Just as you don’t get great results washing your hair with dish soap, when it comes to washing your car, you’ll be a lot happier using a proper car wash soap. Dish detergents and other household soaps are designed to remove grease, which means they will strip wax or any other protective coating from your car.

Car cleaning products are specially formulated to be used on paint surfaces and clearcoat, with added lubrication so dust and grime glide right off your paintwork when you’re washing. You have lots of options for how to use them, from a bucket and a was mitt, to a garden hose attachment, to a pressure washer and foam gun if you really want to clean your car properly. 

Environmentally Friendly Car Washing

As with any automotive care project, you should be aware of the potential for harmful runoff from your cleaning. Lots of people like to go to a local do-it-yourself car wash, where wastewater is controlled, but if you can’t, don’t let water flow into storm drains or other waterways. Gravel and soil make a good filter, especially if you’re using biodegradable, phosphate-free soap, and dump your wash buckets down a sink or toilet so that municipal wastewater treatment (or your septic system) can take care of it. All the soaps on our list are phosphate free, and many claim to be biodegradable.

How We Chose The Best Car Wash Soaps

We combined our personal experience with specific car wash soaps (like the #2 pick that we use in the AutoGuide Garage), past experience with reputable brands, and our metric for calculating weighted user reviews from Amazon and other retailers. We compared those results against against a suite of publicly accessible tools we use to help eliminate fraudulent review patterns, and researched which of the results were best. 

There are hundreds of varieties of car wash soaps on the market, so if you’re having a tough time deciding, we’ve got you covered.

1. Editor's Pick: Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash

chemical guys mr. pink super suds car wash

Our top pick is Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash. Designed to be gentle on sealant and wax coatings, this automotive shampoo is ideal for weekly use, and is pH balanced so it won’t damage other materials such as polished metals, glass, vinyl, rubber, and plastic trim pieces. It’s a slick formula that easily glides off your car, helping make sure swirl marks and scratches don’t appear while you wash. The soap also rinses clean, leaving behind no residue or water spots.

Like other products on our list, expect the Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash to produce plenty of foam when mixed properly, and it’s great with a foam gun. As a bonus, it’s candy-scented and smells “delicious,” as some reviewers have said. You should definitely keep it out of reach of children, and pay attention to little ones if they’re nearby when you’re cleaning your car.

Promoted Product: Image Platinum Wash

Image Platinum Wash

Image Wash Products earned its reputation for making soap that can clean away all the dirt and grime that trucks pick up. However, the brand’s Platinum Wash is becoming increasingly popular among car owners and detailers as a great option for keeping daily drivers looking good.

What sets Image Platinum Wash apart is its neutral pH formula and thick, long-lasting foam that is able to emulsify heavy road film and other oils. Even better, the soap is highly lubricated to help prevent swirls and scratches while you wash. It’s even gentle on your hands and smells like cherries!

When it comes time to rinse the Image Platinum Wash off your car, it is specially formulated to offer a streak-free finish and contains gloss enhancers that will leave your car’s paint glistening.

In case you need even more convincing, Image Platinum Wash is biodegradable, gentle on protective coatings, and safe on all exterior surfaces. Whether you pair it with a foam cannon or go old school with a bucket of water, it will get the job done right.

2. Best for Foam Guns: Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash

Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash

We usually have a bottle of Meguiar’s at the AutoGuide Garage to use with our foam gun. Photo credit: David Traver Adolphus / AutoGuide.com

Arguably the most popular and trusted brand in car care, Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash is also one of the most popular car cleaning products available. Gold Class Car Wash contains an ultra-rich conditioner to make your car’s paint look the best without stripping any wax protection from the body. All Meguiar’s car washes are non-detergent and lubricate the surface to help get contaminants, dirt, and debris off your car’s paintwork.

The Gold Class Car Wash is billed as a shampoo and conditioner in one, designed to both wash and condition your paint in one easy step. Expect plenty of suds using this wash, as it is one of the “soapiest” car shampoos available. When applying it to your car using a wash mitt or microfiber towels, you’ll quickly realize how smooth the soap is, gliding easily on and off your car, making it easier to achieve a spot-free finish. It’s a concentrated formula that makes it our favorite to use with a foam gun, too.

Most Amazon users also find the soap’s smell pleasant, which may not be a huge deal to some car owners, but is certainly better than smelling bad.

Read More The Best Car Waxes for a Lasting Shine

3. Best for Hand Washing: Adam's Car Wash Shampoo

adam's car wash shampoo

One of the highest priced car shampoos available comes from Adam’s Polishes. The company’s car shampoo uses a blend of advanced cleaners and polymers to create a rich, thick, head of foam during your entire washing experience. Expect to see thick, clinging lather when using this car wash, which won’t strip away any existing car waxes or sealants. It is also pH neutral so it works on all types of materials, and is gentle enough to not dry out rubber trim or or plastic components.

