The best car cleaning products tried and tested 2024

If you own a car, you need to clean it – that's as guaranteed as taxes. Here’s the best gear you need to clean your car properly

Pressure cleaning a Ford Mustang

by Ryan Gilmore |
Updated on

For some, car washing is a chore, for others, it’s an essential ritual of the best car cleaning products available. The ability to visually transform a tired and neglected car into one that has a mirror-like finish and could quite happily outshine a diamond. It can be therapeutic with snow foam in the mix, and there's a great deal of satisfaction at the end.

It's not just some extra gloss in the paintwork that'll make picking the best car cleaning products in your best interest either. Using a good prewash will help reduce the chances of scratches and swirls forming in the paintwork, while a good shampoo will keep your cars clearcoat in working order, an important layer that helps prevent rust.

The best car cleaning products at a glance:

The best snow foam: Bilt Hamber Touch Less - buy from Amazon.
The best pre-wash: Car Gods Almighty Power Pre-Wash - buy from Amazon.
The best car shampoo: Autoglym Ceramic Wash and Protect - buy from Amazon.

We're big believers in the power of keeping your car clean yourself. The drive-through car wash uses harsh chemicals that can dull paint over time and will pummel your car with nylon brushes leaving plenty of scratches. A nice soft set of detailing brushes and gentle cleaning chemicals will be far more useful. That's why we've been working so hard to save your paint (and pocket) with our favourite car cleaning products. From iron fallout remover to shampoo, we've picked our favourites from top brands.

The best car cleaning products

The best snow foam

bilt hamber touch lessVia Bilt Hamber

Touch-Less is the latest snow foam launched by Bilt Hamber, and is made from bio-degradable sugar-based ingredients with no solvents or caustic soda included. It is completely pH neutral and acts as a pre-wash as well as an agitating snow foam.

It soaks in, lifts and breaks the dirt away from paint very effectively without damaging it or any protective coatings on top. We tested Touch-Less alongside an army of other snow foams and observed that the result was a clear level above all others, though we believe it's best used when agitating separate pre-wash, though you can get away with using it on its own.

Read our snow foam group test here.

Pros

  • Incredible effect when cleaning
  • Acts as a good pre-wash, too
  • Visibly more powerful than the other snow foams

Cons

  • Best when agitating separate pre-wash
  • Doesn't come in larger 5 litre guise

The best thick snow foam

autoglym polar blastVia Autoglym
Price: $34.01

This pH-neutral snow foam from Autoglym is far gentler than the Bilt Hamber option, handy to know if this is your first foray into the world of snow foam. It's also a textbook example of snow foam when applied to a car, leaving a nice thick layer of foam on the panels that'll help soak debris and loosen it ready for cleaning.

Our testing found it to be excellent even when applied via an entry-level pressure washer. The foam was largely effective against the types of road film and grime present on our test car while still being easily rinsed away.

Read our full Autoglym Polar Blast review.

Pros

  • Excellent prewash
  • Will not strip waxes
  • Nice thick foam

Cons

  • Not as concentrated as other options

Pre-wash

The best pre-wash

Car Gods Almighty Pre-WashVia Car Gods
Price: $20.99

Pre-wash is designed to break down the top layer of grime and dirt before you rinse it off and proceed with the snow foam, shampoo, and so on. With a bit of agitation from a detailing brush, it should make things considerably easier when washing the filth off your vehicle.

Car Gods' Almighty Pre-Wash is the best of the lot. You are supposed to agitate pre-wash with snow foam, but this product is so powerful, you don't really need to. Leaving it to set in, agitating and rinsing is enough to provide a shiny layer of paint underneath - even if not fully clean.

Pros

  • Excellent and versatile cleaner
  • Good value for money
  • Very effective with no real need for agitating snow foam

Cons

  • Still leaves stubborn marks, no matter how hard you try
  • You do need to spray a lot for extra-filthy vehicles

The best car shampoo

autoglym wash and protect shampooVia Autoglym

With a ceramic coating mixed into the product, you get a free layer of ceramic coating after you finish using it. This encourages water beading which makes things a load easier when drying with the microfibre towel. You don't get optimum protection from the ceramic, but it's a great way to easily protect your paintwork.

Pros

  • Excellent cleaner
  • Biodegradable formula
  • Great at bringing a bit of shine back into the paint

Cons

  • It's not the be-all and end-all of ceramic protection
  • You do need to use a fair bit to get the best effect

The best wheel cleaner

bilt hamber auto wheelVia Bilt Hamber

Bilt Hamber Auto Wheel Cleaner is as no-nonsense and effective as its name. In most cases, you'll just need to spray it onto alloy, steel or aluminium wheels, let it dwell for a couple of minutes and rinse it off before for some truly sparkling alloy wheels.

For really mucky wheels, a good prod with a wheel brush may be required. It's exceptionally gentle on the wheel surface too while still cutting through grime with ease. With that said, when testing on a set of alloys that haven't been cleaned in years, it didn't get all the dirt off.

