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Recommended Auto Detailing Supplies for Beginners

I think you’ll agree that starting out in the detailing hobby can be overwhelming.

If it weren’t, then the most common question about detailing wouldn’t be “What should I buy as a beginner to detailing?” and the auto detailing sub Reddit wouldn’t be filled with people asking detailers to look over their list of potential loot.

Not only are there lots of different tools and chemicals, there are dozens of brands and types for each one.

Prices also swing wildly from skeptically cheap to absurdly expensive.

Well fear not. I’m going to help you cut the mustard so you can get started Detailing without wasting time and money.

Car Detailing Beginner’s Buying Guide

These are the minimum supplies that give you the best bang for the buck for properly washing and detailing your car. The Compounds, Polishes, Machine Polishers, and Pads are optional if you don’t intend on doing any paint correction (removing swirls, scratches, marring, and hazing of the paint) but I think you’ll be selling yourself short on your results if you skip those.

All of my recommendations are an aggregate of my personal experiences as a detailer as well as the experiences of the many detailers I hang out with online on Reddit and forums like Autopia and AutoGeekOnline.

Basic Tools

  • 2x 5 gallon buckets – You can find these at Home Depot (orange) and Lowes (blue) for a $2-$4 a piece. The latest run of buckets do fit the standard grit guards. They also sell lids that fit the buckets for another couple dollars.  If you want the same quality buckets with a fancy lid and Grit Guard insert with a sticker from a Detailing products company for several times the price you can also buy them online like these ones from Adam’s on Amazon:
    Adam's Car Wash Bucket (5 Gallon Bucket...
  • 2x Grit Guards – $9.99 ea –  You place one in the bottom of each bucket. They act as water brake and dirt trap in the bottom of the bucket so when you’re swirling your wash mitt around you don’t mix the sediment that has dropped to the bottom of the bucket back into the water and on your mitt, reducing the chance of you scratching your car. I find the Grit Guard brand and their identical copies to be the best so get whatever is cheapest.
    Chemical Guys Cyclone Dirt Trap Car Wash...
  • 2x Wash Mitt from The Rag Company – Price not available – I recommend two mitts so you can dedicate one washing really dirty things like your tires and fender wells. TRC makes high quality stuff for a great price and is highly touted by many detailers.
    The Rag Company - Cyclone Wash Mitts -...
  • Wheel Woolies – $55.99 – You’ll need these to reach behind your wheel spokes to clean the barrels of your wheels. You most likely wont be able to reach this area with anything else. There are cheaper brushes online such as the EZ Detail Brush that works ok but is stiffer and tends to sling dirty water back on you.
    ABN Car Wheel Rim Cleaning 3-Piece Kit...
  • Mother’s Wheel Brush – $12.49 – If your wheels are anything but raw polished aluminum then Wheel brushes will make easy work of washing your wheels. They are soft, but not perfectly soft, so I recommend buying another microfiber wash mitt to use exclusively for wheels if yours are highly polished soft metal like raw billet aluminum.
    Mothers Wheel Brush and Tire Cleaner for...
  • Hose – $82.37 – This is really personal preference. I prefer a real rubber hose like this Continental over the cheap plastic garden hoses. Yes it will be heavier but it’ll probably last your lifetime if you take care of it.
    Continental ContiTech Premium 5/8 in....
  • Nozzle – $21.97 – I also prefer a firehose nozzle like this. Simple, reliable, effective. Lasts for years.
    Dradco Heavy Duty Brass Fireman Style...


  • Meguiar’s Gold Class Shampoo – $23.20 – Solid over-the-counter (OTC) shampoo. Cleans good. Rinses good. Cheap.
    Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash, Car Wash...
  • Optimum Car Wash – $18.99 – Typically only available online. My favorite. Very concentrated. Very lubricitous. Cleans great. Rinses great. Has the scent of blueberries.
    Optimum CW2006Q Car Wash - 32 oz.
  • Carpro Reset – $39.99 – No waxes, fillers, or gloss enhancer. It just cleans really well. Typically used before applying a coating but is great for using before paint correction as well or just to see what the condition of your paint is really like. Will not remove or harm waxes, sealants, or coatings so it’s a safe all around shampoo.
    CARPRO Reset - Intensive Car Shampoo...

