So, you have finally decided that you want to Ceramic Coat your beloved car! That is great news. We are happy for you because we know how we feel when a car is protected with Ceramic Coating and when you see it for the first time the morning after.
The first drive, first rain. When it comes to cars and exterior detailing, it's the closest thing to magic.
Now, let us start! You have your ceramic coating product in your hands. You're looking at your car, and might be thinking, 'How to prepare a car for Ceramic Coating?'. Well, there is actually quite a lot you will want to do.
There are a couple of answers to that question, and we will try our best to answer them as best we can and transfer our experience into words that make sense and are easy to read. Short Answer - You have to wash your car and have a clean, dry, and degreased surface before applying the Ceramic Coating.
Long Answer - Oh boy! There are a couple of steps that we will do to prepare the paint on your car for the coating, and we will need a few things to work with throughout those steps. So let us make a quick list of the steps and a list of all the materials that we would normally use to complete all those steps successfully. We will first list them and then do a detailed explanation as to what everything is and what tips and tricks we recommend when performing those steps.
Steps to washing your car properly:
If you have any damage to your paint, now is the time to correct it
Make sure you are working in either a closed and ventilated closed space ( e.g., your garage ), or if outside, make sure the sky is calm, it is not windy, the sun is not scorching, and your car is not under a tree or somewhere where birds would usually sit around
Spray foaming your car using a pH neutral Shampoo and clean it using a detailing brush to loosen all the dirt in all the corners and tight spaces; then use a microfiber glove to agitate all the dirt on the car's surface using only horizontal or only vertical movements to avoid creating swirls
Using brake dust cleaner on your wheels and using a separate brush to loosen all the dirt and brake dust off your wheels
Washing off all the dirt and foam from your car using a power washer and spray foaming the car a second time just to make sure you've got all the dirt off
Now you want to clay bar the car to remove all the contaminants that might be stuck inside the surface of the clear coat
Using a polishing compound, go over the exterior surface of your whole car
Using a fine polishing compound, you want to polish your whole car to bring that perfect shine
Using a degreaser or isopropyl alcohol, you want to remove all grease, oils, or fat from the surface of your car before applying the coating
Your car is now ready to be coated with Ceramic Coating
What products will you need to wash your car:
power washer ( garden hose with attachment can be a worse alternative )
snow foam canon ( snow foam gun is a much weaker alternative, but it will do the job )
pH-neutral Car Shampoo
microfiber washing glove
bucket with grit guard
a dozen of microfiber towels
a few drying microfiber towels
a car detailing brush
dual action polisher ( regular polishing machine or even microfiber applicators can do the job, but obviously either harder or simply much, much slower)
degreaser or isopropyl alcohol
sandpaper ( 600, 1500, 2000, 3000 grades )
If you do not use these recommended items and instead opt for alternatives or skip some, you will almost certainly end up with much worse results than you would with them.
The two-bucket washing technique
If you do not have access to a snow foam cannon or gun, the best way is to use this technique. It is very simple yet extremely effective. All you need is 2 clean buckets to hold water and a grit guard for one of them. You will be using the bucket with the grit guard to rinse and clean the microfiber washing glove while using the other one to get clean water or a cleaning solution.
Ok, now, for those uninitiated, let us make sense of all of this!
Let us assume you have all these products and you have a place where you can work for the next couple of hours. Part of the preparation is also knowing how long all this is going to take. In reality, especially if you are new to this, you should count on the car being in the garage for the next 24 hours at least. Better yet, 48 hours!
If you are working outside, then prepare in such a way that the weather forecast is not forecasting rain, snow, hail, windy weather, or very hot temperatures. It might be a lot to ask, but if you want to do it right, the conditions need to be right as well.
The reason for all this is that you need to wash the car exterior thoroughly and most likely polish the paint as well. All that will take you several hours ( especially if you decide to throw in the interior as well since you are already washing the car ).
If you are using a ceramic coating for the interior of your car, then you are likely looking to ceramic coat the leather finish inside your car ( seats, steering wheel, etc. ). In the article above, you can learn everything there is to know about ceramic coating for leather.
Detailing a car's surface using compound and polish takes a very long time. You are looking at 3-5 hours easily for a medium-sized vehicle unless you are experienced. Only then can you start with Ceramic Coating your car. Here, depending on the brand of Ceramic Coating you are using, it might require you to apply 2 coats with some waiting time in between. After our car has been coated and buffed, it usually takes around 24 hours for the Ceramic Coating to fully harden and about 1 week to cure on top of the car's paint fully.
During those 24 hours, you do not want anything interfering with the coating. In fact, you do not want dust, dirt, debris, water, high temperatures, and particles, in general, interfering with your car's paint or the Ceramic Coating itself.
Once you have survived all this and you have done a good job cleaning, detailing, and coating the car, you can give yourself a well-deserved high five as you now have a Ceramic Coated car!
