The Best Car Shampoos: Protect Your Paint and Boost the Shine
Ensure your vehicle is its cleanest with car shampoo
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BY Norah Tarichia / LAST UPDATED ON November 6, 2020
You might not think too hard about the items you’re using to wash your car. But the product you use can make as much of a difference as the shampoo you use on your hair. After all, isn’t the product you’re shampooing with as important as how you wash? When it comes to your vehicle, you want to ensure you’re using a cleaning solution that not only gets your vehicle clean but also protects its paint job and delivers on its promises.
A car shampoo—just like any other shampoo—needs to be properly formulated and balanced to be gentle on your vehicle’s exterior. And your cleaning product shouldn’t cause scratches or leave behind new problems. A good car shampoo should be gentle enough to use regularly, cleansing enough to leave no residue, and safe enough for the paint, whether you’re washing a large SUV or a small passenger car. Check out the best car shampoos available.
This shampoo works to remove dirt and grime on the vehicle's body. It foams when mixed with water and doesn’t strip the car of its waxes and sealant coats.
- Can be used in direct sunlight without spotting or staining the car’s body
- Rinses clean with no residue
- Safe on almost all automotive exterior parts, including trim and rubber
- Might spot or leave a residue when rinsed with a pressure washer
- Might stain chrome trim
- Doesn't give the best shine on windows
This shampoo has a bubble gum fragrance and is pH balanced to prevent streaks. It won't strip away wax or sealants.
- Comes in a large 48-ounce container, so it will last a while
- It's designed to be used with a mitt and bucket or with a foam cannon
- It smells nice and is affordable
- It dries quickly in hotter climates,
- May not include the wash mitt like the description indicates
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
- Effectively removes dirt and gives your paint a radiant look
- 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
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Benefits of Car Shampoos
- Remove dirt and contaminants. Road grime, dust, salt, bug stains, and bird droppings are just a few of the contaminants that pile on your vehicle after driving. Most car shampoos are designed to lift the contaminants that are stuck on your paintwork without damaging it.
- Better than ordinary cleaners. Dish soap and laundry detergents can help remove dirt, but most can bleach or stain the paintwork. Car shampoo is more aggressive at removing contaminants from your vehicle than regular home detergents, but won’t damage the paintwork. Instead, most will leave a protective barrier so that contaminants don't stick on the paint.
- Enhance aesthetics. A dirty vehicle can be quite unsightly. Washing your vehicle with car shampoo is the best way to get rid of the stains, and it will make your paintwork look more radiant.
- Gently clean your vehicle. Washing a car with shampoo is simple and can be a fun exercise if you have the time to give it a thorough wash. You will take better care of your paintwork and can focus on the stained areas. Taking it through an automated car wash is fast, but you may end up with spots or streaks on your vehicle from the spinning brushes.
Types of Car Shampoos
As the name suggests, waterless or dry wash shampoos don’t have to be rinsed after you use them to wash your vehicle. Some waterless shampoos need to be mixed with only a little water to get the job done. Dry wash needs to be sprayed on the vehicle’s surface to dissolve or loosen dirt particles and is then wiped off with a towel. It helps save water and is an eco-friendly option if you don’t want to wash harsh chemicals down the drain.
Most car shampoos on the market are concentrated formulas that need to be mixed with water before you can use them. They typically come with instructions on how you need to dilute the solution. You can prepare it in a bucket, and wash your vehicle directly with a foam pad, or load it into a pressure washer or foam gun. You have to rinse away the solution after a few minutes so that the shampoo doesn’t leave behind a residue.
Chemical Guys was founded in 1968 and specializes in producing a broad line of car cleaning and detailing products. From its base in California, Chemical Guys has come up with innovative products, including car polishes, trim restorers, ceramic waxes, and car washes. If you are looking for a car shampoo that's safe on almost all your vehicle's exterior surfaces, try out the Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo.
Mothers is a California-based manufacturer of waxes, polishes, ceramic coatings, and car cleaners. It has more than 100 products tailored for car care and detailing projects, aiming to bring out the best look out of almost any vehicle. If you are looking for an eco-friendly shampoo that will make your car look as good as new, check out Mothers California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax.
