We consider car cleaning to be super because it’s both therapeutic and productive. While meditating on a foam mat to the sound of a belching humpback whale may well be relaxing for some, you ultimately return to the world where everything has remained the same. By contrast, washing your car is equally relaxing, but you also get a clean car out of it.
Which car shampoo is best?
Tomayto, tomahto? Not quite. You’ve got your cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, Campari tomatoes, to name but four. Likewise, there are several types of car shampoos.
Some incorporate wax, some are called snow foam, some are waterless. Which is best for you depends on how thoroughly you wish to clean your car.
If you are the sort of person who is willing to occasionally wash your car but aren't keen on a follow-up polish and wax, we suggest getting an all-in-one shampoo that incorporates protective properties as well as dirt removal ones. On the other hand, if you are going to subsequently polish and wax, a simple but effective shampoo will be best for you.
Tips for car shampoo
Car shampoos work best when teamed up with a good microfibre cloth or wash mitt, and on being applied to a well-rinsed car (unless you're using a waterless product). When applying the shampoo, work in small areas at a time, so no sections are missed. Once you’ve covered the whole surface of your car and rinsed off the shampoo, dry the paintwork and glass immediately to avoid airborne dust and particles accumulating on the wet surfaces.
Shampoos work to remove dirt, which will certainly give your car a cleaner look. But if you want to get a proper paint gloss, and even remove minor paint scratches, use a car polish after a wash. Then, seal your hard work with a protective wax or ceramic coating.
The best car shampoos:
Turtle Wax Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wash & Wax Car Shampoo (1.42 L)
Best protective car shampoo
Employing the relatively new and effective protection of ceramics, this shampoo is a terrific two-in-one. The shampoo cleans very well and its ceramic protection works better than wax. It is very hydrophobic and long-lasting. The liquid itself should last, too, because all you need is one capful per litre. Check out our full guide to ceramic coating products.
NanotechSST Nano Wash Auto
The best shampoo for shine
This shampoo is super-concentrated, makes use of advanced nanotechnology and is infused with a non-ceramic protectant that works, it's a top product and a real hidden gem. While it doesn't boast any colours or fancy smells, it's an honest car shampoo and will leave a gorgeously deep shine to your paintwork.
Autoglym Pure Shampoo (1L)
Best basic car shampoo
A simple but effective shampoo. Its neutral pH balance keeps it from wearing off any wax or protective coating you may have previously applied to the paint. Yet, does work very well in ridding the bodywork of dirt and grime. Understated; The British way. Read more about Autoglym in our brand roundup here.
Meguiars NXT Generation Car Wash (1.89L
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 often 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 itu2019s a bit annoying to pour. Nevertheless, there is no knocking its car cleaning ability.
Soft99 Creamy pH Neutral Shampoo
The best car shampoo for use in the summer months
Direct sunshine is bad news for most car shampoos. It causes the water to evaporate off the car's bodywork and leave the shampoo behind in the form of a nasty residue. Worst of all, the only way to remove it is to rewash your car taking care not to let the shampoo dry out again.
Soft99 Creamy pH Neutral Shampoo has been designed to simply wash away if it dries onto the paintwork. When we tested that claim we were very impressed which is why this shampoo has become our favourite cat shampoo for summer use. We also found it smelt nice and was the best lubricating shampoo we've tested.
Greased Lightning Showroom Shine (1L)
Best waterless car wash
Alternatively, you can avoid water altogether. There are several waterless car wash products out there, but the Greased Lightning spray tops the list. Naturally, you burn through it faster than a shampoo you mix with water, but it adds speed to the whole car washing process if you want to get it done ASAP. It's safe for use on plastic and glass, and you can buy a 3.8-litre refill if and when you wish.
Ku00e4rcher 3-in-1 Car Shampoo (1L)
Best for use with Karcher pressure washer
We know many people opt to use pressure washers for car cleaning u2013 for the sheer satisfaction of using a pressure washer if nothing else. This stuff is mildly alkaline to quickly remove dirt and muck but is still environmentally safe for use (we wouldnu2019t recommend it otherwise). This canister is designed to fit Karcher pressure washer nozzles and the solution foams when sprayed through a lance onto the car. Like the Greased Lightning wash, you can buy a large (five-litre) refill container when you need to. Mercifully, the refill is a better value than this.
Bilt Hamber Auto Foam (5L)
Best snow foam
Snow foam is kind of a warm-up act to a thorough car wash, or for people who want a time-saver. You spray it on with a pressure washer, leave it for roughly 10 minutes, then wash it off. Itu2019s good at removing top layers of grime but wonu2019t get at the determined stuff. The Bilt Hamber Auto Foam is the best of these. Granted, the bottle and label make it look like a commercial-grade cleaner for butchers, but it is both effective and biodegradable. It isnu2019t super foamy, but it gets the job done, which is what you need. Read our full article on snow foam here.
