The best car shampoo

Therapeutic and productive, CAR picks its favourite car shampoos.

Cleaning Mazda CX-5 headlight with a car shampoo

by Myles Warwood |
Updated on

When thinking about car cleaning products, the first association has to be the best car shampoo because it's both therapeutic and productive. For some, there's nothing better than spending an afternoon getting busy and transforming a dull and dilapidated car into one that could quite happily sit alongside a Concours-ready Hispano-Suiza. The first step to getting that post-clean paint sparkle than choosing the correct car shampoo.

Car shampoos used to be fairly straightforward, a load of detergents that lived in a bottle and cleaned cars when ran over the paintwork with a sponge. Those simple shampoos still exist, but now there are graphene, ceramic and wax-infused shampoos that provide protection as you clean. Waterless washes also exist, perfect for a drought season, even if they don't have the same cleaning effectiveness as a watery type.

The best car shampoo at a glance:

Editor's pick: Gtechniq GWash Car Shampoo - view offer on Amazon.
Best for shine: NanoSST Nano Auto Wash - view offer on Amazon.
Best snow foam: Bilt Hamber Auto Foam - view offer on Amazon.

Even the way car shampoo is applied in the cleaning process has changed. Wash mitts develop a better lather (for better cleaning) while simultaneously preventing scratches in your paintwork. In short, your car shampoo matters, and we've been hard at work finding the best for your car.

The best car shampoo:

Editor's pick

Gtechniq ShampooVia Gtechniq

Rrp: $23.95

Price: $17.95

Many car shampoos try to employ other properties into them, such as wax. The best car shampoo is also the least compromised: GWash. It's a heavily concentrated solution that foams very well and is very effective at lifting and removing grime. The subtle fruity scent is very pleasant, and GWash is non-toxic and biodegradable. It's also available in several bottle sizes.

Pros

  • Very effective
  • Non toxic/biodegradable

Cons

  • No timeframe given on biodegradability

Best premium car shampoo

Autoglym shampooVia Autoglym
Price: $30.55

The Ultra High Definition Shampoo from Autoglym produces a deep lustre and bewitchingly smooth paint finish. Gtechniq GWash undoubtedly offers better value, but if you're after a luxury car shampoo, this is the one to go for. Follow Ultra High Definition Shampoo with a polish and wax, and you'll gape in true amazement at the results.

Pros

  • Smooth glide
  • Brilliant finish

Cons

  • Polish and wax required for the most effective results

Best value

Bilt Hamber auto washVia Bilt Hamber

Best value? But it's more expensive than Gtechniq GWash. True, but Bilt Hamber Auto Wash is twice as strong as GWash, and you can get almost twice as many washes from the same volume. Bilt Hamber Auto Wash is a very effective, no-nonsense car shampoo. It doesn't have any scent and foams nicely. It's also biodegradable.

Pros

  • Super concentrated
  • No unnecessary additives

Cons

  • Gtechniq GWash is marginally more effective

Best shampoo for shine

Nano Wash Auto Via Nanotech

Nano Wash Auto 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 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. But it isn't biodegradable, which is an issue.

Pros

  • It can double as a snow foam
  • Helps add some protection

Cons

  • Not biodegradable

Best for use with hard water

Meguiar's NXT car washVia Meguiar's
Price: $45.03

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 it's a bit annoying to pour. Nevertheless, there is no knocking its car cleaning ability.

Pros

  • Perfect for use with hard water
  • Very effective shampoo

Cons

  • Not super slick

Best shampoo alternative

Bilt Hamber touchlessVia Bilt Hamber

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. It's good at removing top layers of grime but won't 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 isn't super foamy, but it gets the job done, which is what you need.

Pros

  • Fun to use
  • Very clingy foam

Cons

  • Not technically a shampoo

The best value car shampoo

Coming in clutch in a massive 5 litre bottle, Turtle Wax's big orange shampoo is perfect if you want a long-lasting solution. Simply add 1-3 ounces in a bucket, fill it with water, and away you go.

It's a great value shampoo for how much you get, and when used properly, is incredibly effective at removing dirt and grime off your paintwork.

Pros

  • Incredibly effective shampoo
  • Comes in huge bulk

Cons

  • You'll have to store that 5L bottle somewhere

What you should look for in car shampoo:

Lubrication

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 or indeed snow foam 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.

Application

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 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.

Concentration

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.

Extra features

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. 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 that make use of this technology. Graphene-infused shampoos add a layer of ultra-tough protection and increased lubrication to minimise scratching and marring. They also supposedly work to keep the paintwork cooler, perfect for avoiding water spots.

More novel extras include this shampoo from Chemical Guys, which doubles as an insect and tar remover. Another is NanoSST's Auto shampoo, which can be used as a screen wash.

Scent

While not the most important aspect, 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.

pH level

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. Because pH-neutral shampoos won't be harsh or abrasive to paintwork and won't degrade waxes or any sealants you've applied. However, the only acidic car shampoos we've come across are designed for dealing with hard water and will claim to be pH-balanced. This only extends to being neutral in the bottle, and slightly acidic on paintwork.

Most car pre-washes (including snow foam) will be either pH neutral or slightly alkalic to take care of tough grime. This means 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 these are best left to agricultural and industrial machinery where paint finish isn't a massive concern.

This means pH-neutral shampoos are good enough for cleaning a car, even if they aren't particularly harsh or abrasive. Invest in an alkaline pre-wash if your car is particularly dirty but stay away from anything acidic for the sake of your paint.

Myles Warwood is an Autos Products Writer for CAR, specialising in e-bikes and F1. He's a particular lover of hot hatches and cycling.

For verdicts, scoops, news and analysis from the team, delivered direct to your inbox, subscribe to the CAR newsletter.

You can enjoy CAR in its traditional print format, or one of the swelling number of digital editions, optimised for Apple iPhones, Android devices, iPads, tablets and desktop computers.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us