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Properly washing your car isn’t as simple as you think. Like most things automotive, there’s a right tool for each job. There may even be tools you never thought you needed to wash your car! These days, there are plenty of options to get your car clean. You can go to your local car wash and pay a few bucks, or you can run it through an auto car wash at your local gas station. There are even more expensive detailers who will make your car shine better than new.

But part of the joy of owning your own car is taking care of it yourself, and that means giving it a proper detailing from time to time. If you’re looking to make your car shine like new inside and out, we’ve put together an extensive guide that covers nearly every product you need to wash your car like a pro. It’ll take a bit of elbow grease and time, but it’ll save you money and leave you with the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

For more information on car wash products, refer to our table of contents.

Read More Top 10 Best Car Wash Soaps

Car Wash Buckets

adam's grit guard wash bucket with lid

Why you need it:

You may think a normal bucket is sufficient when it comes to washing your car, but getting a dedicated bucket with a dirt trap or grit guard insert is highly recommended. That’s because while you’re washing your car, you’re likely rinsing your sponge or hand mitt in the bucket, which means dirt and debris from your car’s body is mixing into the water. A dirt trap or grit guard help separate the water from the dirt, so you’re rinsing your mitt or sponge in clean water. Nothing is worse than washing your car, only to realize dirt got trapped on your sponge or mitt and you’re actually scratching your clear coat while you’re washing.

What to look for:

When shopping for a dedicated car washing bucket, it’s best to spend the extra few bucks for one that includes a dirt trap or grit guard. You could always purchase the accessory separately, but then you have to make sure it works with your bucket. Look for a heavy duty bucket that will take some abuse, and preferably one with a lid. This way you can store some of your car washing accessories inside the bucket when it’s not being used.

There is also the “two-bucket” method if you want to reduce the chances of getting dirt or grit onto your car’s surface. You use one bucket for the car wash soap and another with just water for rinsing your mitt or sponge. If you chose to use the two-bucket method, make sure the grit guard or dirt trap is in the water bucket. Alternatively, we’ll explore the use of a foam gun later on, which would eliminate the need for a soap bucket.

Recommendation: 

Adam’s Grit Guard Wash Bucket with Lid may be a bit higher priced than other car washing buckets, but it comes with a grit guard and lid. With a five-gallon capacity, the bucket is enough to wash even large SUVs and trucks. You don’t need to look for any bells and whistles when it comes to your bucket, just make sure you grab a high-quality, heavy-duty one that won’t crack or break after a few uses.

Read More Top 10 Best Car Waxes

Car Wash Soaps

meguiar's gold class car wash

Why you need it:

This is almost self-explanatory, since you shouldn’t be washing anything without soap! But there are reasons to purchase actual car washing soap, rather than using something like dish washing detergent. Dish soap is great for fighting grease on your dishes, but they’ll strip the wax and protectant from your car’s surface. Most car wash soaps are specially formulated for use on paint finishes and clear coats, with more lubricant so it’s safer on your car’s surface.

What to look for:

As basic and straightforward car washing buckets are, car wash soaps are the complete opposite. Prepare to be inundated with a plethora of options on the market, with prices ranging from absurdly cheap to ridiculously expensive. Don’t just purchase any car wash soap that’s popular or has high ratings, since you’ll need to first determine what type of car soap you need. There are three general categories when it comes to car soap: general use, wash and wax, and strip.

General use car soaps are ideal for weekly or monthly washes. They won’t strip away any previous wax or protectant, leaving your car nice and shiny. Wash and wax car soaps are great when you’re looking for a way to maintain your wax protection without having to fully detail your car. It’s a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone, although you shouldn’t expect the same layer of protection as a full coat of wax. Lastly, strip soaps are available when you need to strip away wax or protectant from your car paint. Why would you want to do that? You may need to polish away some scratches or imperfections that are deep, or you want to apply a new coat of wax or even ceramic coating to protect your paint. If you want to strip away that wax, make sure you get a car wash soap formulated for the job, so it still protects the painted surface.