While I gave three options, you really only need to pick one. It’s not necessary to own all three.


  • Meguiar’s D101 All Purpose Cleaner (APC) – $29.85 – High quality cleaner that can be diluted to clean most automotive surfaces such as plastic, vinyl, and rubber. Used by and recommended by most detailers.
    Meguiar's All Purpose Cleaner, Interior...

Rinseless Wash, Waterless Wash, Quick Detailer, Clay Lube

  • Optimum No Rinse – $21.84 – This is probably one of the most versatile automotive chemicals available. It’s a concentrate that you dilute to use as anything from a rinseless washing solution to a quick detailer and even a clay lube. It’s honestly my favorite in all of those categories. I think every detailer should have a bottle or two.
    Optimum No Rinse Wash & Shine - 32 oz....


  • BriteMax IronMax – $28.95 – Used to remove iron deposits from brake dust and industrial fallout that embeds itself into your paint. Every vehicle should have this applied at least once to properly decontaminate the paint. It also makes clay baring much easier afterward. A lot of people recommend Iron X but I prefer BriteMax Iron Max because it’s thicker, cheaper, and just as, if not more, effective.
    MaxBrite Britemax 5060263160496 Iron Max
  • Mother’s Clay Bar Kit – $22.78 – Mother’s clay bar kit is readily available over-the-counter and is the best bang for the buck for clay, period. The trouble with clay is you have to toss it if you drop it. Because of that I also recommend Nanoskin Fine Clay Mitt as an alternative below since it’s washable and reusable and equally effective, it just cost more for the initial purchase but is otherwise equally effective.
    Mothers 07240 California Gold Clay Bar...
  • Nanoskin Fine Clay Mitt – $44.99 – Works like traditional clay but can be washed and reused. Ends up cheaper in the end compared to dropping clay and having to toss it.
    Nanoskin AUTOSCRUB Fine Grade Wash Mitt...

Wax, Sealants, and Coatings

  • Collinite 845 – $19.95 – My (and many other detailer’s) favorite wax. It’s very durable, lasts longer than most waxes, and a little goes a long way.
    Collinite No. 845 Insulator Wax, 16 Fl...
  • Optimum Opti-Seal – $39.03 – High quality paint sealant. Deeper shine than wax and lasts much longer (months).
    Optimum (20239) Opti-Seal with Foam...
  • Ethos Graphene Paint Coating – $76.88 – Very beginner friendly paint coating. Lasts up to two years on a garaged vehicle. One bottle coats 2-3 vehicles. Arguably the most affordable and practical diy “ceramic” paint coating.
    Graphene Matrix Coating with Applicator...

You only need to choose one of the above last step products (LSP) since you’ll use them exclusively. There is little to no benefit to layering these products.


  • 10x TRC Edgeless 365GSM All Purpose Towels – $19.95 – high quality microfiber towel for dirty jobs like engine bay detailing, door jambs, channels around the trunk, exhaust tips, interior panels w/ APC etc…
    The Rag Company - Edgeless 365...
  • 4x TRC Eagle Edgeless Towels – $20.95 – dense, plush, high pile towels for buffing away waxes and polishes without scratching your paint.
    The Rag Company - Eagle Edgeless 500...
  • 3x TRC Blue Glass Towels – $21.95 – Great for streak free cleaning of windows. One to wash with window cleaner, one to remove the cleaner, and one to buff to a streak free shine. I dub it the three towel method of streak free windows.
    The Rag Company - Premium Window, Glass,...
  • 2x TRC Platinum Pluffle Drying Towels – $24.95 – Great for safe drying of your paint. One towel absorbs a lot of water so don’t let the 16″x16″ size fool you. You can also buy a 20″x40″ towel but some find them a bear to handle and hard to wring out. The Pluffle is a softer, safer version of the Dry Me a River! towels that are also highly touted.
    The Rag Company - Platinum Pluffle...

