Since I began contributing to the trade publications of the professional automotive detailing industry back in 1998, I have held as a personal and professional mission to helpincrease the professionalism of our industry. To that end, I assembled and promoted "The SevenKeys to Detailing Success", which include:

1. Obtain proper education and training
2. Take a professional approach to your business
3. Obtain the proper equipment and chemicals
4. Design, implement, and continuously improve a formal detailing process
5. Design and implement an appropriate pricing and packaging system
6. Plan, implement, and consistently and persistently pursue an effective marketing strategy
7. Focus on the customer

Moreover, a professional detailing operation engages in the following activities:
1. Establishes and maintains a professional image
2. Establishes and maintains good business practices
3. Continuously seeks improvement
4. Is future-oriented

Item #2 includes important activities like obtaining local business licenses, carrying the appropriate insurance, and obtaining detailing certification. Item #3 includes the importance of continuing your education as a detailer through regular reading of the industry’s trade publications, attendance of annual conventions of our trade organizations, and attendance at local workshops and seminars on detailing.

A common thread in both of these analyses is the necessity to start and continue with good education and training on the proper procedures involved in automotive detailing. I have often spoken about the importance of obtaining certification through your educational efforts. Unfortunately, this typically means receiving a piece of paper indicating simply that you attended an educational event like a seminar.


There are two main components of a detailing business:
1. Operational activities
2. Administrative activities

The administrative component includes all of those activities that ensure that the business continues, including, marketing and advertising, supply, scheduling, and bookkeeping and accounting.

The operational part of the business is the actual hands-on work — “the systematic rejuvenation and protection of the various surfaces of the vehicle” (©1998, Detail in Progress and Prentice St. Clair). That is, choosing the correct equipment, chemicals, and techniques that are necessary to clean and protect the interior and exterior surfaces of a vehicle. To do so effectively and efficiently, one must have a certain amount of knowledge and understanding of several elements, including:
1. Appropriate equipment
2. Appropriate chemicals
3. Knowledge of the various surfaces of the vehicle and the proper care of each
4. The customer’s requirements
5. Industry standards

There are several sources for obtaining the information required to correctly perform automotive detailing. These include:
1. The industry’s trade publications (including the one you are reading)
2. The industry’s trade organizations (including the International Carwash Association and regional associations)
3. Local seminars and suppliers
4. Detailing training schools

To receive “detailing certification,” one must attend local seminars or a training school. The true value of the certification that you might receive is dependent upon the quality and quantity of information provided at the training event.


If you are serious about your career as a detailer or you have employees from whom you expect the best possible work, it is worth your time and money to seek out formal education and training in detailing. If you are serious about training, you will have to fork out some money for a certification that has some weight behind it. Nonetheless, there are several advantages to having a “certification” in detailing, including:
• Marketing: helps show that you know what you’re doing
• Efficiency: allows you to work faster by knowing the proper tools and chemicals for each job and understanding a set of tested procedures
• Effectiveness: allows you to produce improved results so that your customers are happier
• Pricing: allows you to charge more than all the other detailers who don’t take the time to educate themselves
• Confidence: the more you know, the more confident you are, which shows through to your customers

Any one of these advantages should easily pay for a training program in a short period of time. Thus, think of a detailing certification program as an investment, not a cost.


I will try to make it a bit simpler by offering the concept of “levels of certification.” Most programs of which I am aware fall into one of the following broad categories:
1. Short seminar or workshop
2. Formal training event
3. Independent evaluation

An example of a short seminar might be a one-day “detailing seminar” at the parking lot of a local supplier. Often these seminars are free or very low-cost. Unfortunately, the “price” is often that the seminar amounts to mostly a sales presentation on the products that the supplier is pushing. Nonetheless, you can pick up some helpful hints and techniques, as well as network with other detailers. Just go in knowing that the presentation may be biased. You will probably receive a certificate that indicates your attendance.

By a “formal training event,” I’m talking about a multiple-day event that involves both classroom education and hands-on practice. Such training is offered by several “detailing schools” around the country and typically costs several hundred to a few thousand dollars. What you get is a much more complete and well-rounded training experience that is perfect for new technicians as well as “experienced” technicians.

The certificate from a formal training event actually has some weight to it, assuming you were paying attention in class and are ready to apply what was learned. Nonetheless, I call this a “pay-to-play” certification because the taker has paid a for-profit company for the privilege of taking the class. Each for-profit company is naturally going to have certain biases that may or may not reflect the detailing industry as a whole.

Both formal training and workshop attendance are important and recommended ways for detailers to both establish and enhance their detailing knowledge, which will also assist the detailer in completing the IDA Certified Detailer Program.

The third level of certification, “independent evaluation,” was virtually unheard of in our industry as of 2010.

But now we have the IDA’s Certified Detailer Program.


In 2011, the IDA rolled out its Certified Detailer program, which consists of a series of multiple-choice exams that evaluate a detailer’s knowledge of the technical aspects of detailing. These exams, constructed by a committee of nationally-recognized industry experts, evaluate the taker’s knowledge in 10 areas: prep washing, interior detailing, paint correction and protection, equipment, chemicals, glass, leather, wheels and tires, detailing terminology, and safety and compliance.

Since the exams were developed by a number of experts from several different detailing suppliers and operations, they are relatively unbiased. And since the IDA is a not-for-profit company, successful passing of the exams truly reflects an independent evaluation of a detailer’s knowledge.

The exams can be taken online or by mail. Additionally, there are “Certification-in-a-Day” events held at various locations across the country. These all-day events include a seminar that presents all of the information needed to pass the exams, after which the exams are administered and graded on site. This allows virtually all attendees to walk away as an IDA Certified Detailer. Check out the IDA website ( for the schedule of upcoming Certification-in-a-Day events.

Having completed these exams, the detailer can proudly wear the IDA Certified Detailer patch and display this logo on all marketing materials.

This year, the IDA rolled out the next level of certification, “Skills Validated.” After a detailing technician has successfully passed the IDA Certification exams, it is possible to attempt the next level of certification, which involves actual demonstration of detailing skills to an IDA Recognized Trainer. Skills demonstrated include how to properly prep-wash a vehicle, how to detail the interior, and how to correct and protect exterior paint.

Having completed the Skills-Validated evaluation, the detailer can proudly add the “Skills-Validated” stripe to the Certified Detailer patch.

As of publication of this issue, there will be a Certification-in-a-Day event as well as a Skills-Validation event at Mobile Tech Expo, taking place in Orlando, Florida January 28-30, 2016. Sign up at


Like any profession, if you want to make a lot of money, you have to know what you’re doing. That requires some sort of outside education. Detailers have a wide range of available sources of learning. But many technicians (or wanna-be technicians) fail to obtain any kind of certification in their craft. Now you have the opportunity to be truly independently certified by the International Detailing Association.

Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or