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Car detailing encompasses a variety of things that are all aimed at keeping a car in good condition, with a particular focus on the cosmetic condition of the car. It includes everything from car washes and vacuuming the inside of the car to applying wax and other materials to the car’s exterior to keep it looking good.
Depending on the type of detailing it can take just a few minutes or many hours to complete. If you’re running a detailing business or want to get your car detailed, knowing how long it will take is important.
How Long Does Car Detailing Take on Average?
How long it takes to detail a car can vary significantly based on the type of work that you’re doing and some other factors. A quick car wash might take just a few minutes while a top to bottom, in-depth detailing visit could take four hours or more.
Factors that Affect How Long Car Detailing Takes
There are many factors that influence how long it takes to detail a car.
- Type of Detailing Service. The more services, and the more in-depth the services, the longer it takes. For example, a car wash is much faster than touching up the paint and applying wax.
- Size of the Vehicle. Smaller vehicles usually take less time to detail than larger ones.
- Condition of the Car. Cars that are in poor condition or incredibly dirty will take longer to detail than ones that get cleaned and detailed up regularly.
- Add-Ons Selected. The more add-ons, such as waxing, polishing, or protective coatings, that you add, the more time it will take.
- Experience Level of Detailers. Experienced detailers will be able to work more quickly than people who have less experience.
- Quality of the Work. The higher the quality of work, the longer it typically takes. Detailing a car is, as the name implies, detail work. Paying close attention to details means taking more time to make sure everything is done properly.
- Age of the Vehicle. Older vehicles usually need more work to get them into great condition.
- Time Since Last Detailing. A car that gets detailed regularly will spend less time in the shop than a car getting detailed for the first time.
- Seat Materials Used. Some seat materials are easier to clean than others. For example, vinyl will take less time than cloth.
How Long Does Exterior Car Detailing Take?
Exterior car detailing involves cleaning the outside of your whole vehicle from top to bottom.
Common services include:
- Cleaning tires and rims
- Treating the vehicle with a foam wash
- Rinsing and performing a hand wash
- Decontaminating paint and tire rims
- Hand-drying the car
- Paint touch up
- Dressing tire and trims
Common add-on services include:
- Headlight restoration
- Trim restoration
- Windshield coatings
- Rim coatings
A basic detailing service takes two hours or so to complete. Some intensive additional services, such as ceramic coatings can add hours or even days to the timeline.
How Long Does Interior Car Detailing Take?
Interior detailing cleans the inside of your car from top to bottom and gets it looking like it did when it was brand new.
A typical interior detailing includes:
- Steam cleaning of all surfaces
- Upholstery shampoo and clean
- Cleaning and conditioning for leather surfaces
- Interior trim touch-up and protection
- Cleaning the interior of windows
Optional add-ons often include:
- Leather coating
- Fabric coating
- Odor removal and treatment
An interior detail usually takes about two hours from start to finish, though some add-on services may take longer.
How Long Does a Full Car Detail Take?
A full car detail means getting the interior and exterior of your vehicle detailed. It will include the services list for both interior and exterior detailing above to leave your car in the best possible condition inside and out.
A full detail often takes quite some time, upwards of four hours before you consider any additional add-ons that could make it take longer.
How Long Does a Car Wash Take?
How long it takes to wash a car depends largely on the type of wash you’re talking about.
When most people hear the word car wash, their mind likely jumps to a tunnel they drive their car into that automatically washes the exterior of the car using water and soap guns, and other machines. These types of car washes do a good job and usually only take a couple of minutes.
However, automated washes won’t get your car looking as good as it would after a detailing job or hand washing. Detailing involves a person focusing closely on your car to remove all of the dirt and to fix any cosmetic issues they find.
Hand washes, as they are often performed at detailing shops, take much longer than automated washes, clocking in at anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.
For more information, you can visit our article on how long it takes to wash a car.
How Long Does Professional vs DIY Car Detailing Take?
There are entire companies dedicated to helping people detail their cars, offering detailing services for a reasonable cost. However, many people, especially car enthusiasts, opt to do their own detailing. This is popular both as a way to save money on labor or for the simple enjoyment of working on a car.
A top-to-bottom exterior and interior detailing job might take about four hours for a professional detail shop. A DIY detail can take more or less time based on a few factors.
A DIYer who has less experience and less of an eye for attention, or who skips certain steps, might finish faster. More likely, that lack of experience will result in it taking longer to detail their vehicle than a professional.
On the other hand, an experienced DIYer can probably do a solid job in a similar time frame as a professional, assuming they have all the same tools.
Professional vs DIY Car Detailing: Which Is Better?
Whether professional or DIY car detailing is the better choice for you depends on a few factors, such as your goals for detailing the car and your experience.
|More expensive||Less expensive because you only pay for supplies|
|May have access to specialized tools||May not have tools for all of the work|
|You may have to select from a list of cookie cutter services||You can focus on exactly what you want to focus on|
|Requires you to schedule work||You can work on the car when you have time|
|Usually takes less time||Usually takes longer|
Technologies That Can Speed up the Car Detailing
As with any kind of work, having the right tools and technology can help car detailers perform their work more quickly and effectively.
Though they might be expensive for home use, if you’re running a car detailing business, you should consider buying these tools. You can always consider financing the equipment with a car wash business loan if you don’t have the cash on hand and think it will benefit your business.
- Vapor steam cleaners. These tools use steam to clean a vehicle without leaving excess moisture. Cars dried using these tools can dry in minutes, making them ideal for cars that don’t need deep cleaning.
- Upholstery extractors. These tools are designed to provide an incredibly deep clean for a vehicle’s interior. They use a pressurized, high-temperature mist to penetrate into a car’s upholstery and lift out dirt and grim.
- Wet steam pressure washers. These powerful washers are designed for cleaning hard surfaces and can spray away built-up dirt and grime.
Tips for Speeding up Your Car Detailing Process
Whether you’re detailing your car at home or working in a shop detailing a customer’s vehicle, there are tips you can use to speed up the work.
- Use quick fittings. If you’re working in a professional shop, a quick connect fitting for washers, water sprayers, and other tools can save you time when changing the fittings for your hoses.
- Use a wax machine. Shops should invest in machines to automate and speed up the waxing process.
- Use compressed air on seams. Whether you’re in a shop or working at home, using compressed air to get the dirt out of seams can speed up the process. Air compressors are pricey, but you can also get creative by using a tool like a leaf blower to the same effect.
- Wear a tool belt. This tip may seem obvious, but it can save you a lot of time if you have your tools all readily available rather than having to pick them up off the ground or a table.
- Start from the top. Another tip that feels obvious but that is key to quick detailing. If you work top down, any dirt you knock down will fall onto parts of the car you haven’t cleaned yet. If you work bottom up, you may have to clean the same spots twice.