It doesn’t take much dirt or road grime to make your car’s paint job look bad. You can wash your car today and drive to work in the rain tomorrow and see a massive difference in the way it seems overall. If you’re like us, you probably wash your car often to keep the paint job looking its best and to protect it from the elements. However, washing your car is much more complicated than most people realize. Soaps designed for washing cars are as varied as the ones we use for our hair, and they all have a specific job or purpose. We'll talk a little more about that in the next section, but it's vital that you know the soap you choose is responsible for protecting your car’s paint and cleaning it.

Comparison Table

How We Chose the Car Wash Soaps on Our Lists

We chose the soaps on our list based on a variety of reasons. Customer opinions rode high on the list along with the brand’s overall reputation. The lists don’t reflect which products we think may be the best or worst. See our Buyer’s guide toward the bottom of this article to find out how to pick the best car wash soap for your needs and some other advice as well.

For now, examine the list and read our mini-reviews of each car wash soap. Choosing one comes later, and we'll give you all the help we can. To make our list, a car wash soap must meet all four of the primary criteria for being a quality soap. The requirements include:

  • The car wash soap must be biodegradable
  • It must be PH balanced and wash away clean
  • The soap must have a high lubricity
  • It should be high foaming soap

Biodegradable soap is a must because you don’t want to harm the environment. The soap you use may end up on your grass, pets, or make its way into waste treatment plants. Choosing an environmentally friendly product ensures that it won’t harm anything it comes in contact with after you're done using it. Keep in mind the soap is on your skin for a long time as well.

A PH balanced soap washes away clean and with minimal effort. In other words, you can rinse it off with a low-pressure garden hose, and it won't leave behind any residue. No matter how high quality a soap is, it still contains chemicals designed to break up dirt and grime and remove them from your vehicle, so you need to be able to remove it quickly to keep your car's shine in good shape.

Surprisingly, some soaps are less slippery than others. A few might even fall into the abrasive category like cheap car soaps and dish detergents. A slippery soap is the best choice because it comes off easier and it helps move dirt faster. Never use a soap like a dish detergent or any household cleaner to clean your vehicle, but more about that later as well.

Foam is the real champion of any good car wash soap. Foam surrounds the dirt and grime to lift it away from your car’s paint and help keep it from damaging the surface. If you buy a car soap that doesn’t seem like it’s ridiculously foamy, you may need to ditch that soap and get another one. Otherwise, dirt and grime may linger on the surface as it moves and cause damage to the paint job.

In general, this is how you choose a good car wash soap. However, some of the criteria above may not apply to specialty car soaps like those designed to remove wax or combo soaps that wash and wax at the same time. Check the sections below for our picks on the best general and wash and wax car soaps. It may seem sensible to use a wash and wax always, but we recommend only using it monthly.

The Best General Use Car Soaps

General use simply means this is your maintenance car wash. You wash your car with this soap after driving down a dirt road or a long road trip. These soaps are also suitable for a simple weekly wash to keep the dirt at bay. None of the soaps on this list are designed to remove wax or apply wax as part of the washing process. These soaps wash and condition your car's paint, and that's it.

Meguiar's G7164 Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo and Conditioner Hfsrq,...
  • Rich and luxurious car wash designed to wash and condition paint in one easy step
  • Premium formula offers rich foaming and sudsing action to gently and safely wash away tough dirt, road grime and...
  • Ultra-rich conditioners reveal color and clarity and leave your paint with a radiant shine

 Meguiar’s brand is one of the top-rated brands if you ask most car care professionals. It meets all our criteria for a good car soap with extra foam. This soap is formulated to clean and condition the exterior of your car and rinse away cleanly. You can use it in a bucket or a foam cannon.

Chemical Guys CWS_301_16 Citrus Wash & Gloss Foaming Car Wash Soap...
  • The slickest citrus based wash formulated to outshine most waxes
  • Citrus base, hyper concentrated wash gloss is the ultimate surface prep paintwork cleanser, shampoo and gloss enhancer
  • It has biodegradable formula that out performs hazardous solvent shampoos and surface cleaners

Even though it has gloss in its name, this is not a wash and wax car soap. However, it’s environmentally safe, very slippery, and creates a lot of foam. It only takes about one capful of this soap per five gallons of water to form a super foamy car wash mixture. It may not matter much to most people, but the citrus smell is nice as well.

Adam's Car Wash Shampoo (16 fl. oz) - pH Best Car Wash Soap For Snow...
  • ✅ WHY CHOOSE ADAM’S CAR WASH SHAMPOO? - Our pH neutral wash soap is perfect for weekly maintenance washing! Our...
  • ✅ IMPROVE YOUR AUTO DETAILING ARSENAL or LINE OF CAR CLEANING SUPPLIES - Equipped with a pleasant wild berry...

It rinses off cleanly and won’t hurt your wax or clear coat. A little of this car soap goes a long way as well. You can use it in a foam gun or a bucket but either way, you'll get plenty of slippery foam. It won’t damage or fade plastic or rubber car parts as well.

