Six cars from dust to sparkles eight times each. We found the brands and their best products, and then we took them straight to testing them out so you can make sure your car is sparkling the next time you need to find a new soap. The shining star? Meguiar’s G7101FFP Gold Class Car Wash. Nothing else really compared, but we wouldn’t be giving the others a fair shot if we didn’t make sure that you had options for the best car wash soap. We can’t say it was the most fun we’ve ever had testing products for you guys, but some of our reviewers became lifelong converts by the time we were done.
For at-home washing by hand, we couldn’t find any solution which touched it. It cut through mud, dust, and bird droppings with equal ease. The concentrate is extremely strong as well, but if you’re a fan of power washers you’ll want something else.
Table of Contents
How We Selected Products
For these car wash soaps we went with a careful mix of people. Auto-detailers were called, car enthusiasts, and just people who we knew had some clean cars.
The two names that kept coming back were Meguiar’s Gold Class and ONR.
We then spent a little bit of time looking over the various other options which were available online, going mostly off of the reviews and looking around automobile forums.
We ended up with eight different products and picked the top five based on how well they cleaned and their prices compared to the others which were on the list. We put all of them through a pretty strenuous test as well.
How We Tested The Car Wash Soaps
We had our reviewers let their cars go for a bit in between washes. While this wasn’t an issue in some cases, it took some convincing in other cases.
The idea was to get as much dust and mud on the cars as possible and see how the differing car wash soaps fared over a couple of washes. We tried to convince as many people as possible to let bird droppings get on their car as well, since they’re the third most common stain in our experience, but that one didn’t go over too well with the real car enthusiasts.
Afterwards, each reviewer tested out the soap three times. It took us a couple of months but we managed to get all the data together.
ONR actually came out on top. The problem is that it was roughly twice the price of our favorite and we quickly found that it took a lot of rags in order to make it work without scratching.
We can see why the professionals recommended it: the unique blend does an amazing job at cleaning. It also requires a lot of care when being used. Fortunately for a couple of our reviewers we were testing out scratch removers at around the same time. Sorry guys!
Meanwhile Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash ended up being a lot easier to use and made a frothy mess that left the cars squeaky clean.
These two were both in a class of their own, but we found enough cool qualities in three of the others for them to make this guide.
In addition to just using the soaps to wash the cars, we also tested out a few other qualities.
The main thing that we wanted to take a look at was storage. Concentrated car soap can last for a long time, but we needed to see if extreme conditions would take it out so we sent a bottle of each of the top five to a reviewer in Arizona and one to Oregon to see how things fared.
Only the Mother’s product seemed to be worse for the wear in typical garage temperatures in those areas.
We also tried them with power washers, even the ones which weren’t recommended to be used that way, to see if they’d gum things up or cause other issues for those who wanted to get a cleaning as quickly as possible.
- Chemical Guys CWS 301 worked quite well and it was also the greenest option we could find that didn’t seem underpowered. It was also the most power washer friendly of our favorites.
- Meguiar made another appearance with their Ultimate Wash and Wax which reduced the amount of labor required, although it’s pretty much useless if you were planning on power washing.
- Mothers California Gold Car Wash was our final contender. It’s great in power washers, comes in an ultra concentrated form… and is finicky about storage which removed it from making the top of the list.
Honestly, we can confidently recommend any of these car wash soaps for pretty much anyone.
A Word About Wraps
There was one thing we didn’t take into account at the start, however, which was vinyl wraps.
We didn’t have access to any cars which were wrapped, it’s a relatively rare process after all but after calling a couple of shops that install them we can confidently recommend… any mild dish detergent and water.
Rubbing alcohol solutions in the range of 70% were also recommended, with no wax involved since it’s not helpful for protecting the material and one shop insisted it could damage things.
That’s the shop’s recommendation, not ours. We’ll undoubtedly get a chance to try something out in the future, but at the current time.
Top 5 Car Wash Soaps
|Name||Size of Container||Rating|
|Meguiar’s G7101FFP Gold Class Car Wash||1 gallon||5/5||Check Price|
|Optimum (NR2010Q)||1 gallon||4.5/5||Check Price|
|Chemical Guys CWS_301 Citrus Wash||1 gallon||4/5||Check Price|
|Meguiar’s G17748||48oz||4/5||Check Price|
|Mothers 05602||1 gallon||4/5||Check Price|
1. Best Overall
Meguiar's G7101FFP Gold Class Car Wash
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
We love this stuff, it’s pretty much the ultimate in car soaps.