Recommendation:

With so many options out there, it’s really tough to narrow it down to one. But if you don’t want to spend the time doing research, you can’t go wrong with Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash. The brand is a trusted name in car care and its Gold Class Car Wash is one its most popular products. It features a premium formula designed to gently foam away dirt, road grime, and contaminants without ruining your wax. All Meguiar’s car washes are non-detergent and helps lubricate the surface while you clean, so dirt and grime glide off the paint rather than grind into the paint.

Read More Top 10 Best Wheel and Tire Cleaners

Car Wash Mitts

griot's garage micro fiber wash mitt

Why you need it:

Don’t be tempted to wash your car with a towel. At the very least, you will want to use a sponge, but it’s best to use a hand mitt. Not only do they make the job more comfortable and convenient, most mitts are made from microfiber or sheepskin, which is much safer to use on your car’s surface. They’re also much easier to wash and keep clean when they’re not being used.

What to look for:

Nowadays, there are a lot of different companies that manufacture car wash mitts. Look for a mitt that is constructed from a soft material that’s safe to use on your car’s paint, preferably microfiber. Some products are offered in pairs at a competitive price, and having a second mitt handy doesn’t hurt. Just make sure you get a high-quality mitt that won’t fall apart after a couple uses.

Recommendation:

Griot’s Garage is another well-respected company in the car care market, and it offers a two pack of its microfiber mitts for a competitive price. This way, you can use one mitt for the extra dirty parts of your car, and another for the glass, roof, and hood. Griot’s Garage’s pair of mitts come in different colors, so you’ll be able to differentiate which mitt is being used for what. They’re also machine washable for easy maintenance and there’s no thumb area, so the mitts easily rotate on your hand.

Pressure Washers for Washing Cars

sun joe pressure washer

Why you need it:

Truth be told you don’t need a pressure washer to clean your car. It’s really a luxury item that makes your job easier and gives your car a more thorough cleaning. There are a few things to keep in mind when using a pressure washer. First, most pressure washers will still need a hose hookup as a source for water. Second, you’ll need a power outlet to connect the pressure washer, which may or may not be convenient for you. Third, you’ll need a decent sized driveway if you’re using a pressure washer, since you won’t want to have to move it around and risk hitting your car.

Another advantage to having a pressure washer is the ability to use a foam gun or blaster, which attaches to the pressure washer. This allows you to spray your car soap on your vehicle, instead of having to use a mitt to soap up your car. This helps given the car a more thorough and even coating of soap, which you can then simply use your mitt to wipe away the dirt and grime.

What to look for:

When shopping for a pressure washer, you’ll want to pay attention to its power, weight, cord length, accessories and warranty. Some pressure washers come with a variety of spray tips, allowing you to tackle light, medium, and heavy duty tasks. Cord length is important, since you’ll want to make sure the pressure washer can easily reach a power outlet without getting too close to your car. Other washers make things a bit more convenient by offering a built-in hose reel, making it put everything away when you’re done washing your car.

Recommendation:

While the Sun Joe SPX3000 is one of the most popular pressure washers on Amazon, we actually recommend the SPX3001. It offers the same performance as the SPX3000 with 2030 PSI from a 14.5-amp, 1800-watt motor, but it has an onboard reel that keeps up to 20 feet of high-pressure hose organized on the pressure washer itself. It comes with five quick-connect spray tips and automatically shuts off the pump when the trigger isn’t being used. The SPX3001 also comes with a two-year warranty.

Read More Best Pressure Washers for Cleaning Your Car

Foam Cannons for Washing Cars

trinova foam cannon

Why you need it:

If you’re using a pressure washer, paying a few extra bucks for a foam gun is a must. It allows you to easily coat your car evenly with soap, saving you a lot of time when it comes to washing your car. After soaking your car with the pressure washer and spraying all the loose dirt off, you can quickly connect the foam gun to the pressure washer to cover the car with soap. This helps ensure the rest of the grime, dirt, and other debris on your car is loose before you turn to your mitt to wipe it clean.

What to look for:

Most foam guns look the same but there are a few things to look for when shopping for one. Most importantly, you want to make sure it’s compatible with your pressure washer by looking at the required pressure figure. You’ll also want to make sure its tank capacity is generous, so you don’t have to worry about mixing up a car wash mixture in the middle of washing your car. Pay close attention to the materials its constructed from and whether the bottle is high quality. Some cheaper foam guns have bottles that will eventually shear off, forcing you to purchase a replacement. Lastly, check to make sure the nozzle is adjustable so you get good coverage rather than a “drippy” spray.

