Contrary to popular belief, a showroom-like paint finish cannot be achieved by simply applying wax and buffing until the paintwork shines. The quality of the finish relies heavily on the preparation of the painted surface, in other words, how clean the surface is – and this can only be accomplished using the best car wash soap, sometimes also referred to as car shampoo.
While the primary function of soaps and shampoos is the same – to remove dirt and grime, and in some cases degrease – there are many detailers that argue that shampoos differ from soaps because of their superior ability to foam. But in this guide, we will use the terms interchangeably.
The Benefits of Using the Best Car Shampoo
Car shampoos are a complex blend of different ingredients. Starting with a water base, manufacturers add gloss enhancers, dyes, fragrances, preservatives and above all surfactants.
The best car wash soaps contain high concentrations of surfactants (Surface Active Agents). These carefully formulated chains are made up of two-part molecules – one end hydrophilic, with the other end drawing in the dirt particles. When soap is applied the surfactants surround and lift the dirt and grime from the surface and hold them in suspension in the water. Once loosened from the surface in this way, the entire particle can be rinsed away.
There are four types of surfactant, each with its own unique features:
- Anionic – The oldest of all surfactants, they have excellent foaming and cleaning features.
- Cationic – These are formulated to lend anti-static or water repellent properties to surfaces, while also promoting dirt removal during the wash.
- Amphoteric – As all-rounders, soaps containing these ingredients can act as either anionic or cationic surfactants to boost foaming or cleaning power.
- Nonionic – These surfactants have excellent wetting and foaming qualities, whereas their outstanding emulsifying features also make them very effective on oily or greasy paintwork.
These unique formulations give car wash soaps very specific features and benefits that other soaps simply do not have.
While cleaners such as dishwashing soap and laundry detergents also remove dirt, the best car shampoos, formulated specifically for automotive applications, hold numerous important benefits for the consumer:
- Car soaps clean without damaging the paintwork – Household soaps and detergents can remove dirt and grime, but almost all of them will bleach or stain a car’s paintwork. Even though car shampoos are more aggressive at removing contaminants, most will leave the paint with a protective barrier.
- Car soaps remove aggressive contaminants – Road grime, dust, salt, insect stains, bird droppings and industrial fallout are just a few of the contaminants that the best car soaps are able to remove from a car’s paintwork.
- Car soaps boost appearance – By removing dirt, stains and road-grime these specialized products can help maintain a car’s showroom appearance.
- Car soaps reduce the effort required – Washing with car shampoo lifts dirt and grime and minimizes the likelihood of spotting or streaking of the paintwork, thereby reducing the effort required to wax the vehicle later on.
These car soaps are broadly classified by type and format – each with its own unique features – that allow the consumer to select a product that best meets the specific “use-case”.
This wash is an excellent option for the weekly maintenance of your vehicle. As a matter of fact, you get the best out of your vehicle by making use of this product. It also comes in very handy for a two-bucket wash and that’s a plus by all standards. This wash gives you a washing experience without a single scratch as a result of its extra slickness. It is gentle on the body of your car and can be rinsed clean without leaving any form of residue behind. You can be sure that this shampoo is gentle enough and would not remove your car wax so it remains intact after every wash. It comes with a PH balanced formulation that allows you wash your car directly under the sunlight. It is worthy of note that this shampoo works specifically in removing build up, grime and dirt with its foaming bubbles.
When it comes to car washes, this product right here is an excellent option. It is gentle on surfaces and does not stick to the body of your car. A very interesting thing about this product is that it comes as a two-in-one wash. It can be applied as wax and as a wash. Intriguing right? It also offers your car UV protection. It is effective in cleaning and protecting other ceramic coatings, sealants and waxes. You can make use of this car wash anywhere and anytime; in the garage, at school, in the parking lot, anywhere. This product is also used in washing aircraft. This shows the quality it has to offer as regards its performance.
If you want to do a waterless washing, all you need to do is spray on the surface of your car and wipe dry. You can also spray it on your vehicle after washing and drying it. It is safe on a bunch of surfaces. For example, chrome, rubber, gel coat, aluminum, glass and leather, among other surfaces.
A very attractive thing about this car wash is its smell. It comes with a natural and fresh smell that brings excitement as you wash your car. This car wash is safe for all vehicle surfaces. It can be used on rubber, plastic, glass, vinyl and paint among other surfaces. It also can be used on all vehicle types, including trucks, cars, SUVs, off-road vehicles and many more. The snow foam produces by this car wash has the ability to effectively get rid of grime and contaminants from the environment in one wash. It is very effective in combating dirt.
