In order to be a successful automotive detailer, the right tools are necessary to get the job done right. Having the proper tools and products will increase efficiency when detailing to save time and money.
Automotive detailing is a great business to get into because of the low cost to entry, the problem with that is there are people who start detailing without the proper training or care to do the job right and just want to make an extra buck, please don’t let that be you.
This article is for you if you are passionate about doing a great job for your customer and your market but don’t have the initial investment available to get started with the best equipment. That does not mean that you can’t re-invest in the business to get up to the next tier of products.
I highly recommend this article be used as a starter kit for starting an auto detailing business with $500. As you learn and grow as a detailer you will find out what tools and systems work best and which ones increase efficiency so you won’t be working as hard getting the stains and pet hair out of a 2001 Mazda 3 interior. Continue to improve as a detailer and get better products as you grow.
Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through the links in this article.
Business and Legal Setup
You will need to legally create your business, the quickest is to get a Doing Business As (DBA). You can go to step 1 of creating your auto detailing business to read more about the process.
At this point you don’t need to get started on building out your detailing website but you can get business cards put together so you can head over to VistaPrint and get 250 business cards for $16.
The first decision to make is which products to use, but that also depends on the type of detailing business you own and operate. Are you doing only quick washes, do you only do 3-step treatments for high-end clients, do you only specialize in interior detailing, do you want to focus on detailing boats and aircraft instead of cars? Let's dive into each type of product necessary to start with.
For basic washing I would recommend using Meguiar’s Gold Class Shampoo and Conditioner ($10), it is easily available everywhere and is able to provide the customer with the clean car that they expect from a professional detailer.
For Waterless washing, get your hands on Optimum No-Rinse waterless wash ($20). This system is great in places that have water restrictions like California. You can save some money getting the gallon size ($32) if you plan on using this exclusively and, as you will see below, for other purposes.
Before and paint correction is done the car needs to be clay barred, you do not want to mar your customers hood because you didn’t do the proper steps to prepare the paint for correction.
Most detailers starting out can grab Mothers clay bar kit as a starter but over time new clay will have to be purchased. Also when the clay is dropped it should be thrown out altogether so that cost can add up. Instead, I would suggest you get the Nanoskin product line, the benefit is you can reuse them and if you drop it, just wash it off and keep using it. Start with the Medium Grade sponge ($9.58) as most cars you encounter probably have never seen clay before.
Lubricant is required for clay bar treatment, if you chose to get some optimum no-rinse as your wash product you can actually use that as lubricant as well! If not I would recommend you grab a bottle of Meguiar’s D155 Last touch in the gallon size ($24.30).
Every detailer has their own opinion on what the best wax out there is. Without getting into a debate, you just want to start servicing your clients quickly and efficiently, I will give you a few options to start out if you don’t already have a favorite wax.
Meguiar’s Ultimate Wax is a great starter wax and is sun-friendly. You can either get it in paste form ($17.49) or liquid ($15.29), whichever you prefer.
Collonite 845 ($18.79) is another great option for professional waxing, It goes on easily with a buffer and leaves the finish beading like you and your client expect.
I provided a couple options for wax, but that does not mean to go out and get every wax on the shelf to decide which you like best. Hopefully you already have a wax that you have used on your own car that you are familiar with how to use, once you run out of one and you feel like trying another then you can. I would rather see you out there hustling and serving your clients than wasting time testing all of these products.
Polish and Compound
For those who are starting out with detailing you may have in your business model a 3-step process that you are going to go through, if that is the case then get a high quality polish and compound combination.
I would recommend staying with a particular brand and product line instead of getting two different like Meguiar’s M105 and Wolfgang Finishing Glaze.
The easiest combination to get started with are Meguiars Ultimate Polish ($11.50) and Ultimate Compound ($12.50). These are great to start with and relatively cheap. They work great with Dual-Action polishers that we will get to below.
All in one
For those who want to provide most clients with what they are paying for, a shiny, clean car that looks good, then you will want to stick to an all-in-one product.
This is what I find most detailers using for their process of wash, clay and clean/correct/protect.
Like before, choose one to try out before you go out and buy all of them at once, I attempted to rank them using a combination of most popular and most cost effective given the budget to start detailing with $500.
Tires, Wheels, and Engine
Nothing looks worse than a clean paint with dirty wheels and tires. In order to bring it all together you will want to get your hands on some tire and wheel cleaner, a lot of customers wheels have been ignored for months and sometimes even years. You will need products that will help you to cut right through the brake dust, dirt and grime caked on.
Since there is a budget of $500, picking a product that can be used for multiple purposes is the right choice. The McKee's 37 Hi-Intensity APC Plus 128 oz. ($39.99) can be used to clean your wheels and tires as well as engine bay, interior dash, door panels, leather, vinyl, carpet and upholstery, etc.
The great part of using an APC is the ability to dilute the product yourself to get the most use out of the product. The dilution Ratios for Mckee's 37 Hi-Intensity APC.