Recommendation:

Competitively priced, the TriNova Foam Gun is a solid choice. It features a wide neck to prevent cracking and works with pressure washers from 800 to 3500 PSI. It also features a dial so you can easily adjust the amount of foam from the gun.

Hose Nozzles

garden hose nozzle hand sprayer

Why you need it:

Well, if you’re planning to wash your car with a hose and you don’t have a hose nozzle, you’re going to have a bad time. A high-pressure hose nozzle is necessary to get loose dirt and grime off your paint before you start washing it down with a mitt. Stronger nozzles will even get tougher dirt and spots off your car without you having to scrub the area. They won’t be as powerful as a pressure washer, but they are a lot more affordable. They also help control the flow of water, so you don’t have to constantly turn off your hose while you’re soaping down your car.

What to look for:

Hose nozzles come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and price ranges. There are even foam cannons you can purchase to use with a hose, but naturally they won’t be as powerful or convenient as one hooked up to a pressure washer. When shopping for a hose nozzle, look for one with multiple patterns and a flow control knob, so you can adjust according to your needs. Comfort is also an important factor. You’ll want to purchase one that’s fairly lightweight and easy to grip, since you’ll be spending a good amount of time spraying down your car when you wash it.

Recommendation:

One of the most popular and highly rated products on Amazon is the Gardenite garden hose nozzle. It’s manufactured from solid metal and features a baked enamel finish, so it’s designed to last. The nozzle features 10 watering patterns, from high pressure jet to soft shower, making it one of the most versatile nozzles available. Best of all, you can use it for other purposes than just washing your car. It’s most defining feature is the flow control knob, so you can choose just how much pressure is coming through. Comfort shouldn’t be an issue either, since it uses a front squeeze trigger with a clip so it can stay permanently on.

Read More How to Properly Wash Your Car

Dryers

worx turbine corded leaf blower

Why you need it:

Like a pressure washer, you don’t necessarily need a car dryer. But it does save you quite a bit of time and lessens the chance you’ll scratch your car while drying it with a conventional towel. If you don’t like the idea of purchasing a specific tool just to dry your car, you can look at car vacuums that can double as a blower. They may not be as powerful as dedicated dryers, but they’ll still save you some time and effort.

What to look for:

A leaf blower actually makes for a cost-efficient car dryer. You don’t need to necessarily purchase a car dryer, when another existing and cheaper tool does the job just as well, if not better. There are plenty of leaf blowers available in the market so if you’re looking in that direction, research the power of the blower’s motor and how much it weighs. You’ll want to make sure it’s comfortable to use and that it has a long enough cord to conveniently reach around your car. Just make sure if you’re using a blower to not get any of the dirt around the car back onto the surface of the paint.

Recommendation:

Not too cheap and not too expensive, the Worx Turbine600 corded leaf blower is a fine choice to get all the water off your car after a wash. The blower pumps out air speeds up to 110 mph with a CFM of 600, while weighing 6.4 lbs, light enough for one-handed operation. It also has variable speed control so you can adjust it for different tasks. Another benefit to the Worx Turbine 600 is its three-year warranty.

Towels for Car Drying

cleantools the absorber

Why you need it:

You don’t just need a single towel to dry your car once you’re done washing it. You’ll actually want to invest into several towels, so you have separate ones to detail certain components of your vehicle, including the interior. Invest into a proper towel designed for drying your car, and then pick up an affordable pack of microfiber towels. This way, you have a few handy whenever you need a clean towel to touch up another part of your car.

What to look for:

As we mentioned before, the first thing you want to look for is a dedicated towel for drying your car. This can range from an absorbent microfiber towel, or a product like “The Absorber” or a shammy. Look for something that is machine washable for easy maintenance and has a decent size that’s not too cumbersome to use, but covers a good amount of surface area while you’re drying.

