The Best Car Wash Soaps: The Right Suds For Your Car
Car washing doesn’t have to be a chore with these top car wash soaps.
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BY Andra DelMonico / LAST UPDATED ON October 6, 2021
There are two kinds of car owners: those who use automated car washes and those who wash their vehicles themselves. If you’re someone who wants to keep their ride clean, keep reading. We’ve got the facts and recommendations you need to choose a better car wash soap for a cleaner ride. Because if you want a clean car, sometimes you have to wash it yourself.
If you’re a fan of carnauba wax, Mother’s wash and wax will fit your needs. The product lifts dirt away while leaving a waxy finish to protect your paint.
- Mother’s gives a nod to nature with this biodegradable wash and wax product, which is pH-balanced to clean your car without risk of damaging your car’s paint job
- This product provides the best results as a solution between regular waxing
- So if that’s not part of your routine, you might need a stronger formula to remove stubborn contaminants
When it comes to the inexpensive alternative, this cleaner is among the best choices on the market. It's an efficient wash that leaves your car smelling like a watermelon.
- Features a pH-balanced formula that proves to be very safe and easy to apply
- You can use it on all vehicle parts and achieve showroom results
- The product leaves a snow foam but requires some excessive scrubbing for removing heavy dirt.
- It's not an effortless process
- Some buyers also don't like the watermelon scent
For the dirtiest cars, Chemical Guys created a simple solution that doesn’t require a lot of elbow grease. Easily remove common contaminants with this car wash soap.
- This heavy-duty car wash soap saves time and effort, even if your car only needs a rinse
- Even as it goes on, though, it won’t leave swirl marks or scratches
- The toughest tar, tree sap, bugs, and other types of contaminants require more than this car wash soap, especially white vehicles
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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.
Benefits of Car Wash Soap
- Affordable car care. Purchasing your own car wash shampoo will make maintaining and cleaning your car more affordable. Many shampoos come in a concentrated formula. This means you only need a little to clean a lot of car surface area.
- Preserve vehicle value. Regular washing helps to maintain your vehicle. The cleaner you keep your vehicle, the less wear and tear it will experience. This will help your car retain its value for longer.
- Prep for wax. Washing your vehicle with a car wash shampoo cleans off all of the contaminants. This prepares your car for further car care, such as applying wax, sealant, or a ceramic coating.
Types of Car Wash Soap
A concentrated shampoo formula gives you more bang for your buck. You add a small amount to your bucket of water and have plenty of foam and suds. A concentrated formula is great for maintenance cleaning because it will get your car nice and clean. Some can also do double duty with an added sealant or wax. The drawback of this type of car wash is that most people do not use the right ratio when mixing the soap with water. Use too little, and you won’t have enough cleaning power. Use too much, and you’re wasting product.
Wash and Wax
A wash and wax product is designed to do double duty. This makes caring for your car easier and faster. It will clean your car while also leaving a protective waxy layer on the surface of your car. This will give you lasting protection. However, a combo soap will not replace a dedicated waxing session. It should supplement your waxing to help it last longer.
Sometimes you don't have the time or aren’t in a place where you can do a full wash. A waterless cleaning product can help you remove contaminants without the need for rinsing or washing. These are nice because you can clean and detail your car anywhere. Their drawback is that they aren’t a replacement for a full washing. Look for one that has high lubricity to prevent scratches.
If you know anything about car care, you know the name Meguiar’s. In business since 1901, Meguiar’s is headquartered in California. If you’re looking for that birthday or Christmas present, check out the Complete Car Care Kit. It’s everything you need to take care of your vehicle.
One of the up-and-coming brands making a name for themselves, Chemical Guys has actually been in business for over 40 years. Its After Wash Shine While You Dry solution can be used on cars, trucks, RVs, boats, etc.
Armor All is another household name for car care products. Operating since 1966, its headquarters are in Missouri. The Armor All Complete Car Care Kit might even be on your car lover’s wish list, so check it out.
Based in Texas, Rain-X has been in the industry for over 40 years. If carnauba wax is your thing, check out its High Foaming Wash & Wax with Carnauba Wax Beads. Like all Rain-X products, it will bead up any moisture that finds its way onto your vehicle.
Mother’s is a California-based company that has been in business nearly as long as many other popular brands in the industry. Feeling overwhelmed at the choices for car-washing mitts? Give the Mother’s Microfiber Chenille Wash Mitt a look, especially if you own a black vehicle.
