Written By
Published Oct. 4, 2021

Whether you choose to hand wash your car occasionally or you’re a regular weekend detailer, getting a pristine and thorough clean starts with a good quality car wash soap. It needs to be tough enough to cut through stubborn road grime, tar, dirt, and brake dust, but gentle enough not to damage your car’s paint and clear coat. With dozens of different options on the market all promising to be the best ever, it can be tough to know which ones really deliver on their promises. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of our top favorite contenders as well as a comprehensive buying guide. We’ll have you showing off your showroom-ready ride in no time.

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Our Methodology

There are dozens of car wash soaps to choose from. We chose product from reputable manufacturers with a solid history of producing reliable and innovative auto detailing products. We also wanted to compare apples to apples, so we stuck only with soaps versus kits or multiple product bundles. 

Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.

Best Car Wash Soaps Reviews & Recommendations

Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate is a premium-grade shampoo that leaves no streaks or spots on your vehicle’s paint. It uses a highly concentrated blend of mild surfactants and cleaners with no acids, alkali, or other additives that can dull your vehicle’s polish. The suds penetrate and lift foreign particles, including dirt and grime, creating a sheeting effect that makes your car easier to rinse off. It’s able to be used in foam guns as well as all professional car washing equipment.

Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate offers a pH-balanced formula that needs one ounce per gallon of water to create a sudsy mix, offering more than enough firepower to clean your vehicle. This concentrate is very drying to your skin, however so if you’re a frequent car washer, consider wearing gloves.

Specs
  • Brand Duragloss
  • Model 902
  • Weight 8 pounds
PROS

Non-streaking and non-spotting

Pleasant cherry scent

Non-acidic formula

CONS

Harsh on skin

Overpowering scent

Must be diluted

If you’re searching for a car wash soap that works quickly and effectively, you’ll want to consider Mothers California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax. This cleaning solution is effective for professionals and beginners. The carnauba wax gives you glossy results, and there is no need to buy any additional wax, saving you lots of time. The finish will look like a professionally waxed car with ultimate shine and protection.

While this formula doesn’t foam up as much as some other options, it is still effective in removing the toughest stains and the most obstinate grime and dirt. The neutral pH of the product ensures no streaks, watermarks, or swirls are left behind. This product is concentrated, so a little will go a long way.

Specs
  • Brand Mother’s
  • Model 05674
  • Weight 3.5 pounds
PROS

Affordable

Long-lasting

Soap and wax in one product

CONS

Doesn’t foam up well

Can leave streaks behind

Doesn’t shine

Meguiar’s is the brand to choose if you want quality detailing products for your car. Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash and Wax is one of the most highly regarded and popular car wash soaps on the market. This dual action cleaning product promises to cleanse your vehicle’s exterior and restore a fresh, lustrous shine. It combines car wash soap and protective wax ingredients in one highly effective solution. It’s perfect for adding that extra “oomph” factor to your car in between regular waxes, and the wash actually boosts the wax’s shine. With every wash, this soap will help add a glow to your car’s paint surface.

Moreover, Meguiar’s Ultimate Wax and Wash doesn’t only add glow and shine; it also adds an extra layer of protection to the exterior surface. It’s formulated with clear coat safe Camauba and synthetic polymer, which ensure deep cleaning and pH neutral protection that won’t strip wax. This car wash soap effectively cleans without ruining your most recent wax job. After washing and drying, your car will shine with a deep, glossy shine with minimal swirls. Each bottle includes one gallon, or 128 fluid ounces, of cleaning solution. Where most other wax and wash products fail to deliver suds, this Meguiar’s formula delivers incredible foaming action that effectively lifts all grime and dirt safely. This product is a little pricier than most, and you will need some elbow grease to produce a spot-free shine.