Long and Detailed Explanation
If you have any damage on your paint that needs to be corrected, you can do that now since you will have an additional 24 hours of wait time for the new paint to harden enough for it to be considered safe to work with. You can do that now, but we highly suggest washing the car first so you have a better field of view on the actual condition of the car's paint before making that decision, so you don't miss a spot. First off, you can get your car wet by using the powerwasher. The purpose of this is to loosen up the dirt a bit so the shampoo can do a better job of removing it later.
After that, you want to use your foam cannon and pH-neutral shampoo to snow foam the entirety of your car's paint and, as per the shampoo's instruction, leave it to work the dirt from the surface of the car as gravity does its thing. If the car has some very dirty or greasy spots or is generally in bad condition, you want to use a microfiber glove and choose either horizontal or vertical movements and cover the whole car or just the difficult areas to agitate all the dirt further.
Also, take a detailing brush and brush the shampoo into all the crevices, edges, and places difficult to reach with the microfiber glove. Dirt can be hiding in between panels, around the rubber areas, even though the car might look mint fresh. After all this, you want to give the car another wash with water to remove all that now loose, dirt, and excess shampoo foam that was leftover before it starts drying and leaving water spots or marks. Always keep in mind that the lower parts of your car and wheels will be extra dirty, and it is considered best practice to clean them with a separate bucket and a different microfiber glove or towel dedicated only for those areas since they will contain larger particles that might create creases or swirls in the cars clear coat much easier. Spray your wheels with a brake dust cleaner and let the chemical reactions take place. All the places that contained brake dust will turn purple. Agitate all the dirt on the wheels with a larger detailing brush before using the microfiber glove. Once the wheels have been cleaned properly, rinse the area using water with the pressure washer. Brake dust is notoriously difficult to clean if not using brake dust cleaner. It is important to dry all wet surfaces because most waters contain minerals that will stay on the paint's surface after the water dries. The best way is to use microfiber drying towels. They are thick and are designed to absorb water the best.
Using regular microfiber towels to dry the surface of the car is also ok, but keep in mind that you will burn through them much more quickly, and you will be left with wet or damp towels that you will need to dry. So unless you have dozens of clean microfiber towels lying around, we suggest using those specially made for collecting water.
Now is the time to inspect the paint of your car. It is safe to say that you will be polishing your car, so you don't have to look for swirl marks or light scratches. You are looking for paint chips or deeper scratches in the paint where the scratch goes all the way to the primer layer or the bare metal of the panel at hand.
You can easily check if the scratch can be buffed out using a polisher by pouring water or some liquid grease ( e.g., WD-40 ) and check if the scratch is still visible. If it is not, that means the scratch is not deep, and it will buff out, but if it is still visible, that means the damage went through the clear coat layer, and you will have to correct the paint. You can do that by taking a small detachable panel part of your car that is the same color as the rest of your car. And also taking the color code of the car.
It is usually found on a sticker at the side of the inside of the driver's door. Take that panel and the code to your local paint shop and have them mix up a small amount of the color you brought for a 'touch-up job' on your car's paint. They will most likely already know exactly what you need. You can get it in various forms ( e. g. spray can, tin can container, touch-up stick, etc. ).
We suggest you stay away from the spray version. Just tell them you are a beginner, and they will know what to do. You will get a small number of your cars to paint in one can and some clear coat in another. Or sometimes you will get them mixed in one. If it is the first option, then just mix them before when you do the paint correction. Before correcting the paint, make sure that the areas to be fixed do not have rust in them. If they are rusty, the rust will eat even through the new paint, so make sure to remove the dust first and apply primer before using the touch-up. If there are lots of rusty spots, perhaps consult a professional to remove them and respray paint the affected panel. Using a small painting brush, a toothpick, or even an ear cleaning pick, it doesn't really matter. What you want to do here is apply the paint onto the paint chip area or the deep scratch filling the cavity and leaving enough paint to form a small hill on top of the paint. You want to make sure the whole area is filled.
The excess paint will be sanded down later. You now need to wait 24 hours for the clear coat to harden and for the new paint to bond with the old paint. The new paint will cure for up to a month in reality, but after the initial 24 hours, the paint is hard enough to be worked with. Note that you can use this technique only to fill very small areas of damage on your paint. Any large defects on the paint will need to be resprayed. After 24 hours, you want to sand down the new paint, which is leveled with the old paint. Spray some regular water onto the area you are about to sand and use the 600-grade sandpaper. Work the area using a sanding block and have the sandpaper wrapped around the sanding block. That way, you are exerting equal pressure on the whole surface. Otherwise, you would be pressuring the sandpaper with your fingers creating an uneven finish. If you do not have a sanding block, you can use any piece of wood.
Just do some research on the web to get an idea of what a sanding block looks like. On a flat surface, use the sanding block, but when working on angles or around edges, use a sponge, so you don't cut through the clear coat too quickly.
