Written By Lisa Conant
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.

Best Car Wash Soaps Reviews & Recommendations

Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate #902 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. Each sud penetrates and lifts 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.

Additionally, Duragloss Car Wash Concentrate #902 offers a safe pH-balanced formula. pH neutral car shampoos allow it to work on all types of materials without drying out your trim or affect any plastic body components. It’s cherry-scented with a texture that is similar to that of thick, slick cough syrup. Application is easy. Instructions to apply the formula are pretty straightforward, only needing one ounce per gallon of water to create a healthy and sudsy mix, offering more than enough firepower to clean your vehicle. The one drawback is that this concentrate is very drying to your skin, so if you’re a frequent car washer, consider wearing gloves to prevent your hands from overdrying and cracking.

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

Non-streaking and non-spotting

Pleasant cherry scent

pH balanced, non-acidic formula

CONS

Harsh on skin

Some people don’t care for the overpowering scent

Must be diluted prior to application

If you’re searching for a car wash soap that works quickly and effectively, you’ll want to consider Mothers 05674 California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax. This cleaning solution is effective for anyone from professionals to beginners. The Carnauba wax included in the solution gives you glossy results and there is no need to buy any additional wax, saving you lots of time throughout the detailing process. 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 and not to mention, the soap itself is non-toxic and biodegradable, making it a safe option for households with kids and pets.
This product is one of the most concentrated solutions on this list, so a little will go a long way and this already well-priced option will last you quite a while.

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

Affordable

Long-lasting

Includes soap and wax in one product

CONS

Doesn’t foam up well

Can leave some streaks behind if not washed off thoroughly

Doesn’t shine up as well as waxing separately

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 in one step

Reliable results

Large quantity of concentrated formula will last a long time

CONS

Expensive

Still need to scrub to produce a deep shine

Will leave behind a residue if not properly diluted

Turtle Wax is another brand that is well-respected in the auto care and detailing sector, and the Turtle Wax 53411 Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wash and Wax is a perfect 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.

For hand washing, all it takes is 3 ounces of concentrate to one gallon of water to give you major sudsing action that will loosen tough dirt and grime. This 48-ounce bottle won’t give the most amount of washes per purchase, but it will provide a thorough and protective clean that’s chemical- and water-resistant. You may also notice that the product doesn’t foam as much with a water cannon applicator as some others on the market.

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

Creates a chemical-resistant barrier

Biodegradable, non-toxic formula

Pleasant, fruity scent

CONS

Requires more concentrate than some other options

Doesn’t foam up as much as other soaps

Pricey

Best Ultra Concentrate

Since 1980, 303 has been a leading brand for cleaning products popular with automotive, home, and boating applications. The brand has developed formulas to combat UV exposure, high-speed winds, and other forces of nature that can degrade vehicles, home appliances, and boats over time. Its premium car wash product is 303 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.

Arguably, 303 Ultra Concentrated Car Wash’s biggest draw is its super concentrated formula. You need only one ounce of soap for every 5 gallons of water, making it one of the most concentrated car wash soaps on our list. Another added bonus is its bubble gum scent, a welcome change from most citrus-based products. If you want to corral your kids into helping you wash your car, this scent comes highly recommended. Applying this formula is very straightforward and easy. Note, the bottle is only 18 fluid ounces, 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

Ultra concentrated formula

Fun bubble gum scent

Includes a handy wash mitt with your purchase

CONS

Bottle’s cap doesn’t close tightly and breaks easily

Fewer washes per bottle than most other products on our list

Will still need to dry car by hand to prevent streaks

How We Selected The Products 

There were dozens of different options for car wash soaps to choose from. In order to narrow down and select only the best options, we chose products that came from reputable manufacturers with a solid history of producing reliable and innovative auto detailing products. We also wanted to compare apples to apples instead of offering a bunch of different car washing products, 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.