Auto Finesse Lather Infusions Apple (500ml)
Like fancy tea, this shampoo is apple-infused. You can also have orange or lemon infusion if you wish. An excellent gift, but donu2019t be fooled and think this is all smell and no scrub. It does work well, but we certainly recommend the Autoglym shampoo for value at the very least. But we like the different approach of the Auto Finesse shampoo, which is why weu2019ve included it here.
Car washing accessories
It's quite straightforward, really. Assuming you possess a bucket, a good applicator that won't scratch or smear, you're all good. See our picks below:
Check out our article on the best car cleaning products for a full selection of car cleaning accessories.
What you should look for in car shampoo:
A good shampoo will allow your wash mitt to glide over the surface with ease. You want as little tension as possible between your wash mitt and paintwork - any little pieces of grit or debris can be dragged against the paintwork, causing scratches. That's why it's so important for shampoo to lubricant the surface, it will stop small damage to your paint.
If you’ve ever heard that horrible squeaking noise from a sponge on paintwork, it’s because there’s not enough lubrication between the surface of the sponge and the paintwork. It's bad news because there’s also a small bit of grit in the mix.
Everyone knows that a bucket (or two) is the starting point for car cleaning. A bucket filled with water and frothed up with a wash mitt is a good starting point, but there are other options for getting that shampoo onto your paintwork. Some shampoos can be applied like snow foam via a pressure washer, while others can be applied using a compression sprayer.
A big two-litre bottle of shampoo may look like better value than a 500ml option worth the same, but that’s not always the case. In an attempt to cut down on excess packaging and boost efficiency, super-concentrated options are now being sold that only require a few ml to clean effectively.
Case in point, some cheaper shampoos can easily need 100ml of product to clean a car, whereas a powerful concentrated option may only require a capful to do the same (or even better) job.
Like people and pet shampoo, car shampoos are now being introduced with a flurry of extra chemicals all designed to add extra protection, save you time or cut down on the products you need for car cleaning. These are the most common extras in shampoos:
Wax – Wax has been added to shampoos for a very long time, and there are both pros and cons to using it. While it will cut down on cleaning time and provide more protection than simple shampooing, the wax coating often isn't particularly durable - in some instances, it can even trap debris. Overall, the shampoos we've listed above offer better protection and will rid the surface of debris - we say to skip the wash and wax shampoos.
Ceramic – A popular and fashionable addition to premium shampoos, ceramic-infused shampoos have better lubrication which prevents scratches as you clean. It also leaves a thin (but tough) layer of protection that’ll keep your car looking glossy for longer. Turtle Wax offers an impressive ceramic-infused wax for a very reasonable price.
Graphene – Graphene is touted as the next big advancement in car protection and there are a handful of car shampoos on the market that make use of this technology. Graphene-infused shampoos add a layer of ultra-tough protection and increased lubrication to minimise scratching and marring. Angel Wax’s Enigma Shampoo is one example and is designed to clean a car thoroughly, while also adding a defensive and tough layer of graphene protection.
Not that important in the grand scheme of things but a nice fragrance will make washing your car all the more pleasant. In the past, shampoos often smelt like strong chemicals which made working with them for long periods irritating. Nowadays you can enjoy the scent of fresh fruits, sweets or even an entirely neutral scent - perfect for a sensitive snout.
An odd one as most shampoos will proudly boast they’re pH neutral and claim they won’t wreck paint or waxes. This is a legitimate statement, as pH neutral shampoos won’t be harsh or abrasive to paintwork and won’t degrade waxes or any sealants you’ve applied. Thing is, the only acidic car shampoos we've come across are designed for dealing with hard water and will claim to be pH-balanced - neutral in the bottle, slightly acidic on paintwork.
Most pre-washes (including snow foam) will be either pH neutral or slightly alkalic to take care of tough grime, meaning a pre-wash will allow you to use a pH neutral shampoo without compromising the cleaning results. Strong, industrial traffic film removers (TFRs) will use caustic acid (basically salt) to remove contaminants but are best left to agricultural and industrial machinery where paint finish isn’t a massive concern.
What this means is this: pH neutral shampoos are good enough for cleaning a car, even if they aren’t particularly harsh or abrasive. Invest in a slightly alcaic pre-wash if your car is particularly dirty but make sure you stay away from anything acidic for the sake of your paint.