Even better, it’s actually not as expensive as it appears since this is a concentrate of pretty strong proportions: add 1 capful to a gallon of water and you’re set.
We found that it suds up like no other, and at the end of the day it was an absolute joy to use. It slices through dirt, grime, and grease without much work and with the proper drying technique you’re almost guaranteed a streak free finish.
There’s a caveat to that, however, try as we might we couldn’t make it “power washer friendly.” We think it’s due to the consistency of the soap, while bucket washing you’ll be producing regular agitation of the water and mixture but with a power washer things aren’t moving enough to break it down efficiently.
We discovered something else about it while we our reviewers were using it: it doesn’t strip off the wax on the vehicle while you’re using it. That’s a big bonus and can save on money if you’re in an area where things tend to get dusty on a regular basis.
The soap itself is quite thick and requires a decent amount of mixing once you get the concentrate in the bucket. We feel like this caused many of the problems with power washers, since most of our reviewers noted there was a bit of haze unless the soap was rubbed in thoroughly after the spraying was done.
It also wasn’t the best at handling dust. One of our reviewers lives a few blocks from the beach, meaning that regular washes are pretty much required, and they were quite irritated to find that they had to put in a ton of extra work to get the coating of dust off of their car.
For mud, grime, footprints, and other dirty accumulations on the surface of the car it was an absolute winner however.
This is our pick for the absolute best car soap on the market, if you pick it up we think you’ll fall in love in a hurry.
- Cleans without stripping wax
- Excellent finish
- Strongly concentrated formula
- Great price for the amount you get
- Suds can be too thick if not diluted enough
- Not good for power washers
2. Best for New Cars
Optimum (NR2010Q) No Rinse Wash & Shine
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Optimum No Rinse is affectionately known as ONR in the car detailing world, and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s a true no rinse wash, and allows you to get your car clean with the minimum amount of effort.
The company kind of sucks at marketing. We’d never heard of it and neither had any of our non-professional reviewers. It remains fairly expensive, it would seem that ONR is most sold to professional auto detailers but you can use it to great effect at home.
It works a little bit differently than most of the ones we looked at: it breaks the dirt off of the top layer of the car and allows you to remove it with a rag.
Our reviewers biggest complaint was that when you’re using ONR for a hand wash you’ll end up having to make sure that you have a bucket of fresh rags around. They’ll pick up dirt pretty quickly and when one reviewer just tried to press through they got some minor scratches on their vehicle.
Personally, we think it works best for vehicles which are already in a brand new state. If you’re an auto enthusiast trying your absolute best to make sure that your vehicle remains in premium condition it’s great, but it might be a little too much work for a daily driver.
There’s one more thing: apply wax after using this wash. We found that if things aren’t one hundred percent ideal after you’re done with using ONR you’ll “attract” dust to your vehicle in the same way that the rags scoop it up.
It works well with a sprayer as well, we found, but you still have the problem of going through quite a few rags in order to get the dirt off.
If you want to keep that new car bright and sparkling, then ONR might be exactly what you’re looking for. Just rinse it first if you’ve been in the mud.
- Amazing performance, leaving a streak free finish
- Keeps the dirt on your rag, allowing you to not have to rinse
- Super concentrated
- Works well with sprayers and directly on rags
- Requires a lot of rags to use efficiently
3. Best Green Car Soap
Chemical Guys CWS_301 Citrus Wash
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
If staying green is part of your concern when you’re washing your vehicle, then this citrus based car soap might be right up your alley.
It cleans quite well in addition to being fully biodegradable.
The citrus based compounds “float” the soil in order to allow for it to be easily swiped off without leaving scratches on your paint. It’s also not much more expensive than less environmentally friendly options.
It’s great to use both with a sprayer and with rags, making it an ideal solution for a lot of people. We actually found this one to work really well with a sprayer, better than most of the others.
It didn’t clean as well as our top picks, however, which means that it didn’t make our top two. It’s not a big deal, it still removed everything eventually and didn’t require a ton of extra effort but it’s not quite up to par with ONR or Meguiar’s.
It gets things pretty shiny before you apply the wax coat, which was a nice touch if you ask us. It’s also a better idea to use it with a sprayer than with your hands. We found that it has a serious tendency to make your hands slick if you’re just using it with rags.
