What To Use To Wash A Car: Everything You Need To Know

Love it or hate it, washing your car is one of those chores that has to be done. Driving around in a mud-splattered car is all well and good for a time, but you can’t let it go on forever. By not washing it frequently, there’s a good chance that the finish will slowly deteriorate. That’s not to mention all the snide comments from your family and friends when you turn up in a car caked in mud! That’s why it’s super important to know what to use to wash a car. 

When it comes to washing your car, it can seem like there’s a lot of equipment and know-how required to get that perfect shine. We’ve all seen the smeary products of a bad wash, but how can you avoid all the pitfalls on a budget and with limited time? This article will address some of the most common mistakes. As well as recommend certain techniques and products to really get to that next level of clean. 

Keep reading for everything you need to know!

Things To Avoid

An AA survey found that a third of men and three-quarters of women have never washed their car before. If you’re one of the many people who have never picked up the bucket and put suds to the bonnet, don’t worry. As long as you avoid these common mistakes your car will look as shiny as the day you bought it!

Here are the main three things you should avoid when cleaning your car:

  • Sunny Days
  • Bad Materials
  • Air Drying

Below you will find a bit more about each one and why they should be avoided. Let’s dive in!

Sunny Days

Speaking of shiny, a common misconception is that bright, sunny days are the best time to wash your car. Whilst they are no doubt the most enjoyable time for doing it, they present problems that could impact the end result. The heat can cause the water and soap to dry faster than you would like. Leaving behind stains or spots. 

The ideal time for washing your car is on a cool, dry day. So resist the temptation to get out there when it is hot.

The Wrong Materials

Once you have picked the right day to get to work, it’s time to think about what materials you are going to need. There are the obvious ones like a bucket and sponge. But to get the best results, it’s worth getting some specialised cleaning products to really take your wash to the next level. 

Ideally, you will need a pressure washer to get that initial layer of dirt off. If you don’t have one, a garden hose should do the job. Take care to do this stage properly. As any dirt left on the car will reduce the effectiveness of your hard work.

Air Drying

Another mistake people often make is leaving their car to air dry. Doing so will leave you with similar streaky marks to the ones you would get on a sunny day. The best thing to do once you have finished washing it is to dry your car using a leather rag of microfibre towel. These tend to be better at absorbing moisture, rather than just pushing it around other parts of the surface. 

What Soap Can You Use To Wash A Car?

One of the most basic things you’ll need to address is finding best what soap can be used to wash a car. Car shampoo is available from most stores and makes a huge difference to more generic forms of cleaner. Some of the best products on the market cost only a couple of pounds and are available at nationwide retailers like Halfords. 

Of course, if you really want to push the boat out, buying from the more expensive end of the market could cost you nearly £10 per bottle. Whilst these products are not essential, they provide the best results if it’s perfection you’re looking for.

Whether or not you can use household washing up liquid is the subject of some debate online (and will be examined in depth here later on). But there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. It has been suggested that some washing up products are less damaging than others. It is safest, however, to assume that using any washing up liquid carries a degree of inherent risk. 

What Household Products Can Be Used To Wash A Car?

what to use to wash a car

What can I use to wash the car at home? Well, if push comes to shove, there are some products from around the house that can be used to clean your car. Keep in mind that these are not tailor-made for the job, and it is always better to have the right tools at your disposal.

Here are four main household items that can be used to clean a car:

  • Vinegar & Water
  • Washing Up Liquid & Water
  • Baking Soda
  • Window Cleaner

Vinegar & Water

With that being said, vinegar is widely considered to be one of the most useful cleaning aides. It is particularly handy for using on interior upholstery that may be stained or giving off a foul odour. 

Remember to dilute your vinegar before use, as the regular stuff could leave your car smelling distinctly sour on the inside. Try to use 3 parts water to every 1 part of vinegar. This will maximise the cleansing properties of the vinegar without leaving behind the distinctively sharp smell. Make sure not to use this solution of leather seats, as it could dry out or damage them.

Washing Up Liquid & Water

It is probably best to look to other places for cleaning the exterior of your car, however. For many people, it’s tempting to clean the car with a simple mix of washing up liquid and water. A survey found that over 40% of British car owners who wash their cars do so with the same stuff they use to clean the dishes. 

On the surface at least, it is true that common washing up liquid brands like fairy are effective at cleaning cars. But you really need to ask yourself, can I use fairy liquid to wash my car? 

What you might not be able to see is the long-term damage it could have on the paintwork and body. Studies have shown that many washing-up liquids contain a grease removing property that strips your car’s protective wax over time. This ultimately exposes the bare paint that lies beneath to the kind of every day wearing that you want to avoid. 

Washing up liquid seems like a harmless enough choice to clean your car with. But the long-term effects of doing so make using a fit for purpose car shampoo highly preferable.

Baking Soda

You can also make use of one of the most versatile items in your cupboard, baking soda. Much like vinegar, baking soda can help to remove stains and smells from the interior of your car. What makes it so good is that it is gentler, less scorching clean than something like vinegar. So there is less of a need to dilute it before use. 

As it is less likely to damage the fibres within certain fabrics, baking soda is perhaps the best product to clean things like seat belts. It can also be applied to floor mats to give them a spruce up. All you have to do once applied is vacuum the leftover product and voila! Your floor mats will look pristine again.

Window Cleaner

Finally, don’t forget to clean your windscreen and windows from the inside, as these can become foggy regardless of how attentive you are in other areas of the wash. Household window cleaners will get the job done fine in this case. Although if you want to get your hands on the good stuff, specialist car window cleaner is available from most retailers. 

Avoid the temptation to use the kind of cloth you would for everyday cleaning around the house. A microfibre cloth will be your best bet here. The RAC recommends that you apply the window cleaner sparingly, before wiping it away using overlapping circular motions, changing direction every once in a while. 

You might find it hard to achieve a streak-free finish. Don’t worry too much about that – it happens to the best of us. Just take your time, and eventually, you should reach a stage where the glass is shimmering and crystal clear.

Best Things To Wash A Car With: Our Final Thoughts

what to use to wash a car

Taking the time to wash your own car may seem like an unnecessary effort and expense, but the rewards are ultimately worthwhile. By really working hard to make it look as good as possible, you will avoid lots of the common mistakes people make when cleaning their cars. Not only do those cars look bad, but as this article has shown, using regular washing up liquid to wash your car can even do substantial damage to the body and finish.

If you want to do the job right, you’ll probably have to spend a small sum of cash on getting yourself the right equipment. But this is nothing compared to having to have your vehicle repaired because of mistakes you made while cleaning it.

In summary, you will first need a pressure washer or a garden hose for the rinsing stage. Then, you would be best served with car shampoo for cleaning the exterior. As well as microfibre cloths or a good quality chamois for drying the car. 

Certain household products can be used to clean the interior – such as window cleaner, vinegar, and baking soda. But bear in mind that these could do damage to your car if used incorrectly. 

Once you have experienced how good a shine you can get with these methods, you’ll likely never go back to using washing up liquid and ragged old dishcloths.

If you follow this advice and get yourself the right products, cleaning your car should be a breeze. Here is a quick recap of the best car washing equipment:

  • Pressure Washer or Garden Hose
  • Specialised Car Shampoo
  • Microfibre Cloths or Chamois

Alternatively, you can use a car wash. Check out our guide on How To Use A Car Wash for extra info!

Hopefully, this guide taught you everything you need to know about what to use to wash a car. As long as you follow these tips, you can’t go wrong!

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