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Buying guide for Best waterless car washes

A waterless car wash seems like a brilliant idea — not just a neater solution than using all those buckets and hoses or driving to the automated car wash, but one that doesn’t waste gallons of water, an increasingly precious resource. Okay, but which waterless car wash should you use? There are hundreds of products on the market, and it’s not surprising that they all claim to produce excellent results!

We have been putting in some elbow grease to learn how these products work and what separates a good one from a less good one. The results of our research should help you decide which one is best for your vehicle.


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Waterless car wash is perfect for events and shows, allowing you to quickly clean the travel dirt off your vehicle when you arrive. It’s almost like you took it there in a covered trailer!

Key considerations

Why use a waterless car wash?

According to independent sources, the average water bill across the US has risen 54% since 2010. In some places, it’s gone up 60% in the last four years alone. If you usually wash your car with a garden hose, you could waste upwards of 50 gallons of water in as little as ten minutes!

If you use a waterless car wash, you’re paying no more for the cleaning product itself, but you can save money on your water bill and benefit the environment. It’s also a product that’s easy to take with you, so you can clean your car wherever it’s convenient. And it can be used if you live in an area that has restrictions on water use. A bit of a no-brainer, really.

How does waterless car wash work?

The concept is a relatively simple one: you spray the product onto the vehicle’s bodywork. The chemicals get under the dirt and lift it away. The dirt is suspended in the liquid, and as you wipe the liquid off you leave a clean car behind. Lubricants in the car wash prevent particles from leaving any scratches. Natural carnauba wax or synthetic polymers are also added to leave a shine as you wipe.

Types of waterless car wash

When it comes to waterless car washes, there are three basic choices: ready-to-use (RU), concentrate, and no-rinse formulas.

RU: This one is obvious. Buy the product, spray it on the car, wipe it off. It costs a little more than other options, but it offers maximum convenience.

Concentrate: This car wash needs to be diluted, usually adding between 1/2 and 1 ounce to a 16-ounce spray bottle. After that, it’s the same process as the RU above.

No-rinse: This car wash doesn’t require gallons of water to rinse your car after washing, but it does need to be diluted in a couple of gallons to start with. In its defense, you only need an ounce per two gallons of water, so it’s very economical. Manufacturers also say the residue is safe enough to use to water the garden, so it’s not necessarily wasted.

It’s always worth reviewing customer feedback. These are ordinary people who have used the product, not expert detailers. If there’s an ongoing problem, it will likely show up. However, beware if there are just one or two complaints. Angry customers are far more likely to comment than happy ones!

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Expert Tip
Many of the benefits of a waterless car wash will be lost if you clean your vehicle with a ratty old T-shirt! Always use a clean, soft microfiber cloth.

Waterless car wash features


Stubborn dirt: Tough dirt buildup can’t always be removed with a spray and a wipe. Some concentrates can be diluted and used as a normal wash, which is useful if you frequently off-road, for example. Not all are designed for this use, though, so check before doing so.

Surfaces: Pretty much all manufacturers say their waterless car wash is safe for all paint colors and vehicle surfaces. However, “all surfaces” varies! Generally, it means the exterior — metal, plastic, glass, rubber — but some also work on vinyl and leather, so you can use them for the interior of the vehicle as well.


Wax: From an environmental point of view, some people prefer natural carnauba wax to the synthetic polymer alternative. In performance terms, there’s little difference between them.

Eco-friendly: The safest products are biodegradable and leave no harmful chemicals behind.

Water repelling: Hydrophobic ingredients prevent water settling — it tends to bead and run off.

UV protection: Other ingredients can be added to protect your paint from harmful UV rays.

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For your safety
Be careful. Although many of these products are not dangerous in the normal sense, “environmentally friendly” does not always mean nontoxic. Read the label carefully. Always keep chemicals out of the reach of children.

Waterless car wash prices

We usually like to give you an idea of inexpensive, mid-range, and expensive options, but that’s difficult to do here because of the enormous variety of products and sizes. Price also depends on whether you buy a ready-to-use formula, which might average out at a couple of bucks per vehicle, or a concentrate, which will probably be half that or less. If you do buy concentrate, you’ll need a spray bottle, which will cost you a couple bucks extra, but next time around you’ll just need a refill. If you don’t have microfiber cloths, you’ll want a few of those, too (or some car-cleaning mitts).

Bottom line? Ready-to-use bottles of 16 ounces will generally do five to ten washes for around $10. A complete, high-quality kit with wash solution (enough for around 40 washes), a spray bottle, and cloths costs between $35 and $45. The differences are small enough in most cases that you can focus on the product you think is best without worrying about the cost.

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Expert Tip
The sun’s rays eventually cause your vehicle’s paint to fade. To combat this, look for a waterless car wash that offers UV protection.


One of the major benefits of a waterless car wash is how quick and straightforward it is to use. Still, vehicle detailing experts have a couple of suggestions that can help you get the very best out of your efforts. And remember that waxes only work to protect an existing finish. If your paintwork is dull, you need to use a vehicle polish first.

  • Work in the shade if possible. Some products claim you can use them in all weather conditions, even bright sunlight, but that can lead to the product drying too quickly and leaving residue or spots. A clear, warm day is fine. In bright, hot sun, keep your car in the shade if at all possible.
  • Use clean, soft microfiber cloths with plenty of depth (nap). You want to trap the dirt in those fibers. A fine cloth will keep it on the surface and risk scratches. You’ll probably want at least two cloths to clean the whole vehicle.
  • Start with the roof. Spray half (or an area that’s small enough to work on without it drying before you finish). You should be quite liberal. There needs to be enough liquid to “float” the dirt off.
  • Wipe in one direction only. The classic circular method of washing relies on water rising the dirt away. That doesn’t happen with waterless car wash. If you go around in circles, you’ll drop some of the dirt back where you just lifted it from.
  • Keep an eye on the surface of the cloth. It can get dirty quite quickly. As soon as you see a buildup of dirt, use a different portion or a clean cloth.
  • Dry each section before moving on. It doesn’t matter in which order you wash, but work from the top of each panel down. There isn’t much liquid, but there can be some runoff, and you don’t want to get it on areas you just cleaned.
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No-rinse products aren’t the same as waterless, and they don’t save as much water. For the initial cleaning of your vehicle, most need to be diluted in a couple of gallons of water.


Q. Can I use waterless car wash on all parts of the vehicle?

A. Although it’s always important to read the instructions, with many products the answer is yes, you can use it on metals, plastics, and glass. Many can also be used on fiberglass, such as in boats and RVs, too. However, we have heard of incidents where products have damaged convertible roof fabric, so you’ll want to check that carefully.

Q. Does waterless car washing take longer than other car washing methods?

A. That’s a tough one. Using a waterless car wash is done by hand, so it’s not fast, but it has lots of benefits, not least that in working close up on your car you can spot potential problems before they get worse. A mechanical drive-through car wash may or may not be faster, but it’s not as gentle on your car. You seldom know what chemicals are used or what contaminants might be on the brushes. If you usually use a pressure washer at home, that’s quicker, but if you’re going to do the job properly and wax afterward, that’s going to take longer. Of course, both of those methods use vast amounts of water, which isn’t great for the environment (though drive-through car washes recycle the water).

Q. How dirty is too dirty for waterless car wash?

A. Generally, waterless car washes are designed for day-to-day dirt and road grime, the kind of thing you pick up on the way to work, school, or shopping, for instance. They aren’t designed to clean up after you’ve been off-roading for the weekend! They also struggle with road tar, tree sap, and other kinds of heavy, sticky deposit.

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