We’d also not that if you’re not planning on re-waxing your car when you’re done then you’ll want to be careful with the concentration. The acidic citrus components seem to be able to strip wax off if you use too much.
On a final note: this stuff seriously failed out storage test. Of the six containers that we shipped out to people we found that four of them were leaking by the end of the month and one within just a couple of days. We’re not 100% but it might have more to do with the acidic citrus concentrate than with the package itself but you may want to switch it over to another container when you get it.
That said, if you’re willing to spend a little bit of extra cash in order to save the environment then you’ll love this citrus cleaner from Chemical Guys. It’s also highly recommended for anyone who’s planning on using a sprayer.
- Biodegradable and environmentally friendly
- Floats soil for a scratch and swirl free finish
- Enhances the natural gloss of clear coat
- Good for both hand and sprayer washes
- A little bit more expensive than comparable options
- Not “streak-free”, dry carefully when you’re done
4. Best One Stop Solution
Meguiar's G17748 Ultimate Wash and Wax
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Meguiar’s makes our list again with their Ultimate Wash and Wax. If you’re not willing to spend some time finding a wax you like, then this synthetic wash might be exactly what you need to ensure that your vehicle is utterly gleaming each time you finish washing it.
Using some polymer behind to act as a wax coating, it also cleans super well when you get down to it, although not as well as the Gold Class cleaner that ended up being our reviewers’ favorite.
For regular touch-ups in between deep cleanings and waxings it’s fantastic. We don’t know how many home auto-owners actually go through all of that effort, however.
It suds up pretty well in power washers, however, and the additional protection is quite nice. We found that it works better with a washer than our favorite by quite a bit, but not quite as well as Mother’s products.
It does require a little bit more effort to use efficiently. The wax contained within means that you need to buff quite well when you’re drying things off or you’ll end up with streaks or other issues when the time comes to handle it.
This was a big point of contention for our reviewers who weren’t really into their automobiles, so this might be another one we’d recommend for enthusiasts but cautious to recommend to someone who just wants their car to look good without the effort that goes into serious detailing.
On average it looks like you can get away with skipping two out of three normal waxings if you’re the type who likes to break down and fully detail their car every two weeks. So, it’s not going to replace waxing but it’ll save some effort in the long run.
If you want something to make sure that you don’t have to stop and wax your vehicle each time you’re done washing, then you’ve found it with Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash and Wax.
- Leaves behind a polymer-wax layer to protect paint
- Clean, fresh smell sticks around for awhile
- Suds quite well, keeping you from using too much concentrate
- Great and simple to use
- Requires extra detailing when finished
5. Best Concentrated Car Wash Soap
Mothers 05602 California Gold Car Wash
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
At first glance, the price tag of Mothers’ California Gold Car Wash might be a turn off. It shouldn’t be though, because this stuff stretches a long way and you’ll have nearly fresh suds from start to finish if you opt to use it.
It comes out of the bottle with an almost gel-like consistency instead of the “laundry soap” type consistency of many washes. Let it ooze into the water and you’re going to be surprised at the sheer amount of suds that you get from a single bucket.
Our reviewers also found it was the best of our top five for use with power washers. It suds with very little agitation and will keep producing through the whole tank.
It actually seemed to wash as well as the Meguiar’s Gold we favored but there were a couple of problems which kept it from being our favorite.
The first was that it streaks readily if you don’t get on drying as soon as you’re done washing. Our reviewers noted it didn’t seem to require a ton of extra effort to get everything going, the problem was just that it seemed to dry out and streak more readily than Meguiar’s Gold.
It also didn’t do well in our storage test. At high temperatures some kind of reaction takes place in the soap and it will leave a white film when used to wash. We couldn’t seem to find a way around it, including re-agitating the solution as we initially assumed it was just a separation.
The strength of the concentrate and the ability to clean quite well overall was great, however. Just be sure to dry quickly and to make sure that you keep it at room temperature or below in order to avoid having any problems.
The high price also didn’t seem to convert any of our reviewers except for the one who initially recommended it.
This car wash detergent is concentrated, powerful, and leaves your wax intact. It’s also a bit expensive and has some storage quirks that kept it from being our favorite.
- Super concentrated, you hardly need to use any at all
- Provides a clean, streak-free finish if dried quickly
- Doesn’t remove wax during normal washing
- pH balanced at a neutral 7
- Initial purchase is a bit hefty
- Doesn’t respond well to storage at high temperatures
What Makes a Soap Better?