Car Wash Soap Pricing
- Under $10: Auto parts stores typically stock car wash soaps in this price range. Most of them are concentrated formulas that can be diluted in a ratio of one capful of soap to one gallon of water. You should be able to find wash and wax formulas for this price as well. Products will typically come in 16-ounce sizes.
- $11 to $15: If you’re looking for more bang for your buck, you should consider concentrates of higher-priced brands above the $10 mark. Sizes typically range anywhere from 16 to 64 ounces, depending on which brand and formula you choose.
- $20 to $40: Buying car wash shampoo in bulk will fall in this price range. Many well-known brands will offer around 128 ounces of car wash soap for this price. If you’re someone who owns a handful of cars and washes them frequently, spending this much up-front may save you in the long run.
- $45 and up: For around $50, you should be able to find car wash kits with concentrates included, as well as washing mitts, microfiber cloths, and other car-washing accessories. Many of the kits offered will get you started by providing most of the materials you need.
Most car wash soaps are going to be concentrated, but choosing ones that are will stretch your dollars longer without affecting your car-washing results. It also means that you can increase or decrease the dilution ratio as you see fit, depending on how dirty your car is and the size of the vehicle you’re cleaning.
Foaming Action and Lubricity
Ask any professional detailer and they’ll tell you that washing your vehicle properly is all about suspending the contaminants on your vehicle to safely remove them without scratching the paint finish. Foaming bubbles that provide natural lubricity are the common solution. The idea is to lift the debris off your paint and transfer it via a liquid layer across and away from the surface. This is especially true for dark-colored/black vehicles.
Choosing a car wash soap that includes a waxing agent in the formula will save you time in the long run. Though the wax included is not enough to rely on, it will still provide a protective layer that will delay your paint from oxidizing. In fact, waxing your car after using a wash and wax car wash soap will just increase the effectiveness of the wax and won’t necessarily hurt your vehicle’s paint.
Car wash soaps should be designed to make the car-washing process simple and straightforward. You shouldn’t have to worry about avoiding certain paint colors or exterior materials common on modern vehicles. Specially-formulated products can be helpful; however, washing your vehicle shouldn’t take much more effort than washing dishes. No specialty tools or methods should be required.
Scrubbing a car requires getting close to the vehicle, and if you don’t like the smell of the car wash soap you purchased, it can turn a simple task into a hassle. Take a whiff of the car wash soap before you buy it. Many are lightly scented to distinguish themselves from the competition. The smell won’t stay on your vehicle and won’t affect the car wash soap’s ability to clean your vehicle.
- Whole Vehicle Formulation. There’s no getting away from washing the entire exterior of your vehicle, so choose a car wash soap that won’t damage materials such as rubber, plastic, glass, metal, or any other components that will get wet. Most car wash products on the shelf are safe for these types of materials—that weather the elements anyways—but it’s a good idea to be cognizant of what’s in your car wash soap.
- Additional Materials. It’s possible to wash your car with your bare hands, but we don’t recommend it. There are many products out there you can use to clean your vehicle, whether you have a large truck or a compact sedan. From washing mitts to wheel-cleaning devices, you can pick up the additional materials you need to achieve a clean vehicle without spending too much.
- Drying Methods. The way you dry your newly-washed vehicle is just as important as how you wash it. Leaving water on the paint can cause hard water spots to appear. Using an air compressor to dry your vehicle is the most efficient method, but you can also use a chamois or even soft towels. The important thing to remember is not to ground any leftover contaminants into the paint you just washed.
- Finishing Touches. Washing your car is the bare necessity when it comes to maintaining the exterior of your vehicle. Consider waxing your vehicle afterward to keep the paint from oxidizing quickly. Clean your windows for a better view of your surroundings. Vacuum your seats and flooring to prevent stains and excessive wear. The better care you give your car, the longer it will last.
Best Car Wash Soaps Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- The best process of washing your vehicle begins with thorough rinsing, then a thorough wash, and then another rinse. Depending on how much debris is caked on your vehicle, you might need to repeat the rinse-wash-rinse cycle a few times. Rinsing first helps suspend the contaminants that you’ll wash away in the next step.
- Change the dilution ratio based on how dirty your vehicle is. The standard dilution ratio is one capful of car wash soap dumped into a gallon of hot water. Agitate the water once you’ve mixed in the car wash soap and then dunk your wash mitt or sponge into the water to apply it to the car.
