10:13 AM

Detailing for Apartment Dwellers

Posted by Anthony

I am sensitive to the challenges of maintaining your vehicle when you don’t have a garage. I bought a garage with a house attached to it back in 2004 and for a couple years before that I had one that you could barely open the car doors in, but before that I was a proud Apartment Dweller trying to keep my car looking good under the carport. So the purpose of this article is to document some of my methods for keeping things looking good even without the advantage of having a hose nearby and a spacious garage to work in. Keep in mind that everybody’s situation will be different. Some of you get to park right in front of your building and others have to park in BFE. Some will have access to water and others won’t. Take these suggestions for what they are worth and feel free to ask me any questions if you think I can help.


This is something most Apartment Dwellers (ADs) can’t do easily. Many apartment communities don’t allow you to wash your car in the carport. The last one I lived in wouldn’t even let you pop your hood for more time than it took to refill your wiper fluid. I got reported for changing a flat tire in my carport once, so I know all about intolerant apartment management. However, with that being said, it is possible to wash your car in some complexes. Check with the apartment manager before you try though.

The biggest trick to washing in the complex is access to the water. Sometimes they have a shed somewhere on the property where they keep the landscaping equipment and it may have a faucet nearby. Check around the buildings near the parking lot for something within hose reach to your car as well. It is different everywhere, but if you ask the AM about washing, they can usually direct you to the right spot. Just remember to get it rinsed off and dried before the sun creates waterspots. That is where the California Waterblade will come in handy. ;)

If you can’t wash in your complex then that leaves you with two options. Either find a friend/relative with a driveway (in which case you can pretty much stop reading now since you won’t be operating as an AD if you have a garage you can use) or you can go to a coin op car wash. The only problem with coin op car washes is that the high pressure doesn’t always get the paint clean. Bring a wash mitt with you and give the car a wipe down before you rinse it if you are concerned about it not getting the waterspots off or other grime. Just be careful with that want. The water that shoots out of there can peel the skin off your hand and is very painful.

You could always use the brush in the car wash, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Using a brush in a coin op car wash is like using a hooker. Do you really want to be the next guy to use that? You don’t really know where it has been. The last thing that brush scrubbed could have been an oily tanker or some 4x4 that just game back from the desert and was covered in greasy clay and dirt. Even if you spray the brush off with the wand first there could still be oils and grit stuck to the bristles from perhaps YEARS of people not spraying it off first. Using a brush is a sure fire way to add some swirls and scratches to your paint. In the winter there really aren’t a whole lot of options and I just chalk it up to the repair I’m going to have to do in the spring anyway, but in the summer I avoid the brushes like the plague.

Don’t bother with the wax or other products that the coin op will provide you. Just stick with a wash and rinse. Use your own products for wheel/tire cleaning and bug/tar removal. Oh, and be cautious of degreasing your engine at these places too. Most of them won’t allow you to do it. The waste water has to be tested before disposal and if it has too much grease and oil in it then they have to pay more for hazardous waste disposal. Degreasing your engine is a good way to add more of the stuff which will cost them more money, so they generally won’t allow you to do it. Using high pressure water like that isn’t my favorite thing to subject my engine to anyway. Maybe just around the perimeter where there aren’t any electrical connections, but definitely avoid any wires with that thing. You could really do some damage if the pressure is high enough.

Something you might want to look into is doing a bucket wash AT the coin op place. If you can find one with a dead stall (usually spotted because they move the trash cans in front of the entrances) then you could pull in and just fill your bucket at the sink and wash away in the comfort of a shaded stall. Then just pull into the next one to rinse it off and you are good to go. You could even go back to the first one to do the waxing and everything. If there is someone to get permission from on this then try to do that first, but otherwise I really don’t see how it hurts anybody. I actually had a deal with a coin op place near one of my jobs back when I first started detailing. They knew I was bringing several cars a week over there to wash and detail, so they would let me use a permanently dead stall on the end whenever I wanted. It’s just always nice to ask permission before squatting at someone’s business. ;)


This is the part you may find difficult. They don’t typically put easily accessible outlets at coin op car washes, and you may not find them at your complex either, so running your polisher could prove to be a challenge. However, I’ll be honest… I didn’t even own a PC until I moved into my first garage, so I can promise you that you can still maintain your vehicle just fine without one. You just have to learn to live with swirls or get really good at not getting them in the first place. ;)

There really isn’t a product which removes swirls by hand that I’ve found. There is only one person I’ve ever seen get swirls out by hand and he looks like a power lifter with massive shoulders, so that is what I reckon it takes to do the job. I don’t even try because I know I’d never be able to do it on the whole car.

I’m getting off track… Anyway, if you can get an extension cord long enough to reach your car port, then it is possible you can polish there. Polishers make a lot of noise and I’d wager anything that you’ll get shut down pretty quick if you do it in your complex. You may be able to pull it off at the coin op, but plugs are hard to find at those places.

Waxing is another story. You can easily wax your car in your carport or in the empty bay at the coin op. It is quiet and only requires some shade to do well. No problems there. Getting out of the sun is the big part. It isn’t that the sun itself is bad for wax, but rather it heats up the surface too much and the wax won’t dry or bond. If the paint is too hot to touch, then it is definitely too hot to wax. It is just going to smear around and you won’t get a good durable coat. Always try and wax in the shade or on a cool (relative) surface.


Coin op vacuums SUCK! And I don’t mean that in a good way. They are very often poorly maintained and clogged, so you don’t get the suction you need. The heads can crack which causes them to leak suction and make them much less effective. So it is hit and miss with those. However, when you find one that works you will be happy. The ones that work do the job very well. I had one near my apartment that could suck the lines off the road. I actually used a cereal box and duct tape to fashion an adapter which allowed me to use the attachments of a shop vac. I bought a detailing kit for a Craftsman shop vac at Sears and it worked out great. In fact, because the coin op vacs have so much suction, it made the modification ridiculously effective because it was now coming out a smaller hose. It was awesome.

Everything else on the interior is pretty easy to do. You can wash your floor mats in the complex Laundromat if you aren’t able to use an extractor on them. Just don’t dry them and you’ll be fine. Hang them on your balcony railing (if you have one) to drip dry and that should do it. Everything else can be done just as you would anywhere else.

Final Detailing:

The final detail is pretty easy to do in an apartment complex too. Just be careful that you aren’t spraying stuff all over everybody else’s car in the process. Also be aware that having your hood popped open and you leaning inside makes it look like you are doing maintenance on your vehicle which could be a violation of the tenant agreement. Nosy neighbors could just report you without knowing what you are really doing, so I would do all of your engine detailing at the coin op place.

Apartment Dweller Kit:

These are the products I would say you should keep in a box in your trunk for your detailing needs:

· Microfiber towels

· Drying towel & California Water Blade

· Wax applicators/ Leather conditioner applicators

· Quick Detailer

· Interior Detailer

· Wheel/Tire Cleaner & Tire Shine with applicator

· Engine degreaser & CD2 Engine Detailer

· Meguiar’s Ultimate Car Wax (really some of the best stuff off the shelf right now)

· Invisible Glass

· Aerospace 303 protectant

· Tuff Stuff (gets the really tough spills and stuff of your center console or carpet) with carpet brush

With those products you should be able to handle anything outside of the actual washing and vacuuming of the vehicle. You should be able to get all of that to fit in a box or rubber maid tub in your trunk for easy transport. However, if you are in a really hot climate, I would probably recommend you NOT keep this stuff in your trunk. I had to clean a trunk that had car care products explode in it once due to the heat, so I would just be careful. J


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