If you are like most car owners, you have considered the benefits of taking your car to the car wash over washing it yourself. A car wash has access to professional grade cleaning agents that are designed to dissolve and remove even the most stubborn road grime, but they can also remove most of the cash from your wallet.
Washing your car yourself is more cost-effective, but without car wash soap, the level of clean you can achieve will be far from professional.
Homemade Car Wash with Dish Soap
Car owners have been concocting homemade cleaning agents for years. Some are at least mildly effective at removing automotive dirt and dust, but few have the cleaning power of car care products explicitly designed to dissolve road grime and dirt deposits.
However, if you are as thrifty as you are determined to save a buck, it is entirely possible to assemble a homemade detergent with dish soap and a few other products that are probably already sitting under your sink.
How to Make Homemade Car Wash Soap
Before you get started with your automotive alchemy, you need to gather your materials. To make a homemade solution, you need:
Liquid dish detergent
Bucket of warm water
12 tablespoons of powdered laundry detergent to prevent streaking
Mix all of these components in the bucket and give it a good stir. The resulting mixture of dish soap, water, and powdered laundry detergent will work well on most cars.
Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash a Car?
Yes, but you shouldn’t. Dish soap contains bleaches and ammonia which can break down the waxes and sealants used to protect your car’s finish. Repeated use can break down the protective layers of your finish and expose the water-based paint job to the elements, including damaging ultraviolet rays.
While home-remedies can work in a pinch, you should always turn to the most trusted and best car wash soap on the market that is specially designed to clean your car the way it’s meant to be cleaned.
How-to Guide to Pressure Washing Your Car
Can you use car wash soap in a pressure washer? Yes, you certainly can.
For the bigger automotive car wash jobs, a pressure washer may be the only way to remove those stubborn grime deposits. But water alone, even water at high pressure, isn’t enough to remove the worst automotive stains.
Though you can get away with using car wash soap in a pressure washer, car wash soap designed explicitly for use in a pressure washer runs zero risks of damaging the pressure washer. Pressure washer specific soap is available at most automotive supply stores. A proper foam gun can also make life easier.
Before you head out in search of a pressure washer, you should determine 1) whether a pressure washer is needed, and 2) if using a pressure washer on your car will damage the finish.
It’s a common belief that a pressure washer will damage the finish of your car. It is indeed possible to damage your finish if you allow the nozzle to come in contact with the paint or hover on one area for an extended period. By avoiding these simple mistakes, a pressure washer can be a highly useful tool to wash your car at home.
Select Your Pressure Washer- Not all pressure washers are created equal; some are designed for industrial work while others are intended for household use. Unless you are cleaning a Sherman Tank, a household pressure washer will work splendidly on your car.
Select Your Pressure Washer Soap- The same rule applies to your pressure washer soap. Purchasing a car wash soap designed for use in a pressure washer is the best option; however, a regular soap will suffice.
Attach Garden Hose to Pressure Washer- This is the easiest step but also very important. You’ll know if you get it wrong when no water comes out of your pressure washer.
Fill the Detergent Tank With Your Soap Of Choice- This step may seem simple too, but if you pour the detergent in the gas tank your pressure washer isn’t going to work. Be sure to read the instructions and pour the car wash pressure washer detergent in the correct tank.
Ensure You are Using a Nozzle Designed For Automotive Use- This step cannot be stressed enough. Even when using the lowest setting on a power washer can damage your finish if you are not using a nozzle designed for automotive use.
Hold Wand 3 Feet Away From Car Surface- Once you have started your pressure washer and the pressure has built to a sustainable level, it’s time to get started. Aim the pressure washer wand at the surface of the car and carefully pull the trigger, being sure the always keep the end of the nozzle at least 3 feet from your car’s finish.
Use the wand to remove bugs, dirt, dust, and grime- Some pressure washers come with a brush attachment. Your tires are the perfect place for that tool. Your wheels are the only part of the car where you can get close to the surface without damaging the vehicle. For the more stubborn wheel grime and dirt, a tire cleaner – post pressure washing – may the solution.
Move from the Bottom Up- The pressure washer will be more effective than moving from top to bottom as the debris will not be allowed a chance to streak over the already clean finish.
Avoid Decals, Delicate Areas and Stickers- When pressure washing your vehicle be sure to avoid areas with decals and stickers. That is – unless you would like them removed. We advise that you proceed with extra caution when washing antique and collectors vehicles.