Rain-X has more than 40 years of experience in making car care products and aftermarket automotive replacement parts. It’s based in Texas, and most of its products are produced under the Ecolab Vehicle Care Division. The Rain-X Wash and Wax and the Rain-X Spot Free Car are some of its best-rated car cleaners.
Turtle Wax is a multinational manufacturer of automotive cleaning and polishing products headquartered in Illinois. The company was founded by Benjamin Hirsch in 1941, and its products are sold in over 90 countries. For an effective car shampoo, check out the Turtle Wax Carnauba Wash & Wax.
Car Shampoo Pricing
- Under $20: Car shampoos are mostly priced according to the bottle’s size, so expect to find mostly 16 to 32 ounces shampoos within this price range. You can get both concentrated and waterless shampoos that even have waxing agents in the formulation.
- $20 and up: This higher price range is mostly for one-gallon bottles and complete car wash kits. You can also find high-quality cleaners that add a super-slick shine to your vehicle and offer long-lasting protection.
Check the ingredients used to make the shampoo to ensure that they won’t damage your paintwork or any other exterior parts of your vehicle. Also, you can buy a standalone shampoo or a wash-and-wax. The benefit of using the latter is that wax will form a protective film that adds extra shine to the paintwork. Also, wax makes water beads run off quickly, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time rinsing it.
pH is the measure of a solution’s level of acidity or alkalinity. You want to go for a pH-neutral or pH-balanced cleaner, meaning that it’s slightly alkaline and not too acidic. You run the risk of damaging your paintwork or irritating your hands if you get a product that falls at either extreme. Most manufacturers will indicate if it's a pH-neutral formula on the bottle, so finding the right cleaner will be easy with that respect.
- Protection Level. On top of cleaning your vehicle, ensure that the cleaner can offer prolonged protection from dirt, water spots, and other contaminants that make your paintwork look unappealing. You can get this by choosing a shampoo that forms a thin barrier against contaminants so that they can slide off or can be easily wiped away with a wet cloth.
- Container Design. If you are going for a waterless shampoo, ensure that it comes in a spray bottle for easy application. If you choose a concentrated shampoo, ensure that you are comfortable with the bottle’s design; it should allow you to easily tilt it into a measuring cup.
- Scent. The last thing you want is a strong smell that lingers on your vehicle for weeks. Therefore, choose a cleaner with a smell that you like. The shampoos on the market have different scents such as citrus, lemon, or cherries.
Best Car Shampoo Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Before using the shampoo, start by rinsing your car thoroughly to remove loose debris that can scratch your car when you begin using a washing mitt. Wash your car from top to bottom, and clean the wheels last.
- Even if your shampoo contains wax, it’s best to wax it with dedicated car wax for better protection from the elements. Car wax can prevent damages to the paintwork caused by exposure to direct sunlight or acid rain.
- If you are looking to save money, use a concentrated shampoo that requires only a little solution to be added to a large amount of water. Using waterless shampoos means that you will spend more money in the long run since you have to replace them faster.
- Wash your vehicle as frequently as possible to prolong the paintwork. Also, clean bird droppings as soon as you can so that it doesn’t stick to the paint.
Q. What is the best shampoo for cars?
A: Getting the best shampoo depends on what you are looking for in a cleaner, but any one of the car shampoos on our review could work for you. However, Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo stood out for us as a gentle yet effective cleaner.
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 1-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. How can I use car shampoo?
A: If it’s a concentrated shampoo, you need to dilute it in a bucket of water and use a car washing tool such as a wash mitt to scrub off dirt particles. Then you have to rinse the solution with clean water thoroughly. Waterless shampoos only need to be sprayed on the surface and wiped off.
We chose Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Shampoo as the best car shampoo because it’s safe for all exterior and interior parts of your vehicle. It’s also a great car shampoo for weekly car maintenance. The Turtle Wax ICE Snow Foam Car Wash is worth considering if you are looking for an affordable car shampoo that can last through several car washes.