Car Detailing on a budget

Maintaining the cleanliness of your car should not be a big expense. Unfortunately, the price of detailing can be expensive and for many, unaffordable. Even the price of automated car washes adds up.

The best way to cut the cost of car detailing is to do it yourself. There is a lot of equipment and products that you may think you need but I promise you, car detailing on a budget is possible.

I wish that someone told me exactly what I needed to get started. Instead, I ended up wasting a lot of money on expensive gear that I didn’t need.

It’s very easy to overcommit and spend money on the most expensive product thinking it will give you better results.

Keeping your startup costs low will also limit how much money you may lose if you decide that cleaning and detailing cars is not for you.

Choosing your budget

Before looking at the equipment and products you need, it’s best to think about your budget.

Set aside a budget that you can afford to spend on car detailing products and stick to it. After all, your budget is going to decide exactly what you should buy.

Someone that has $100 to spend is going to be able to buy less, or “worse” products compared to someone with $1000 to spend.

For example, the person with $100 will opt for just a hose, over a pressure washer.

The best way to build up a detailing setup is to start off cheap and gradually improve it. As you wash your car, you’ll discover that you need certain products to get better results.

Detailing is a continuous process, your skills and setup will improve overtime as long as you keep investing time and money.

A minimal car detailing setup

This article is all about car detailing while using the least equipment and products possible.

Below is the most basic setup you can use while detailing a car. It’s so basic, a lot of people will say you’re just cleaning the car.

Regardless, here’s what you will need to make your car look better:

Budget Exterior Detailing Tools & Equipment:

  • Water Hose
  • 2x Wash Buckets
  • Microfibre Wash Mitt
  • Microfibre Towels
  • Spray Bottle
  • Foam Applicator pads

Water Hose – Whether you’re using a pressure washer or your garden hose to rinse your vehicle, you will need a hose for detailing. It doesn’t need to be anything special, a simple $5 one will do the job.

If you’re in a country with hose pipe bans or water restrictions, you can wash your car without a hose using this method.

Wash Buckets – The 2 Bucket wash method is a standard wash when it comes to detailing.
To perform the 2 bucket wash method, you’ll need 2 wash buckets. One of the buckets will have shampoo and water, the other with plain water for rinsing your wash mitt.

At the bottom of each bucket, you should have a grit guard. Grit Guards prevent you from picking up any dirt or debris that’s stuck at the bottom of the wash buckets.

If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford grit guards, It’s ok. Just make sure you check your wash mitt every time for debris before going anywhere near your car.

Microfibre Wash Mitt – You can use a sponge but they’re not as good. Microfibre wash mitts have less chance of scratching your vehicle and will prevent your hands from getting too cold.

There’s no reason not to buy these, they cost anywhere from $2-5. In my experience, they last a lot longer than sponges and give you a much better washing experience.

Microfibre Towels – It’s important that you have a lot of microfibre towels. They’re great for pretty much everything.
Using these towels, you’ll dry the vehicle, buff sealants, waxes, quick detailers and clean the interior of your car.


Spray Bottle – Many detailing products are a concentrated solution that you will need to dilute yourself. This is particularly common among All-Purpose Cleaners as well as Bug & Tar Remover.

Applicator Pads – You will need applicator pads for applying paste waxes, dressings, leather cleaners, and protectants.

There are two types of applicator pads to choose from. You have foam pads that are best suited to rubber and leather whereas microfibre pads are more suited to paintwork procedures.

Budget Exterior Detailing products:

  • Car Shampoo
  • Wax or Sealant
  • All-Purpose Cleaner

Car Shampoo – It’s important to use the right products when detailing a car.

Yes, household dish soap may work. Will it work as good as a product that’s specifically made to clean a car? Probably not. Many car shampoos have added benefits that normal detergents will not have.

Bilt Hamber Shampoo offers up to 60 washes for <$20. Car Shampoo is not an expensive product. Don’t be a cheapskate, treat your car with care.

Wax or Sealants – A good wax or sealant will completely change the finish on a car. Every car will look better after it’s washed, but using a good wax will make the paint pop.

All-Purpose Cleaner – Often abbreviated as APC. All-Purpose Cleaner is a multipurpose liquid cleaner that can be used on almost any surface.

While it is likely to strip last stage protection, you can use APC on paint. Most professionals will avoid using it on the exterior unless there’s some really stubborn dirt on the vehicle.

All-Purpose Cleaner is mostly used to wash door jambs, hinges, wheel arches, engine bays and the interior of a vehicle.

Here’s a list of the best All-Purpose Cleaners on the market.

Budget Interior Detailing Equipment & Products:

  • Vacuum
  • Upholstery Cleaner
  • Upholstery Sealant

When I first started detailing, the interior of my car was always neglected.

I was super lazy and I didn’t really have the tools that make interior cleaning a lot easier. Being one of the few people getting into the car, it didn’t matter to me, as long as it wasn’t too bad.

If detailing is just a hobby, you can do whatever you want. If you’re looking to make a career out of detailing, you’ll need to invest time into all aspects of the job.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can get away with using your household vacuum, an upholstery cleaner, sealant, and an all-purpose cleaner. With this setup and elbow grease, you can make your car interior cleaner than most.

Most people don’t wash their cars or even attempt to keep it clean. Any effort you put in is going to make your car a lot cleaner than the average person.

Detailing Gift Packs & Car Cleaning Kits

To the untrained detailer, detailing gift packs may look like the complete package. They’re definitely not, but they are a good place to start.

These bundles give you a chance to try out many products without having to spend a lot of money on the big containers. A lot of the products will also work well together because they’re from the same product range.

The main downside of these bundles is the serious lack of pads, microfibre towels, and brushes.

When you buy these kits, you’ll have to buy extra accessories because 1 pad and towel is not enough. It’s not the end of the world, but ultimately you’ll have to pay for more than just the bundle itself.

Overall they’re a good option for beginners, especially if you can buy them at trade value.

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