Most service-related industries are dependent upon a set of specialized equipment and tools to perform the service.

The professional automotive detailing technician needs to have a set of standard equipment to properly clean and protect the vehicle in a reasonable amount of time.


If anyone should know the importance of proper equipment, it is the automatic car wash operator. They spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment so that cars are washed faster, better, and with less labor effort. Surprisingly, I have been to several car wash operations that had pitiful detailing equipment in the detail center.

This is amazing to me, since, for less than 10 percent of the cost of a tunnel system, the car wash operator can have a state-of-the-art detail center that can create enough revenue to pay for itself in about 200 labor hours of operation. Nonetheless, some operators neglect their detail centers for whatever reason. So, I find it necessary to launch into a discussion about the importance of detailing equipment.

Faster, Easier, Better

The main purpose of equipment is two-fold: to make the job easier and faster; and to provide better results. In other words, equipment helps us to perform a better job in a shorter period of time, when compared with performing the same job by hand.

Professional equipment makes the job easier by utilizing technology to imitate motions and actions typically done by hand, but with much greater power, performance, and efficiency. The word efficiency refers to the time it takes to complete a task. In automotive detailing, efficiency is a critically important element to a successful and profitable operation. The efficiency of good equipment will allow the technician to perform tasks faster and with less waste.

Additionally, professional equipment typically yields better results than manual efforts. That is, equipment increases your effectiveness, which is a measure of the quality of your results. The power and performance offered by equipment allows it to have a greater impact on the vehicle surface than manual techniques.

More Benefits

Proper equipment also has two additional benefits. First, it makes the job easier for the technician. This helps to reduce fatigue, which can help the technician’s performance. This can lead to a higher per-day job completion rate for the detail center.

Second, most equipment will also require using less chemicals per application than when performed by hand. For example, using a random-orbital polisher to apply wax or sealant typically uses about 75 percent less product than when applied by hand.

The purchase of equipment should be viewed as an investment in the profitability of your business. Utilizing professional equipment allows you to do your job faster, which means that you can make more money per hour. The equipment also yields a better result, which means that your customers are more likely to be delighted with the outcome, bolstering the reputation of your detailing center. Generally, a good reputation for providing great results allows you to charge more for your service.


You’ll notice that I keep using the term “professional” when referring to detailing equipment. This refers to the importance of choosing equipment of a professional grade. Such equipment is designed to deliver the greatest power and performance for the detailing technician, thus providing the greatest efficiency and effectiveness. There is equipment designed for the consumer (i.e., vehicle owner) that works just fine for the occasional weekend detail. But for the professional results, consistency, and reliability that is needed for daily operation, the professional detailer will choose professional-grade equipment.

A consumer-grade polisher may cost a lot less than its professional counterpart, but this model is likely to fall apart under industrial use. (I learned this the hard way in the first few months of my own operation. That $50 big wheel polisher was no match for a 30-foot motor home.)

Plus, the inexpensive model will not perform as well. Instead, a professional-grade polisher will last a lifetime and provide fantastic results, which should re-coup many times over the larger investment that good equipment requires. (The day that big polisher broke, I went out and purchased the professional model that my detail supplier had been badgering me to get. It cost seven times as much, but is still in service today — some 22 years later!)


Because of the extensiveness of the service elements provided in full-service detailing, it requires a somewhat large list of equipment.

Prep Wash

The full-service detail typically begins with the prep wash, the purpose of which is to prepare the exterior of the vehicle for detailing. The detailer working at a car wash has the distinct advantage of having the automatic wash to perform the bulk of the work involved in the prep wash. Whether or not additional prep wash equipment is needed depends upon the type and set-up of the car wash.

If you are providing engine compartment detailing, you will definitely need a pressure washer. Compressed air is handy here for blowing off the excess water from the engine components. So a compressor with air hose and chuck will be necessary in this case. To prevent delays in the wash line, it may be necessary to have a separate wash area for the full-service detailers to perform engine cleaning and prep washing.

Once the prep wash is completed, the vehicle can be moved to the detailing bay. At this point, most technicians like to purge the exterior cracks and crevices of water with compressed air.


The interior detail requires a powerful vacuum with attachments to remove loose dirt and debris. Many choose an inexpensive wet-dry vac from the local hardware chain store. Instead, I recommend taking the time to make a wise investment in a vacuum that runs quietly and has a smaller diameter long hose that is easier for the detailing technicians to use. Additionally, some technicians also like to have compressed air to blow out debris from under the seats and out of pockets and crevices.

Heavily soiled carpets and mats can be cleaned with a hot water extractor. There are several sizes available and the size you choose will depend mostly on the volume of vehicles you expect to handle during the day.

A dry vapor steamer is highly recommended for cleaning leather and fabric seats, as well as lightly soiled carpeting and some other interior surfaces. Although the steam machine is not on a traditional list of equipment for a detail shop, it is becoming increasingly recognized as an important tool for interior detailing.

The interior detail will also require the use of a number of small tools, including an assortment of brushes, towels, and product applicators. Additionally, several spray and dispensing bottles are necessary.


The exterior detail requires, most of all, polishing equipment. Most high-end detail operations have at least two types of polishers. The standard random-orbit or dual action polisher is the tool of choice for applying wax. For paint perfection activities (removing heavier scratches and oxidation), the new generation of high-action polishers is the tool of choice.

Each polisher will have a selection of pads that can be interchanged as necessary, depending on the job at hand. It will be important to have a good supply of these pads, as well as pad cleaning tools.

In addition to polishers, the exterior detail technician will require various small tools, including detailer’s clay or polymerized rubber surface prep pads, various detailing brushes, specialized towels and applicators, and a number of spray and dispenser bottles. Stepladders will also be handy to reach the roofs of larger vehicles.

Get Organized

In addition to the equipment that is used directly on the vehicle, I also recommend a few items for organization. First, a detail cart is a great way to store the active small equipment and tools. The cart can carry the spray and dispenser bottles, the towels, and the polishing equipment. In addition, the cart can be equipped with bins to toss trash and used towels. It is portable and can be brought out to the car for the technician’s convenience, then rolled inside at the end of the day for secure overnight storage.

Second, I recommend having chemical dilution equipment. Many of the cleaning chemicals involved with full-service detailing come in concentrated form for value and convenience. To ensure that technicians refill their spray bottles with the appropriate dilution concentration, dilution should be automated in the detail storage area and managed by the detail manager.

Finally, I recommend secure storage equipment (like locking cabinets) that can only be accessed by or with the permission of the detail manager. These will hold the back-up supplies and chemicals that should be dispensed to the technicians under the detail manager’s supervision.


In summary, the importance of professional equipment cannot be overemphasized. With it, you will be able to clean faster and better, save time and money, perform more jobs per day, and better guarantee delighted customers by providing consistently excellent results. The expense of professional equipment should be viewed as an investment that will allow you to make more per hour, charge more, and save chemical costs.


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