Not all soaps are created equal, unfortunately.
If this was a simple case of going down, grabbing a generic white bottle labeled “car soap” and going home to lather up that mean machine then there wouldn’t be an industry dedicated to making different varieties of these crucial chemicals.
And we wouldn’t have had to pester six people into letting their cars get dirtier than they’d like in order to test out car wash soaps.
But what makes a good soap stand out? We’re glad you asked, because the following qualities are what you want to look for.
There’s one main physical quality you need to keep an eye out for: the suds.
You want a car soap that foams up like crazy, since this foaming action separates the dirt from the surface of the paint without scrubbing too hard. For some stuff, like bird droppings, you’re going to have to get at it anyways but for dust and road dirt it’s a serious help.
Less scrubbing means less possible damage to your vehicle’s surface and no one wants scratches.
We found that it wasn’t the only factor in getting things clean, some of the products we passed up for selection had an amazing amount of suds but it seemed to be primarily cosmetic. We did find it to be one of the best indicators
There’s a tendency to look for soaps with a pH higher than seven amongst those who are chemically inclined.
That might work for your skin, but you don’t want to do this for your vehicle.
Despite the layers of clear coat and general durability of auto-paint, it can be quite sensitive chemically. Unless you’re actually a chemist don’t get too smart for your own good.
A neutral pH stands the lowest chance of causing any corrosion to your paint or clear coat. Chemically damaged clear coat can become “milky” like a car left in the sun too long, and if it gets eaten through… well, you’re going to be in trouble since the paint is now exposed to oxidation.
During our selection process we eliminated anything that
Green products used to have a reputation as being generally inferior counterparts.
That’s not really true anymore, and indeed the only reason that many of the old soaps which are ecologically disastrous are still produced is a reluctance to be associated with the green movement.
It might not matter much to your car, but it can make a big difference in the long run since most of the soap is going to end up in the gutter anyways once you’ve gotten into things with the hose.
What kind of finish you’re left with is going to be a factor of the exact makeup of the soap.
You want something that leaves a streak-free finish, in order to avoid having to going back through the whole affair repeatedly.
A good, reliable soap will never leave you with a mess when you’re done, provided that you know what you’re doing when you wash the car.
The finish is also going to be affected by your technique. The more polymers and extra chemicals you have in your soap, the more you’ll have to buff in order to make sure that there’s no streaks or smudges. Quite often that extra buffing will pay off however.
Getting the Most Out of Your New Car Soap
Of course, technique is nearly as important as the chemicals you’re using when it comes to washing your car. This means that you’re going to want to ensure that you do the following:
- Examine your car before washing. Sometimes you might not need detergent yet and might just want to rinse and touch up the wax.
- Rinse your car before applying chemicals if it’s already quite dirty. Large chunks of dried mud and other debris can scratch things if you accidentally move a clod when you’re using your glove or cloth.
- Never use household cleaners on your car. That’s a great way to damage things on top of not being an effective cost-cutting measure. Put the dish soap down, it’s not the way to go if you want to ensure the longevity of your exterior.
- After cleaning with water and car detergent, you’ll want to run your hands over the exterior surface. Some contaminants aren’t easily seen, such as tree sap, and you want to make sure they’re gone before you apply wax.
- Invest in a good wax as well as a detergent, this will keep your car protected from the elements a lot more than just cleaning it.
- Never let things air dry. That’s how you get streaks. Instead use a very soft terry towel or microfiber rag in a long, circular motion to get the water off of your car. This has the added bonus of letting you feel any large, hard-to-see stuff stuck to your car.
As long as you follow the above guidelines you’re sure to be okay at the end of the process.
Remember to keep some dedicated cloths or gloves for washing your car and doing nothing else. Dust and other stuff accumulates in rags and sooner or later you’re really going to wish that you had thought that one through.
That’s particularly true in garages where work takes place. Imagine a metal burr from a grinder getting on a cloth and it not coming out in the wash… it’s not going to be pretty.
You don’t need to break it down like it’s rocket science, but the above common sense guidelines are often forgotten by the absent minded.
If you want your car’s gleaming exterior to last, then investing in the best car wash soap around is one sure way to help out. Between that and a good waxing you can do a fantastic job at home, and also know what chemicals you’re exposing your car to. Give one of our picks a shot, and you’re sure to end up with a gleaming ride with a long future.