Written By
Published May. 13, 2021

For many of us, washing and detailing our car is a soothing and gratifying routine. There’s something so satisfying about getting your car meticulously clean and shiny, not only on the outside, but all over. It’s a great way to spend part of a sunny weekend.

Sometimes, detailing your car is more of a necessity than a hobby. If you’ve got tough, caked-on clay or tar that can be damaging your paint, or have spilled something sticky and super messy on your car’s interior, it’s important to remove that as soon as possible to prevent set-in stains or permanent damage. Whatever your reason for wanting a car detailing kit, Car Bibles will equip you with everything you need to know.

We’ve put together this comprehensive product review and handy buying guide so that you can easily and confidently determine what the best car detailing kit is for you. Whether it’s an eco-friendly kit that’s good for the environment or a heavy-duty hard-hitting detailer that will get out the worst dirt and stains, we have something to suit every need.

The Best Car Detailing Kit

Meguiar’s is a trusted cleaning brand, and their Complete Car Care Kit comes with 12 products for an interior and exterior car wash, including car wash shampoo, liquid wax, quick detail spray, clay bars, ScratchX 2.0 for isolated paint defects, and PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Polish for a thorough plastic clean.

One of its top products is the 16-ounce bottle of Gold Class Carnauba Plus Liquid Wax. It contains carnauba wax, a Brazilian palm tree-derived natural wax with water-repelling and beading properties to improve shine. The stuff is a favorite among car enthusiasts seeking the best detail possible, and who have a burning desire to keep their paint in top condition for a very long time.

Another key point with this car detailing kit is its lineage. Since 1901, Meguiars has been on top of the automotive car care, regular fixtures in national/international auto shows, and mechanic shops worldwide. And the Meguiar’s Complete Car Care Kit has a very solid track record among buyers; nearly 4,000 buyer experiences we surveyed indicate that people are very happy with their purchase.

If there is one downside for Meguiar’s Complete Car Care Kit, it would be a slightly flimsy bottle construction. Many bottles are prone to leaking if they’re not stored properly. Be sure to keep them in a cool, dry place indoors, not in your car trunk or outdoors.

Specs
  • Brand Meguiar’s
  • Model G55032SP Complete Car Care Kit
  • Weight 1 pound
PROS

Carnauba wax for effective water beading

ScratchX 2.0 for isolated paint defects

Clay Bars and Quik Detailer to remove heavily bonded contaminants

CONS

High cost

Not the most durable dispensing nozzles

Prone to leakage

From the highly popular Armor All brand, the Armor All Car Wash and Cleaner Kit comes with four key essentials, including a 16-ounce bottle of Armor All Ultra Shine Wash and Wax, a 20-ounce bottle of Armor All Tire Foam, glass wipes, and a 10-ounce bottle of Armor All Original Protectant spray. It works well for your interior, exterior, tires, and glass.

This kit’s Armor All Ultra Shine Wash & Wax offers a blend of natural carnauba wax and surface lubricants for water beading and a mirror-like shine. The Armor All Original Protectant and glass wipes also leave a streak and residue-free clean and the Armor All Tire Foam uses a proprietary conditioner for UV protection and to restore your grimy tire’s pitch black color back to its original condition. More than 6,000 owner experiences we surveyed report a very positive experience overall, saying it’s easy to use, is an incredible value, and makes a great gift, too.

One notable downside, owners say, is the lack of prep materials, with no towels or mitts included. However, these can be purchased separately at a minimal cost.

Specs
  • Brand Armor All
  • Model 78452 Car Wash and Cleaner Kit
  • Weight 2.03 pounds
PROS

Uses natural carnauba wax

Generous portions (e.g. 16-ounce Ultra Shine Wash and Wax and 20-ounce Tire Foam)

Makes a great gift

CONS

A limited number of items (four)

Lack of prep materials

Glass wipes may leave streaks if not applied correctly

The Turtle Wax 5-Piece Complete Care Kit falls squarely in between a total, complete care kit (Meguiar’s Complete Car Care Kit) and a 4-item, value kit (Armor All Car Wash and Cleaner Kit).

This kit is a 10-piece powerhouse that contains a healthy mix of sprays, shines, waxes, washes/shampoos, and scratch/swirl remover that also includes cleaning tools (microfiber cloth and sponge), along with an odor eliminator, not found in our first two picks.

One standout product in the Turtle Wax 5-Piece Complete Care Kit is the Odor-X Odor Eliminator & Refresher Spray, which does an excellent job of eliminating (and not simply masking) odors for up to 30 days. With three active ingredients, it also penetrates fabric to “lift” odors off the surface. Don’t expect too many miracles — heavy smokers may not observe much of a difference after one application.

Nearly 2,000 owners have very positive things to say about the Turtle Wax 50754 Ultimate Car Care Kit, saying it’s a solid performer that meets their needs quite well. Many owners have cited its ease of application, value, and a healthy mix of products for a beginner car cleaner.