Buying Guide/What to Look For 

Car wash soaps run the gamut in terms of the type of formula, concentration, thickness/consistency (foaming shampoo vs. rinse-free options), 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. Keep reading to learn more about the main factors to consider when purchasing a car wash, ranked in order of importance from most important to least important.

What To Consider When Buying Car Wash Soaps

pH levels

pH levels speak to a formula’s alkaline or acidic content. 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 (e.g., bug removal formulas like Gyeon Bug & Grime that carry pHs closer to 9). This buying guide is covering general car wash formulas only.

Foaming Shampoo vs. Rinse-Free Options 

Foaming car washes imply just that – 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. pH neutral foam also helps prevent scratching your car’s paintwork.

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

Deciding between either one mainly comes down to the type of cleaning job (light versus heavy), location (outdoors vs. in a garage), and desire to conserve water.

Concentration 

The heavier the formula concentration, the longer it will last. As a rule of thumb, aim for car washes with a minimum soap to water ratio of 1 ounce for 1-2 gallons of water. Note, container sizes vary wildly, going as small as the 303 Ultra Concentrated Car Wash’s 18 ounces upwards of 100 ounces for the Rain-X’s Foaming Car Wash.

Noting concentration levels will also help you know how long each container will last. Expect a 100-ounce container of car wash to last you for years, assuming a weekly or bi-weekly cleaning schedule. Many larger containers are also cheaper on a per-ounce basis than smaller containers.

Scent  

Car washes carry all types of scents. One of the more popular scents is citrus, common with naturally derived citrus-based formulas (orange oil). With fewer exceptions, car washes can come in cherry, lemon, pina colada, and vanilla scents with the occasional odd-ball (e.g. 303 Ultra Concentrate Car Wash’s bubble gum scent). Car wash scent is mainly a matter of preference and has no bearing on overall effectiveness.

Equipment Needed to Wash Your Car

It’s a good idea to have the following items on hand and ready to go when washing your car:

Two buckets

The first and foremost thing you need is buckets. Fill one with soapy water and the other with clear water to rinse dirt and grit off of your mitt or sponge.

Hose

A hose is necessary when you want to rinse off the soap from your car.

A Washing Mitt

Do not just use any cloth to lather on the soap. Instead, use a microfiber washing mitt. It fits your hand like a glove, literally, and prevents any abrasion.

Foam Gun

Instead of using your hands to lather on the soap to your car, you can invest in a good quality foam gun. It will spray thick lather directly onto the car quickly and efficiently.

Drying Cloth

Drying cloths should be used after rinsing as you should never allow the soap to air dry.

Car Wash Soaps Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. 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 soaps with a Base 7 rating. The standard pH range starts at 0 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline). 7-rated car wash soaps 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 grind 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. Remember, your typical car wash only works to remove surface dirt.

FAQs:

Q: What do car washes use to remove bugs?

Dead bugs and their remains are extremely acidic to your car’s paint job and should be removed pronto. If that’s not feasible, they become dried and caked-on and can leave permanent damage, so to get them off, car washes use a special formulation of caustic pre-treaters to loosen dried bug guts prior to washing. If you want to remove them at home, consider a product that’s specifically designed for bugs and tar, like the Chemical Guys Concentrated Bug and Tar Remover Car Wash Soap.

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

If you go out to your garage to prepare for a sunny Saturday morning car wash, only to find that someone has used up the last of your favorite car wash soap and neglected to mention it, in a pinch, you can always use a mild dish soap. While it’s not specifically formulated for use on cars, most dish soaps are passable for very occasional use. You know, for a car wash emergency

Q: What is the best wash and wax soap for cars?

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. These are the best car wash soap and wax options:

Meguiars Ultimate Wash and Wax

Mothers California Gold Carnauba Car Wash & Wax

Turtle Wax 53411 Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wash and Wax

Final Thoughts

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 definitely the Duragloss 902 Car Wash Concentrate. It’s a premium-grade shampoo 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. The Carnauba wax included in the solution gives you glossy results and there is no need to buy any additional wax, saving you lots of time throughout the detailing process.

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