What is the difference between car washing, valeting and detailing?

car washing, valeting and detailing

When you go to get your car washed you may see the terms “car wash”, “car valeting” and “car detailing”. These are often used interchangeably, but the level of service and attention to detail can vary significantly. Here’s our breakdown of the difference between them to help you make an informed choice.

What does a car wash involve?

A typical car wash involves cleaning the outside of a vehicle. This can be done by hand, an automated machine or a combination of methods. The basic steps involved in a car wash include:  

  • Preparation – remove loose debris, leaves, dirt using water and or hand 
  • Pre-soak or Pre-Wash – apply a cleaning solution to help break down dirt and grime  
  • Washing – using cloths, sponges, brushes, high-pressure water jets or a combination  
  • Rinsing – remove any remaining soap and dirt  
  • Drying – this could involve air drying machines or hand drying with a cloth  


  • Wax / Protective coating application – this adds an extra layer of protection to maintain the paint of your vehicle and provide a shiny finish 
  • Interior cleaning – May involve vacuuming carpets and seats, wiping surfaces and windows  

The goal of a standard car wash is to simply clean the vehicle. The specific services included in can vary considerably between providers. 

What is car valeting?

Many car wash providers have the option to pay for a “mini valet”, “professional valet” or similar service. A valet involves a more thorough clean of both the interior and exterior of your vehicle. The goal is to not just clean the vehicle but also restore and enhance the overall appearance and condition.  


Valeting services are performed by professionals using specialist equipment and materials. Some examples of the quality difference valeting can offer include:  

Removing tar, bugs and tree sap that may not come off in a standard wash  

  • Polish and waxing of exterior, potentially removing minor swirl marks and scratches  
  • Thorough vacuuming  
  • Dashboard and console cleaning  
  • Treatment of leather and upholstery

What is car detailing?

“Car valeting” and “car detailing” are often used interchangeably. A valet service could cost £30 whereas another valet service is £100. The difference will be based on what the specific service includes, and the level of attention provided to your vehicle, as well as competition in your local area. 


Car detailing aims to go beyond a standard car wash or valet service and bring a vehicle to near-showroom condition. It’s a detailed process that cleans, restores, and finishes both the inside and outside of your vehicle.   


Detailing is a time-consuming process requiring specialised training and knowledge. You can use a detailing service occasionally to freshen up your car or as part of regular maintenance. Some of the extra value a detailing service can provide may include:  

  • Decontamination – remove tar, bugs, tree sap  

  • Clean every nook and cranny of your vehicle  

  • High level finish using specialised tools, polish, ceramic coating, paint protection film (PPF) 

  • Restoration services, e.g. paint correction, headlight restoration 

  • Minor repairs, e.g. fix small scratches and dents 

  • Special equipment to clean the car without causing damage and to make it as clean as possible 


Detailing is designed to clean, enhance and protect your vehicle to improve its overall appearance and value. It will not always eliminate all defects in a car’s appearance, nor will it cover major bodywork corrections. 

Which service is right for me, a standard car wash, valeting or detailing?

This depends on your personal preference, budget and availability of the service providers in your preferred location.  


For the highest quality wash, appearance and protection of your vehicle we recommend booking a full professional valet / detail service with a dedicated detailing service provider. This may be useful if you want to keep your car in top condition, would like to smarten it up before selling or want to invest in a thorough deep clean after a long period of not getting your car washed. Service providers that describe themselves specifically as “detailers” are more likely to provide the high standards of service associated with detailing. 


If you are looking to regularly clean your car on a limited budget, we recommend booking a mobile car wash once a month. This will help keep your car in good condition, avoiding excessive build-up of dirt and deposits that can lead to paint damage and rust which can have longer-term implications on your vehicle. Choosing a mobile car wash service will also save you time and hassle as the provider will come to you at a time of your choosing. 

How can I find my nearest mobile car wash service?

The Clean Me App makes it easy to get your car cleaned. We consolidate all car wash service providers into one convenient app. This allows you to easily browse the services that are located near you, book your preferred wash and have it come to your location. We want to make ordering a car wash as easy as ordering a pizza! 


Clean Me is available to download on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. We aim to add more service providers and locations each month to give you freedom of choice. Find out more on our website and follow us on social to keep up to date.

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  1. Very interesting! I’ve always thought valeting and detailing were the same

  2. […] a high level of cleanliness and finish. Detailers will usually offer car valeting services but the quality they deliver will differ from that of an ordinary car wash or valeting service. Below are some key aspects of car detailing. […]

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