Mothers 05632 California Gold Car Wash - 32 oz.
  • Careful balance of powerful cleaning and care to prevent dulling paint
  • Balanced pH for added safety even with continuous use
  • Super-sudsy formula resists water spotting

​This soap has one of the highest foaming rates of any on our list. It rinses off clean and won’t leave any residue that may harm your car’s clear coat. It helps improve your cars shine by conditioning the wax without removing it. It's safe for regular use, and you won't see any buildup over time.

Griot's Garage 10866 Car Wash (Brilliant Finish) 64oz
  • Maintain paint care perfection bucket after bucket as our special brighteners yield a lasting, high-gloss and...
  • Creates an eruption of rich, slippery suds
  • Made from concentrated premium ingredients

This soap includes brighteners which actually just enhance your current wax or clear coat’s shine, which is the same thing most car soaps call conditioners. It doesn’t contain any waxing agents. It rinses away cleanly and creates plenty of foam. The high foaming action and slippery soap help prevent streaking as well.

Best Wash and Wax Car Soaps

It’s not necessary to wax your car when it begins to look a little dull. Periodic waxing is essential, but you can get away with using a car wash soap that includes shampoo and a wax or wax enhancing agent. These car soaps work between wax jobs or when you don’t have the necessary time to strip and wax your car’s exterior. Do use them as a replacement for waxing.

Meguiar's D11301 Citrus Blast Wash & Wax, 128. Fluid_Ounces
  • WASH AND WAX: Provides fast and effective car washing while adding a layer of wax protection
  • SAVE TIME AND WATER: Special high-lubricity, lower-suds formula quickly rinses away, saving you time and water
  • SHINE AND GLOSS: Conditioners and high-gloss premium carnauba wax boost shine and leave a slick surface

This car shampoo and wax won’t give you the high foaming factor we'd like to see, but it creates a lot of suds, and the soap is extra slippery which helps move dirt and provide a streak-free rinse. This car soap will extend the life of your current wax, but it's not a replacement for a professional wax job.

Mothers 25678 M-Tech Wash and Wax, 48 fl. oz.
  • Quick and effective way to clean, shine and protect your paint or Clear coat
  • Dissolves and removes stubborn road grime and dirt
  • Boosts your existing wax - giving you a "just waxed" look and feel

​This pH balanced soap produces a lot of foam and helps removes road grime buildup while conditioning and helping restore the wax on your car. It meets all of our criteria which is a little rare with wash and wax soaps since they tend to be less foamy than general use soaps.

Turtle Wax 50733 Complete ICE Premium Car Care Kit, 8-Piece
  • 8-Piece Kit: ICE Spray Wax (T477R), ICE Spray Detailer (T470R), ICE Interior Cleaner & Protectant (T484R), ICE Speed...
  • Smart Shield Technology builds layers of shine & protection
  • ICE Interior Cleaner removes dust, fingerprints and food and beverage stains without leaving behind an artificial shine...

In a package of two 40-ounce containers. This soap produces a surprising amount of foam for a shampoo and wax which helps it to remove dirt and grime while restoring your wax. Even if you’ve procrastinated and let the grime build up over time, this soap will help move it without allowing it to damage your paint job.

Rain-X 5077557 Carnauba Wax Protection, 64 Fluid_Ounces
  • Carnauba wax protection
  • Deep cleaning foam for a brilliant shine
  • Safe for all vehicle finishes

Rain-X is famous for their window cleaners and treatments, but they also make some excellent car soaps. This one has all the features we looked for in a car wash soap plus it helps restore faded or weak wax coats. It doesn’t offer a lot of foaming action, but it cleans well and leaves your car streak free even after air drying.

Your Car Soap Buying Guide

Best car wash soap
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Buying and using the right car soap probably seemed like a simple task before you started reading this article, but by now you should realize it’s a critical part of caring for your vehicle. Be sure to check the section below on some common mistakes people make when washing their vehicle. For now, let’s look at which products from our two lists might fit your needs.

We believe more foam is better, so we think the Mothers California Gold Car Wash is the best general car wash and it meets all of our criteria for a good car soap. If you want to include an occasional wash and wax shampoo, Mothers M-Tech Wash and Wax is our pick for the best overall wash and wax car soap.

Foam is essential and helps prevent dirt and grime from staying in contact with your vehicle’s paint while you’re washing it which damages the surface, but the foam isn't the most important feature we look for in a car soap. If you combine all the criteria into one car soap, Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash comes out on top as the best overall car soap.

Turtle Wax Ice Premium Car Care is our pick for the best value and overall best wash and wax car soap. It was hard choosing between the Turtle Wax and Rain-X Carnauba Wax Protection for this part of the buying guide. Both are affordable and offer excellent paint care, but Turtle Wax won in the end based on customer opinions.

You're going to have a hard time finding a car soap better than the ones we include on our two lists. However, there's no reason you can't do your own research and test a few products to find the one you like best. It's your vehicle, and you need to feel confident in the soap you choose. There are a few things you may want to consider beyond what we included in our initial list of criteria.