- Work from the top of your vehicle down as you wash. Clean your wheels and tires last. Change the water in your bucket frequently if it becomes saturated with debris. Replace your sponge or wash mitts immediately if they pick up pebbles or other materials that might scratch your paint.
- Plan to wash your vehicle at least once a month. You should wash it more often in the winter months when ice-preventing chemicals are sprayed on the roads. These harsh chemicals can do a lot of damage to your vehicle’s paint if left on the surface for a period of time.
- Wash your vehicle in a shaded spot. Be careful not to spray/dump cold water on a hot car, especially the windshield. Excessive heat will increase the evaporation process, forcing you to use more water and car wash soap. Black cars that are washed in direct sunlight have an increased risk of swirl marks.
- Purchase a wool mitt and similar cleaning and drying materials to devote to your vehicle(s). Be sure to wash your materials after each car-washing session and store them in a place where they won’t pick up dirt or dust. Replace these materials after they begin to lose their effectiveness to prevent damaging your vehicle.
- Wash out your door jambs and rubber floor mats when you wash your vehicle. Dirt and debris will collect in the door jambs and around the rear trunk/hatch/tailgate and continue to degrade the surrounding materials. Consider rinsing out your engine bay as well, but be careful to use a low-pressure spray nozzle to avoid damaging components.
- White vehicles tend to show stubborn contaminants much more than other colors. If you own a white vehicle, consider purchasing a clay bar to use at least once, if not twice, a year. The clay bar will remove the contaminants for a like-new finish. Follow up your clay barring with a coat of wax to seal the paint’s pores.
- Ideally, you want to wax your vehicle after you wash it. Make sure to remove as much dirt and debris as possible from the paint before you wax. That includes tar, sap, bugs, and anything else that would damage the paint if left alone. Hand waxing is a simple process that makes a huge difference.
Q: What’s wrong with using regular dish soap to wash my car?
Dishwashing liquid is designed to clean your plates, glasses, and silverware. It’s not meant for cleaning your car’s surface. The detergents in this soap can dry out vinyl and plastic. It can also prematurely strip away any sealant or wax you’ve applied. In addition, some household soaps lack the lubricity needed to prevent micro-scratches and swirl marks.
Q: How often should I wash my car?
Washing your vehicle every day can feel excessive. However, never washing your car is also not good. Some suggest washing your car weekly, while others recommend at least once a month. How often you wash your vehicle will depend on how quickly it becomes dirty or covered in contaminants.
Q: Does car wash soap expire?
The best way to tell if car wash soap isn’t working is to test it on the undercarriage of your vehicle, somewhere perhaps on the running boards or rear bumper. If the car wash soap is more than a few years old, we recommend just replacing it. You can typically find a good car wash soap for as much as it costs to eat out.
Q: Can I use car wash soap on my boat?
Maybe. Boats have a clear coat on the hull that needs to be carefully cared for. Some car wash soaps may have the wrong formulation to be compatible with your boat. Additionally, if you plan on washing your boat in the water or near the water, you’ll want to be careful that it’s environmentally friendly. You don’t want to contaminate the water. Look for a car wash soap that states it’s safe for boats and the environment.
Q: Are there special car wash soaps for darker/black cars?
Yes, there is. Black car shampoos have special additives that help them to bring out the shine and luster of your car’s black paint. Look for a shampoo that has advanced lubricants to prevent micro-scratches and swirl marks. Gloss enhancers help to increase shine. Hydrophobic properties will prevent water spots.
Q: Can I use car wash soap at a self-serve car wash?
Most self-serve car wash stations will let you choose a soap brush option, but if you prefer to use your own car wash soap, just bring your supplies along with you. You can use the rinse feature and then just have your bucket of soapy water ready to go. Some car washes may watch what drains into their sewer system, however, so be aware of any restrictions that might be in place.
Q: What’s the difference between car wash soap and waterless car wash?
Car wash soap is meant for use with water. You can use it with a bucket of water, pressure washer, or foam cannon. A waterless cleaning product is designed for use with a microfiber cloth. A shampoo will perform best during a complete car wash, while a waterless detailer is best during spot cleaning. Use car wash soap for deep cleaning and waterless car wash for touch-ups in between washes.
The Mother’s California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax won our best pick for car wash soap based on its winning combination of heavy-duty formula and scratch-free finish.
You can’t go wrong with the Chemical Guys Watermelon Snow Foam Cleanser if you’re washing on a budget. Dilute a capful in a gallon of hot water and you’re all set to start washing.