Sand in only one direction (e.g., only up-down or left-right motions ) instead of random or circular motions. Once you have flattened the bulged new paint a bit, switch to higher grade sandpaper ( grade 1000 ) and go the opposite direction than the previous grade sandpaper. Repeat this process until you have finished with the grade 3000 sandpaper. If you wash the area you've worked with, close your eyes, and go over the area with your fingers, you shouldn't be able to feel any difference in the surface of the paint. Once it is slick, you are finished. Do the same for all areas you have done the paint correction on. Ensure you do not use too much force or sand for too long, so you don't burn through the clear coat. Since then, you will have to paint correct that spot again and wait another 24 hours for that new paint to harden. Once you have dried the areas you have worked on, the clear coat on them will be hazy due to the scratches from the sandpaper. Do not be alarmed. That is perfectly normal. The main part is that they feel smooth on the touch. The hazy part will buff out once we polish it later. So ignore that for now. Next up is using a clay bar on the car to remove all those contaminants or stubborn particles that have lodged themselves in the clear coat of the paint. Prepare a spray bottle with a mixture of water and car shampoo. Just a little bit of shampoo so that it leaves some foam. The idea is to create a slippery surface for the clay bar to avoid creating friction and burning through the clear coat.
The way you use a clay bar is by flattening it and spraying the area you will be working on. If it still looks dirty, you see small particles stuck in the paint, or it just feels rough to the touch, which means the area is contaminated with dirt. After you have sprayed it, again choose horizontal or vertical movements and work the area with the flattened clay bar. Spray the area from time to time so it doesn't dry up, and make sure to check the area you are currently working on to see if it feels smooth.
You can use the same 'closed eyes' trick. The idea is that you can not feel any transition to rougher terrain, so to speak. Once the clay bar has pulled dirt from the clearcoat, the particles will be stuck on the clay bar. If it looks dirty, just fold the clay bar onto itself and flatten it again to get a clean surface again. Cover your whole area of the car's exterior with the clay bar if needed. Once that has been done, you want to spray foam the car again, let it sit a bit, and rinse the car again with water. Dry it and prepare the car for the compound. We suggest a dual-action machine polisher. It is called 'dual action' because it rotates and does those 'wax on, wax off' motion movements at the same time, while a regular orbital polisher will just rotate at the set RPM.
The Dual action is just much more effective than the Orbital one and does the job quicker and easier. It is also more beginner friendly.
If you have none of these, you can really do the same with a microfiber applicator or even a microfiber towel wrapped around some sponge. But that will take ages, and prepare yourself. Your hands will fall off.
That will be the hardest workout of your life! But we have done it, so it is doable. We do not suggest it, though! Use the polishing compound first and work your whole car. Apply the compound onto the foam pad. A few pea-sized beads will be enough. Without using the rotation, first, apply the paste from the foam onto the area you are going to work on and smear it over it. Work in small sections ( e. g. if you are currently polishing the hood, divide it into four parts, it will make your life easier in the long run ), and when activating the rotation, start on the weakest setting first to apply the compound paste to the area you will be polishing a bit better. The reason for applying the paste to the area on its lowest setting is so you cover the paste over the area you are working with, and you cover the paste more evenly over the polishing pad. If you would start with the highest setting, the paste would shoot in small particles all over the place, leaving you with the extra work of cleaning the car again.
There is no need to mask the surrounding areas because that is very labor-intensive, and we won't need masking tape since we will be covering the whole car anyway. After it has been covered, switch to a medium to high setting depending on how quickly you want it done and how confident you feel. Stick to medium speed if you are a beginner, and once you develop a feel for it and feel a bit more confident, you can work on a higher setting.
Make sure not to be too slow or polish the same area for too long since it will build up heat, and you can burn through the clear coat. Polishing Compound and Polishing Paste are both basically liquid sandpaper, just with a much much higher grade than what you would find on sandpaper since the abrasive particles are so much smaller. After you have compounded the whole car, do the same thing with the polishing paste. All those hazy areas we had on the sanded areas where we did paint correction should now be gone. Car Polish is the same as Car Compound but even finer, leaving a mirror finish. So let us do that, so we have the perfect glossy surface to apply Ceramic Coating on.
Once you have polished your car, it is time to take a clean microfiber towel and some degreaser to remove all residue grease, oils, or fat that might have been left on the car from polishing it earlier to ensure maximum bonding with the paint protection you are about to use. We recommend you use isopropyl alcohol since it evaporates really fast and leaves no smudges when it dries. Congratulations! You now have a prepared surface to apply any method you choose to protect your car's paint. We recommend Ceramic Coating. But as always - the choice is yours! Now the question we often get asked...
Can I clean and detail my car on a budget?
Of course, you can, but not everyone has all those tools and items needed to perform a good detailing job on a car. There are numerous guides and tutorials on what and how to do it. We, in clear conscience, definitely cannot recommend that because the finishing result will be far from what someone would expect a car to look like after paint protection has been applied to their car.
If you do not care for the car's look and just want to do the coating as it currently is, sure, of course, you can do it should you choose to, but we know that we wouldn't feel comfortable promoting something like that.