Who makes the best car wash soap? That’s a little like asking “Who makes the best candy?”; everyone has their own preferred brand, one which they think will outperform everything else on the market, and the reality is … it may do, but it may not.
Every vehicle is different, the paint finishes will be different, it may have had a hard life in the sun, or kept completely cosseted in a garage, only coming out when the weather is ‘just so’ … only you really know what you need from a soap, and only you can really judge what works for you. Hence, I’ve rounded up six best car wash soaps, and in that list, you’re bound to find one that works for you.
Washing Your Vehicle
It sounds crazy to give you advice on washing your vehicle – it’s just soap and water, right? But there are some things you can do to make it easier, less time consuming, give better results, reduce the chance of damage … just little stuff that I’ve picked up from thirty or so years in the industry.
This is my routine when I’m going to clean my car, this isn’t about detailing or getting 100% results for the ultimate showroom finish (or we’d be talking about clay bars, machine polishing, paint sealing and maybe ceramic coating).
I always start with the wheels – applying a specific wheel acid to allow it to soak for a bit (always apply to a cold or cool wheel – if the wheel is hot from use, the acid will just dry up and will need washing off before starting again). Once the wheels are soaking, I apply some sort of TFR (Traffic Film Remover) which helps to loosen the dirt, and in summer, the endless amount of bugs that have squished on the front.
After I’ve let that soak for a time, I’ll rinse it off with a electric power washer. I try not to get ‘handsy’ at this point because all you’ll be doing is rubbing the dirt and bugs around the paintwork, which will lead to swirl marks and minor imperfections over time. If you don’t have a power washer, I’d use a hose connected to a faucet to get rid of the bulk of the mess. Don’t forget to do the wheels.
The next stage kind of depends on what equipment you have. I use a foam cannon to cover the car completely in foam and let it soak for a minute or two. But if you don’t have a foam cannon, then you need the ‘two bucket’ method – one bucket with soapy water, the other completely clean; apply the soapy water by hand, rinse the wash mitt in the clean water and go again, and again until the car has been covered. It’s laborious, but you’ll be thankful in the long run.
If you’ve used a foam cannon on a relatively clean car, you should just be able to rinse off and dry. You may find that the foam needs a bit of agitation to get the car properly clean – you won’t know this until you’ve rinsed it off unfortunately, but applying a second coat won’t take long.
After rinsing with clean water, you want to dry it … don’t let it ‘air dry’ because you’ll end up with water spots. There are hundreds of different products for drying, ranging from chamois leathers, to synthetic chamois, even large scale blowers that act like big hair dryers.
The final finish depends on what you’re wanting … leave it as it is, or apply some sort of wax or polish, but that’s a basic clean for me.
The Best Car Wash Soap
1. Chemical Guys CWS_301 Citrus Wash and Gloss Concentrated
The Chemical Guys have a reputation for delivering some great quality car care products, and this concentrated citrus based formula is no different – they say it outshines most waxes (although that may be argued), but whatever the end result, you have to admit that the gloss shine it leaves behind is pretty impressive.
It’s biodegradable, and will generally outperform most hazardous, solvent based shampoos. The citrus hyper concentrate helps to easily lift dirt and debris from the paintwork … citrus has been used for decades to help products do a better cleaning job. With that said, it’s safe to use weekly, and won’t strip any waxes or sealants on top of the paintwork.
The foam it produces is super thick, which helps to suspend the surface contaminants in the foam, rather than letting them float all over the car, which could cause some swirl damage in the long term. You need just one capful of concentrate to a five gallon bucket of clean water, it can also be used in a foam cannon or gun, though.
All in, this is a great heavy duty car wash which can be used as often as you like, and will always deliver the results. Remember that it needs some serious shaking before you use it, as it has a habit of settling and separating after a time.
2. Meguiar's G7101FFP Gold Class Car Wash
Similar to the Chemical Guys – Meguiar’s have been around for a long time, and they’re known for being one of the best in the industry – I first started using Meguiar’s polish around thirty years ago, and it was the go-to product back then.
The Meguiar’s Gold Class wash has been designed to work in just one easy step – it will clean, condition and shine your vehicle in one go, whether that’s through using the two bucket method or a foam cannon. The advanced formula makes a rich, foaming sudsy foam that lifts and suspends the dirt, and the conditioners almost guarantee that the paintwork will look its absolute best once it has been dried off properly.