Leave the Soap on for 5 Minutes- Let the soap sink into your car’s finish, occasionally spraying your car with water to keep it from drying. We recommend washing your car in the shade of a tree or awning to prevent the sun from drying your car rapidly and evaporating all of the water, leaving soap residue behind.
Rinse-Off Soap- Remove the soap by using the hose to rinse down your car, being sure to remove all traces of the soap.
10 Best Car Wash Soaps
Now that you know how to properly clean your car, with or without a pressure washer, it’s time to determine which products are the top car wash soaps you can purchase.
To be considered one of our 10 best car wash soap products, the soap needs to work effectively on all car surfaces, fight grease and grime, dissolve dirt deposits, and be affordable on any budget.
Griot’s Garage Brilliant Finish Car Wash is a foaming car wash soap designed with high viscosity to dig deep into your car’s finish and remove even the most stubborn dirt, grime, and automotive contaminants. It’s a firm favorite among car enthusiasts.
Its touch-activated foam creates a thick coating of suds that prevents swirl marks and lubricates the car’s finish for a more comfortable wash. It also ensures that you don’t scratch the car’s surface while trying to wash it.
Griot’s cut out all of the stops with their soap. This product is concentrated and 100% biodegradable, which means it’s not only powerful but entirely safe for the environment.
Designed to enhance the brilliance of your car’s finish, it is powerful enough to destroy dirt and grime deposits yet gentle enough to use on clear coats and not leave swirl marks.
What’s more, you only need one-ounce of it per every gallon of water in your wash bucket. With a concentrated formula like that, you can be sure your investment in this product will last through plenty of wash cycles.
If you are the type of car owner that likes to pamper their car, then Adam’s Polishes Car Shampoo is the soap for you.
It creates vast amounts of luxurious suds with far less product than the competition, but those luxurious suds are secret to the success of Adam’s Polishes Car shampoo.
The large amount of lather produced by it digs into the small cracks and deposits in your car’s finish to remove worn in dirt and grime. Only a few ounces is needed to create the powerful lather and tackle even the stickiest of road grime.
Its thick foaming action is also designed to last longer than other soaps, enabling you to wash more with less.
Adding to the special foaming power of Adam’s Car Shampoo is a specially-designed lubricant developed from a combination of powerful cleaning solutions and polymers to create a lubricated, easy wash that lifts dirt from the surface of the paint. As a bonus, it even smells like candy!
Is there anything better than a squeaky clean car? Yes, a squeaky clean car that smells like citrus. Chemical Guys Citrus Wash & Gloss is engineered to enhance your car’s gloss like the professionals without the professional cost.
The highly-concentrated, citrus-based formula in this product is specially designed to be the best surface-prepping soap you ever buy. The citrus works to lift stuck-in contaminants from your car’s finish and break down grime and dirt deposits without leaving unsightly streaks.
The citrus-based formula is also 100% biodegradable and naturally derived from antibacterial citrus extracts. It contains no chemical additives and is safe to use on any car.
Like all of the best soaps you only need a small application of Chemical Guys Citrus Wash & Gloss to cover your entire vehicle in a powerful cleaning solution that will also leave the surface of your car smelling like citrus and your finish looking glossier than ever before.
It seems as though Mothers knows best when it comes to high-quality car wash soap. Mothers claims the standard with the California Gold Car Wash Soap and has been the car wash soap of choice for professional car details for years – and they can’t stop raving about it.
It is engineered to deliver the most powerful cleaning agents and provide the highest quality clean possible. Mothers California Gold Car Wash Soap is no chump detergent. One application dispenses more than a bucket full of suds that quickly destroy road grime and remove dirt deposits from deep within your car’s finish. Even hard-stuck bugs are no match for this powerful cleaner.
Unlike many of the more concentrated cleaners on the market, it delivers concentrated cleaning power without attacking your car’s sensitive glossy finish.
What’s more, it won’t pit your car’s clear coat if left on the car’s surface for too long. If you are looking for a showroom shine without the showroom cost of professional-grade products, then this is the car soap for you and your car.
One of the most annoying aspects about cleaning your car is spending your valuable time expertly washing your vehicle with expensive soap only to rinse it away and leave watermarks all over an otherwise spotless finish.
Designed to produce large amounts of luxurious suds Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash enhances gloss and nourishes paint to create a silky, shiny surface that is the envy of car detailers everywhere.
Infused with rich conditioners, it effortlessly glides over your car’s finish while soaking into the paint to lift stubborn grime and restore your finish to its showroom state.