Compound and Polish

  • Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound – $13.32 – A very user friendly and effective polishing compound for removing scratches in paint. Most people recommend Meguiar’s M105 but Ultimate Compound is almost equally effective while having a much longer working time and less dusting. All you need to know is that it works great, is super easy to use, is cheap, and you can find it over the counter at most big box stores.
    Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound, Car...
  • Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish – $11.74 – Finer than Ultimate Compound. Used as a followup to remove any hazing left by the compound. Also cheap, easy, and sold pretty much anywhere.
    Meguiar's Ultimate Polish, High-Gloss...

Machine Polisher

  • Griot’s Garage 6″ Dual Action Polisher – Price not available – Dubbed the GG6 by the detailing community, it’s arguably the best bang for the buck as far as performance, comfort, noise, and reliability goes. It also carries a lifetime guarantee against defects, something no other polisher has. I’ve used one for half a decade now and it has never let me down.
    Griot's Garage 10813LNGCRD 6' Dual...


  • 3x Griot’s Garage Orange Correcting Pads –  Price not available – Simple, effective, affordable flat pads for use with a compound like the Ultimate Compound above to remove swirls and other defects using a polisher like the GG6 also mentioned above. Many detailers also recommend Lake Country Pads but I find the Griot’s Garage pads to be of equal quality while being more readily available online.
    Griot's Garage 10633 6.5' Orange Foam...
  • 3x Griot’s Garage Black Finishing Pads – Price not available – Same as above but for use with a finishing polish like Ultimate Polish to followup after using the Correcting Pad with a Compound.
    Griot's Garage 10630 6.5' Black Foam...
  • 1x Griot’s Garage Red Wax Pads – Price not available – Same as above but for applying wax or sealants with your machine polisher.
    Griot's Garage 10618 Red 6.5' Foam...

I recommend 3 of each of the Correcting and Finishing pads because you’re going to need to change them out after a couple panels due to filling with product and removed paint as well as getting hot from extended use. If you try to use just one of each for a whole car you’re likely going to ruin the pad.

To Summarize

If you were to go through my list and buy everything suggested you’ll have a very solid starting kit that’s very user friendly and will give you very good results.

Sure, there are a ton more options and combinations of tools, chemicals, and supplies out there and you could assemble an entirely different list and get similar results. But, that just keeps you in the rabbit hole of not taking action.

My list is all proven products at what I think are the best bang-for-the-buck in their category. I honestly believe you’ll be satisfied with all of the listed products. As you get more comfortable with detailing you can venture out to other products with your own informed decisions and experience.

Feel free to comment below to ask any questions if you’re still feeling stuck. I’d be more than happy to help so we can get you started. Auto Detailing is a super rewarding and instantly gratifying hobby (and potential job choice).


Monday 13th of May 2019

this is amazing and very helpful for a beginner like me. I have a 2 year old car with some water stains and some very light scratches.. Could you please help me with the following questions? 1. Do I just need to "polish" the car to remove water stains or do I need to also do "compound", and If I polish do I use the "black" foam pads? 2. What is the order if I need to do the following (i.e. which first): clay bar, iron remover, polish, paint coating, seal and wax? 3. After doing the above can I use no -rinse product above for maintenance or is it overkill? thanks so much!

Terry Hill

Tuesday 14th of May 2019

1. It really depends on how bad the water stains and scratches are. It's possible a finish polish like Meguiar's Ultimate polish could get your imperfections out. You would need to do a test spot. You can buy both Ultimate Polish and Ultimate Compound from Walmart for around $20 together so you might as well get both. I find uses for both of them all of the time so they wont go to waste. If you're going with the Griots pads, you would use the black with the Ultimate Polish. Different brands use different colors. Keep in mind those pads are meant to be used with a machine such as their dual action random orbital buffer. If you're working by hand you'll want to purchase a foam pad meant for hand polishing.

2. I prefer to wash, rinse, iron remover, rinse, clay, coating/wax. I find that using the iron remover before claying makes claying easier and quicker.

3. Using a no rinse product for maintenance is perfectly fine. No rinse products like Optimum No Rinse have a multitude of uses so doesn't hurt to have a bottle on hand.

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