The Chemical Guys CWS_110_16 Car Wash Soap and Cleanser comes in a formulation that is PH-neutral. This means it doesn’t have harsh effects on the sealants or waxes on your vehicle. It is very safe to use it on your car on a weekly basis.
This wash has amazing suds which safely and effectively help to do away with the dirt. This reduces swirling to the barest minimum. The synthetic polymer technology and the carnauba wax which make up this wash help to ensure that it is gentle on the surface of your car and at the same time offers wax protection. Making use of this wash is a super amazing way to clean your car’s paint and protect it at the same time. With this wash, your car displays that shiny and glossy outlook that is befitting for cars with class. It leaves behind a deep shine for your car and cleans in one simple wash.
Another feature of this wash that cannot be overlooked is its versatility. It is easily compatible with all washes and waxes of Meguiar’s. It is also PH-neutral. This means it won’t peel off wax while it cleans your car.
The Gold Class Car Wash comes in an advanced formula that does not peel off the wax of your car after use. The foam that comes from it gently removes dirt, grime and other contaminants from the environment without damaging the wax protection of your car. It also contains extra amazing conditioners which give your paint the best appearance. It allows your car to come out clear and radiant all day.
A very catchy feature of this wash is that it has a two-in-one function; it is made in a way that cleans your car while also conditioning it. It can also be applied in different ways. You can either choose to use it with a bucket or with a foam cannon. No matter what way you adopt, this wash would still give you quality results. But to get the best results out of a wash, ensure that your car is under a shade and is cool to touch.
This Adam’s wash soap is excellent for weekly washing and gives your car that perfect appearance. It comes with a chemical technology that makes washing your vehicle under sunlight possible. It contains lubricating agents that make it easy for every form of dirt to easily wash off. The Adam’s car shampoo is gentle and safe for every kind of surface, including glass, vinyl, rubber, paint and plastics among others. It washes off easily and does not strip off the wax you use for your car’s protection. It has a pleasant smell and can be used with a foam gun or foam cannon. It gives your car the best shine and sparkle.
The final car wash on this list is Adam’s Mega Foam shampoo. It is designed to create a very high amount of suds without a scratch on your vehicle. This car wash is very effective in that it cleans your car in an excellent fashion and does not strip off the protective wax of your car. It is also made in such a way that you can make use of it while your car is under sunlight. It also does not leave behind streaks after you have rinsed it off. It easily does away with dirt without causing any harm to your car’s protective layer.
Types and Formats of Car Shampoos
There are more than a half-dozen different types of car wash soaps on the market today – some formulated for specific applications, while others are meant for more ‘general’ use.
Wash and wax compounds. These are the most common car wash soaps available and are usually marketed as a 2-in-1 solution that removes dirt and grime while leaving a thin layer of protective wax on the paint surface.
Super foaming car shampoos. Due to the added lubrication of the foaming action that helps to lift dirt and contaminants from the surface, thereby reducing the risk of scratching the paintwork, these products are increasing in popularity – even more so with the introduction of the foam cannon or foam gun and “contactless” washing techniques.
Surface preparation and wax-stripping car shampoos. These alkaline enhanced degreasers with a pH level of between 9 and 10 are used to remove old wax, sealants, and deeply embedded contaminants.
Wheel cleaning shampoos. Because of their acidic nature, these products are mostly sold to professional detailers as spray-on cleaners. There are, however, a few specialized soaps that also remove embedded brake pads dust and iron-filings.
Car shampoos for vinyl and paint protection films (PPFs). Because of the increasing popularity of PPFs, many manufacturers are formulating soaps that not only clean vinyl but paint protection films as well. These are pH-neutral formulations containing synthetic wax and sealants that also protect the film or vinyl from the sun.
Car shampoos enhanced with “Ceramics”. While some manufacturers claim to have developed “ceramic coating” sprays that are activated through agitation with water, these claims are treated with great skepticism by many in the detailing industry as these are actually silicone-based substances – not silica.
Car shampoos designed for use with ceramic coatings. Shampoos intended for maintaining ceramic coatings are formulated with a single purpose – to clean the coating. The best car soaps for this purpose are pH neutral and do not contain any natural or synthetic waxes. These formulations also rely heavily on foaming agents to assist in removing dirt, debris, and grime.
