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:
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:
Many car shampoos try to employ other properties into them, such as wax. The best car shampoo is
- Very effective
- Non toxic/biodegradable
- No timeframe given on biodegradability
Best premium car shampoo
The Ultra High Definition Shampoo from Autoglym produces a deep lustre and bewitchingly smooth
- Smooth glide
- Brilliant finish
- Polish and wax required for the most effective results
Best value? But it's more expensive than Gtechniq GWash. True, but Bilt Hamber Auto Wash is twice
- Super concentrated
- No unnecessary additives
- Gtechniq GWash is marginally more effective
Best shampoo for shine
Nano Wash Auto shampoo is super-concentrated, makes use of advanced nanotechnology and is infused
- It can double as a snow foam
- Helps add some protection
- Not biodegradable
Best for use with hard water
If you live in an area with hard water, you may consider car washing problematic. The higher
- Perfect for use with hard water
- Very effective shampoo
- Not super slick
Best shampoo alternative
Snow foam is kind of a warm-up act to a thorough car wash or for people who want a time-saver. You
- Fun to use
- Very clingy foam
- Not technically a shampoo
Coming in clutch in a massive 5 litre bottle, Turtle Wax's big orange shampoo is perfect if you
- Incredibly effective shampoo
- Comes in huge bulk
- You'll have to store that 5L bottle somewhere
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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