Pros

  • pH neutral, suitable for all wheel types
  • More effective than competitors
  • Great for very mucky wheels

Cons

  • You might need iron fallout for deep cleaning
  • Won't cure years of grime and detritus

Best fallout remover

Gtechniq iron and fallout removerVia Gtechniq

Targeted to tackle brake dust, Gtechniq's Iron Fallout Remover does a sterling job at attacking the deposits from your brake pads. It's a pH neutral spray that can also deal with road grime and fallout, too.

It's safe to use on wheels which are also waxed and/or protected in a ceramic coating, and with enough agitation from the wheel brushes and barrel brushes, it gets a wheel looking reassuringly shiny and smooth to touch. It uses a thick gel formula, and you can tell because while agitating, it almost has a ceramic feel to it.

Pros

  • Aggressive cleaner
  • pH balanced and non-toxic
  • Great value

Cons

  • You don't get a great capacity
  • Doesn't have the same effect as an all-purpose wheel cleaner

The best all-purpose cleaner

Gtechniq APCVia Gtechniq

The most versatile cleaning product without a doubt is a good all purpose cleaner. These dilutable cleaning products cover so many bases that it can be tempting to think it's all you could possibly need to clean a car, inside and out.

Gtechniq's W5 APC is 100% biodegradable which is a great bonus. It's a great product if you need to tackle one little job in every area of your car, from your bodywork to your dashboard. The only real downside is that a 500ml bottle is never going to blast as long as a 1 litre or more size.

Pros

  • Impressive cleaning
  • Good value for money
  • Great for all corners of a car

Cons

  • Not a replacement for all cleaning products
  • Comes in a small size

On sale

Autoglym Fast GlassVia Autoglym
Price: $7.96 was £12.65

Keeping your windows clean is essential. They're the only things you see out of, and sunlight glare is considerably worse when your windscreen is covered in muck. Autoglym's Fast Glass doesn't use abrasive substances, waxes or silicones. This means there are no residue stains after application, which means a crystal clear windscreen.

You simply buff it with a microfibre cloth after spraying onto each window, and it can also be used for mirrors, screens used inside, and even paint and plastics. For paint, it won't be as effective as other cleaning products, but it's nice to know it can be used if you're running low on APC or some other item.

Pros

  • Perfect for cleaning glass
  • Can be used on mirrors and screens
  • Leaves no stains

Cons

  • Won't be as effective on paint
  • We have found that any good car shampoo will be just as effective

Best wash mitt

best car cleaning productsVia Autoglym

Wash mitts are preferred over sponges because they don't pick up grit and leave subsequent scratches all over your paintwork as you wash. Autoglym's noodle wash mitt is one of the best on the market.

It's made of microfibre material and is designed to lift up and trap dirt from your bodywork. So long as you use the two bucket method with a grit guard, this thing will be your best friend at maintaining a scratch-free body.

Pros

  • Won't shred as you scrub
  • Very smoothly picks up leftover dirt and grime
  • Won't leave scratches

Cons

  • The noodle style won't be for everyone
  • Quite hard to rinse

Best microfibre towel

meguiar's microfibre towelVia Meguiar's

Microfibre towels are the most popular method of drying for car enthusiasts. They're simple, effectively lift up water, and don't leave any scratches behind like a chamois would. There are loads to choose from, but the Meguiar's towel is our favourite.

Not only is it soft, but it also comes in quite a large size (55cm x 85cm), which quickens up the drying process as you can cover a wider surface area than other towels we've used.

Pros

  • Perfect for a streak-free finish
  • Doesn't leave scratches
  • Gets panels instantly dry

Cons

  • They take a while to dry
  • They can get damp relatively quickly

Car cleaning products: what you need to know

How do I wash my car?

With an armful of car cleaning products now in your arsenal, it's almost time to get cleaning. Question is, what do you tackle first? Prewash sounds like it should go on first, but what about tackling the wheels? Your best bet is alloy wheel cleaners with the latter since it's much stronger stuff than anything else. Getting the process correct is internal to getting that gleaming car in all its glory.

What to look for when choosing car cleaning products:

Cleaning strength - Not all car cleaning is equal. A seriously filthy car will need a stronger cleaning attack than one that's spruced up every other day with all-purpose cleaner . Cleaning products come in different strengths depending on how dirty the car is. After all, you wouldn't reach for the bleach for every bathroom cleaning chore.

Dilution - Most car cleaning products will be concentrated in some form. This is good news for your pocket and storing the car cleaning products. A small bottle of cleaner will last you ages and save you cash if it's concentrated, even if it costs more than a big bottle of shampoo you'll need to use neat.

Ecological impact - It's increasingly clear that nasty non-biodegradable chemicals aren't needed for cleaning, especially as there's no performance disadvantage. Eco-friendly car shampoos in particular are increasingly popular.

Scent - By no means an essential part of overall performance, a pleasant scent will make cleaning a lot nicer. Scents range from normal (fruits) to zany options including beer-scented shampoos.

Ryan Gilmore is the Deputy Autos and Tools Editor for CAR, specialising in car cleaning and hand tools. With an MA in Automotive Journalism, when he's not testing buckets he can be found looking at old Porsches.

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