car detailing

The Big Difference Between Car Washing And Car Detailing

car wash vs detailing

When it comes to keeping your vehicle in top condition, two common approaches come to mind: car washing and car detailing. While both practices aim to enhance the aesthetics of your vehicle, they differ significantly in their methods, scope, and outcomes. 

While car washing is primarily concerned with achieving a clean surface, car detailing delves deeper into the realm of restoration and enhancement. Detailing employs specialized products, tools, and techniques that go beyond what a basic car wash can offer. 

It’s a process that requires time, patience, dedication, and expertise to deliver exceptional results. Moreover, car detailing is customizable, allowing vehicle owners to tailor the service according to their preferences and the unique needs of their vehicle.

Car Washing vs. Car Detailing

Car washing, at its core, serves as a quick and convenient way to remove surface-level dirt, dust, and grime from the vehicle's exterior. It’s akin to a routine maintenance task that keeps your car looking presentable without delving into intricate details.  

The primary focus is achieving a clean exterior, including the body, windows, tires, and wheels. This can be accomplished through automated car washes, self-service stations, professional hand washing services, or a DIY session with a hose and suitable cleaning products.

On the other hand, car detailing is a comprehensive and thorough approach that takes vehicle care to the next level. It encompasses an intricate process aimed at restoring the vehicle’s appearance, both inside and out. 

 Detailing goes beyond superficial cleaning, addressing deeper issues such as paint imperfections, minor scratches, and overall rejuvenation.  

The meticulous nature of detailing means that every nook and cranny receives attention - from polishing the exterior to cleaning and conditioning the interior components like the dashboard, seats, carpets, and upholstery.  

What is Car Washing?

car washing

Car washing is the foundation of vehicle maintenance. Basically, It’s the process of scrubbing away the dirt, grime, and dust that ends up on your car surface and accumulates through daily use. 

When washing cars, by getting rid of all the corrosive and damaging substances, you’re making sure your daily driver stays in top condition for years to come - and protecting your investment as well.

It’s not just the paint that should get cleaned - windows, tires, and wheels need regular care too. It doesn’t require much more effort to get them fresh and sparkling while you’re at it.

Although not typically included in the washing process, vacuuming and wiping down the interior surfaces should be done at the same time or at least as often. 

Car washes are typically quick and easy and should be done every few weeks to maintain the look. No matter if you’re doing it yourself or running your car through a machine wash, it shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to make it look clean and presentable. 

What Does a Car Wash Include?

1. Pre-rinse: Before you roll up your sleeves, a pre-rinse is done to remove loose dirt and debris from the surface. It helps soften and loosen that stubborn grime that likes to cling to the paint, making the following cleaning process easier.

2. Shampooing: Next up, special car shampoo or soap is applied, either with a foam cannon or a soft wash mitt dipped in a bucket of soapy water. This helps break down and lift contaminants off the surface. Keep in mind that cars coated with a protective coating need to be cleaned with a pH-neutral Soap so as not to damage the coating. 

car shampoo

3. Scrubbing: Using a soft sponge or mitt, the surface is gently scrubbed to remove the remaining dirt and grime. Careful attention is given to nooks and crevices, where the dirt can get a chance to build up, as well as more delicate areas, such as the trims.  

4. Wheel and Tire cleaning: The wheels and tires are a separate focus. Wheel cleaners and iron removers are used to get rid of brake dust and road grime. Special curved brushes make sure that all the hard-to-reach spaces get cleaned too. 

car shampoo

5. Window Cleaning: Dedicated glass cleaners are used to clean the windows and mirrors, ensuring clear visibility to the driver. 

6. Drying: The entire vehicle should be carefully dried using microfiber towels or a blow dryer. This will prevent streaks and water spots from forming immediately and wasting your efforts.  

Optional steps that can be included in a more thorough car wash:

Interior Cleaning: The best time to get your interior cleaned is while the last bit of moisture is evaporating from your car’s surface. The dashboard and other surfaces are wiped down with interior cleaners and terry cloths. The floors, mats, and seats should be vacuumed - and don’t forget about the cup holders!

Coating: Applying a protective coating to the vehicles’ surface to enhance shine and protect against the elements. 

beginner car washing mistakes

Products you'll need:

Car Washing Prices

Car washing prices can vary based on the type of car wash facility, the services offered, and the region.  