It comes in a giant 64 oz. bottle, four times larger than the next leading brand. The amazing part is that you get all 64 oz. for the same price as the competitors.
You don’t have to worry about accidentally scratching your car with this wash. The rich lubricants and exorbitant amount of soapy foam prevent any resistance that could damage your finish.
When looking for the Optimum clean for your vehicle, there is no substitute for Optimum No Rinse Wash & Shine. For the environmentally conscious car owner, this is the optimal choice.
It is designed to use less water than any of its competitors, which makes it the ideal product for car owners under water restrictions such as those who live in the American Southwest. It’s an almost waterless car wash method.
We love Optimum No Rinse Wash & Shine because it is one of the few products that lives up to its “multipurpose” claim.
It includes a clay lubricant which not only lifts dirt and grime from the car surface but acts as a car detailer and rinseless wash that combines the best features of a soap and clay detailing bar. It’s like a wash and wax in one, but not quite.
The best feature is that it requires zero rinsing, which is not only good for the environment but friendly to your water bill. While ONR works excellent as a stand-in, it excels in maintaining a slightly-dirty vehicle’s appearance. You can wash a whole car with just a spray bottle and a few microfibers given the right circumstances!
When car owners think clean, they think turtle wax. That’s because Turtle Wax has a reputation for excellence and leaving nothing but a spotless shine in its wake.
Turtle Wax ICE Car Wash works exactly as advertised and combines value with a streak-free shine that is worthy of auto show prizes. It is formulated with special lubricants to prevent scratches from forming during the wash.
Denying this simple cleaner’s effectiveness is hard. It dissolves stubborn dirt deposits and eats away at sticky automotive tar and grime.
Turtle Wax ICE is designed to sud-up and dig deep into your car’s finish and lift stubborn dirt and grime. We like this product because it provides a spectacular clean with none of the false advertising or lofty claims. It simply works, and it works well.
If a brand makes our list twice, then the results they produce are bound to be good. Griot’s Garage Speed Shine is the product for the perfectionist car owner.
The only thing you need with this is a microfiber cloth. Griot’s Garage Speed Shine is delicate enough to remove dust and fingerprints yet powerful enough to remove dirt and grime with a little application of elbow grease.
Though we wouldn’t recommend it for a heavy duty work-truck car wash, it is perfect for the car enthusiast looking to remove a troublesome handprint without having to undergo an entire car wash.
We love the quick-acting speed shine for its convenience. It works well on small blemishes and quick stains and is easy to apply in mere seconds. With Griot’s Garage Speed Shine, you never have to worry about a tedious car wash creating more work than a fingerprint on your finish is worth. Apply and wipe it away. It’s that simple.
Zymol Natural Concentrate Auto Bath Soap is one of our favorite all-natural car washes because it accomplishes what competing products can without a drop of environmentally harmful chemical cleaning agents.
It is made from 100% natural coconut bark and natural oils which provide a deep scrubbing clean with none of the environmental repercussions.
Mothers is the second brand to make our list twice, yet it has proven to be second to none of the competition.
Combining the best features of a quality car wash soap and a car wax, Mothers Carnauba Wash and Wax is the professional detailing car wash soap that comes at an affordable price.
It scrubs and cleanses all contaminants from your car’s finish in one easy step. Carnauba wax works as a cleansing shampoo that bonds to the dirt buried deep in the paint so it can simply be wiped away.
The ultra-powerful foaming suds are biodegradable and pH-balanced which means Mothers Carnauba Wash & Wax is as effective at removing automotive dirt and grime as it is environmentally friendly. Time and time again, it receives nothing but the best wash soap reviews from car washing professionals.
Finding The Right Car Wash Soap For Your Vehicle – Buying Guide
Going for a water-based soap, which is the most common car wash solution, involves using a foam cannon, a foam gun or the two bucket wash method.
To find the soap or shampoo that is the right one for your vehicle, there are a few things you would like to consider.
Lubricity And Foaming
An effective product should have a high lubricity and maximum foaming action in order to pull off dirt and other debris off the surface of your car and rinse clean.
Creating a super thick foam with a lot of suds and the right lubricity will make it easier for the bubbles of the soap to trap and get rid of dirt particles, minimizing the risk of scratches and preparing your vehicle for drying.
It will also allow your cleaning mitts to glide better on the surface and save you overall cleaning time.
Most of these foaming car wash soaps are pH neutral or they have a low pH, which helps prevent streaks, but it can also depend on how hard the water of your area is. Additionally, good lubricating foam soap formulas take into consideration the protection of your wax and paint sealant by promoting easy rinsing and therefore a quicker dry.
