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Car wash soap is one of those things that your average joe might find trivial; just throw on any ‘ol car wash soap and it will clean the car, right? Well, there is actually quite a bit more to it than that. Car detailers and detailing enthusiasts alike, take more into consideration as there are many more properties that should be considered when choosing and using a car wash soap.
All car wash soaps essentially have the same main purpose: to facilitate the cleaning and removal of surface contaminants from a car during a car wash. Some products perform better than others in various ways, such as different additives to produce more suds, exhibit more gloss, etc. Another thing to consider (if you believe the marketing) is whether you want a pH-balanced soap that will simply clean off loose dirt off of the vehicle, or if you need a specific car wash soap that will “strip” the vehicle’s paint of residual protecting material so that it can be prepped for subsequent paint correction and/or paint protection (i.e. wax, sealants, coatings.)
Below is a list of car wash soaps that are ranked based on the most recommended by auto detailers and detailing enthusiasts in various car detailing forums. This is indeed still a subjective list as it is impossible to know what is “the best” car wash soap out there as it really depends on what you’re looking for. However in my opinion, I would trust the recommendations of the folks who are more knowledgeable and who use these products regularly. They also have experience using more than one car soap and therefore can make comparisons across different products. Without further ado, here is the list of the best car wash soaps based upon recommendations that come up time-and-time again.
Best Car Wash Soaps List
- Meguiar’s Hyper-Wash
- Optimum Car Wash
- CarPro Reset Car Wash
- Duragloss 901/902 Car Wash
- 3D Pink Car Soap
- Ultima Paint Guard Wash
- Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash
- Chemical Guys Honeydew Snow Foam Soap
- Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Car Wash Soap
- Sonax Car Wash Shampoo
Diving into the Details on Each Car Wash Soap
Meguiar’s D110 Hyper-Wash is probably the most recommended car wash in every car detailing forum out there. Made by the biggest and trusted detailing product manufacturer out there and only requires 1oz to 5 gallons of water dilution meaning more cost savings for the consumer. Great all-around car soap. Sweet, clean odor. pH-neutral with a pH level of 9-9.8.
Another highly recommended and well-regarded car soap out there is the Optimum Car Wash. This soap is known to foam up extremely well and lathers up extremely rich and thick. Very slick as well. pH-neutral with a pH level of 6.
CarPro Reset is a relatively newer car soap on the market compared to some of the veterans on this list, but it is quickly becoming a popular go-to for car detailers. Rinses away easily and cleanly. pH-neutral with a pH level of 8.5-9.
Don’t let the outdated labeling fool you, this is another well-recommended car soap by car detailing enthusiasts. Plenty of suds and lubricates well. Love it or hate it scent. 901 is the naming convention for the 16oz. bottle, 902 for the gallon bottle, same formula. pH-balanced with a pH level of 7-8.
Plenty of suds, good candidate for foam gun/cannon. 3D Pink offers a nice affordable car soap, although the dilution ratio is 1oz. soap per gallon of water, therefore it is not as economical as others. pH-balanced with a pH level of 8.
Ultima is a lesser known car soap, but is an excellent overall soap for those who have used it. Perhaps it is not as popular due to its cost, but it is more concentrated than other soaps so a little goes a long way. Highly lauded by those who use it. pH-neutral with a pH level of 7.
A classic car soap that offers nice gloss. Low cost, however dilution ratio requires 1oz. per gallon of water. Mild formula that is easy on paint protectants. pH-balanced with a pH level of 8-9.5.
Chemical Guys Honeydew is a great soap for use in a foam gun or cannon as it foams up very well. This helps with keeping the car soap suspended on the car longer, however it doesn’t rinse off as easily as some others on this list. Honeydew scent is interesting and unique. pH-neutral with a pH level of 7.5.
A decent car soap that foams well in a foam gun or cannon. There are mixed reviews on this one as many tend to prefer Chemical Guys Honeydew over this one. Still, it is relatively popular amongst the detailing enthusiasts. pH-neutral with a pH level of 7.5.
