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Detailing 101


The detailing industry is currently unregulated, which means there are no federal standards, licenses, or laws that govern the industry.  While low startup costs and lack of regulations create a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs to start a business, it also allows just about anybody to purchase some products and label themselves as a "detailer."  With the detailing industry going through rapid growth, many people see the opportunity for high profit and start a business with little to no formal education or training.  The reason they are able to operate and become successful usually comes down to one thing: the general public is not aware of the true technical skill and knowledge that is required to become a master of this trade.

It is the duty of the IDA to not only set the standard of what a professional detailer should be, but also to educate and certify professionals to help them deliver quality work to their communities.  All IDA members agree to abide by the IDA Code of Ethics, so when you choose to work with an IDA detailer, you can rest assured that your vehicle will be taken care of by a true professional who is held to a higher standard of service.


Frequently Asked Questions

Detailing involves a thorough cleaning and reconditioning of both the interior and exterior of your vehicle, generally consisting of a more in-depth service than a standard wash and vacuum.  It is a meticulous step-by-step process to restore your vehicle’s beauty and protect your investment.  Detailing services can extend beyond automobiles and could include trucks, buses, SUVs, RVs, boats, motorcycles, or even airplanes.  Many detailing companies are able to handle some, or all, of these types of vehicles.

The single and most important aspect of auto detailing is your vehicle’s need for protection from the elements.  A common misconception is that a vehicle’s “clear coat” protects the exterior finish, and thus regular maintenance is not required.  In reality, a wax coat should be applied at least twice a year to the painted surfaces to protect the finish from contaminants and oxidation.  Although some dealerships offer an extra protection package for the vehicle at the time of purchase, this should not be considered a permanent solution.

There is no set guideline to what is included in a business's detailing menu or package.  Many businesses have different options that cover basic or express services, such as a wash and wax or an interior cleaning, while other packages can go more in-depth and involve machine polishing, interior stain removal, or more.

Since what is included in a “detailing” service can vary, an important consideration is to determine the specific services that you would like to have performed on your vehicle.  There may be multiple levels of detailing packages available that vary in services performed and cost.  Contributing factors to these variations can include: different levels of training, quality of service, professionalism, and the products and equipment utilized.

A thorough and high quality detailing job should take several hours, depending on the prior condition of the vehicle being detailed.  The results of a detailing job will also vary based on the level of service provided and the age/condition of the vehicle.  Basically, you should expect that every “detail” of your vehicle will be assessed and cleaned, including all cracks and crevices.  So whether you’ve just purchased a previously owned vehicle, are getting ready to sell your vehicle, or simply want to have your vehicle looking great again by restoring its original beauty, professional auto detailing can take your vehicle from ordinary to extraordinary.

It is best to talk to your detailer about your needs so they can recommend the service that is right for you.

Not only does pricing vary from region to region, detailing prices also vary from business type to business type.  High volume businesses generally charge less for their services, while mobile detailers and boutique shops operate at a higher cost.  Again, this is the general trend, so we recommend contacting your local detailers to find out more about the specific services and pricing they offer.

Once a vehicle is detailed, driving conditions and maintenance will determine how often the vehicle will need to be cleaned.

To prevent contamination and soils from building up and bonding to the vehicle, many professionals recommend that a vehicle is washed an vacuumed at least once every two weeks.

A vehicle's paint should be protected with wax, sealant, or coating at all times.  These products can last anywhere from a few weeks all the way up to many years.  Before any of these protection products are applied, the vehicle must be completely washed or decontaminated.  Always ask your detailer how long their protective product lasts and when it should be re-applied.

Paint correction or machine polishing a vehicle's paint should only be done as needed.  The paint correction process removes a small amount of the total thickness of a vehicle's paint system and, if polished too many times, eventually the paint system will become too thin and frail.

For the interior, carpets and upholstery should be vacuumed regularly.  Spills, large pieces of debris, and pet fur should be cleaned as soon as possible to prevent embedding in fibers, staining, or lingering odors.

In most cases, modern automotive leather is color-dyed and coated.  Coated leather should be cleaned at a minimum of every 3-4 months.  While protectant is recommended, conditioning is not a requirement for coated leather.

Upholstery and carpet shampoo should be done as needed for spills, soils, or anytime vacuuming will not remove the soil.

Just like there are many different types of automobiles on the road, there are many different types of detailing businesses that service them.  While not every single shop fits directly into one of these categories, we compiled some of the common ones to help determine which may be best for you.

