The Seattle Times Company

Jobs | Autos | Real Estate | Rentals | Classifieds |

December 13, 2009

News & Features

Detail-oriented: Deep-cleaning the car is a ritual to be practiced and refined

Special to NWautos

Clean car

Illustration by Katie Miller

When I was a kid, a declaration of "I'm bored" invited one of two responses: Mom would shoo me off to clean my bedroom, or Dad would hand me a $5 bill and send me to the driveway to wash his car.

Dad was a sales manager who traveled around New England selling Foster Grant sunglasses and chain-smoking Kool filters. I had to wash those nicotine-stained windows twice to get them clean. It was disgusting, but it paid well.

Today, as a car-owning adult, washing the car is often the first thing that comes to mind when I find myself in possession of a Saturday morning with nothing much to do. And so it was, a few weekends back, when I had time on my hands and a horrifyingly dirty car in my driveway. I busted out the bucket, sponges, towels, vacuum cleaner, Turtle Wax, Rain-X, Windex, Q-tips and cold beer for what would be my last hand-wash of the season.

High shine
  • The products I learned about, as well as my old standbys:
  • Griot's Garage Paint Cleaning Clay: $10-$30
  • Griot's Garage Speed Shine: $10-$30
  • Turtle Wax: A classic for protection and shine, $5-$10
  • Rain-X: Key to keeping your windshield clear, $2
  • Q-tips: Perfect for your dashboard's nooks and crannies, $2-$4

A clean car runs smoother, goes faster, handles better and gets better mileage. And there's just something cathartic about washing away the road grime to reveal your car's shiny metallic finish. So I was filled with good feeling and a sense of promise as the jet of warm water filled the bucket and frothed the soap like a giant foamy latte. The sun was shining, and soon enough, my VW Golf would be, too.

When I finally called it quits, it was due to darkness and exhaustion, not because I was satisfied with the job. The time and effort I exerted should help reassure the Pink Elephants and Brown Bears that there will always be a place for them. It also explains why there is a demand for workshops that will school you in the art of bringing new luster to your old car.

I attended one recently, compliments of the LeMay auto museum and Griot's Garage, a maker of automotive detailing supplies. It was a fun and informative event, held in a warehouse thick with the scent of gasoline, coffee and testosterone.

The lesson was the equivalent of a beauty-product infomercial in which the esthetician systematically cleans, exfoliates, moisturizes and applies layer after layer of product to a model's skin until it radiates a dewy glow. Only at this event, the products were from Griot's, not Estée Lauder, and the model was a 1964 Jaguar XKE, not Gisele.

Detailing seminar

Demonstrating a buffing machine at the detailing seminar. (Sean O'Connor)

As with Gisele, I couldn't see how the flawlessly maintained XKE could be enhanced. That was when the technician brought out what I dubbed "the magic clay." He told us that even after washing your car, contaminants remain, and you shouldn't apply wax on top of them.

I'm no automotive esthetician, but after he dragged the clay across the paint, all that was left was a surface so clean, smooth and slippery that dirt wouldn't dare stick to it. And just to be sure, he applied a final, specially formulated product that hermetically sealed in the shine (or something like that).

In the end, the XKE was so shiny I could have used its front quarter-panel as a shaving mirror. Prominently reflected in it was a retail display of Griot's products -- spritzers, creams, pastes, high-thread-count cotton towels and, best of all, the magic clay. In short, everything I would need to give my car a model makeover.

Goodbye, Golf. Hello, Gisele.


Partner video