Specs
  • Brand Turtle Wax
  • Model 50754 Ultimate Car Care Kit
  • Weight 8.85 pounds
PROS

Well diversified mix of items (10)

Odor remover lasts up to 30 days

Includes microfiber cloth and sponge

CONS

Tire shine spray not the most effective

Bottles may leak if not stored correctly

Odor eliminator isn’t the best

Best Car Detailing Kit for Waterless

Don’t have access to a driveway? Live in an apartment building? The Chemical Guys HOL401 Waterless Car Wash & Wax Kit is an excellent choice. It’s an eco-friendly solution that offers a wash and wax formula, combining natural carnauba with hyper-surfactants and lubricating agents to lift dirt and grime from your exterior as effectively as a wash and rinse.

It’s especially notable how the Chemical Guys HOL401 Waterless Car Wash & Wax Kit includes three microfiber cloths, safe for use on all surfaces including wheels, windows, rubber, and chrome. It even includes a large 16-ounce sprayer bottle with ergonomic, oversized sprayed handle and printed measurements that make it easy to use, good for two gallons of waterless solution.

According to more than 300 owner assessments, the Chemical Guys HOL401 Waterless Car Wash & Wax really shines (pun very much intended). Owners say the kit is easy to use, represents a great value and meets diverse cleaning needs well.

Specs
  • Brand Chemical Guys
  • Model HOL401 Waterless Car Wash and Wax Kit
  • Weight 3.34 pounds
PROS

Excellent for those with no access to driveways

pH neutral formula save on all materials

Included ergonomic, oversized sprayer

CONS

Microfiber towels on the smaller side

Does not include tire cleaner

Kit may arrive with missing products

Best Car Detailing Kit for Clay

The Mothers California Gold Clay Car Detailing Kit is a great go-to for a deeper paint clean. Its Original kit includes two 100-gram clay bars, a 16-ounce Mothers California Gold Instant Detailer fluid, and a 16-inch microfiber towel, all working to remove hard and stubborn grime deposits, road soils, tree sap, and other harder-to-hit contaminants from your paint.

Consider the Mothers California Gold Clay Car Detailing Kit an added line of defense for more intense exterior cleaning jobs where washing and polishing cannot remove all. It helps prevent any contaminants left on your vehicle’s surface before a thorough waxing or polishing from scratching or marring your paint.

The Mothers California Gold Clay Car Detailing Kit has extremely high ratings from owners, based on the more than 12,000 assessments we surveyed. If they need a system that does what basic car washing cannot do, owners are extremely pleased when they go this route.

Specs
  • Brand Mothers
  • Model 07240 Gold Clay Car Detailing Kit
  • Weight 1.9 pounds
PROS

Excellent for bonded contaminant removal

Safe on all kinds of paints, including clearcoats

Very large microfiber towel (16 x 16 inches)

CONS

Not the easiest to apply

Clay bar may leave a film

Detailing spray’s cinnamon smell is not the most pleasant

How We Selected the Best Car Detailing Kits

Our recommended picks for the best car detailing kits were chosen on the basis of formulas/ingredients, well-roundedness, value, the number of favorable online reviews across different retailers, and above all else, our own experience as car enthusiasts who love to keep our vehicles as shiny and clean as possible.

As for the formula and ingredient list, our nod goes to car shampoos and waxes derived from carnauba wax, a Brazilian palm tree derivative known for its strong water beading properties. Of all natural waxes, carnauba waxes offer the highest intensity shine, smoothes out your paint’s imperfections, and offers UV resistance. In all, carnauba wax lasts approximately 6-8 weeks, depending on driving conditions.

With the best car detailing kits, we also heavily factored in well-roundedness. Good kits should pay equal attention to interior and exterior wash products, using a healthy mix of shampoos, waxes, clay bars, and dedicated surface protectants for glass, tires, and other areas of focus. Kudos for kits including microfiber cloths, handheld sprayers, or foam guns, all of which make cleaning products much easier to apply.

Finally, we factored in overall value and the number of favorable owner assessments. The best product reviews often come from owners themselves who use them over a lifetime. Our preference is for each kit to boast at least 1,000 customer experiences on the web pages of major retailers, which we feel offers enough critical mass (from beginner to advanced-level car washers alike) to make a determination.

Best Car Detailing Kit Buying Guide & FAQ

Top Brands

Meguiars

Arguably the most popular brand on this list, Meguiars has been in business since 1901, producing every automotive care product under the sun for the retail and professional industries. Some of its best-selling products include Meguiar’s Ultimate Wax for paint protection, Ultimate Compound to remove scratches and swirl marks, and Meguiar’s Smooth Surface Clay Kit for prep jobs.