Recommendation:

You really can’t go wrong with The Absorber. It’s one of the most popular products designed for drying your car efficiently and quickly. It has an attractive price and won’t scratch your car’s paint. It also comes with a convenient tube so you can roll it back up and store it when it’s not being used. The Absorber is resistant to mold, mildew, and other chemicals, while measuring 27 inches by 17 inches. It’s also machine washable.

Along with getting The Absorber, invest into a pack of microfiber towels. These don’t have to be expensive towels, as you’ll be using them to touch up certain spots or detailing your interior. AmazonBasics offers a 24-pack at a really competitive price, with three different towel colors. This way, you can separate each shade for a certain purpose. These towels are ultra soft and non-abrasive, safe to use on paint and other surfaces. Each cloth measures 12 inches by 16 inches and can be machine washed.

Car Vacuums

armor all dura vac

Why you need it:

Having a spotless and shiny exterior doesn’t mean your job is done. You’ll want to make sure to put some effort into cleaning your car’s interior – that is where you spend all your time with the car after all. As you can imagine, a car vacuum is a valuable tool in keeping your cabin clean, and some double as a blower that can be used to dry your car. A vacuum also comes in handy to take care of any food or drink spills, as well as tidying up your trunk so it stays in good condition.

What to look for:

Shopping for a car vacuum is surprisingly complicated. You can choose from either a corded or cordless option, and if you go the corded route, whether you want a 12-volt option that uses your car’s cigarette lighter or a standard power outlet. Cordless vacuums have several features to consider, including their weight, canister size, and battery life. Then you have to consider the size of your vehicle. If you own a three-row SUV, chances are you’ll want a vacuum that lasts longer and has a larger storage tank. Make sure to also pay attention to suction power, as you will want a vacuum that is powerful enough to pick up all the dirt and debris that has accumulated on your floor mats and carpet.

Recommendation:

Since there are so many variables when it comes to shopping for a car vacuum, it’s tough to make one overall recommendation. So instead, we picked two vacuums, one corded and one cordless.

If you’re able to use a corded vacuum with a standard power outlet it’s worth investing in the Armor All 2.5-gallon utility wet/dry vacuum. It’s basically a shop-vac, able to deal with wet and dry debris, with a 2.5-gallon storage tank that should be sufficient for even large SUVs. It comes with a 10-foot power cord and a 6-foot hose, which should be enough to navigate around your vehicle without being too much trouble. It can also be converted to a blower so you can use it as a dryer. The vacuum includes several helpful components, such as a reusable cloth filter, reusable foam sleeve, two-in-one utility nozzle, crevice tool, deluxe car nozzle, blower nozzle, and detail brush. It comes with a two-year warranty.

A popular cordless handheld vacuum is the Black+Decker Dustbuster. It weighs just 2.6 lbs but can only be used on dry debris. The portable vacuum is rated at 15.2 watts with max voltage of 16v and has a suction power of 15.2 air watts. Its dustbowl capacity is 20.6 ounces, but can easily be emptied and washed. The Black+Decker Dustbuster features a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged via a charging base. Another benefit to the vacuum is that its battery is capable of holding a charge for up to 18 months, so you can conveniently keep it in your car.

Included with the vacuum are a flip-up brush and a crevice tool, both of which will help you clean your interior with less effort. It also comes with a two-year warranty.

Read More Top 10 Best Car Vacuums

Exterior Detailers

meguiar's ultimate quik detailer

Why you need it:

A comprehensive wash on your car could take hours and you might not always have the time to do that. In between washes, you can spend a few minutes with a bottle of exterior detailer and a microfiber towel to keep your car looking clean. Also known as quick detailers, these specially formulated products are designed for a convenient spray-on, wipe-off touch up for when you can’t do a proper wash.

What to look for:

When picking a quick detailer, choose a reputable brand that is respected in the car care industry. These companies have invested the research and development to come up with a solution that won’t damage your car’s clear coat or paint. If you’re willing to spend a bit extra, opt for a product that has a hydrophobic component, that gives added protection while repelling water. Just make sure the product doesn’t strip or remove any wax or protectant from your car’s clearcoat. There are also some detailers that can be used on other surfaces such as glass, plastic, or metal.

