Car cleaning. For some it’s a chore, for others it’s an essential and enjoyable Sunday morning ritual. Why spend a tenner at a former petrol station to allow a bunch of chemical brothers to crawl carelessly over your car when you can take your time caressing the contours of your beloved motor yourself?
Why use special car cleaning products?
This isn’t an expert guide to car cleaning. If you’re after a detailed rundown of detailing, there are plenty of online forums where car cleaning obsessives will talk to you about swirl marks, snow foam, paint thickness and decontamination.
Nevertheless, acquiring dedicated car cleaning products for inside and out of your car are important. Car cleaning products don’t just clean, some also restore and protect surfaces. This is good for you because it means you have a car you are proud to call yours; it also helps later when squeezing the extra few pounds from the haggler who may buy it sometime down the road.
Cleaning your car is a chance to get to know it. An opportunity to spot little bodywork issues before they become a big problem. Quality time with something that’s costing you a small fortune to finance every month.
The first stage. You'd have thought that by and large, car washing solutions are the same but no. Here are our favourites:
Bilt Hamber Auto Foam - 5L
Best snow foam
Snow foam is not car shampoo. Instead, it's used before washing your car to dislodge dirt. Apply it via a pressure washer and snow foam lance, leave for up to ten minutes, then rinse away. It means when you reach for the microfibre cloth or wash mitt, you won't grind grit into your paint, causing scratches and swirl marks.
In our experience, no product is more effective at shifting dirt than Bilt Hamber Auto Foam. It works hard on stubborn road grime without removing any waxes on the paint. You won't get the fluffy 'blizzard' effect of some snow foams – essentially just an aesthetic issue – but you will end up with a showroom-clean car. A biodegradable formula means it won't harm the environment, either.
Zirconite Nano Shampoo - 1L
Best car shampoo
Zirconite Nano Shampoo is a really good choice of pH-neutral shampoo because you only need about 30ml of product per wash, which means a one-litre bottle should last you ages. It's biodegradable and easily removes dirt from paintwork, while the claimed 'Lotus-Leaf' rinsing effect reduced water spotting and reduced the drying time. The apple scent is very nice too.
Meguiar's NXT Generation Car Wash - 1.8L
Best for use with hard water
If you live in an area with hard water, you may consider car washing problematic. The higher concentrations of minerals in the water sometimes leave streaks on car bodywork and glass. This car shampoo contains water softeners to help alleviate this issue. The NXT Generation Car Wash has a significantly thicker consistency than other shampoos, so it's a bit annoying to pour. Nevertheless, there is no knocking its car cleaning ability.
Polish is abrasive and is used to restore shine and remove scratches and swirls from paintwork. Below are our favourites.
SONAX Car Polish
Best car polish
In pursuit of generating great colour from your car's paint, look no further. This product from SONAX is only mildly abrasive to remove scratches while delivering a high-gloss finish to the paintwork. Personal tip: get extra enjoyment by taking before and after pictures.
Meguiar's Ultimate Car Polish Pre-Waxing Glaze - 473ml
Best polish for dark colours
Meguiar's knows what it's doing and its polish is proven, which is why we recommend it rather than simply because it's popular. The conditioning oils in this concoction give a richness of colour, especially to darker colours.
CarPlan Demon Shine Spray - 1L
Best cheat option
For those who lust after car shine but consider the task of polishing absolute tedium, then this is for you. Spray on and wipe off one body panel at a time and you're done. It gives a good shine, but you do get through the litre quite quickly.
Waxes and coatings differ from polish in that it adds a protective layer, rather than scrub away the faded or marked top layer of paint. Protectants should be applied following a polish to protect the paint.
Bilt Hamber Double Speed-Wax - 250ml
Best car wax
This is a bona fide wax that is popular among enthusiasts. It's a paste that will simply provide a durable, no-nonsense carnauba wax coating to protect your paint. It has hydrophobic polymers, too, to help with water beading. Superb to add over a polish.