Self-Serving Car Wash: These are usually coin-operated facilities where you do the washing yourself using their equipment. Prices for self-service car wash bays start as low as $2 to $4 for the basics wash and rinse.

Automated Drive-Through Car Wash: Your can drive your car through a tunnel while various mechanisms clean your car. Although the easiest, this method is known to damage the paint of your vehicle. If you decide to you that route, you will have to set aside anywhere from $5 to $30, depending on the level of service and any other additional services. 

Hand Wash and Detailing Shops: Hand car washes and detailing businesses typically offer more personalized services, including exterior and interior washing, waxing, and sometimes more thorough detail. Prices start at around $50 or more for a basic hand wash and can go up to $100 for more extensive packages. 

Washing at Home: Washing your car at home offers complete control over the cleaning. With basic supplies like soap, a hose, and microfiber towels, you can focus on specific areas. While cost-effective, it demands time and care. Ensure you use eco-friendly products and consider runoff water's environmental impact. Proper home washing can rival professional results if done with dedication. 

What is Car Detailing?

Car detailing is a transformative process that involves deep cleaning, restoring, and protection of both the exterior and interior of a vehicle. Detailing is more than just a routine cleaning - it focuses on preserving the car’s condition, exceeding its factory appearance, and boosting the retail value. 

what is car detailing

In addition to washing and vacuuming, the exterior and interior are deep cleaned. Depending on the state of your vehicle, this may entail polishing, compounding, claying, steam-cleaning, waxing, and coating. Car detailing isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal - there are different levels tailored to your needs, from a quick source-up to a full-blown top-to-bottom makeover.  

This extensive process requires meticulous attention to detail and can take several hours, so leaving your car with a professional overnight is the best option.

What Does a Car Detail Include?

beginner car washing mistakes

Exterior Detail

Exterior car detailing encompasses a wide range of specialized processes to rejuvenate the vehicle’s paintwork and other external components. Detailing services can be customized to fit the needs of your vehicle, but most professional detailing shops offer several basic packages. 

The process may include:

1. Paint Correction: Detailers use various techniques to remove the imperfections on a vehicle’s paint, such as swirls, scratches, hazing, and other flaws. Polishing is the process of using abrasive compounds to remove a thin layer of clear coat and reveal a smoother and more reflective surface.  

what is car detailing

2. Paint Chip Repair: Most scratches on the paint of your vehicle are caused by gravel, rocks, salt, and other debris from the roads. These chips can be fixed by sanding the area and using primers to fill them in before applying new paint. The area is then leveled and protected with a top coat or a lacquer. 

3. Coating: Protective coatings provide durable protection against the elements and chemicals, significantly reducing maintenance. Similar to wax, they also make your vehicle look new and shiny. There are many types and brands of protective coatings on the market today, and their longevity can vary from a couple of months to multiple years.

4. Paint Protection Film: Paint Protection Film or PPF is a transparent protective film that can cover any painted surface of your vehicle’s exterior, protecting your vehicle from UV rays and bird droppings. Unlike protective coatings, it will also greatly reduce the risk of paint damage but won’t offer much in terms of shine and hydrophobicity. Most PPFs can last anywhere between 5-10 years, depending on the brand and maintenance. 

6. Headlight Restoration: Headlight restoration will improve the appearance and performance of your headlight. Detailers can either polish or rub the lens area of the headlights to get rid of the first and grime and remove the oxidation that can build up over time and cause hazing. Headlight restoration will improve the appearance and performance of your headlight.  

Interior Detail

Interior car detailing focuses on cleaning, restoring, and protecting every surface of the vehicle’s cabin.  

interior detailing

The process may include: 

1. Vacuuming: Interior detailing begins with a thorough vacuuming of the cabin. Every nook and cranny, from seats and carpets to floor mats and crevices, is meticulously vacuumed to remove dust, dirt, and debris that accumulates with daily use.  

2. Upholstery and Carpet Cleaning: Professional detailers use upholstery cleaners, microfiber towels, and soft brushes to tackle dirt and spills on fabric, headliners, and carpets. For more stubborn stains, steam cleaners, and hot water extractors might be necessary. 