And then to complicate matters even further, car wash soaps are also available in different formats:
Waterless car shampoos. Waterless shampoos require the minimum amount of water to effectively wash a car, with dry-wash shampoos requiring no rinsing after the wash. The best dry car-wash soaps are sprayed onto the surface where they loosen and soften dirt particles, which can then easily be wiped off.
Concentrated car shampoos. Although not always advertised as such, most car wash soaps are in fact concentrated and need to be diluted with water before use. These can be mixed in a bucket and applied to the vehicle with a foam pad, or by way of a pressure washer or foam gun.
With this wide, and often confusing, array of compounds, the consumer may well be left wondering which features are most important when selecting the best car wash soap.
The Best Car Shampoo – Key Features
Bearing in mind that the main function of any car shampoo is to clean the surface and possibly prepare the paintwork for waxing or a protective coating, the following are deemed to be the key features that shoppers need to weigh up when looking for the best car washing shampoo:
1. Formulation – It is important to make sure the soap or shampoo contains no ingredients likely to damage the paintwork or surface coating.
2. Type of treatment – The best car wash soaps can be formulated as either a standalone shampoo or a multipurpose wash-and-wax shampoo that will form a protective layer to add a shine to the paintwork without waxing. However, these wax layers do not last long and can limit the cleaning performance of the car shampoo.
3. The PH value – This is important as it indicates the neutrality, acidity or alkaline levels of the soap. Alkali or acid-based products are effective at removing embedded dirt and grime, or marks, on the paintwork. However, these aggressive cleaners can also inadvertently strip protective wax. Thus, for routine washing a neutral pH is recommended.
4. The product’s ability to produce foam – Some car shampoos are specifically formulated with surfactants that produce more foam to promote the easy removal of contaminants.
5. Surface “wetting” – Generally car soaps containing nonionic surfactants stimulate wetting which allows water to run off the paintwork, thereby reducing the risk of watermarking.
Other important considerations about Auto Wash Shampoos:
- Protection – Although a shampoo’s primary function is to clean, it may be useful – particularly when washing a vehicle regularly but not wanting to wax – to select a soap that leaves a thin protective wax shield to guard against contaminants.
- Applicator packaging – This is particularly important when selecting a waterless shampoo. A spray bottle is essential to ensure easy application.
To guarantee top performance the best car wash soap or shampoo, just like any other soap product, has to be correctly formulated so as to offer the best cleaning without damaging the paintwork – something only reputable manufacturers and products can be relied upon to achieve.
Tips on Effectively Using the Best Car Shampoo
Probably the most obvious tip is also the best advice: The vehicle should be washed regularly and aggressive paint-damaging contaminants, such as bird droppings and industrial fallout, should be removed as soon as possible to prevent discoloration.
Other handy tips to follow when washing:
- Before washing always rinse the vehicle thoroughly to remove loose debris that could scratch the paintwork – this applies when washing with a mitt as well as when using a foam cannon.
- The car must always be rinsed and washed from top to bottom with the wheels being cleaned last.
- When using a foam gun always make sure to use the correct soap – often referred to as Snow Foam, these formulations feature high levels of foaming.
- To obtain the best results when using a foam cannon it is best to dilute the shampoo concentrate with warm water to help aerate the soap and water mixture.
- Even if washing with a car wash soap that contains wax, it is always worthwhile to apply a dedicated car wax after washing.
By following the tips and advice laid out in this guide the average DIY enthusiast will be able to achieve results worthy of a professional car wash operation.
Nevertheless, there may be a few lingering questions that the guide has not touched upon.
Yes car wash soaps are important: Unlike general purpose or household soaps car wash soaps are specifically formulated to remove difficult to get rid of dirt and grime without scratching or discoloring the high-gloss paint finish.
This depends largely on the operating conditions, but as a rule every second week should suffice. If the vehicle operates in conditions where road grime and dirt build up quickly, then maybe weekly would be better.
Dish wash soaps are powerful degreasers that will remove the wax from the car’s paintwork. They are also not formulated to remove stubborn dirt encountered on the road, do not rinse off easily, and can ‘dry out’ the paint.
Although it may be acceptable to rinse a car with a hose before washing with soap, using a hose to wash the vehicle would be problematic:
- It would be almost impossible to apply the soap evenly without leaving behind watermarks.
Using a hose would not be appropriate in water-scarce regions – the average garden hose can use up to about 10 gallons a minute.
While a well-maintained and correctly operated drive through car wash saves time and effort, a poorly run operation that uses cheap and ineffective soap and doesn’t maintain the brushes/ rollers can cause serious damage to a car’s paintwork.
So, unless the operation can be verified it is safer to stay away.
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