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Your car is, unfortunately, a magnet for all things gross and disgusting and you have but two ways of keeping it spotless. You can either hermetically seal it in a car bubble and keep it stashed in your garage to remain undriven forever...or you could just invest in a good quality car shampoo and go to work.
The choice is yours but we don’t subscribe to the idea of preserving a car’s odometer. Car wash shampoos make easy work out of reducing road grime and mud, but with so many different types available—surface degreasers, wash/wax formulations, super foaming, specialized shampoos for vinyl, wheels, ceramic, and other specialized parts and materials—how do you pick? Easy, you keep reading and listen to The Drive’s experts on all things car shampoo-related. Let’s begin.
Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo
This shampoo doesn’t strip the car of its waxes and sealant coats.
- Can be used in direct sunlight without spotting or staining
- Should rinse clean with no residue
- Safe on almost all automotive exterior parts, including trim and rubber
- Might spot when rinsed with a pressure washer
- Might stain a chrome trim
- Doesn't give the best shine on windows
Adam’s Car Wash Shampoo
A highly effective blend of advanced cleaners and polymers for a pH-balanced formula.
- Captivating wildberry scent
- pH balanced formula safe on all surfaces
- Comes in three container sizes (16, 128, and 640 ounces)
- May leave spot marks if not dried properly
- Harder to pour; as thick as batter
Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash
This shampoo cleans and conditions your vehicle with just one wash. It comes in a one-gallon bottle, and an ounce can be diluted with a gallon of water.
- Won’t strip wax or any other coatings on your car
- Effectively removes dirt and gives your paint a radiant look in one cleaning session
- Lubricates the surface to help keep dirt and debris at bay
- Might leave a residue when used in a pressure washer
- Leaves spot marks when used under direct sunlight
For this review, we researched more than 30 different car shampoos from around the web. We looked at different manufacturers and weighted those we’re extremely familiar with compared to those we aren’t. We asked friends, neighbors, and relatives and then rated them across several criteria, including formulation, formula-to-water ratio, pH level, and ease of use. In the end, we cut many that just didn’t live up to our expectations and the resulting list below is what we came up with. To learn more about how we research products, compare them against one another, and ultimately grade them, click the link here.
Best Car Shampoos Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Car Shampoos
Our pick for the best car shampoo goes to the Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo. It does an excellent job of protecting your vehicle's waxes and sealant coats with a pH-balanced formula safe on virtually every surface from glass to chrome. Plus, it is very economical with its formula-to-water ratio (1 ounce for every 5-gallon bucket), so you can expect to keep your container for a long time.
What to Consider When Buying a Car Shampoo
Types of Car Shampoos
Here are the different kinds of car shampoos available, with the main difference between the application and pH rating.
Wash and Wax Shampoos
Traditional wax and wash shampoos consist of the most popular type of car shampoo. These consist of straight, pH-balanced formulations that are safe on all types of materials from metal and glass to chrome and rubber, given its status as a "catch-all." These work to lift dirt and debris from your vehicle.
Waterless Car Shampoo
Waterless car shampoo uses high lubricity sprays that mimic foaming action to lift and rinse dirt and debris particles off of your paintwork. Unlike foaming and sudsing, waterless formulas are sprayed to the surface and rinsed off. This type of car shampoo generally falls under a frequent maintenance schedule for light cleaning only, preferred for people who have no easy access to driveways or who live in apartment buildings.
Car shampoos come in several formulations, including conventional shampoos, wash-and-wax, super foaming, iron removal/wheel cleaning, ceramic shampoos, and specialty shampoos that focus on one key area e.g. vinyl or PPF treatments. Wash-and-wax car shampoos are 2-for-1 deals that offer a pH-balanced formula safe on all types of materials.
One of the most popular car shampoo ingredients is natural carnauba wax. Derived from northern Brazilian palm trees, this wax offers water beading and UV resistance properties along with a glossier shine than traditional car wash shampoos. Its properties produce a "floating effect" by allowing surfactants to lift dirt and debris from your paintwork for easier rinsing.
Others focus on key areas and typically consist of higher pH levels (e.g. 9 or 10) to coincide with a more aggressive clean of stripping wax and sealant from paintwork. Others do better at removing embedded brake dust and bonded contaminants.
pH refers to a solution's level of acidity or alkalinity. Formulations too close to either end of the spectrum could ruin your paintwork. Opt for a pH-neutral wash and wax formula and pH-specific specialty car shampoos, such as those used for iron or wheel cleaning.
Founded in 1968, Chemical Guys manufactures virtually every automotive care product under the sun, including car polishes, trim restorers, ceramic waxes, and car washes. The brand is also known for its packed, 685K subscriber Youtube channel full of resource guides, best practices, and brand storieS, all narrated by knowledgeable and engaging hosts. We highly recommend the Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo.
Starting with the debut of its aluminum polish more than 40 years ago, Mothers has become an automotive care juggernaut, now the proud owners of more than 100 car detailing products that are sold around the world. Our favorite Mothers product is the Mothers California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax.
Although better known for the latest in wiper blade technology, Rain-X has branched out nicely into automotive car products., including headlight restoration, anti-fog treatments, and car waxes. Our favorite Rain-X car shampoo is the Rain-X Wash and Wax and the Rain-X Spot Free Car.
Started in 1944, Turtle Wax is one of the most respected car shampoo brands in the United States. They are responsible for the first-ever liquid auto polish, the first premium car polish (Plastone), and the Minute Wax® silicone-based spray wax, the first car care product marketed towards women. It now sells products in more than 90 countries. Our favorite Turtle Wax product is the Turtle Wax ICE Snow Foam Car Wash.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: What can I use instead of car shampoo?
A: We don’t recommend using conventional home detergents to wash your car since most feature grease-removing ingredients that can damage your paintwork. Car shampoo is the safest way to clean your vehicle.
Q: How much is the most expensive car shampoo?
A: Expensive shampoos are usually priced between $20 to $50, and that’s because they come as car wash kits or large one-gallon bottles. It’s possible to get the same product for a more affordable price but in a smaller size of up to 32 ounces.
Q: What is a waterless car wash?
A: A waterless car wash uses little to no water, an excellent choice for people without access to a driveway or who live in apartment builders where a hose is not immediately reachable. They usually use a spray-on solution with high lubricity chemicals, best for light work only. Many users have cited its positive environmental impact, saving up to 45 gallons of water used by traditional car washes.
Q: How do I choose a car shampoo?
A: Some of the criteria that go into choosing a car shampoo include formulation (specialized versus conventional car soaps versus 2-in-1 wash and wax solutions), ingredients (e.g. natural carnauba wax for water beading and UV resistance), lubrication, biodegradability, and application type (foam vs. waterless). Note, traditional wax and wash shampoos carry pH-balanced formulas that are safe on all kinds of materials. These are the most common types of car shampoo.
Why Trust Us
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.Learn more