Turtle Wax Carnauba Liquid Car Wax - 500ml
Best liquid car wax
Carnauba wax from the most recognisable brand in easy to apply liquid form. This is a quality go-to, affordable option that delivers great protection. Durable, hydrophobic polymers and even micro polishers give a little shine. It's no-nonsense in a green bottle and says "Brilliant" on it - what more do you need?
Meguiar's Mirror Glaze 26 - 473ml
Best high-gloss sealant
A synthetic-carnauba sealant that forms a hydrophobic layer on paintwork. If you want to shine, go for this; itu2019s called Mirror Glaze for a reason. Its liquid form makes application a doddle too.
Most durable protectant
The intense-sounding EXOv4 is our recommendation to anyone who is after a proper paint sealant for their car. It appeals to enthusiasts because it provides that highly hydrophobic coating that beads water, much to enthusiasts' deep pleasure. But it appeals to casual users too because you only need to apply it rarely because it lasts up to two years.
Turtle Wax Hybrid Solutions Ceramic 3-in-1 Detailer - 500ml
Protectant spray for all surfaces
People not quite so hardcore about car cleaning will find this handy. It's a clean-and-protect ceramic detailer that can be used on glass and wheels as well as paintwork. Spray it onto a clean panel and wipe it. You can use it on dirty surfaces, but we suggest applying it to clean surfaces for better efficiency.
Dedicated wheel cleaners work better than standard shampoos to get rid of road grime and brake dust that stick to wheels in a very determined manner.
Bilt Hamber Auto Wheel Cleaner - 1L
Best alloy wheel cleaner
No nonsense and effective. Simply spray it on, wait for the solution to change colour (agitating with a brush if the wheels are heavily soiled), and then rinse it off. The result is beautifully clean alloys in less than five minutes. A pH-balanced formula makes it safe to use on all wheels, and even on chrome and magnesium rims. We've been using Bilt Hamber for years and, frankly, it's probably the only wheel cleaner you need.
Armor All Shield Brake Dust Repellent - 300ml
Best easy-to-apply wheel sealant
An aerosol spray sealant that can be applied once wheels are clean and dry. Shake and spray. While it does create a clear film, the excess can run down the wheels and onto the tyres as a white trickle. It's easily wiped off, just bear it in mind for dark rims. Once dried, it provides protection against brake dust and grime for about four weeks.
Keeping your car's interior spick and span is just as important as the exterior. After all, it's where you spend your time when using a car.
Autoglym Interior Shampoo - 500ml
Best interior shampoo
There is no foaming theatrics from Autoglym's interior shampoo, just low-key spray-on results. This is a superb interior cleaner you can use on most surfaces, apart from leather. It's difficult to overemphasize how great this cleaner is at dealing with soiled upholstery.
Greased Lightning Stain Shifter - 1L
Best stain remover
For stubborn stains, look to dedicated stain removers. This offering from Greased Lightning is a case in point. Spray it and let it soak in (test on an inconspicuous area first, of course), then wipe it with a cloth. Grease, coffee, and food stains are all dealt with. The large one-litre bottle lasts a long time too.
Meguiar's Quik Interior Detailer Cleaner - 473ml
Best interior detailer
When it comes to cleaning the interior, it's important that you don't leave a finish that's shinier than Dom Toretto's head and greasier than a truck stop cheeseburger. There are two reasons for this. First, your car will look like it has been dressed up by Arthur Daley. Second, changing gear and steering the car is a little tricky when things are coated in chip fat.
The Meguiar's Quik Interior Detailer Cleaner leaves a matte finish and can be used on plastic, vinyl, leather, rubber, metal and even the infotainment screen. But not Toretto's head. He wouldn't like that.
303 Products Automotive Leather 3-in-1 Complete Care - 473ml
Best leather cleaner
303 is kind of like Bilt Hamber in that it just works. Its 3-in-1 leather cleaner, conditioner, and protectant are all you need. You can use it on vinyl as well. 303 products have arguably the best UV protection on the market, its other products are great for marine use, or on spa pool covers for example and do a stellar job preventing cracking and fading.
