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Steam: Why It’s Your Most Valuable Asset


In the detailing industry, we are constantly hit with the new release of very specific products: cleaners, conditioners, protectants, etc., seeing a multitude of different products for the same surfaces. Unfortunately, this has lead to a bit of over saturation in the market and confusion as to what to use on what material. It’s become so much more complicated than it really needs to be… Enter; Steam – Perhaps the number one most versatile product available. It’s safe on most any surface, has virtually no cost other than the initial investment of a machine, and continues to blow my mind every time I find a new use for it. Seriously.

I remember when I was first developing skills in the trade, the amount of products there was for each scenario was overwhelming. I think the marketing these days is trying to sell a product needed for every single different type of situation. Instead of having a huge arsenal of products for all these situations, why not simplify to a few products or less, and really hone in on your specific methods. Steam was that gateway for me, and it all started with Larry Kosilla from AMMO NYC. (If you haven’t checked him out, be sure to do so. He’s fantastic and has helped my career immensely. On top of being a great guy, he’s informative, and you can take something away from every video no matter your skill level)

The reason it’s so effective is largely credited to the fairly high heat, vapor, and pressure, all at once. It gets into and under everything, allowing dirt to be removed quickly and easily. I have found steam to be a killer option for many different purposes. To name a few:

  • Interior cleaning – Toss that oily, residue leaving protectant, the strong APC cleaners and degreasers, and try out steam. I have found using a light mist of Meguiar’s APC (D101) heavily diluted right before steaming helps break some things up. Steam away, and follow with a microfiber.
  • Barn find inspections – In this case, you’re not super worried about creating light marring, so a simple steam wash allows you to get it clean without leaking water into potentially deteriorated seals. Lots of steam, lots of microfibers, and a small amount of “scrubbing” action. Follow your steamer head with the towel and “collect” the debris it lifts up.
  • Engine bay and door jam cleaning – This is where steam really shines. These two areas are generally one of the greasiest areas on a vehicle. A few light sprits of APC usually helps, but following with the steamer, sometimes a brush, and a microfiber allows for great results.
  • Final wipe down – This is a tip I learned from a close detail friend. In 2+ step correction work, you are sometimes left with a vehicle with some residue, dust, and tape adhesive before your final polish. Use the steamer to clean things up, blow stuff out, and lightly wipe away and dust, debris, and residue before moving onto your final polishing step. This minimizes contaminants and maximizes your correction results.

As you can see, the opportunities with steam literally are endless. We’ve also used it on wheels, tires, brake calipers, bumpers for bugs, headliners, and more. Check it out, see what it’s about, and see how you can cut time off your detail, but better yet, be more effective and skilled in your craft.

See photos below for some areas steam was put to good use:

Isaac Mittlesteadt
Refined Auto Studio
Reedsburg, WI

18 comments on Steam: Why It’s Your Most Valuable Asset

  1. Timothy says:

    I’ve actually been considering buying a steamer for my backyard detailing, but have debated whether I would use it enough to justify the cost. Great article that has given me some more insight into how much more I could actually do with a steamer!

  2. Greg Graham says:

    Good morning…..I recently purchased a collector car and will be detailing it myself. You are right. For newbies like me who know nothing, the number of products available is overwhelming. I like the idea of using steam, but have no idea what the equipment looks like, or how to actually use the equipment. Could you show us exactly what you use and how to apply the steam ? The newbie would greatly appreciate it.

    • Hi Greg,

      Congrats on the purchase. I remember feeling the same way years ago, and even still. It really is crazy with how each and every surface needs a different cleaner, protectant, etc. – I agree to an extent, but it truly is over marketing.

      Look into the McCullough 1385. It is a very great tool for the price. Professional steamers are very expensive for a DIY guy. If you feel the need, we often times pair steam with something like a heavily diluted Meguiar’s D101, depending on surface. Spray on the area lightly before steaming and let it sit for a few minutes. That will help loosen things up a little bit.

      Here are a few links to hopefully help you as well. Larry Kosilla from AMMO NYC is a great resource to have. He’s a great guy, and he was the one that got me into steam originally.