Specs
  • Brand Meguiar’s
  • Model G17701
  • Weight 9.08 pounds
PROS

Wash and wax

Reliable results

Concentrated formula

CONS

Expensive

Need to scrub

Can leave behind residue

Turtle Wax is well respected in the auto care and detailing sector, and its Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wash and Wax is an example of why. This pH-balanced hybrid wash uses environmentally safe biodegradable detergents combined with rich foam conditioners to deliver an all-encompassing, over-the-top cleaning. It won’t strip or dissolve sealants or waxes and is gentle yet strong enough to be used on all vehicle types.
This soap is infused with a pleasant and fun fruity fragrance and can be easily applied with a foam cannon sprayer, or by hand with the premium and ultra soft wash mitt.

This 48-ounce bottle won’t give the most amount of washes per purchase, but it will provide a thorough and protective clean. You may also notice that the product doesn’t foam as much with a water cannon applicator.

Specs
  • Brand Turtle Wax
  • Model 53411
  • Weight 14 ounces
PROS

Creates chemical-resistant barrier

Biodegradable, non-toxic formula

Pleasant, fruity scent

CONS

Need a lot of product

Doesn’t foam up as much

Expensive

Best Ultra Concentrate

Since 1980, the brand 303 has been a leader for cleaning products popular with automotive, home, and boating applications. It has developed formulas to combat UV exposure, high-speed winds, and other forces of nature. The Ultra-Concentrated Car Wash, a pH-neutral foam formula that works through dirt, grime, and road pitch for a deep gloss finish and streak-free shine.

Applying this formula is very straightforward and easy. The bottle is only 18 fluid ounces, however, making it good for only 18 car washes. If you’re looking to stretch your dollar, this isn’t the soap for you.

Specs
  • Brand 303
  • Model 30577
  • Weight 1.32 pounds
PROS

Concentrated

Bubble-gum scent

Wash mitt included

CONS

Bottle’s cap doesn’t close tightly

Fewer washes per bottle

Need to dry car by hand

Best for Deep Cleaning

The Citrus Wash & Gloss not only smells good, it also provides powerful results due to its hyper-concentrated formula and high-gloss content. It’s designed to remove mud and grime and produce streak-free results. It generates thick suds that minimize swirl marks, and it leaves behind a slick, shiny surface area. The product is simple to rinse off and is safe to use on any color paint. It makes paint look shiny and glossy, and you can eliminate difficult-to-remove debris from your vehicle with less scrubbing compared to some rival products.

Overall, it works quickly and efficiently, is easy to apply, and has a pleasant smell. It also works well with a foam cannon. However, the formula can separate in the bottle, so you need to shake it well before applying.

Specs
  • Brand Chemical Guys
  • Model CWS-301-16
  • Weight 16 ounces
PROS

Tackles stuck-on dirt and grime

Thick suds

Citrus scent

Promotes glossy look

CONS

Formula can separate in bottle

Adam’s pH-neutral car wash is safe to use on a variety of surfaces, including paint, plastic, rubber, vinyl, and glass. You can use this product in full sunlight, and it counteracts any mineral content you may have in your water supply. The slick, lubricating formula effectively eliminates dirt and won’t damage your clear coat. The product also features a wild-berry scent and can be used with either a bucket, foam gun, or foam cannon.

Designed to remove dirt, grime, and other contaminants, it promotes a spot-free look and will not adversely affect wax, sealant, or ceramic coating you have on your vehicle. The company also has a 110 percent satisfaction guarantee should you experience any issues.

Specs
  • Brand Adam’s
  • Model CWS
  • Weight 16 ounces
PROS

Thick suds and foam

Protects wax

Glossy shine

CONS

Expensive

Less foamy

Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a car wash soap that delivers great results with a pH-balanced but gentle formula, our top overall pick is the Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate. It’s a premium-grade wash that leaves no streaks or spots thanks to a highly concentrated blend of mild surfactants and cleaners with no acids, alkali, or other additives that can dull your vehicle’s polish.

For a great budget-friendly option that still provides excellent cleaning power, try Mothers 05674 California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax

Do you have a car wash soap you’re loyal to? Hit us up in the comments and let us know all about it.

