How Long Does It Take To Detail A Car: Each Stage and Time

How long does it take to detail a car

Detailing a car is not an easy task, and the general consensus suggests that it can take anywhere from two hours to four days to complete.

There are many factors that affect how long detailing takes. These include the type of vehicle, the condition of the paint job, and what products you use. In this post, we will discuss how long it takes to detail a car from start to finish and why it takes as long as it does.

We’ll also provide some tips for making your detailing project easier.

This isn’t a simple question to answer. Detailing a car typically takes anywhere from one hour for basic detail, to a few days for a full detail.

The vast difference in time is due to the many different methods that can be used in this process. These methods will affect how long it takes to detail a vehicle.

This can range from methods such as decontaminating paintwork to applying sealants, as well as various types of interior work. The tool used will also significantly impact the time detailing a car will take.

On top of that detailing a car can be a meticulous process. The average time it can take to prepare the exterior of one vehicle for detailing can be up to five hours.

There are many factors that go into the preparation, including how dirty and dusty the car is, the condition of the paint (if there’s any rust or the type of scratches on the paint), as well as what type of soap you’re using.

We’ll explore these factors further.

Factors that affect how long detailing a car takes

As previously mentioned, there are many different factors that affect the time it takes to detail a vehicle.

The level of detailing performed

For example, a basic soap and water job will take less time to complete than also adding a clay bar and polish session to this. This is due to how much time each process requires.

There are also many steps within each of these processes that can affect this time even further. Such as using an air compressor cleaner (for deep cleaning), the type of paint sealant used, polishing technique, the list goes on.

Although some of these processes are not mandatory (depending on your requirement), all will lead to more work needing to be accomplished during detailing if undertaken.

The tools used

Dual action polisher

The tools used also affect the amount of time car detailing takes.

For example, using a pressure washer instead of washing your car by hand, or polishing with a dual-action polisher instead of hand application will significantly impact the time detailing takes.


Preparation can be an essential and yet time-consuming process. If, for instance, you want to protect your rubber seals and plastic trim then covering them with tape will be required.

If you want to compound polish your car then prepping the paintwork will again be essential to get the best results.

Size of the vehicle

The size of the vehicle will also affect the time detailing takes. Expect cars with more exterior panels and fine, delicate parts to take longer to clean than those with less.

Larger vehicles like trucks and vans will take longer to clean the whole surface, and may require tools like a step ladder to fully access the roof.

How dirty the car is

The amount of dirt the car has accumulated over time will also affect the time detailing a car takes.

If you have an old, dry bird dropping on your hood, or caked in pollen that’s been allowed to accumulate over many months then it’s going to take more time to clean than if you have just one-week-old dirt.

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What detailing products are used

The products used will also affect the time it takes to detail a car. Generally speaking, the more products used, the longer the detailing process will take.

For instance, waxing your vehicle with one product is going to be easier than if you use a multi-step process that also includes polishing and applying special sealants.

Different stages of detailing (and how long they take)


The purpose of this stage is to check the condition of the paint for damage, dirt, and dust.

The time it takes to do the inspection is going to depend on how dirty the car currently is as well as if there is any damage that needs fixing. Some people go over their cars with a wash mitt to gauge how rough the surface feels, this helps to give an indication of the condition of the poamtwork.

This can be done in around 15-30 mins. 

Quick detail / wash

A quick detail or wash is the quickest type of detailing and typically takes people around 30 minutes to an hour. The time it takes will depend on if you’re washing the vehicle by hand or with tools like a pressure washer.

It’s perfect for someone who wants their car to look fresh but doesn’t want the added expense or time of a full detail.

This takes around 30 mins to 1 hr.

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Maintenance wash and interior clean

A maintenance wash and interior clean will usually involve washing the exterior with soap and water but will also involve vacuuming the interior seats and carpets, as well as cleaning surfaces and interior windows.

This will be similar to a quick detail but with the interior clean as an extra process.

Depending on how thorough the interior clean is, this stage can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. 

Clay barring

Performed after washing the car, clay barring will remove contaminants from the surface of your car and is considered part of the decontamination process.

Clay bars work by attaching themselves to dirt particles and pulling them off the surface. This process leaves your paint contaminant-free and is a vital stage to carry out if you want to polish your vehicle. 

This most people around 30 mins to 2 hrs

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Chemical decontamination

Chemical decontamination is an optional part of the decontamination process and works to remove tar, brake dust, iron residue, and other contaminants that clay bars can’t remove effectively.

Depending on the products used this can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to complete. 

Compound polishing

Compound polishing is a process that removes scratches from paint (typically using a polishing machine like a dual-action or rotary polisher).

The time it takes will depend on the condition of your paint. 

If it only has light scratches and swirl marks then you should be able to get rid of those easier and quicker than deeper scratches.

Depending on how scratched it is, what type of polish you use, and the tools you use (if any) the process can take 1-4 hours.

Ceramic coating - up to 4 days

Ceramic Coating is a relatively modern sealant application that protects the paintwork for a much longer period of time than other sealant types like wax. It can be hard to find the time to apply ceramic coating yourself as it’s quite technical and you need to know what you’re doing.

Ceramic coating is not an essential detailing step, but will significantly affect the time and cost of detailing your vehicle mainly because of the time it takes to apply and cure.

Due to the time required for curing and the meticulous nature of the application, this can take up to 4 days to complete. It’s recommended to only undertake this task if you are experienced in applying ceramic coating, as it can be tricky to correct any mistakes made.


Waxing your car will provide a gloss and protection for your newly polished car. This is done more commonly than ceramic coating due to it being an older method and a more accessible process to follow. It can also be done on top of ceramic coating.

This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how many coats will be applied and which products will be used.

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So we now have a good idea of how long each stage of detailing can take, but people also had other related questions around the detailing process…

How much does it usually cost to get a car detailed?

The cost depends largely on what level of detailing you want done. For example, if you just need an exterior wash and wax then prices will be lower than if there are scratches or an interior shampooing is needed as well.

The average price ranges from $100-$500 dollars for most vehicles in good condition with no major damage or wear-and-tear issues. This also depends on the region you’re in.

Is detailing your car worth it?

Detailing your car is worth it if you care about the long-term health of your vehicle. Detailed cars are more attractive to potential buyers, so they will fetch a higher resale price when the time comes to sell.

With that said, take into account all factors and decide what's most important -the resale value vs. keeping up with appearances even if we don't plan on using the car that much.

How often should a car be detailed?

You should detail your car as soon as it needs to be done. Drivers may need to pay more attention if you're in an area of the country with harsher elements - especially when winter is coming.

If not properly maintained, the car body will become damaged and unhealthy much faster than normal.

It's important to remember that regular detailing is necessary on any type of vehicle because they provide protection from environmental hazards like UV rays or acid rain which can eat away at even the most durable finishes over time.

So all things considered this would typically mean that detailing should be carried out every six months for daily drivers

Are automatic car washes bad for your car?

Automatic car washes can be bad for your car because the brushes and chemicals used in them are very harsh on a vehicle's exterior.

It is best to use an automatic wash sparingly or when absolutely necessary, like after driving through mud.

If you do choose to use one, make sure that it has been properly maintained and give your vehicle extra TLC afterward by handwashing with quality products as soon as possible.

Auto washes should only be considered if they have high-pressure sprayers instead of brushes which will help protect against scratches from the ground grit found inside most automated systems.

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