Want to become an auto detailer? There are hundreds of tools to choose from and it can be difficult to pick ones you actually need when first getting started. If you watch YouTube videos on auto detailing, you’ll see dozens of recommended products, and it’s even common to see detailers contradicting each other.
Don’t waste your money or your time trying to guess which products are actually needed, as we have a list of the “must-haves” for new auto detailers that will keep things simple and to the point. So, if you’re looking to start a mobile detailing business then its important you laser-focus on what will make you the most profit.
Some tools speed up the job, such as a carpet shampooer, drill brush or DA polisher. These are the tools you need to invest in to make the most money possible for your time, especially as you get more clients and have the money to invest in more tools.
We have all read or watched a video about a guy who starts mobile detailing as a kid and has nothing but a vacuum and microfiber towels to get started. Sure, you can start mobile detailing with little to no tools at all, but this is not ideal and these days there are a lot more competitors out there who have all the tools. Quality and expectations must be fulfilled with every job you do if you want to get recurring customers, so take your business seriously and invest in the tools needed to do a great job.
DA Polisher + Pads
A dual-action polisher is easily one of the most important items on our list. This tool will save you many hours when doing a paint correction project, making it crucial for anyone looking to make money in the auto detailing world.
Anything that saves you time is going to help you make more money per hour when detailing on the side or full-time.
Dual-action polishers will also allow you to buff a car safely, without the worry of burning through paint. A good DA polisher will allow you to remove more swirls, more effectively and quicker than doing so by hand with a pad. It’s more effective, and it’s faster. These are the two main reasons why you need to get a DA polisher as soon as possible.
The best budget polisher is hands-down the Avid DA Polisher from Amazon. It’s incredibly affordable, better than the one available at Harbor Freight, and it even comes with 3 foam pads.
If you’re looking for something even better, then consider the Chemical Guys TORQX Random Orbital Polisher. We recommend getting the One-Step Kit, as it comes with a Hex-Logic Orange Pad, and VSS Scratch and Swirl Remover so you can get to work with it right away.
It’s also a good idea to buy a bunch of different pads, as well as learn about how to clean your pads “on-the-fly” by watching the video below. You don’t want to use the same pad for an entire car, but if you do, you should be cleaning it as you finish each section of the car!
Drill + Drill Brushes
Nothing beats a drill brush. The cleaning power of a drill brush is incredible when it comes to getting filth off of seats and carpet. Drill brushes are also super helpful when it comes to cleaning doors and other interior parts, as it agitates all the dirt and gets within pores and cracks better than wiping with a microfiber cloth. There are various drill brush kits available, just make sure to keep them clean after using them!
If you don’t have a drill, then don’t worry, as you don’t need the most expensive drill to power a brush, and you can get one for under $50. If you’re on a budget and need a cheap drill then check out this one, or stick to using carpet brushes by hand until you can afford a drill. The drill brushes only make the job easier for you, but you can still get great results scrubbing by hand.
The first thing to do when cleaning the interior of a car is to pick up all the big trash and debris, and then vacuum. Agitate with a brush, and vacuum. Get a shop vac if you don’t have one! These can be found at very low prices, and you don’t need a huge one to get started. In fact, a small one is perfect as you can easily fit it in your mobile detailing rig. Harbor Freight has a few good options for those of you on a budget. Just look at their Bauer line, which has wet/dry vacuums ranging from $39.99 to $100 – and yes, the cheapest one will work just fine for detailing cars.
The steam cleaner is used in almost every popular detail video you can find on YouTube where the detailer turns a filthy car into something that looks brand new. There’s a reason you always see auto detailers using a steam cleaner, and it’s definitely one of the most important tools you can purchase. It lets you clean EVERYTHING!
Steam cleaners aren’t the cheapest item on this list, but they’re definitely worth the investment and should be purchased as soon as possible if you’re trying to become a mobile detailer.
Pressure Washer and Foam Cannon
Here’s everyone’s favorite part – the foam cannon!! While you can easily get away with the two-bucket method, it’s still important that you have a pressure washer. Using a foam cannon is ideal, as it allows you to remove loose dirt and grime from the car and prevent swirls.
A foam cannon AND the two-bucket method is great, but with a foam cannon you can even get away with one bucket (to rinse the wash mitt while using soap from foam cannon to clean the car). This should be a very simple decision, but for some reason there are foam cannons on the market under $20 and some that, even though they are essentially the same product, are selling for close to $100. Don’t blow your money on this, find a foam cannon with good reviews for under $20, it will work just as good as the more expensive ones.
Here is a video showing the comparison of a cheap and expensive foam cannon after being used for a year…
For the best budget pressure washer, we recommend the WestForce Electric Pressure Washer, which sells for around $120. It’s a powerful pressure washer for the price, and the 1.65 GPM rating means it can product thick foam. The 2600 PSI is great for cleaning cars, driveways, roofs, houses, etc. It can handle just about any task, and the quality of this product is truly amazing. Expect yours to last many years!
Combine that pressure washer with a foam cannon and you’ll be able to foam up a car in just a few minutes.
This might be the most obvious item on the list, but microfibers are your most important tool of all. We use them to dry cars, wipe off polish, buff out applied wax, etc. We NEED to know that our microfibers won’t scratch the cars we use them on.
Sure, you can buy bulk microfibers for cheap, but often these are only good for the interior – or one use. There are thicker, larger towels that are suitable for drying cars, and there are some that truly shine with interior cleaning. Start purchasing different brands and determine what microfibers you like for each aspect of the automotive detail.
With that said, you can always trust that microfiber towels from The Rag Company are safe to use on your vehicle’s paint, and they offer bulk amounts at incredibly low prices. Of course, you’re buying directly from them and not through another store, so maybe this is how they offer such great prices. Regardless, we will always recommend you get your microfibers from them, as it’s great quality and doesn’t hurt your budget.
Carpet Shampooer (Optional)
You can get away without using a carpet shampooer – you really can! Is it ideal? Heck no, it’s not ideal. However, when it comes to carpets, you can use drill brushes, all purpose cleaner and a shop vac to get rid of all the filth. In most cases, just a good APC with a drill brush and shop vac is all you need to get the carpets and seats looking good again.
There are a few good options for under $200, and all of them will do just fine for cleaning the carpets and seats from a vehicle. However, these budget carpet shampooers have small tanks and will need to be refilled and emptied quite often. The Bissell brand makes a few good models, such as the SpotClean Pro and the SpotClean ProHeat models. There’s also the Hoover Spotless and the Rug Doctor Pet Portable Spot Cleaner.
There you have it! These are all the tools needed to be an auto detailer! From here, you can start purchasing more products, such as interior drill brushes, microber/foam application pads, etc. There’s an endless supply of products available in stores and on the web, but we recommend checking out the reviews and even watching videos on the products to know what actually works for other auto detailers.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of low quality products on the market that will cost you more money in the long run. Always get the best quality tool you can afford, and since you’re just starting out you won’t need to spend a fortune on the top products – upgrade over time and constantly reinvest if you decide to make a business out of this!
The brands and products we recommend are not the only products available, so feel free to shop around and check out product reviews before making any decisions. We have thoroughly researched and even tested products in all of the above categories to find the right ones for new auto detailers.