Similar to the Ultima, Sonax Car Wash Shampoo is a lesser known car soap but it is still well-regarded in the detailing community. It has a low viscosity so the formula is quite thin, but it still offers good lubricity. Foams up well. pH-balanced with a pH level of 7-8.
Car Wash Soap FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
- What are the best car wash soaps on the market today?
- What soap is best for use in a foam cannon/gun?
- What is a pH-balanced or pH-neutral car soap?
- Which car wash soaps are safe for ceramic coatings, paint sealants, waxes?
- Can’t I just use Dawn dish soap instead?
- What dilution should I use for soap-to-water ratio?
- Are car wash and wax products any good? What’s the best combo wash/wax?
- Does car wash soap expire?
- Does car wash soap kill grass and plants?
- Is there a car wash soap that is good for black cars?
- Do certain car wash soaps work well to prevent water spots?
- What is the best way to apply car wash soap?
What are the best car wash soaps on the market today?
You’ll find a list of the most recommended car wash soaps at the top of this post. This list was curated from numerous threads from the two largest car detailing forums (AutogeekOnline and Autopia.) They are are ranked based on the number of recommendations given by fellow car detailers and enthusiasts who post in these forums. In my opinion, this is your best source for reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
When I was trying to find out for myself what the best car wash soaps on the market were, I’d find many sites listing “the best” car wash soaps with no rhyme or reason behind the recommendations. None of them really seem to make any sense to me. The only source that I found I could trust online are experienced detailers on the AutogeekOnline and Autopia forums; the folks on these boards probably know more than 99% of the population out there on the subject.
I acknowledge having a list of top car wash soaps is pretty subjective and what may be the best for one may not be the best for another. However, there are certainly better car soaps out there compared to the rest. This list reflects the majority of enthusiast/professionals’ opinions on car wash soaps available to the consumer market.
Some of the things to consider when choosing a car wash soap are the properties and characteristics of the soap. Some are pH-neutral soaps, which is supposedly safer to use if you have a wax, sealant, or coating on your vehicle. Some product more suds that might help you if you’re using a foam gun/cannon. Others offer more glossing agents that give your car a bit extra shine once your wash is done. And perhaps you want a particular fragrance; each car wash soap even has a particular scent that could make your car washing experience that more enjoyable. There are lots of things to consider, but at the end of it all, it’s a car wash soap that facilitates the removal of contaminants from your car.
What soap is best for use in a foam cannon/gun?
Any car wash soap will work in a foam cannon or foam gun, but perhaps the ideal characteristic that you want from the car soap is one that will produce the plenty of suds. The one car soap that seems to be recommended time and time again for producing the most foam is Chemical Guys Honeydew Soap.
Other car wash soaps will still work in a foam cannon or gun, but some simply foam more than others. Furthermore, you can adjust the dial on your equipment to increase or reduce the amount of foam. Keep in mind that a foam cannon will produce a much better and longer lasting foam that will stay suspended on the vehicle than a foam gun will. This is due to the foam cannon using a pressure washer, while the foam gun uses the garden hose alone.
However, a misconception is that a foam that suds up thick and stays put like shaving cream is best. Although a thick foam might be good for encapsulating dirt and suspending it away from your car’s paint, you want a foam that will eventually run off. This is so that the encapsulated dirt can run off of the paint, rather than just stay on the car. If the foam stayed there indefinitely, then the dirt won’t be carried off the car, which increases the chance of that dirt scratching your paint when you’re using a wash mitt or towel.
What is a pH-balanced or pH-neutral car soap?
If you remember from Chemistry class, there is a pH scale that measures how acidic or basic a given solution is. The higher the pH level is, the more basic it is. The lower the pH level is, the more acidic it is. The middle of the scale is 7, which is neutral. Water is neutral and vary slightly more acidic or neutral depending on the minerals that it contains.
