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Starting an Auto Detailing Side Business? 9 Tips to Help

If you’re looking to make a little extra cash on the weekends, auto detailing can be a very solid option. Unlike other side businesses, you really don’t need to spend a ton of money to get started.

The beauty of auto detailing is that the barrier to entry is quite low and you can get started making money relatively quickly by focusing your efforts in a few key areas.

In this blog post, I’ll cover some very basic equipment you’ll need as a beginner as well as 9 simple tips for making money right away.

1. Services menu

Once you have some basic equipment purchased, it’s important to create a simple menu of services you plan to offer your potential customers.

As a part-time auto detailer, be upfront about what services you can and cannot provide with your current equipment. Specialty services like carpet cleaning require devices like a carpet extractor (which are pretty expensive) so it’s best to offer simple services to start that don’t require a large upfront investment.

While having a ton of services can expand your market reach, it’s important to stick to the basics and avoid unnecessary expenditures. One of the benefits of working part-time is that you can stick to simple clay/wash/wax detailing techniques and avoid those that cost more money.

I do want to stress that even when operating as a part-time detailer, make sure you set yourself apart from what customer can expect from an automatic car wash. After all, auto detailing is much different from simply washing a car. For ideas on what to include in your services menu, I put together this post 7 Add-ons to Include in Your Auto Detailing Services Menu you should check out.

2. Microfiber towels

SilverKLR Microfiber Towels

The reason microfiber towels made the list is because of how incredibly versatile they are. Microfiber towels (with raised pile) are designed to lift substances like dirt and dust from any surface instead of simply sliding them around.

Dust and dirt tend to stick to microfiber, which makes them ideal for use on wheels, tires, and interiors. You’ll definitely need a bunch of these for both the interior and exterior.

As a beginner, you can pick these up just about anywhere for a few bucks apiece. I prefer the premium microfiber towels at Walmart (which really aren’t that expensive) as opposed to the cheaper ones for $1 that can leave behind lint and are actually quite rough to the touch in some cases.

3. Quality car soap or snow foam

foam cannons and guns

Obviously you need soap to get started, but what kind? I would recommend a premium car soap unless you choose to use waterless sprays or rinseless products. For beginners, good old fashioned soap and water is much safer if you do not know how to safely apply waterless products (and when to).

Meguiar’s Gold Class is my favorite and one of the best soaps on most lists you will find online. This product I see everywhere and the good news is you can find it in large containers just about anywhere.

You also have foamier soaps intended to be used with a foam cannon that are ideal for washing away as much dirt as possible using soap alone. If you plan to invest in at least a very basic pressure washer, purchasing a jug of snow foam to fill your foam cannon (like I covered in this post) can help remove dirt much easier.

Typically the more foam and suds you have, the easier it is to remove dirt from the surface of a car without agitation and potential scratching. It also makes washing much quicker as opposed to a bucket and suds.

4. Rinse-less or green detailing products

Depending on your business model, it’s never a bad idea to have a few waterless or rinseless products on hand.

Eco-friendly detailing as I recently discussed is a trend likely not going anywhere. These soaps are biodegradable, and while you can opt for a waterless spray-on type of product, using water is sometimes necessary especially if you live in a muddy area.

Having biodegradable products on hand can really increase the odds that a homeowner, office manager, or even HOA will allow you to provide your services since many have water runoff restrictions.

5. Lead generation strategy

As a side business, you really don’t have to go overboard with advertising or online marketing to start with. I recommend business cards to start, since you can pin these to community bulletin boards and hand them out to family or friends.

Obviously creating a website and social media presence can help, but for part-timers word of mouth and more traditional marketing strategies (like handing business cards out) can still be effective.

6. Hoses and water tanks

hoses and water tanks

Since most beginners start out as mobile detailers, you will need to decide whether or not:

  • You intend to use the customer’s water (and power) OR
  • Carry a water tank and generator

Regardless, it’s important to at least have a nice retractable hose reel and even a small water tank. You can even use a small electric pressure washer if you like, assuming most of your clients will have electrical hookups.

You can easily find a basic pressure washer for under $200 if you don’t have one. I recently put together this list of my top entry-level picks in this price range for beginners if you are looking into this and a guide for creating a basic skid mount.

7. Card reader and payment strategy

Since you obviously want to get paid, I would recommend a credit card reader like Square for starters. The bottom line is you need to make sure that you have plenty of payment options for your customers who may not carry cash. A few of the most common include:

  • Venmo
  • Apple Pay
  • Cash App
  • Google Pay
  • Zelle
  • Paypal

Even though cash will still likely be your primary method for collecting payment, I would recommend creating accounts and having these apps on your smartphone just in case.

For me personally, I don’t carry as much cash as I used to, so while it’s important to keep plenty of cash on hand (for change) you should definitely offer other payment methods to customers and mention these accepted forms of payment in your marketing materials.

8. Profit and loss spreadsheet

Even if you wash and detail part-time, you still must keep track of how much you earn to report to the IRS for taxes. For most people a simple spreadsheet that keeps track of the following is helpful:

  • Payments received
  • Deductions to write off (mileage, etc.)
  • Expenses (software subscriptions, rent, any fixed cost.)
  • Cost of goods  (total cost of chemicals/products used to perform your services)

While it may seem a little cumbersome to track all of this, if you make a significant amount of money or any amount of money at all you must report this income.

Prepare to report side income on your taxes

While I’m no financial expert, it does make sense to speak with a tax professional to walk you through how to keep track of your income and expenses. You don’t have to get fancy when it comes to your bookkeeping – a simple spreadsheet will do.

You may need to simply fill out a Schedule C form (denoting extra income) at the end of the year, but always be sure to consult with a tax professional in your state. Many times a CPA or tax expert will offer a free consultation to give you an idea of what you need to keep track of.

9. Uniform or work clothes

auto detailing t shirt

I highly recommend purchasing a basic set of branded t-shirts for anyone starting a detailing business on the side. No matter where you are, people will notice you appearance. There are a ton of companies online like Rush Order Tees that allow you to even upload graphics…for those of you who aren’t graphic designers.

I created the t-shirt pictured above in about 10 minutes at Simple branded t-shirts or collared shirts is one of the most simple things you can do to stand out and attract new customers.

While you certainly don’t need a professional uniform, you do need to make sure you have comfortable clothes for the occasion. If you detail in the winter, you may want some thermal coveralls and work boots.

If you’re thinking about getting a few shirts made (or uniforms) check out my post: Auto Detailing Uniforms: 3 Benefits and Where to Buy.


The most important thing to keep in mind when starting a part-time auto detailing business (other than reporting this income) is to educate yourself on proper detailing techniques to keep your customers happy and willing to refer friends.

Be sure to visit the Carwash Country resources library for free tools for your business like downloadable business card templates, eBooks, and webinars you can watch or listen to while driving.

While relatively high-profit margins, auto detailing can be a great source of supplemental income even if on a part-time basis. Good luck, and have fun!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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