What To Consider When Buying Car Wash Soap

Car wash soap runs the gamut in terms of the type of formula, concentration, thickness/consistency, scent, and ingredients. Each product does basically the same thing, but results can vary based on climate conditions, type of wax/exterior paint used, and other factors. Consider these factors when purchasing a car wash.

Types of Car Wash Soap

Alkaline or Acid

The standard pH range goes from 0 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline), with 7 being the base, neutral score. Excessively low or excessively high pH levels could cause your vehicle’s paint and wax to corrode, especially in hot weather.

Look for car washes with a pH level of 7. A pH level of 7 makes it safe to apply on all surfaces, including rubber, metal, chrome, and paint. Keep in mind that some car washes specialize in more aggressive cleaners.

Foaming Shampoo and Rinse Free 

Foaming car washes have rich, soapy suds that create massive bubbles when mixed with water. Foam does an excellent job of lifting up dirt, road pitch, and grime by softening and encapsulating it, making it easier to remove and rinse off. A pH-neutral foam also helps prevent scratching your car’s paint.

Rinse-free options are designed for lighter cleaning and convenience. They are good for occasional dust buildup, not a vehicle soaked with road salt, grime, and dirt. It is a preferred method of cleaning for those who live in apartment complexes with no access to a driveway and a hose.

Concentration 

The heavier the formula concentration, the longer it will last. Aim for car washes with a minimum soap to water ratio of one ounce for one or two gallons of water. Note, container sizes vary wildly.

Scent  

Car wash soap comes in all types of scents. One of the more popular scents is citrus, but car wash soap can come in cherry, lemon, piña colada, and vanilla scents. Car wash scent is mainly a matter of preference and has no bearing on overall effectiveness.

Car Wash Soap Pricing 

Some car wash soap options are available for less than $10. These products tend to come in smaller bottles, so they won’t last as long as more expensive options. Still, if you get the right brand, it will get the job done effectively. Slightly more expensive options may combine cleaning agents with wax, giving you more bang for your buck. They can cost as much as $20, depending on the brand. Some of the more pricier products may be concentrated and are available in larger containers, so they can be used for a longer period of time.

Tips and Tricks

As with anything you do for years, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way. That’s the case with us and car wash soaps. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Look for car wash soap with a medium ph balance. They work on all kinds of surfaces, including chrome, glass, rubber, and wax.
  • Some car washes are specially formulated. This includes bug wash, a high-alkaline product that may be heavy on ammonia. These are typically applied over a smaller surface area such as windshields and wheels to wash bugs out.
  • Do not use household cleaning agents like dishwashing soap to wash your car. These soaps contain properties that may strip off your vehicle’s protective wax and shorten the life of your paint job. 
  • Be sure to work your car wash soap into a rich and foamy later before applying it to your paint. This helps to better lubricate and elevate dirt, grime, and other particles on your paint, making it easier to rinse off.
  • For a true, glass-like finish, you may need to take your car wash a step further and purchase a clay-bar kit. Clay bar kits consist of synthetic clay that is rubbed and kneaded over your paint to remove embedded dirt.

FAQs:

Q: What do car washes use to remove bugs?

A: Dead bugs are extremely acidic to your car’s paint job and should be removed immediately. They become dried and caked on and can leave permanent damage, so car washes use a special formulation of caustic pre-treaters to loosen dried bug guts prior to washing.

Q: What is a good substitute for car wash soap?

A: If you go out to your garage to prepare for a Saturday morning car wash only to find that someone has used up the last of your favorite car wash soap, you can use a mild dish soap. While it’s not specifically formulated for use on cars, most dish soaps are passable for occasional use.

Q: Can I use a wash and wax hybrid on my car?

A: Many car owners feel that the best car wash soap comes with a layer of wax as well. Combining your car soap with wax not only cleans the car’s surface, but it also protects the car’s paint from potential damage.

Sources:

  1. Car Wash – Wikipedia

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