The term pH-neutral and pH-balanced are used interchangeably, however they are not the same thing. However, when the term pH-neutral or pH-balanced is thrown around with regards to car wash soap, it usually refers to where that soap falls on the pH scale. It’s pretty common to see both terms used even by car soap manufacturers, however they all intend to indicate the soap is in the middle or near the middle of the pH scale.
If you want to go into the technical details of what the difference is between pH-neutral and pH-balanced, pH-neutral means that the soap is at or near the center of the pH scale, meanwhile pH-balanced does not necessarily mean it is centered on the pH-scale. A car wash soap can actually be “balanced” to be at a high pH, “balanced” to be at a low pH level, and even “balanced” to be neutral. I won’t pretend to know the specifics on what exactly is being balanced chemically, but it is important to know that pH-balanced has no bearing on where the solution falls on the pH scale.
Which car wash soaps are safe for ceramic coatings, paint sealants, waxes?
The majority of information online and by word of mouth tells us that you need to use certain types of car wash soaps to prevent stripping or removing of existing ceramic coatings, waxes, and sealants. Specifically, the marketing tells us that these pH-neutral car wash soaps are mild enough on the pH scale to prevent reduction of life of these paint protectants.
During my research on this topic, I found it nearly impossible to find any information that said that pH-neutral soaps were unnecessary. In fact, I didn’t even think there was another side to this; I simply believed it was a universally known fact that a pH-neutral car soap is necessary for cars with existing paint protection. With further research on the topic, I’ve heard some convincing arguments that car waxes, sealants, and especially ceramic coatings are durable enough to withstand car wash soaps pH-neutral or not, even solutions at opposite ends of the pH-scale.
Contrary to much of the marketing out there that instills “pH fear” in detailers and consumers, it likely does not contribute much to reducing the life of an existing Last Step Product (LSP) such as wax, sealant, or coating. But if you go with most car wash soaps or even any of the soaps on the list at the top of this post, you’ll find that they all pretty much fall the center third of the pH scale anyway.
Can’t I just use Dawn dish soap instead?
Dawn, or any other dish soap, is a detergent that is intended to strip away grease from dishes, pots, and pans. This sounds like a good candidate for washing your car with, right? Well, sorta.
Again, the marketing game of detailing product manufacturers is strong. A ton of information out there suggests that dishwashing soap (e.g. Dawn, Palmolive, etc.) is too aggressive of a soap to use on a car’s paint, if you’re trying to preserve an existing coating, sealant, or wax. It further suggests that a dish soap might be a good option to strip your car’s paint of existing protectant in preparation for putting a new one on.
Just like with car soap that may not be pH-neutral, using dish soap might reduce the life of your existing wax, sealant, or coating, but the difference may be unnoticeable. Personally, I still using car wash soaps rather than dish soap because they offer other desired properties that a dish soap may not offer (i.e. foam, gloss, lubricity.)
What dilution should I use for soap-to-water ratio?
To put it simply: follow the car soap manufacturer’s instructions. This means taking a moment to read the back of the container you’re pouring from and reading what the recommended mixture is. Dilutions can vary depending on what soap you’re using as concentrations can vary significantly. Some examples are Meguiar’s Gold Class which is 1 oz. of soap to 1 gallon of water, Duragloss 901/902 recommends 1oz. of soap to 3 gallons of water, and Chemical Guys Mr. Pink suggests using 1oz. of soap to 5 gallons of water.
If you want to know what one ounce equates to, you might hear people in the United States talk about a shot glass being the same as one ounce. In actuality, your typical shot glass in the majority of the US is 1.5 ounces. You can use this as a gauge for measuring out your car wash soap, or you can use the bottom line of a plastic disposable ‘Solo’ cup, which equates to one ounce. Another quick back-of-the-envelope calculation would be to use a “glug” measurement. This involves pouring out the car wash soap out of the container and as the air pressure continuously equalizes and you get that “glug, glug, glug” sound, you can use this as a quick measurement: 1 glug =1 ounce.