Recommendation:

Available in a 22-ounce bottle, Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Detailer costs a little bit more than your standard bottle of quick detailer, but it features hydrophobic polymer technology. Designed to deliver a high surface tension for added protection, the Ultimate Quik Detailer is great to use in between washes. Expect it to leave your car looking shiny, safely removing dust and other contaminants with just a spray and wipe.

Read More Top 10 Best Polishing Kits for Your Car

Interior Detailers

carguys super cleaner

Why you need it:

Your interior takes a beating sitting out in the sun during the day, so you’ll want to protect all exposed surfaces inside your cabin. Not just that, but your seats go through more wear and tear than any other component inside your car, so giving them a bit of attention can go a long way in making sure they last. Interior detailer only cleans the surface of your dash, center console, and seats, but also protects them from harmful UV rays.

What to look for:

Depending on your vehicle, you will need to choose an interior detailer made for the job. For example, if you have leather seats, make sure you purchase an interior detailer that works for leather surfaces. You may need to purchase a separate detailer to handle your dash and door panels, or other vinyl, plastic, and rubber surfaces throughout the cabin. Look for a product that gives you the finish you desire – some people prefer a shiny look, while others would rather have a matte touch. Pay close attention to how they smell too, since sensitive noses may not want some of the stronger scents that some interior detailers put out.

Recommendation:

A great all-purpose interior detailer is the CarGuys’ Super Cleaner. It’s designed to work on various surfaces including upholstery, fabric, canvas, leather, vinyl, plastic, rubber, grease, and more. We prefer this cleaner over others because it leaves a nice, clean finish with no gloss to the surfaces. And since its all purpose, you can spray the detailer on the included towel and wipe away throughout your cabin, from the dash to the seats, door panels to even the floor mats.

Read More Top 10 Best Auto Glass Cleaners and Why You Should Use Them

Car Window Cleaners

stoner invisible glass premium glass cleaner

Why you need it:

So you have the exterior of your car all washed up and your cabin is looking spotless. That’s when you realize that you probably neglected the windows. While the outside glass is likely clean from the wash itself, you’ll want to make sure the inside glass gets treated as well. Over time, the inside of your windows can accumulate all sorts of residue, leaving you a cloudy appearance that your wipers can’t take care of.

What to look for:

You may think a popular household product such as Windex will do the job, and you’re not wrong. But there are products that make the job easier, with a finer mist spray that won’t drip all over the place. In addition, some glass cleaners are formulated to remove the thin layer of film that builds up on the interior of windshields. If you have tinted windows, you’ll also want to make sure you’re purchasing a glass cleaner that is safe to use.

Recommendation:

Easy to apply and ammonia-free so it’s safe to use on tint, Invisible Glass premium glass cleaner comes in an aerosol can with a no-drip, fine mist spray. It’s one of the most popular products on Amazon and for good reason. It doesn’t use any soaps or dyes, nor is it scented. Each wipe won’t leave streaky residues, so your windows are crystal clear once you’re done.

Read More Top 10 Best Plastic and Trim Restorers

Wheel and Tire Cleaners

carguys wheel and tire cleaner

Why you need it:

Depending on how intricately designed your wheels are, cleaning them can be a real pain. That’s when a wheel and tire cleaner comes in handy. After a quick rinse on your wheels, you can simply spray the cleaner, wait a few minutes for it to do its job, and then rinse it off. If there’s any stubborn dirt left over, it should be fairly easy to scrub off with your hand mitt and soap.

What to look for:

The most important factor when shopping for a wheel and tire cleaner is to make sure it’s safe to use on any finish. Modern wheels come in a variety of finishes, including chrome paint, so you’ll want to make sure the wheel cleaner isn’t so harsh that it damages your wheel. Look for a wheel and tire cleaner that’s environmentally friendly and is formulated to be acid free, non-toxic, and pH balanced.

Recommendation:

Our recommendation for a wheel and tire cleaner comes from Car Guys. One of the most popular and highly-rated wheel and tire cleaners on Amazon, Car Guys’ product ticks all the boxes we look for. It’s made in the U.S. and conforms to all safety regulations, specially formulated to be acid free, non-toxic, and pH balanced. It will clean wheels of all finishes, including alloy, aluminum, anodized, chrome, painted, polished, clear-coated, and even plasti-dipped.

 


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