It’s easy rinsing and biodegradable, and won’t strip any surface protectants that have already been applied – you can use this regularly without causing an issue, and for those that don’t want to go to the trouble of waxing afterwards, it’s a great all-rounder.
3. Adam's Car Wash Shampoo
It’s a pH neutral soapy formula that produces some of the most luxurious suds you’ll find, but still manages to rinse off clean and easily without leaving marks or spots. The ultra slick formula won’t damage any wax or sealant that’s already in place, and it’s safe to use on all surfaces.
The Adam’s wash shampoo blends cutting edge cleaners and polymers to deliver something that can be used everyday without fear of damage, and the high lubricity means that the dirt and debris are held in suspension, meaning that the chance of swirl marks is lessened.
As a further point as to the lubricity, or slipperiness of the shampoo, Adam’s say that it can also be used as a lubricant for clay bars, which to be honest, I think is a smart move and more brands should do that … I’ve never yet used a clay bar kit where the clay has been trashed before I’ve run out of lubricant, and I’d bet you haven’t either.
4. Mothers 05674 California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax
I have to be honest … I’m not a fan of products that make statements about having something like the carnauba wax in … if it was anything more than the tiniest concentration of it, it would make the product unusable as a wash shampoo, so while I’m happy to accept that it may have the smallest amount of something that could be classed as that, I’m skeptical about these products.
Does it do a great job of adding shine at the end of a wash? Absolutely. Does it look like the car has been treated to a wax? Yes, if the base is good enough. The reality is that the formula is pH balanced, and has been designed to give great results with minimal effort. It almost builds layers on top of what’s already there, this of course means that it’s safe to use regularly and won’t strip any sealant or protection that you already have.
The product is suitable for use in a foam cannon or hand washing, it’s super easy to rinse off and leaves no residue, when used correctly. Completely biodegradable, and leaves a slick finish with no streaks or spots – and the smaller size makes it easier to carry or store.
5. Griot's Garage 10866 Car Wash
I like the Griot’s stuff, in fact most of the brands here I like, but the Griot’s just seem a little more … commercial to me. Their shampoo uses a blend of premium ingredients to leave a high gloss shine that will get noticed.
It's pH balanced and is safe to use as much as you like. It won’t strip or damage any existing finish, and it rinses off extremely well to leave a streak free appearance. Griot’s say that it has ‘special brighteners’ to leave a lasting, glossy finish; it sounds like marketing speak to be honest, but I would highly recommend it to those who have black colored cars.
6. Turtle Wax T-472R ICE Car Wash
The Turtle Wax ICE shampoo uses what they call ‘smart shield technology’ to build layer upon layer of protection with regular use of their shampoo (and other complementary products from the range). It’s a new blend of surfactants, conditioners and lubricating agents which Turtle Wax say is ‘lubricious’ … yes, it’s a new word to me also.
However, or whatever, they’re saying or making up, you’d have to say that the product works really well – the foam clings to the vehicle really well, suspending the dirt in the suds, ready to be cleaned off without leaving swirls or residue.
Again, it’s pH balanced and biodegradable (very few shampoo’s aren’t now), and leaves an almost glossy ‘just waxed’ shine (on the right vehicle). Turtle Wax claim that it uses the finest ingredients, that won’t cause any damage no matter how often you use it, on everything including the most sensitive of paintwork.
It’s just as happy running through a foam cannon or hand washing, but … when hand washing it doesn’t seem to produce quite the same amount of suds as some of the other products here.
Despite all of the manufacturers telling you that their product will leave your vehicle looking the shiniest, most glossy, super lustrous, the reality is that if you’re looking at an old beater, no amount of special car shampoo will revive the paintwork like magic – you’ll need to put in some effort beforehand.
If it’s just a simple clean that you want, any of these products are going to work for you – none of them will cause damage, all of them help to deliver a shine, all of them contain cleaning agents and surfactants which are needed to remove dirt.
With that said, some do seem better with certain cars, or certain colors – perhaps it’s just the clear coat or sealant that’s at work, perhaps it’s a visual trick. Either way, will paying an extra fifteen bucks give you fifteen dollars worth of value? Only you can decide that.