Of course, you can dilute the soap a bit more or less; it’s up to you. But, you want to be mindful that you don’t make the soap too concentrated, as this results in wasting more product and costing you more in the long run. Using more soap isn’t always better. You want to use the amount that is recommended by the manufacturer for the most efficient wash.
Something else to remember is that your typical car wash bucket is a 3-gallon bucket, meanwhile your standard large bucket used for construction that you might get from Lowe’s or Home Depot is a 5-gallon bucket. When you fill the bucket with water, you probably won’t fill it up to the brim, meaning you are effectively using less than 3 gallons of water of less than 5 gallons of water, so mix accordingly.
A good practice for diluting car soap is filling the bucket with water first and then mixing your soap in afterwards for a proper dilution ratio. It doesn’t make much sense if you add the soap to the bucket, and then proceed to blast it with water to the point where the bucket is filled with suds and the soap is flying everywhere. This defeats the purpose of doing a proper soap to water dilution ratio.
Finally, if you’re using a foam cannon or foam gun, you might need to mix your soap and water based on the capacity of the gun/cannon container. Since foam cannon/gun bottles are smaller (I usually see 0.23 gallon bottles), you’ll need to do a bit of math to dial in the volume and mixture you need. If I normally use 1 ounce of soap to 1 gallon of water, I’ll fill up the bottle with water and mix in .23 ounce of soap. However, depending on the dilution ratio recommended by the manufacturer, you might need to experiment a bit to see what works best for you with your particular foam cannon or foam gun.
Are car wash and wax products any good? What’s the best combo wash/wax?
Car wash and wax products may be mediocre at best. These products might be good for the average consumer who just wants to get their car clean. But, for any car detailing enthusiast or professional, these products simply don’t do as good of a job as say, a separate car wash soap and a separate wax. In fact, in most cases combination 2-in-1 products almost never do as good of a job than performing the two jobs separately.
This is not to say car wash and wax products don’t get your car clean, it will. It might even leave some temporary beading characteristics on the paint when you’re done. Some wash and wax products that I consistently see being recommended are McKee’s 37 Power Wash, Blackfire Wash & Wax, and Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax. Mckee’s and Blackfire are the more recommended ones, meanwhile the Meguiar’s is simply a very popular choice with mixed reviews. If you want the benefit of getting your car cleaned well and waxed well, then you’re better off using two separate products.
If you want to get technical, most wash-and-wax products don’t even have wax in them at all! These wash and waxes use surface-modifying surfactants to product temporary hydrophobic properties to the surface of the paint. One way to tell if there is actual wax in the wash itself is if you can see an opaqueness to the solution. If it’s is completely translucent, then the wash and wax product you have likely doesn’t have any wax in it. However, the majority of these products typically do not have any actual wax product in it at all.
Does car wash soap expire?
Car wash soaps generally have a working life of several years or more. Some may even venture out to say that they will last indefinitely assuming there the container is air-tight with no exposure to UV rays and no exposure to extreme high or low temperatures. Realistically in most cases, the soap will have some exposure to some extent, so its likely the car soap will not last forever.
Probably the biggest concern of car wash soap longevity is its consistency, as this plays a big role when being applied to a car. Whether its been at least a year or two since you’ve used a car soap, you should consider testing the consistency of it before using it again. Pour some of the soap out of the container to check. If the soap is fairly consistent, then it’s likely okay to use. If it is apparent that the chemicals in the soap have separated, shake up the container a bit and try pouring a bit out again. If the mixing of the car soap doesn’t result in a uniform consistency, then it should be discarded.
Does car wash soap kill grass and plants?
The answer here is a big maybe. You might hear anecdotal experiences where someone has poured their used car wash soap mix into their grass for years without any evidence of damage. However, there are some factors that come into play. How diluted is the soap being poured in to the grass? Is there car grease/oil in that bucket that is being poured out along with the soapy water into the grass? How much is actually being poured into the grass and is it concentrated in one location or spread all over?