      Larry’s tips and tricks video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT10-bIAgyk

      If you have further questions, feel free to shoot me a message on the IDM Details page. I will happily give you some more info over the phone. This is a difficult thing to put into text.

      Hope this helps!


  3. Ron Ayotte says:

    I purchased a McCullough 1275 steamer a couple of years ago (I don’t do the volume of detailing to justify getting a Mytee) I had a challenge last year… a Toyota Sienna that was a lease turn in… typical “soccer mom van” interior… melted gummy bears in the cupholders, some melted crayons on the carpeting, crushed goldfish crackers, etc. etc.

    The steamer made interior detailing a breeze!

  4. Greg Graham says:

    Afternoon Isaac…..Greg again…..thanks so much for your response. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube about the steamer. I have a Shark steam cleaner that we have used on the hard wood floors, to take pet stains out of carpet, and to clean soap scum and hard water deposits of the shower tile, etc. I do believe it would work just fine especially for interior detailing. It has a shorter run time, but would be fine for the DIY like me. Thanks again for pointing me in the right direction. Greg

  5. Ray Scott says:

    I own a detailing business and use my McCullough on stained cloth seats and carpet that regular cleaners won’t remove.Very easy to use and is money saving. Can it be used on leather as I have never tried it there Great for wheels, tires and engine bay.

  6. Bannor says:

    Isaac, I’ve tried to detail the leather in our Kia grocery hauler – its hard like plastic almost – and nothing I’ve tried has worked. Various cleaners and conditioners, all the way up to heat from the sun plus Leatherique. The stuff has no give at all anymore, and its nothing like it was when it was new.

    Do you think it would be a good idea to use steam to super clean the leather and try to get the pores opened up so that Leatherique can do its job? Do you have any experience with tough-to-soften leather like this?

    • Hey Bannor,

      Likely the leather in your Kia is, a little lower end leather. It’s not surprising that it has hardened up and become stiff. It is likely quite dehydrated.

      Steam would be a very good tool for this job due to exactly what you said. The heat will help soften, open up the pores, and overall help breakdown some contaminants on the leather. Make sure you finish off with a quality conditioner. For future reference, use steam to dampen and warm a microfiber, and wipe down the seats quickly at each maintenance detail.

      Hopefully the leather isn’t too far gone, but when it gets hard like this, it can often times be very very difficult to get it even close to back to original.


  7. Austin Moyer says:

    I’ve had my 1385 deluxe for over a year now and about to upgrade to a chief steamer 100. There is no way I would do interior jobs without a steamer. It makes life so much easier, not to mention making the job faster!

    • Rick Serra says:

      I recently purchased the refillable model of the Chief Steamer. I cannot imagine a surface that I couldn’t clean with it. The uses are in fact limitless. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you will get so much more out of it if you’re serious about your detailing.

  8. Juan Rivera says:

    I’ve been using a steamer since I started my detailing business 9 yrs ago and by far the best investment I’ve ever done…I highly recommend it!

  9. Michael Hinchey says:

    Great article. I’ve also been turned onto steam cleaning for cars by Larry. I’m a huge fan of both. I do not like chemicals so I try the steamer most times by itself unless I just know it needs some help. Inhaling fumes from even a diluted APC is just bad for you but necessary at times. My one suggestion is buy a small steamer for the wife or gf, so they dont want to borrow the detailing steamer. You’ll never get it back. Yes it works great in bathrooms, ovens, kitchens, living room furniture etc. Too. Very versatile. Machines.

  10. JK Stover says:

    I love my steamer (a Vapor Chief – similar to other Italian made ones in the same price range). I had a McCullough 1385 (gave it to a family member) and it worked pretty well. The one difference I did not realize is that the McCullough REQUIRES distilled water. The Vapor Chief (and other similar ones) REQUIRES TAP WATER (you need to confirm depending on brand). So…I put ONR in my steamer water 1:256 and sometimes add a few drops of lemon essential oil for some light fragrance. If you can swing it, the pro steamers are the way to go, but not cheap.

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