3. Leather Care: For vehicles with leather interiors, detailing involves conditioning and protecting the surfaces to maintain softness, prevent cracks, and preserve their appearance. This is usually done with the help of dedicated leather conditioners, quick detailers, or protective coatings.  

4. Dashboard and Trim: Dashboards have plenty of nooks, crannies, and buttons where dirt, dust, and oils accumulate. Cleaning them involves wiping them with a microfiber cloth, soap, and water. A designated dash brush will help get into those tough-to-reach spots.

5. Engine Detail: Engine detailing involves removing the debris trapped in the hood, grill, and vent openings with the help of car soap or a degreasing agent if necessary. Depending on their condition, some metal and plastic parts may have to be polished. Engine detail should be done regularly, to help identify and prevent potential mechanical problems. 

6. Pet Hair Removal: This is a necessary step for all pet owners out there. The interior is rubbed with brushes to loosen and gather the pet hair that clings to the surfaces, then vacuumed to pick up the piles.  

7. Odor Removal: Thorough cleaning doesn’t always get rid of the unpleasant smell. To remove odors, detailers use ozone generators to neutralize the smell and kill any bacteria and viruses that escaped the cleaning. 

Car Detailing Prices

Car detailing prices can vary widely depending on several factors, including the location, level of service, the size and condition of the vehicle, and the specific detailing packages offered by the detailer.

car detailing prices

What to choose?

In essence, the choice between car washing and detailing depends on the desired outcome. Car washing is a necessary practical chore for routine maintenance, offering a quick fix for surface dirt. 

However, for those who seek a more comprehensive transformation and are willing to invest the time, money, and effort, car detailing is the ultimate solution. It results in a showroom-worthy appearance that not only turns heads but also prolongs the life and value of your vehicle. 

You might want to check out our list of professional detailers in your area and get matched with one of them. 

So whether you’re looking for a quick refresh or the ultimate pampering session for your car, understanding the difference between washing and detailing will help you make the right choice for keeping your ride in top-notch condition. 


What is car washing?

Car washing is the foundational process of cleaning the exterior of a vehicle to remove surface-level dirt, dust, and grime. It's a routine maintenance task that keeps your car looking presentable.

How does washing cars differ from detailing?

While car washing focuses on surface-level cleaning, professional car detailing delves deeper, addressing both the exterior and interior of the vehicle, restoring its appearance and enhancing its condition.

What is car detailing?

Car detailing is a comprehensive service that involves deep cleaning, restoring, and protecting every aspect of a vehicle, both inside and out. It goes beyond basic cleaning to rejuvenate the vehicle's appearance and protect its value.

What does detailing a car include?

Detailing a car encompasses a range of processes, from paint correction, waxing, and coating for the exterior to deep cleaning, vacuuming, and conditioning of the interior components.

How long does it take to detail a car?

The duration of a car detailing service can vary based on the car's condition and the detailing package chosen. However, due to its meticulous nature, it can take several hours, and sometimes, it's best to leave the car with professionals overnight.

How much does it cost to detail a car?

Car detailing package prices can vary widely. Factors influencing the cost include the size and condition of the vehicle, the level of service, and the specific packages offered by the car detailing business.

What is the difference between car wash and detailing?

The primary difference lies in the depth and scope of the service. Car washing is a quick solution for surface dirt while detailing is a thorough approach aimed at restoring and enhancing the vehicle's overall appearance.

What does a typical car detailing package include?

A car detailing package can range from basic exterior cleaning and waxing to full car detail, which includes deep cleaning, restoration, and protection of both the exterior and interior.

How much does car detailing cost compared to a regular car wash?

While car washing can start as low as $2 to $4, car detailing package prices begin around $50 for basic services and can go up to $100 or more for extensive packages.

What is auto detailing?

Auto detailing is another term for car detailing. It's a thorough cleaning and restoration process that enhances the appearance of vehicles.

Is there a difference in car washing detailing and car wash detailing prices?

Yes, car washing detailing is a blend of basic washing and some detailing elements, so its price is typically higher than a regular car wash but lower than full detailing services.

Why should I consider a car detailing service over a regular car wash?

If you're seeking a comprehensive transformation of your vehicle, both in terms of aesthetics and protection, a car detailing service is the ultimate solution. It offers a showroom-worthy appearance and prolongs the life and value of your vehicle.

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