We don’t quite understand why so many car detailing products are fruit scented but if it matters to you, Adam’s Car Wash Shampoo has a wild berry scent that the company claims “will have you wanting to drink the bottle.” Please do not do that, even though Adams says their cleaning product is “100% Biodegradable and Earth Friendly.”

4. Ceramic Infused: Turtle Wax Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wash and Wax

turtle wax hybrid solutions ceramic wash and wax

If you’ve been keeping an eye on car washing and detailing trends over the recent years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of ceramic coating. A premium protectant originally only offered by professional detailers, ceramic coating has grown in popularity as a great way to protect your car’s finish for many years. Naturally, some companies have developed ceramic-type products, piggybacking off ceramic coating’s popularity. These aren’t true ceramic coatings, but they do contain silicon compounds which may give you some of the benefits of a ceramic coating without all the work.

One of those products is Turtle Wax’s Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wash and Wax, infused with SiO2 polymers to create a durable barrier for both coated and uncoated cars. That leaves your car’s surface super hydrophobic, making water bead and sheet to keep your finish nice and clean. This car wash soap is designed for scratch-free cleaning of road grime, while adding a chemical resistant layer of protection that lasts for months.

This product can also be used with a foam cannon, to make washing your car even easier. Ceramic automotive wash and wax products don’t make much lather or very good suds, because the compounds in them prevent it, but that doesn’t mean they’re not working well.

5. Best Waterless Car Wash: Optimum No Rinse Wash and Wax

optimum no rinse wash and wax

If you’re looking to conserve water or don’t live in an area with easy access to a hose hookup, Optimum’s No Rinse Wash and Wax is made for you. It doesn’t come cheap, but you won’t have to use gallons of water. That’s because the Optimum waterless car wash has no soapy surfactants to wash off the car. The unique product features substantive polymers that bond to the paint and protect it from abrasion during the wash, while offering greater protection and lubrication than conventional car washes. It includes carnauba wax that leaves a slick and glossy finish afterwards.

You wouldn’t expect results as good as a regular wash, or for it to protect your paint job, but the Optimum Wash & Wax is actually one of the highest rated of all automotive cleaning products on Amazon, with an outstanding 96% positive rating from over 1,800 reviews. The only reason not to use it is that you don’t want to apply another coat of your favorite wax over the top of it, and it’s priced like the premium product it is.

6. Easiest Rinsing: Rain-X Spot Free Car Wash

Rain-X Spot Free Car Wash

You might have heard of Rain-X, a company that specializes in rain protection for windshields. Using its research and knowledge of repelling the elements, Rain-X offers a semi-waterless car wash that does a good job of leaving a spot-free finish, without using gallons of water. 

It uses similar products to their non-streaking windshield protectant, and like those, you need several applications to build up a proper hydrophilic (water-repelling) coating. Even the first time will show good results, though, and it makes great foam either by hand or with a foam cannon. It’s pH balanced to be gentle on all vehicle surfaces including your paint job, existing wax finishes, and other exterior materials; and is particularly good for leaving glass and chrome streak-free. Another incidental benefit is the coating works when you’re not washing, too, helping rain bead up and slide off. 

We couldn’t find any information on it’s composition, but it should be phosphate free.

7. Mothers California Gold Car Wash

mothers california gold car wash

Another brand you likely recognize in the car care industry is Mothers. The company’s California Gold Car Wash is priced similarly to both the Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash and the Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash and offers similar results. Some users however, do say both the Meguiar’s and Chemical Guys produce more suds, giving the impression that those two products result in a slicker and cleaner application.

Still, the Mothers California Gold Car Wash will be super-sudsy compared to cheaper car shampoos. Its formula is also pH balanced for added safety and resists water spotting. Like other premium car shampoos, it won’t remove wax or dull the paint when used properly.

8. Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate

duragloss car wash concentrate

Priced as a premium car shampoo is the Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate. The solution shines as it cleans, and promises to not streak or spot the paint. Duragloss says the special formula encourages a sheeting effect to leave the vehicle mostly dry. It consists of a highly-concentrated blend of mild surfactants and cleaners and does not contain acids or alkali, so it won’t remove any durable polishes. It is also pH balanced so it’ll be safe on all surfaces. And for those who are curious, it smells like cherries!


Recent Updates:

May 24, 2022: Removed unavailable Griot’s Garage and Armor All car washes. Removed discontinued Rain-X Wash & Wax, added Rain-X Spot Free Car Wash. Awarded Best for Foam Guns to Meguiar’s Gold Class. Updated introduction and product descriptions. Updated product links.

March 4, 2022: Added a promoted product recommendation.

June 7, 2021: Removed the promoted product recommendation.

March 11, 2021: Updated with a new promoted product recommendation.

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