It’s possible that car wash soap may do some damage to grass or surrounding plants depending on the factors mentioned above. It is likely to do more damage if there is oil or other chemicals washed from the car and is being poured into the grass along with the soapy water. Plants may have some level of natural waxy coating to protect it from insects and the elements. Whether this protection keeps it protected from your used car wash soap mixture is debatable as there are so many factors involved.
Personally, I’d steer clear of pouring dirty car wash soap into grass, plants, or soil. If you can’t guarantee that any of the ingredients in any particular car wash soap won’t be harmful to the greenery around you (especially if there are fruits, vegetables, or herbs being grown that will be eventually ingested), then you shouldn’t be pouring unknown chemicals with contaminants washed from the car, into surrounding grass and plants.
Is there a car wash soap that is good for black cars?
Asking this question might get a number of responses with a specific car wash soap that offers extra lubricity or perhaps one that is a wash-and-wax type formula. These answers usually address two things behind the question of what car wash soap is good for black cars.
One part of this question is: Which car wash soap will give the black paint on my car that extra pop or shine? This question can be answered with a variety of car wash soaps that offer extra lubricants resulting in more gloss. This may help give your black car a bit more of a shine that makes the black paint appear more brilliant. However, the best way to really make your black car stand out is to minimize the amount of imperfections in the paint with paint correction, before applying some kind of protectant that gives it the extra shine.
The other side of the question is: Which car wash soap will prevent water spots from showing up on my car’s black paint? Well, we know that with black paint it is easy to see any imperfections. A common issue with washing a car with black paint is that water spots show up easily after your wash. Minerals from the water being used can remain on the black paint if it is not dried in a timely manner, so you don’t want residual water to dry on the car.
It’s possible that a car wash soap that includes extra lubricants or a wash-and-wax type car soap may help as it is simply providing extra lubricity for water to run off of the vehicle’s paint. Therefore, there is less chance of water spots developing because is less water remaining on the paint.
Another solution to this water spot issue on black cars is to spray on some spray wax right after wash your car. This seems to be effective in neutralizing some of the mineral deposits of the water spots. It also acts as a drying-aid by producing hydrophobic properties to the paint. When you rinse off the car after applying the spray wax, more water will sheet off. Some highly-regarded spray waxes used for this purpose are Superior Products Formula 4 Spray Wax and Malco Showroom Shine Spray Wax. In actuality, you can use most spray waxes or Optimum No Rinse for the same effect.
Do certain car wash soaps work well to prevent water spots?
See question and answer above. There are some car wash soaps and combo wash-and-waxes that provide extra lubricity, which helps get more water to sheet off the vehicle. Also, depending on the formula, it may potentially neutralize some mineral deposits that reside in the water used for a car wash. However, a better solution to preventing water spots is to apply some spray wax after washing your car and then rinse it off again with water. Then, completely dry all the water off the vehicle so that it doesn’t dry on its own.
What is the best way to apply car wash soap?
Car wash soap can be applied as an initial step for breaking down surface dirt and grime prior to performing the actual car wash. This can be done with a foam cannon or gun where the car wash soap is sprayed on the car so that the foam stays suspended on the car’s paint and then rinsed off with water. This will assist with breaking down any heavy contaminants on the paint and washing it away.
The second part of applying car wash soap is applying it mechanically cleaning with a wash mitt or microfiber towel. The car wash soap will help to lift and suspend various contaminants on the car’s paint so that it can be wiped away with the mitt/towel.
The wash mitt/towel should be made of microfiber, so that it can lift up and keep dirt particles away from the car’s paint. This prevents rubbing those particles on the paint surface, which produces scratches. To further prevent these particles from being re-applied to the car’s paint, a two-bucket car wash method (along with the use of grit guards) should be performed.
This involves using two wash buckets: one for new soapy water (application), and one to dip your mitt after cleaning. Both should have grit guards so that particles can be scrubbed off of the wash mitt. These particles fall past the grit guards and stay trapped below them, preventing them from being picked back up from the wash mitt. For more details on performing an exterior wash on your car, check out this post.