- 10 parts water to 1 APC (10:1) for regular cleaning
- 10 parts water to 4 APC (10:4) for heavy cleaning
Along those same lines we want a dressing to freshen up the tires as well as the engine bay and interior. The Meguiar’s D170 Hyper Dressing ($39.53) is the perfect option to make the car tires, trim and interior panels have a nice finish depending on your dilution ratio:
- High Gloss 1:1
- Medium Gloss 2:1
- Satin Finish 3:1
- Natural Finish 4:1
The beauty of these two products is the option for dilution based on what you are trying to tackle and a great starter to every detailer’s arsenal. It is a great idea to up-sell engine bay detailing. I would recommend to check out the how to up-sell detailing services article to get an idea on how to price these types of services.
Now that we have gone through the products you need to get we are sitting at a total of $234.00 if we choose AIO and no polish/compound or wax.
Tools and Accessories
In order to be as efficient as possible, the proper tools and accessories are necessary. With our budget we won’t be able to get everything, so here are the absolute basic tools required.
Dual Action Polisher
As a detailer you will absolutely need an Dual Action (DA) Polisher in order to be the most efficient. Some detailers prefer to apply compound, polish and wax by hand, but a polisher will cut the time per detail down significant enough that the investment is worth it up front. Two great starter options for Polishers are the Porter Cable 7424XP Polisher ($119.99) and the Griot’s Garage 6-inch Polisher($148.99).
Either options are great, I like the Griot’s Garage one personally. When you purchase the polisher, I would highly suggest you get it with a kit/combo with some of the products described above which will save you money.
Head to a local Lowe’s, Home Depot or Ace Hardware store and grab two 5-Gallon buckets for about $7. You may eventually want to upgrade to an official two-bucket system but with the $500 budget we need to be reasonable.
Also you will need two grit guards, without them you are risking damaging your clients paint by putting dirt and grime back into your wash mitt each time you dunk it into your buckets. One for each bucket will cost $16.97.
Wash Mitt, Cleaning Towels, Wheel Brush etc.
You will need a high quality wash mitt to ensure you are not scratching your clients paint during your wash, to start off you can get the Relentless Drive Ultimate Car Wash Mitt 2 pack ($15.99). Once you are ready you can upgrade but this will do for now.
Microfiber Towels are a must during a detail and I wouldn’t splurge on these just yet when you start out, head to your local Sam’s Club, BJs Warehouse, Costco, etc. and get a bulk pack of 25+ towels for $15. These will do the job for now until you can upgrade later.
Eventually the Speed Master Wheel Brush ($29.99) is great for saving time but at this point you are probably close to the $500 limit depending on what you chose. So for now stick with the Tuf Shine Tire Brush ($5.37), this will get the job done for now.
For interior you can grab the Master Detailing Brush Kit ($14.99) which will help you get to the crevices and harder to reach areas.
Go ahead and grab yourself a couple generic spray bottles ($4-$10) at either the dollar store or Walmart and a couple Rubbermaid containers ($10) to hold all of your product and equipment, we are on a budget so it will do for now and will be more convenient until you can get a more sophisticated setup or detailing rig.
Stick with the Lake Country CCS Polishing pads 5-inch. These pads are great for starter pads and will work for mostly everything starting out. Go ahead and get 2 orange for cutting/compound, 2 white for Polishing/AIO, and 2 Black for wax ($48).
You will need a shop vacuum, to start out head to Lowe’s and grab the little 2.5 gallon, 2.5 HP Shop-Vac ($29.99). This little machine will work great and is super portable for mobile detailing.
This was a very long and thorough list of everything you need to start your automotive detailing business with just $500. I gave a few different options for those who have just a little more than $500 to change it up. Below is my list of what to get and in what order you should get them to summarize.
|Meguiar’s Gold Class Shampoo||$10|
|2 Buckets and 2 grit guards||$25|
|Nanoskin wash sponge||$10|
|Dual Action Polisher||$119|
|Compound/Polish or AIO||$17|
|Lake Country CCS pads||$48|
|McKee's 37 Hi-Intensity APC Plus||$40|
|Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing||$40|
|Detailing Brush Kit||$15|
|5 generic Spray Bottles||$5|
|2 Rubbermaid containers||$10|
The total price comes to exactly $500, I chose 5 for the generic spray bottles, as you only really need them for diluting Optimum No-Rinse for the clay lubricant, the Mckee’s all purpose cleaner, and the Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing.
These products, tools and equipment are the starting point to your auto detailing career. I know there is a lot out there debating which product is best and that conversation will continue to go on for many years to come. Don’t let information overload get you to a point where you don’t end up making a decision. I have tried to give the straight-forward bare necessities in order to get yourself started serving your clients and your community for $500.
Once you are ready to upgrade, the first upgrade I would recommend would be a professional steamer or a professional extractor for your auto detailing business. Then you can work in a professional pressure washer.
As always keep serving, learning and growing.
Full Disclosure, the links contained in this article are affiliate links, I do get a commission when you purchase at no extra cost to you. This helps me continue to deliver great content for you, thank you for your support!