For really dirty vehicles, you will want to go for a formula that is powerful and effective. If you live in an area where bugs are a problem, you may want to consider using a bug wash as a pre-treatment step for those high acidic bug remains.
This requires leaving the wash on the vehicle for a couple of minutes in order to loosen the bug remains adequately.
Wax Or Conditioner?
In case you think we are talking about hair or beard products here, let us assure you that we are only talking about different versions of a car shampoo or detergent.
Wash and wax car soap or shampoo products usually contain all-natural carnauba wax which offers additional protection for your car paint in between car washes or wax applications. The wax does not clog the pores of the paint but allows it to breathe, making it a great solution for washing freshly painted cars or older vehicles.
There are also car wash & conditioner products that contain synthetic wax. These formulas give a nice shiny natural look to your car (similar to that of a carnauba wax wash) which lasts till the next wash. They rinse clean and can prevent the formation of streaks.
Everyday Car Wash Shampoo
For daily car washing as in the case of a show car or sensitive paint application, a gentle car wash is a great option. These specialized products contain gentle detergents that have a high lubricity to easily lift dirt, rinse clean without leaving any residue, and maintain your wax or sealant at optimum condition.
If you wash your vehicle many times a week, you may find this option suitable.
Glossy or Matte Effect?
Whether you want a super glossy effect or you want to maintain the matte look of the factory, there is a specialized product for your needs.
To enhance the glossy look of your vehicle, you can buy a car wash that contains synthetic gloss enhancers. These formulas do not use wax and bring out the gloss on any color, enhancing the shine of your car and making it look sleek and glossy. They are perfect for car shows or weekend rides.
However, if you have a matte car and you don’t want to make it look glossy by using a common car detergent, you will need to buy a matte paint car wash soap.
If you are conscious about environmental pollution and the effect of your buying choices on the environment, there are plenty of biodegradable eco-friendly car wash products to choose from.
Tire And Wheel Cleaner
This type of cleaning product is designed to do the heavy lifting and should not cause any damage to the wheels especially since a lot of people these days have custom wheels on their cars which are quite expensive.
If you are not particularly attracted by strong artificial fragrances or you are sensitive to them, you may want to go for a neutral or fresh scent such as a citrus fruit scent which most people find pleasant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does car wash soap kill grass?
While some soaps and detergents are known to harm plants and grass, car wash soap, even homemade soap, poses no danger to your lawn. If you are worried about homemade soap made with dish soap damaging the lawn, dilute the mixture until the viscosity is closer to that of water than soap.
What Is The Best Car Wash Soap For Black Paint Cars?
The challenge when washing black cars is to find a product that leaves a minimum amount of white streaks caused by the minerals contained in the water.
Here are some features you will need to look for in an effective car detergent for black vehicles:
High lubricity so that the product goes on smooth and rinses fast without leaving any scratches.
Good foaming action to trap and remove dirt and other contaminants easily.
Contain wax or conditioners that will enhance the shine of the black color and offer some protection to the paint.
You should avoid using a strong cleaner if you wash your vehicle many times a week but instead go for a gentle product.
For a completely spot-free rinse, Mr.clean auto dry car wash soap is a great solution that many users rave about. It includes a rinsing solution with filtered water which leaves the surface streak and spot-free.
This function removes the minerals that the water contains creating those white stains. It saves people car drying time and is very much appreciated by persons living in areas where the water is hard.
Is Vinegar Good For Washing Your Car?
There is surely a lot of controversy feeding this topic of conversation in DIY car detailing. Generally, vinegar is one of the best and most used DIY house cleaning ingredients. According to some scientific research, vinegar has anti-bacterial properties and can, therefore, be used as a disinfectant.
For people who love green cleaning and environmentally friendly solutions, vinegar is a top choice for home cleaning and has other uses as well, but how safe is it for car washing or cleaning car windows?
Some people claim that if white distilled vinegar is diluted with water, it works great to remove car water spots. Others are completely against using vinegar on any part of their car saying that it can harm the paint and the glass due to its acidic nature.
Unless you are advised by a trusted car detailer that vinegar is safe for your car, we would highly recommend against using vinegar to clean your vehicle.
I am a Chicago-born writer with a thirst for everything automotive. I live by a simple rule; travel far, work hard and never stop writing.
If I am not writing away, you can find me wrenching on my 1989 Ram Charger or wrecking something with wheels.