mother is now a “detailer” these days.
For me, to truly answer the question of how long it takes to detail a car to someone, I usually end up breaking it down into various categories.
In my personal experience these are as follows :
A “Quick Detail” or Waterless Wash
A Standard Maintenence Wash
A Maintenence Wash with Interior Clean
A Decontamination Wash / Polish Preparation
Compounding / Polishing & Ceramic Coating Applied
These are the classifications of “detail” that I am familiar with. There are other scenarios, but I have tried to group them as best I can to answer the question at hand.
How Long Does a Quick Detail Take?
Quick Detailing is a process that I would consider taking less than 30 minutes.
Quick Detailing is a simple solution that cuts down your regular washing routine by maintaining your car’s paint when it is just lightly dusty or has some light water spotting. If you have not read my article on “how to keep your car clean between washes“, you should consider checking that out HERE. This will cover a lot of things that fall under the “quick detailing” category.
For me, quick detailing is a step I would perform between my weekly washes if I did not have time to do a “normal” wash with two buckets and water.
To properly Quick Detail your car you’ll need a few high quality, plush microfiber buffing towels, and quick detailing spray. A car duster also works well at removing the top layer of dust before quick detailing but is not necessary.
During a quick detail, I also like to give the exterior glass a clean using a good quality dedicated glass cleaner.
Quick Detailing is not just for the exterior of your car. There are detailing sprays for your car’s interior as well. A personal favourite of mine is AutoFinesse Interior cleaner, used with some microfiber clothes to keep on top of interior dust and dirt.
I can usually complete a quick detail in 15-30 minutes max.
How Long Does A Maintenance Wash Take?
A standard maintenance wash takes approximately 45-90 minutes.
Obviously, there are different types of maintenance wash, for example, are you using just buckets and water? Or Are you using a pressure washer with a pre-wash snow foam step before any contact washing is done?
For simplicity, I am going to base this on my Maintenance wash routine, which I carry out weekly.
- Vehicle pre-washed using good quality snow foam
- Wheels cleaned using non-acidic cleaner
- The vehicle is washed using a PH neutral shampoo
- Spray Sealant Or Drying Aid Applied to the paint
- The vehicle is hand dried using deep pile microfibre towels to safely dry the vehicle
- Tyres are dressed using a good quality dressing
- Exterior windows cleaned using a specific glass cleaner
How Long Does A Maintenance Wash & Interior Detail Take?
A standard maintenance wash takes approximately 60-120 minutes.
This is all the steps I have outlined above, but including a full clean of the interior of the car. The time it takes to do this will depend on the condition of the interior, but if you are like me and tend to keep on top of the dirt in the interior, it should not add too much time to your maintenance wash.
In my case, this usually consists of
- Vacuuming – The first step to cleaning the interior of a car includes vacuuming seats, headliners, rear cargo area, trunk and shelf.
- A good brush to use on the car mats to remove any trapped dirt. ( i also vacuum these )
- Interior trim and surfaces are removed of any grime, dirt and bacteria using interior specific cleaners that are safe on all surfaces
- Glass Cleaning – A glass cleaner is used to clean the glass.
I am not a huge fan of interior dressing so I don’t usually use that. However, one important factor that is often overlooked is the scent. I usually change my air freshener about once a month.
In my routine, a maintenance wash and interior clean takes about 2 hours.
How Long Does A Decontamination Wash & Polishing Prep Take?
This process will usually take between 2-4 hours.
Now we are getting into the serious steps of detailing, whereby a large amount of time will need to be put in, which will lead to exceptional results. I would advise that a good decontamination wash be performed on a car at least once a quarter, or about 4 times a year.
Decontamination/Polish prep includes all the steps I have outlined above in the maintenance wash steps with the addition of the following.
- Use a wax and polish stripping product (Eg Chemical Guys Clean Slate)
- Iron Remover to remove any iron deposits/fallout
- Bug Remover ( if necessary )
- Clay Bar Step
This is usually something you can build into a maintenance wash, but as I said it is only necessary a few times a year if you are keeping on top of your vehicle.
How Long Does Polishing a Car & Ceramic Coating Take?
This is usually measured in Days Rather than Hours. The time to complete can vary depending on several factors such as
- How many polishing steps? ( 1 step? 3 Step? )
- Type of Coating Applied? ( Some coatings are more difficult to apply and need a longer curing time )
I would estimate that the average paint correction and protection can take from 1-3 Days On average. This can take longer if heavy paint correction is required.
This may seem excessive to some people but Don’t forget that before any of this can take place, the full decontamination wash should be carried out.
Paint correction on a car can take many hours, and some badly damaged paint will take days to restore to a perfect finish. Ideally, the paint should be defect-free before applying any sort of ceramic coating. This is why people are often shocked when they get a quote for a professional application of a ceramic coating, which can cost $$$$.
As well as the polishing, the application of ceramic coating can be quite intricate, with some coating curing times quoted at up to 24-48 hours.
In Summary -How Long Does Car Detailing Take?
As I mentioned earlier, “Detailing” is now a catch-all term that is used to describe a number or a combination of different steps. However, I will do my best to summarize with the following
– A “Quick Detail” or Waterless Wash = Less than 30 Minutes
– A Maintenance Wash = 45-90 Minutes
– A Maintenence Wash with Interior Clean = 60-120 minutes
-A Decontamination Wash / Polish Preparation = 2-4 Hours
-Compounding / Polishing & Ceramic Coating Applied = 1-3 Days On Average
So how long does it take you to do the above detailing? I would love to hear your opinion, so please leave a comment or join the discussion on the DriveDetailed Forum
Until Next time,
About the Author – Darren O Hara
Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out new products.
Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.
You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork