Aaron Widmar
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What Kind of Soap Can I Use to Wash My Car?

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Is it safe to use dish soap or detergent to clean dirt off my car?

vehicle soap shampoo bubbles washing your car clean bucket
Photo: The News Wheel

If your car is covered in mud, bird poop, or road salt, you don’t need to take it through an automatic car wash; you can clean it yourself with a hose, sponge, and a bucket! You’ve got a lot of household soaps around your house, like dish soap and laundry detergent, but not all of them are safe to use on your car. Here’s what car care experts recommend.

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Dish soap: This gelatinous detergent is great at cutting through grease on dishes, but is it safe to scrub on a car? Unfortunately, even “gentle” dish soaps can be too abrasive to use on your car’s delicate clear coat. Many leading brands use corrosive or toxic chemicals in their formulas that can eat through the protective wax underneath the dirt.

Laundry detergent: Like dish soap, the detergent you use to clean your clothes sometimes utilizes chemicals to remove grease and oil from the fabric — which can just as easily seep into the porous coat on your car and remove its luster. Some detergents are all-natural and only have non-abrasive ingredients, but those usually cost much more and aren’t a cost-effective way of soaping up your sedan.

Hand soap: If by some chance you have a ton of extra foaming hand soap available (and there’s isn’t a shortage during a global pandemic), hand soap is a decent alternative to official car soap. Go with a gentle solution over a full-strength one, and avoid any moisturizing formulas that can leave a residue.

Hair shampoo: If you’re in a pinch and don’t have real car soap, a normal hair shampoo is probably your best bet for giving your car a quick scrub. It’s gentler than other types of soap, but that also means it isn’t as good at removing sticky or caked-on residue from the vehicle. But don’t use it frequently, and make sure you reapply a wax coat immediately.

Any of these methods are insufficient for properly cleaning your car because they remove its protective wax coat without replacing it. That’s why car care experts recommend using dedicated car-safe soaps and wash/wax solutions. They’re generally cheaper than other types of household detergents and are guaranteed to reinforce your car’s paint and wax coats rather than harm them.

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