Having the solutions is one thing but you won’t get very far without ways to apply them.
AmazonBasics Deluxe Microfiber Mitt
Better than a sponge
Are you still using a sponge to wash your car? Stop right now. You might as well grab a brillo pad from the kitchen, before dropping it on your driveway for good measure. A sponge is great in the bath, but it has no place near your Python Green or Rosso Corsa Red paintwork. Bits of dirt and grit sit inside the sponge, waiting to attack your bodywork like a gritter lorry on a winter's night. Grab a wash mitt for a scratch-free finish.
Gtechniq MF2 Microfibre Drying Towel
Best drying towel
This super soft towel from Gtechniq is excellent for drying even the largest body panels. The ribbed edges will ensure your paintwork is protected while the 450gsm fibres will absorb water with ease. It's also designed to reduce marring (tiny scratches in your paintwork).
Glart Microfibre Towel Triple Pack
Best general use microfibre cloths
For cleaning, drying, polishing, waxing, these towels can be used for whichever task you need. Just don't get them muddled up.
Turtle Wax TW110 Pressure Washer
Excellent compact pressure washer
Turtle Wax has produced a great compact machine with the TW110 for people who want a portable machine for cars and light domestic use. It also comes with useful canister attachments for foam cleaning, in addition to the regular lance.
Output is a decent 335 litres per hour (l/h) flow rate, 110 bar maximum pressure, and 1400W. It will therefore make quick work of lighter jobs. While the Norse TW110 is indeed nice and light at under six kilograms, bear in mind the hose length is only five metres.
Meguiar's Supreme Microfibre Wheel Brush
Best wheel brush
Our top pick for cleaning your wheels is this fluffy microfibre option from Meguiar's. The thick microfibre head effectively cleans wheels and is a durable option. It also lacks metal in its construction so you won't leave any nasty marks on your freshly cleaned alloys.
Gtech Multi MK2 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
Best car vacuum cleaner
Impressively light at 1.5kgs, with strong suction power, and great build quality, the Gtech Multi Mk2 is CAR's cordless vacuum cleaner of choice.
What comes in the box as standard is plenty. You get a rectangular power brush that is superb for removing hair and dirt from the carpet, a dusting brush on an extended pole, and a narrow crevice tool for removing grit from beside the seats, which is simultaneously very small but catches 98% of lost car debris. It’s bagless too, simply unclip the chamber and empty it.
Autoglym Grit Guard
Designed to work in unison with the Autoglym wash bucket, this grit guard will take dirt and grit off your sponge, saving your paintwork from any scratches. Dirt removed from your sponge then gets trapped underneath the guard.
26JPN Ultra-Soft Detail Brushes
Best detailing brushes
The brushes are from a British company that uses a Japanese ethos and whose detailing brushes are made in China. There are a number of reasons why we rate 26JPN's detailing brushes, other than the multiculturalism.
Firstly, the bristles are boar's hair and are wonderfully soft and don't scratch surfaces. Secondly, we like the slightly textured grip and the lack of any metal parts that could mark surfaces. If you want a pair of detailing brushes you can use on car interiors or exteriors, it's hard to past this quality pair. Great for yourself or as a gift.
Vikan Hand Brush
Best wash brush
Very sturdy and basic. The bristles splay out from the head, meaning it is only the bristles that make contact with the bodywork. The tips of the bristles are split to give both a soft touch and a more effective ability to remove dirt and muck.
Other products to consider
There are thousands of car cleaning products available – our list is just the start. We haven’t featured glass polish, chrome cleaner, rubber care, tyre dressing, or bird poo remover. Yes, there really is a product designed for the removal of bird poo.
Established brands aren't necessarily the best, in the same way, small brands aren't necessarily terrible. When looking for a particular product, hunt around, read our guides, consult forums, and read reviews. This way, you'll find something exactly suited to your needs.
Use a clay bar to properly lift contaminants from your paintwork. If your paintwork is really looking worse for wear, consider taking some cutting compound to the situation. Be sure to read our guide carefully, as it can be a tricky process for first-timers.