As with many service-based industries, price and quality of detailing can vary by region.  Generally, on the lower end of the price spectrum you will find high volume facilities.  These are often large car washes, franchises, or dealerships.  These businesses focus on fast, convenient, and cost-efficient services.  These facilities generally rely on automated equipment or a team of employees and can be good for quick clean-ups and maintenance on older or daily-driven vehicles.  Employees are usually hired with minimal experience and quickly trained to perform basic detailing services, such as a wipe down on the exterior and interior, cleaning and dressing tires, and cleaning the windows.  With the industry continuing to grow, however, many high volume shops are investing in more training in order to produce more advanced work, such as paint correction and ceramic coatings.

Another popular type of detailing business is mobile detailing.  A mobile detailer travels to the customer's location and can perform all different levels of service.  Some mobile detailers bring their own utilities (water tanks and generators for electricity), while others may request to use yours.  Many mobile detailers use waterless or rinseless wash products, which allow them to safely wash the vehicle using under a few gallons of water.  These products have allowed the mobile detailing industry to grow very rapidly.  Some mobile detailers only offer basic services (i.e. hand wash, drying, and tire dressing), while others may offer very advanced services (i.e. paint correction and coating) but may require the customer to have a garage or carport to work in to control climate and lighting.  Mobile service is usually focused on providing convenience to the customer, but that convenience may sometimes come with a fee.

The other popular type of business is the high-end boutique-style shop.  These businesses are usually privately-owned small businesses that produce very high quality but low volume work.  Many times the business owner is the technician or there is a very small staff of well-trained employees.  Shops like this usually offer very advanced level services (such as paint corrections, ceramic coatings, or specialties like paint protection film or window tinting) but usually come with a higher price tag.  While most of these businesses are welcoming to any type of vehicle, you are more likely to see higher-end vehicles being serviced here.  Customers who are very particular about their vehicle's appearance and finish should look for boutique-style businesses.

A professional detailer is:

  • Trustworthy and honest
  • Someone who knows the ins and outs of auto detailing care
  • Someone who has the skills and training to help you protect your investment and is willing to share that info with you for the same purpose
  • Someone who asks what your needs are
  • Willing to learn new techniques and skills to best meet the changing needs of modern consumers
  • Someone who follows industry best practices, including using proper equipment, disposing of waste properly, and taking care of the environment
  • Not willing to compromise their high standards
  • Someone who has taken steps to properly set up their business, maintains a presentable shop or mobile detailing operation, and has the proper insurance in place and keeps it up-to-date

A professional detailer is NOT:

  • In business just to make a quick profit
  • Someone who tries to sell you services that you do not need
  • Someone who takes shortcuts to save money, potentially doing more harm than good to both your vehicle and the environment

The IDA is the leading industry association for professional detailing operators, suppliers, and consultants in the industry.  The association is dedicated to promoting the value of professional detailing services, the recognition of professional detailing as a trade, and empowering detailing industry professionals at each stage of their career.

Regardless of which style business you may choose, you should always do your research on all available options.

When choosing the best detailer for you and your vehicle, you should look for:

  • Credentials: Is the detailer IDA Certified?  Do they have other certifications or accreditation from chemical or equipment manufacturers?
  • Customer Reviews: Technology today can help customers quickly learn a business’s reputation before they even pick up the phone to schedule an appointment.  Look through reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp.  More importantly, see how the business responds to negative reviews.  Are they professional about it?  Do they try to win over an unsatisfied customer?
  • Website/Social Media: A quick visit online can give you access to what the shop, staff, previous detailing projects, and customers may look like and how they conduct business.
  • Answering Questions: Is the manager or technician you are speaking with able to answer your questions or explain the process to you in ways you are able to understand?  Are they listening to your concerns and offering solutions to them or are they trying to sell you things you don’t need?

IDA Certified Detailers

Q & A

Q: What is an IDA Certified Detailer?

A: A Certified Detailer (CD) is a detailing industry professional who has passed at least the first level of IDA Certification.


Q: What can I expect from an IDA Certified Detailer?

A: CDs have demonstrated their knowledge and determination, so you can be confident that your vehicle is in good hands.


Q: How can I find an IDA Certified Detailer?

A: Use our online directory to find a Certified Detailer in your area.  You can search specifically for Certified DetailersSkills Validated detailers, or Recognized Trainers.  Only detailers who appear in our directory hold a current IDA certification.


Q: How can I learn more about the detailing process?

A: We have a growing series of consumer care articles to help you better understand the detailing process.  If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact us.



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