The most important features are the ones we included in our criteria for choosing the soaps on our list. You need a lot of foam, and it must be pH balanced, so it rinses away cleanly and doesn't leave streaks or water spots. Make sure it’s biodegradable and check it out to make sure it’s truly environmentally safe beyond just printing it on the label. There’s very little regulation for car soaps in this area.

Do the math to ensure you’re getting a good value based on the concentration. As a very crude, general rule, one capful of the soap should mix with at least three gallons of water to provide an excellent soapy, foamy car wash. In most cases, the ratio of soap to water should be one ounce of soap per gallon of water. So, we’re assuming the soaps cap hold about two or three ounces usually.

The scent is the least important factor overall. No one is going to walk by and tell you that your car smells nice. However, it isn't a bad idea to use scented soap for your own pleasure. It might cover some of the car and lawn equipment odors in the garage or just provide a novelty effect for your benefit. You'll be smelling it while washing the car, so make sure the scent is pleasant.

Car Washing Mistakes

Best Car Wash Soap
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Image by VintageBlue from Pixabay

If you’re reading this article, you care about your car and how it looks. Taking a vehicle that you care about to a tunnel or any automated car wash is terrible for it. Don’t assume running it through this kind of service is safe because you only do it once in a while. The car wash damages its exterior each time.

We’re not saying professional car detailers use unsafe chemicals and cheap tools, but you should ask them about the products they use. However, automated car washes use chemicals to clean your tires and undercarriage that contains acid which helps remove tough oil and grime. This acid is not bad for the intended parts, but the overspray gets on your paint job which damages it.

Those giant spinning brushes almost every automated car wash had a decade ago are practically gone today. They got replaced by giant spinning rollers with cloth attached to them. The cloth cleaners are slapped against your car’s paint a few hundred times a minute and the dirt they pick up goes with them. So, you’re still putting millions of tiny scratches on your car that dull the paint over time.

The next problem is the automated car wash uses a cheap soap. The dryer you go through near the end of the process doesn’t dry your vehicle, and you will end up with water spots on the paint. Water spots don’t go away when you wash your car the next time. They may fade a bit, but water spots stick around until you waste a lot of time stripping away the wax and buffing them out.

Handwashing your car at home is just as bad as automated car washes if you do it wrong. Using dishwashing or other household detergents to wash your car is very bad for the paint. They contain caustic chemicals that remove your wax and damage the clear coat. Never use anything except soaps designed for use on cars.

Don’t use the same cloth on your paint that you use to clean the tires and rims. For that matter, you should use separate cleaning cloths for tires, paint, windows, and trim. Another common mistake many car owners make is drying their car with an old towel. No matter how soft you think your towels might be, they aren’t soft enough for the clear coat on your vehicle.

Using the same bucket for washing and rinsing your cleaning cloth may seem efficient but it’s damaging your paint. Some of the dirt and grime you wash off your car will travel back with the cloth after you rinse it. Use a separate bucket for washing and rinsing. It may be an excellent idea to use different buckets for each cleaning mission from tires to windows as well.

So How Do I Wash My Car?

Car Wash
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Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay  

We’re glad you asked because most people do it wrong. A simple thing like washing a car doesn’t need to be complicated, and it’s not for the most part. It’s more about using the right tools and doing things in the correct order. Most people just need to tweak their method a little along with avoiding automated car washes and cheap soaps.

Clean your tires first. Anything that washes onto them can be rinsed off quickly once they're cleaned. If you clean them first, you're less likely to rush, and you won't accidentally get tire cleaner on the paint job. After washing your entire vehicle, it's not unusual to get tired and a little sloppy toward the end. Don't save the tires for last specifically for those reasons.

Buy three or four mitts to wash your car with and make sure you use the same one for the tires each time. The same goes for the one you use on the windows and body of the car. If you buy a car washing kit along with some extra mitts and towels, you’ll have most of the tools you need, and you can be sure they're designed for car washing and not people washing. That part is important.

Get at least three buckets and fill one with your car soap, one with clean water, and use the last one for tire cleaning. Rinse your mitt in the clean water and wring it out before dunking it in the car washing soap after each cleaning attempt. Change the clean water a few times throughout the car washing process to make sure you don’t bring dirt back to your car while you’re washing it.

Most car washing kits come with a drying towel. However, buy a few extra towels and take care of them between washes. It will make washing your car easier and help eliminate spots and streaks. The car soaps we reviewed here do an excellent job of preventing streaks and water spots, but no car soap is perfect and drying your car correctly is the best defense.

Don't wash your car in direct sunlight and never hop in the car and drive down the road to dry it. Use the drying towels we just talked about, or you'll probably end up with streaks and spots. Municipal water supplies contain a lot of chemicals to make the water safer to drink, but most of them aren't safe for your car. Sunlight complicates things further by evaporating the water too quickly.

Some Final Notes

We know you want to take the best care possible of your car. However, some vehicle owners get the oil changed, and tires rotated on time without fail but overlook the importance of proper paint maintenance. If you follow our advice and use high-quality soaps, you can take care of your car's paint, and it's not hard to do as well.

Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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