The Meguiar’s Complete Car Care Kit tops our recommendations as to the

Best Overall Car Detailing Kit for its powerful 12-tool kit that works to restore and shine your exterior and interior.

Mothers

For more than 40 years, Mothers has produced award-winning car care products. Ever since the introduction of its first product, the Mag and Aluminum Polish, the brand has innovated, now standing with more than 100 products.

For the best clay-based car detailing kit, our pick goes to the Mothers California Gold Clay Car Detailing Kit for its excellent prep clean, absorbing hard and stubbing road soils, tree saps, and other harsh contaminants from your paintwork. It is highly recommended before washing and waxing.

Chemical Guys

Founded in the 1960s, Chemical Guys carries a wide range of products including but not limited to pre-wax cleaners, waxes, shampoos, and polishes, along with all of the accessories such as foam guns and polish pads that make them penetrate paint more efficiently.

One of Chemical Guys’ biggest strengths is its resource-packed YouTube channel. It offers one of the largest auto-detailing libraries in the world, covering interesting topics on everything from decontaminating white paint to cleaning a faux-leather interior. Today, it boasts more than 683,000 subscribers and hundreds of original pieces with engaging hosts and excellent production value.

The Chemical Guys HOL401 Waterless Car Wash & Wax Kit makes our list for the best waterless car detailing kit. It’s an excellent choice for people who prefer to avoid drive-thru washes or have no ready access to a driveway or open area for a traditional water wash.

car detailing

Key Features

Formulas

Our favorite car detailing kits carry shampoos and waxes with natural carnauba wax. Derived from a Brazilian palm tree, carnauba wax is known for its high gloss endurance and water beading properties, making it easier for dirt and grime to “lift off of” your vehicle with every wash. Other formulas may use citrus-based solutions, a natural cleaning agent, as well as other proprietary blends that may combine natural and synthetic waxes for a longer-lasting shine.

Well-Roundedness

A good car detailing kit should offer a minimum of four pieces for the essentials (exterior, interior, tires, and glass). We prefer a 10-piece or 12-piece kit which may combine all or some of the following items: exterior cleaner, interior cleaner, glass wipes, tire foam protectant, waxes, clay bars, and application accessories such as sud-producing sprayers and microfiber towels.

Accessories

Today’s car detailing kits carry simple to premium-grade accessories. Some of the more expensive kits carry mitts derived from Australian and New Zealand lambswool with an elasticated cuff for ease of use. Others offer your standard inexpensive microfiber towel with a rougher backing to take care of harder-to-remove spots. Expect to see foam applications, glass wipes, and water magnet drying towels as well.

Best Car Detailing Kit FAQ:

Q: What is the difference between detailing and washing?

Washing your car is like giving your vehicle a bath. You’re using soap and water to wash away dust, dirt, and debris that accumulates each time you hit the road or park your car outside, exposed to the elements. All you need to wash your car is a supply of water and a quality car wash cleaning solution or soap.

Detailing, on the other hand, is much more detail-oriented work. When you detail your car, you clean and protect every inch of your car’s exterior — and potentially the interior too. Detailing involves more in-depth cleaning, and it requires more specialized products and tools. You need a clean car in order to detail your car, so you could call a car wash the first step of the detailing process.

Q: My vehicle is new. Does it need to be detailed?

Unless you’ve done some major driving in muddy or dirty conditions, or you’ve run your new car through some fresh tar or had it get tree sap on it, you won’t need to get it detailed right away. For the first few months, washing and spot cleaning are usually sufficient to keep it looking new and pristine. That said, it’s easier and faster to detail a relatively clean car than it is to have to detail a car that’s been used as someone’s mobile dorm room, so the sooner you start detailing your new car, the easier and less expensive it will be in the long run.

Q: How often do I need to detail my car?

It’s entirely up to you how often you’d like to detail your car. Regular washing is always a good idea, and so too is regular detailing. But there’s no set schedule that you need to follow.

You can follow your own personal preferences to determine how often your car needs to be detailed. Some people perform detailing every month; others do so once or twice per year. You’ll want to keep in mind that detailing offers important protection for your vehicle and its exterior — and that means regular detailing can offer a number of benefits.

About the Author

Ray Prince is a self-taught Miami, Fla.-based automotive aficionado. He has been published on Wide Open Roads, Fansided’s Art of Gears, Hybridnews.com, Vehicle History, and Autoguide.com. He has also written product descriptions for Turn5, an aftermarket e-commerce retailer specializing in trucks and muscle car parts.

Why Trust Us

The Drive seeks to be the internet’s premier destination for news, features, reviews, and guides about modern automotive culture. Founded as the /DRIVE YouTube channel before growing into a full-fledged online publication in 2015, The Drive brings you the best of what’s new in the world of speed, from gear reviews to the latest industry coverage—all from a veteran team of writers and editors with many decades of combined hands-on experience. Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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