Cars get dirty (and stinky). Even if you baby your vehicle as much as possible, dirt, dust, grime and all sorts of other crud will inevitably find their way onto the paintwork. A nice and simple hand wash is the easiest way to keep car paint looking clean. But before you grab an old bucket and reach for the hand soap or dish soap, we have some recommendations for the best way to save your car’s finish while getting rid of dirt particles. You see, standard hand soap or dish soap aren’t made to clean off road grime and can damage your car’s paint job, even if you avoid a pressure washer and wipe everything down gently with a microfiber towel. With the number of cars that motor through the Roadshow garage, we have to keep them looking top notch, so we’ve rounded up our six best car wash soaps.
There is an absolute abundance of car wash soaps on the market, and we’ve narrowed it down to six of our top car cleaners. There’s something for everyone, from concentrated soap that can be worked into a rich lather to a waterless wash that gets rid of tough dirt and keeps your car’s paint surface gleaming. And only once your car is squeaky clean can you break out the carnauba wax to keep everything super shiny and protect your car’s finish. Keep scrolling to learn more about our picks. We update this list periodically.
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Adam’s tends to name its products with quite generic descriptions, but don’t let that fool you; the company sells some great stuff. And in our car wash shampoo testing, the best overall wash came with Adam’s Car Wash Shampoo. The suds, the slickness and even the scent are all fantastic. Regardless of how you use this car shampoo, whether it’s a simple hand wash, a foam lance or foam gun, this car wash soap hits all the marks.
It doesn’t hurt to stick with basics, and Rain-X gets the basic car wash formula right in our experience when it comes to the amount of product you get and the price. The suds aren’t quite what you get from some other picks on the list, but Spot Free Car Wash does what the name suggests. The car looks clean when done and water spots are few and far between. Rain-X says there’s no drying needed, but it’s still best to use something to dry the water left behind, especially when in direct sunlight.
With a pressure washer and foam lance, it’s easy to make washing your car look like an automatic car wash. There’s a reason this technique is so popular, and it’s always best to get as much foam as possible. Well, if it’s foam you desire, Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds is just the car wash soap.
The foam this soap creates is pretty incredible, which makes Mr. Pink a perfect pairing for those washing their car with a power washer and foam lance. Plus, it smells amazing. Mr. Pink won’t let you down.
Two-in-one products are always a bit of a compromise. Of course, you’re losing the actual protection a proper coat of car wax gives vehicle paint with a wash and wax car soap, but they’re not all bad. Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax certainly isn’t. The consistency feels worth its price and the paint feels noticeably smoother than some other comparable washes.
If you need to save time, or simply don’t have the patience to wax a car, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a bottle of Wash & Wax.
A note: Chemical Guys Extreme Maxi Suds II and Mr. Pink are interchangeable in our experience. However, we think Maxi Suds II provides a little more foam. Thus, this cleaner lands in our pick for best car wash soap to use with a foam gun.
Foam guns simply don’t create the kind of foam a pressure washer and foam lance do, so naturally, choose a soap that’s super sudsy. Extreme Maxi Suds II delivers on that front. Even if you skip a foam gun and fill up a bucket, the foam is outrageous from this car wash soap. It’s not the slickest wash in the world, but it sure does create a lot of foam.
Waterless car washes have really taken off in the last 10 years, and in our experience, Optimum has perfected the product as it stands. The company’s No Rinse Wash & Shine handily outperforms rival cleaner products at a better price and the results are pretty tremendous for not using a drop of water in the process.
Like any eco-friendly car wash soap, these aren’t meant for cars with caked on mud and other major dirty spots. Rather, no-rinse wash works best to take care of dust, dirt, debris and droppings with just a single bucket of water. Optimum’s product does the job tremendously well, leaves behind a lovely finish and keeps the whole process eco-friendly. That’s good stuff right there.
Comparison of the best car wash soaps for 2021
|Best car wash soap overall||Adam’s||Car Wash Shampoo||$11|
|Best affordable car wash soap||Rain-X||Spot Free Car Wash||$7|
|Best car wash soap for power washers||Chemical Guys||Mr. Pink Super Suds||$7|
|Best car wash and wax soap||Meguiar’s||Ultimate Wash & Wax||$12|
|Best car wash soap for foam guns||Chemical Guys||Extreme Maxi Suds II||$15|
|Best no rinse/eco-friendly car wash soap||Optimum||No Rinse Wash & Shine||$21|
Some notes on car wash soaps and car washing
- Don’t use dish soap: Seriously, please, do not break out the dish soap to wash your car. While this was common car care practice years ago, times have changed, and so has automotive paint. The paint on your car is a lot more delicate than you think, and harsh cleaner chemicals are not its friends. You really don’t want to damage that clear coat. If you need to strip wax from a car, there are special car wash soaps just for that.
- Bust out two buckets: That’s right, use two buckets when washing your car by hand. One bucket is exclusively for your car wash soap and water, and the other is only for rinsing and washing off your sponge or wash mitt. It keeps dirt and debris out of the soap bucket so there’s a lesser chance you pick up unwanted materials to potentially scratch the vehicle’s paint while washing.
- Try to wash out of direct sunlight: Water spots can be a real nuisance. Working in the shade or when the sun isn’t baking the car can keep water and soap from drying prematurely. If you can’t avoid the sun, it’s not the end of the world. Some quick detailing will clear up any unwanted water spots left behind on the car surface.
- Wash your car regularly: It’s simple enough, but a basic car wash done right can do wonders to extend paints longevity. By keeping dirt, dust and debris off the paint, you’ll thank yourself in the long run. Plus, c’mon, there’s nothing like a clean car.
Each of the car wash soaps above will do a fine job. Some are better than others by nature, and perhaps you’ll find something works better for your specific needs. We always try to cover a range of price brackets and elements when picking our favorites, but no matter which soap, each one will do a fine job cleaning your car.