Detailing a car can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours depending on how extensive you want to get. A basic wash and wax is going to take less time than a full interior shampoo and engine bay cleaning.
The number of coats of wax or sealant applied, the condition of your vehicle, additional services like leather conditioning or trim restoration, and the skill and experience of the detailer are all factors that determine how long it will take to fully detail a car. The good news is, no matter how long it takes, a professional detail is going to leave your vehicle looking showroom new again.
Factors That Impact Detailing Time
The time it takes to detail a car depends on several factors, including the size of the vehicle and the services requested. For a standard sedan, you can expect 3 to 5 hours for basic interior and exterior detail.
The Condition of the Car
- If your car is lightly soiled, a detailer can work quickly. Heavily soiled interiors, built-up grime, and stubborn stains will require more effort and time. Extra services like odor removal or smoke elimination also lengthen the process. In short, the dirtier the car, the longer the detail will take.
The Size and Type of Vehicle
- Compacts and sedans typically take 3 to 5 hours to fully detail, while larger SUVs and minivans may require 6 hours or more. Exotic or luxury vehicles often need additional time due to their size and the delicacy required.
- A basic wash and vacuum may only take an hour or two, while a showroom-quality detail with waxing, buffing, and interior steam cleaning can last most of the day. Adding on a la carte services like leather conditioning, engine detailing, or headlight restoration will also increase the total time.
The Detailer’s Experience
- An experienced detailer who works quickly and efficiently can shave an hour or more off the total time. Newer detailers will typically take longer, as they are still developing techniques and a steady hand.
As you can see, the time to detail a car depends on various particulars. But in general, you can use the 3 to 6-hour range as a good rule of thumb for full detail on a standard vehicle. Settle in, grab a cup of coffee, and make a day of it—your shiny, spotless car will be worth it!
Interior Detailing Timeframe
When it comes to detailing the interior of your vehicle, you’ll want to set aside a good chunk of time to do it right. For a standard sedan, expect to spend 3 to 5 hours for a thorough interior detail. Larger vehicles like SUVs or minivans will take 5 to 8 hours. If you have a particularly messy interior or want extras like shampooing seats and carpets, tack on an extra hour or two.
First up is cleaning all surfaces – dashboard, center console, doors, trim, vents, cupholders, you name it. Use a multi-surface cleaner or degreaser and microfiber cloths to remove built-up dirt and grime. For stuck-on messes, you may need scrubbing pads. Vacuum seats, carpets, floor mats, trunk, and any nooks and crannies to pick up loose debris.
Next, spot-clean or shampoo seats and carpets. For fabric seats, pretreat any stains before shampooing. Use a carpet shampoo machine and extractor to deep clean carpets. Leather seats may need a conditioning treatment. Wipe down or shampoo door panels, too.
Once everything is clean and dry, move on to conditioning and protecting surfaces. Apply a UV protectant to the dash and trim. Treat leather seats and shine vinyl and plastics. Apply a stain guard to fabric seats and carpets.
Finally, open up an air freshener or two to leave your interior smelling as clean as it looks. Add finishing touches like cleaning wheels and tires, washing exterior windows, and tidying the trunk area.
Exterior Detailing Timeframe
Exterior detailing can take between 2 to 6 hours depending on the size of your vehicle and how dirty it is. The time will also depend on whether you do it yourself or hire a professional detailer. If you want to handle it yourself to save money but have a large vehicle like an SUV or minivan, set aside at least half a day to do a thorough job.
You’ll want to start with the wheels and tires. Removing built-up brake dust and grime from wheel wells and rims can take 30-60 minutes for a mid-sized car. Use a degreaser to cut through stubborn dirt and grime before scrubbing clean with soapy water. Rinse well with a hose to remove all residue.
Washing and drying the exterior body and door jambs typically takes 1 to 3 hours. Start by rinsing the entire car to loosen dirt and debris. Wash one section at a time using a mitt and car wash soap, rinsing frequently. Pay extra attention to areas where dirt builds up like around wheel wells, gas doors, and trim. Use a microfiber drying towel to wipe away water spots and leave the exterior shining.
Polishing and waxing provide protection and a glossy finish. For a mid-sized vehicle, plan on at least an hour to polish out minor scratches and swirl marks before applying wax or sealant. Re-waxing a clean car may only take 30 minutes. Wax not only enhances shine but protects the vehicle’s paint from environmental damage.
Don’t forget door jambs, trim, and the fuel filler door. Vacuuming seats and carpets, cleaning door panels, and wiping down vinyl and plastic trim can add another 30-60 minutes. Weather permitting, leave doors and windows open so fresh air can circulate.
A professional auto detailing service has the proper equipment, solutions, and experience to thoroughly clean and restore your vehicle’s interior and exterior in a fraction of the time it would take an amateur. If time is limited or you want showroom-quality detail, hiring a pro is worth considering. An experienced detailer can fully detail a mid-sized sedan in just 2 to 4 hours. Your car will look like new without you breaking a sweat!
The total time it takes to detail a car can vary significantly depending on the size and condition of the vehicle, as well as how intensive you want the detailing to be. For a typical mid-size sedan in average condition, you can expect the entire detailing process to take between 2 to 6 hours for a DIY job, or 3 to 8 hours if done by a professional.
Cleaning and dressing the engine bay is optional but can take 30 minutes to over an hour for a neglected, grimy engine. For a mildly dirty engine, you can expect around 30-45 minutes to wipe down components, vacuum debris, apply a degreaser, and then dress hoses and plastics.
The total time will also depend on your experience level. Professionals who detail cars every day can complete a high-quality detail in less time than a casual weekend detailer. The key is to be efficient yet thorough. Start with the interior, then move to the wash and exterior, ending with the engine bay. Take breaks when needed to avoid fatigue and do your best work. With some practice, you’ll get faster and better at detailing your vehicle.
So there you have it, a basic overview of how long it might take to detail your car. As you can see, it depends on the current condition of your vehicle and how extensive you want the detailing to be. For a standard wash and vacuum, you’re looking at 1-2 hours. For a more comprehensive detailing with buffing, polishing, and interior shampooing, set aside 4-6 hours. The good news is a professional detail can leave your car looking showroom new and the results should last for several months with proper maintenance. Now that you know what to expect time-wise, you can plan your schedule accordingly. Happy detailing and drive safe!