Car Detailers Dirty Little Secrets – Well, For Some Detailers

As car aficionados who prefer to wash and detail our cars ourselves - at least most of the time – we spent a lot of time learning about the various ways and the numerous tools used by other car owners and professional car detailers to clean vehicles. Our goal was to understand every little detail necessary to help us develop products that made cleaning cars either easier, faster or better than with currently available products. And ideally, we would develop products that achieved all three of these.   

Our first patented car cleaning product, the WoollyWormit Wheel Cleaning Brush, is possibly one of the most engineered and researched brushes ever – as a result of the work and research conducted during the product development period.

In conducting our research, both while developing the WoollyWormit and after its launch, we met with professional car detailers for their input and advice. Fortunately for us, virtually everyone liked what they saw when our product was finally launched. They liked all the functionality designed into only one tool. They appreciated the long reach and bending for cleaning deep into the wheel. They welcomed the convenient lug nut cleaner, as this would save a lot of time cleaning an annoying little area. They loved that there was no exposed metal that could damage the wheels ... And more.

During discussions with detailers, we asked what the preferred wheel cleaning products were and why?

Some of the detailer responses were similar: they liked the strong spray-on wheel cleaners and the “rinse-off with hose” method ... since the claims were that no scrubbing or wiping was needed. Others used car shampoo and brushes, while others used less harsh wheel cleaners and brushes.

When checking out the strong spray-on cleaners to understand what would be so appealing, we were shocked to find some were using commercial products referred to as “Wheel Acids”.

Wheel Acid! Whoa! The labels had in big type “WHEEL ACID”. That is pretty scary – especially if you have nice or expensive wheels with coatings not designed to resist harsh chemicals.

In one instance, we watched as the detailer sprayed the wheel acid directly onto the wheels of a newer black Bentley. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach watching him expose those expensive chrome wheels to that harsh chemical. And, it wasn’t even my car! Seeing an extremely harsh chemical sprayed directly onto a set of $10,000 wheels made me cringe. I thought to myself: I would never bring my own cars here!

No wonder this spray cleaned the wheels without any effort – it’s acid. Not only was it loosening up the dirt on the wheels, it was likely slowly eating away the surface coating on the wheels, too.

Out of curiosity, I decided to watch the detailers clean the rest of the car. Much to my surprise, and horror, I witnessed the following:

  • A very harsh wheel acid was used to clean the wheels without the owner’s knowledge – strong enough to clean very dirty wheels with absolutely no wiping.
  • The same bucket of water used for scrubbing the edges of the wheel wells and lower body areas where sand, gravel and dirt stick to the car body, was also used on the fenders, hood, trunk, roof and windshield, etc.
  • Furthermore, the same bucket of dirty water used for wiping off the car body, was also used for wiping down the car interior - the expensive fine leather seating, leather door panels and dashboard! I couldn’t believe it.
  • Additionally, making it worse, the same wash sponge used for cleaning the entire car exterior was used for wiping the leather seats, doors, etc!
  • And, when the car was finally finished being washed, the same drying towel used on the previous car, and used on the entire car exterior, including the acid-cleaned wheels, was used to dry off the interior. 
  • ... It felt like I was witnessing a crime.

Afterwards, when I politely asked the detailer what his "secret was to having a successful detailing business", his response was: “Run cars through the cleaning process as fast as possible. Time is money”.

When I asked why he uses such a strong wheel acid on the wheels instead of less harsh products combined with a little wiping, his response was, “That takes too long. We don’t have time to wipe – we just spray on and squirt off with a hose - that is all the time we have.”

We felt terrible for the unsuspecting Bentley owner. Here’s someone who was likely spending $75-$100 to get their Bentley washed and the only priority for the detailer was to clean it as fast as possible. There was virtually no consideration for the way it was cleaned, nor for the materials, and the possible damage that could have been incurred by their haste.

Having witnessed this, we started paying more attention to other detailers’ steps and processes around our area – especially where we would take our cars every once in awhile, when we didn't have time to clean them ourselves.

Fortunately, we found some detailers are very credible and willing to spend the time to clean their customers' cars properly and thoroughly - consistent with what the clients would expect. And, they use the proper tools, soaps and cleaners designed for the cars they’re cleaning. This was promising.

However, other detailers we saw were operating pretty much the same as our first described scenario above – they get the car in and out of the wash cycle as fast as possible, knowing the client has no idea what level of attention was spent on the cleaning.

Because of our firsthand experiences, we felt it might be helpful to provide a few suggestions to those entrusting their cars to their favorite detailers:

  • UNDERSTANDING YOUR WHEELS IS IMPORTANT - Some aluminum and chrome wheels have specific cleaning requirements. Some factory and aftermarket wheels have paint and coatings that restrict certain types of cleaners from being used. So, to protect and preserve the surface of your wheels and not cause unnecessary damage over time, it is important to ask what types of cleaning chemicals are being used on the wheels? If the detailer sprays a chemical cleaner on the wheel, ask if it’s gentle enough or formulated for your type of wheels? If not, or if the detailer does not know, then ask them to not use the wheel cleaner at all. And instead, request they use the soap being used on the car body, and wipe them clean. When you use wheel cleaners, always be sure to use product formulated for your wheel types. Another great option is to use your regular car shampoo and a WoollyWormit. The WoollyWormit was designed and engineered specifically for cleaning the entire wheel, inside and out – no need for harsh chemicals.
  • CHECK OUT THE SOAPY BUCKET - Look around the cleaning area to see if the soap and water in the bucket(s) is clean and fresh for your car. If not, please ask to use a new bucket of soapy water. You never know how dirty the car was before yours.
  • CHECK OUT THE CLEANING MITT - Make sure the wash rag or mitt used for wiping the wheels is not the same as the one used for cleaning the car exterior, and certainly not the same one to be used for wiping the interior clean.
  • DON’T USE SPONGES - Sponges are not recommended for washing the body paint. The small openings in the sponges that hold the water and the soap also hold sand, dirt and abrasive material that scratches paint. Microfiber mitts are considered the best articles for cleaning, as the dirt and contaminants don’t stick to microfiber and fall off when rinsed.
  • USE FRESH TOWELS - Using a fresh drying towel is important. You wouldn’t want dirt and sand collected from other cars transferred to your paint and cause scratches. And, you don’t want the towel that dries the wheels to be the same as the one drying the car body.

The bottom line is: Make sure you bring your car to a detailer that cares as much about cleaning your car as you do. And, for those times when you want to clean your own car, use the WoollyWormit - the wheel cleaning brush engineered for professionals but designed for you.


  • There are no comments yet. Be the first one to post a comment on this article!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published