Best Car Wash Kits

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

18 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
162 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best car wash kits

Last Updated December 2019

Car paint is pretty amazing stuff. When it leaves the factory, your vehicle has at least three different types of paint and five or more layers. The paint is extremely tough and durable, but it's not indestructible. If left unattended, road dirt and rain combine to abrade it. Bug bodies and bird droppings eat into it. Not only does it look bad but the damage is affecting the vehicle’s resale value, too.

Regular car washing is the simple, effective solution, so the BestReviews team has been looking at the available kits. Our recommendations suit a variety of needs and budgets.

This car wash kit buying guide provides answers to common questions and useful tips that can help you keep your vehicle's exterior in the best condition possible.

Your vehicle has multiple paint layers for color and protection, usually finished with a tough, clear coat, like a hard, transparent varnish. If this clear layer is damaged, the color layers and the metal itself are vulnerable. It's this outer layer that you’re caring for when washing and waxing your car.

Key considerations

Protect your car’s finish

The easiest way to clean your car is to pop down to the local car wash or drag the power washer out of the garage. The first problem is that while both are easy, neither is very thorough.

There's also the potential for damage. In ideal conditions, neither an automated car wash nor a pressure washer will damage your vehicle's paint. However, simply blasting grime, road tar, and bugs with a high-pressure stream of water can do as much harm as good.

You're also doing things at arm's length, whereas washing your car by hand gets you up close and personal where you can spot problem areas before they develop into something more serious.

Pressure washers have their place. They're great for cleaning muddy tires and wheel arches. When it comes to your car's bodywork, it's time for a bucket and some elbow grease!

Car wash kit essentials

All you really need is an old T-shirt and a bucket of soapy water, right? Well, that's better than nothing. But seriously, if that's all you can afford to clean your car, it's much better than leaving it dirty. However, if you want to properly look after your pride and joy, you need to invest in tools and products that will both clean and preserve that sparkling finish. The two areas to look at are car cleaning tools and car cleaning products.

Tools

  • Buckets: Ideally, you want two good-size buckets of four gallons or bigger because you don't want to be refilling them every five minutes. One bucket is for cleaning, the other is for rinsing. A single bucket with a dirt trap is OK, but two buckets are better.

  • Mitt or cloth: You want a microfiber mitt or cloth for cleaning paintwork. Microfiber absorbs more shampoo and water, so put plenty on the vehicle, but it doesn't grab and hold dirt the way cotton does, so there's less chance of scratching the paint. Chamois leather has been used for decades, and it's OK, but microfiber performs better. Foam sponges are a cheap alternative, though they tend to disintegrate after a while.

  • Wheel brush: The bristles need to be stiff, to get dirt and grit out of all the nooks and crannies, but nonabrasive, so they don't damage polished or plated surfaces.

  • Drying towel: Again, microfiber is best because of the amount of water it can absorb and how efficiently it dries. It is also lint-free, so it won't leave any fluff or dust on bodywork that can contaminate a wax finish.

  • Sponge: A damp sponge is best for applying hard wax. If you're using liquid wax, an applicator is sometimes supplied with the product or, again, use a microfiber cloth. Cotton should not be used because the fibers will leave marks in the wax. Buff with a clean cloth – not the one you used to apply the wax.
EXPERT TIP

Washing your car by hand isn't just good for your vehicle, the exercise is good for you, too!


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Microfiber cloths hold up to seven times more water than traditional cotton. They don’t drop lint, they dry faster, and they're much more durable, too.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

We all have our favorite washcloths and brushes, but they become less effective as they wear out, so it takes you longer to do the same job. Treat yourself to new cloths and brushes from time to time.


Staff  | BestReviews

Products

We all have our favorite brands, and enthusiasts can debate the pros and cons of each for hours! Here, we are just concerned about general categories.

Car shampoo: This comes in many forms, but it is all formulated to clean paintwork without causing damage. Car shampoo is both superior to household products and safer on your vehicle.

Polish: Polish is sometimes incorporated into the shampoo, but it can be separate. Don't confuse it with wax. A polish brightens the bodywork, but it doesn't protect it.

Wax: Wax can be either liquid or solid. While it certainly improves the car’s appearance, its main job is to add another layer of protection. Liquid wax is quicker and easier to apply and by far the more popular. Double waxing is a process that professionals use, following a liquid wax coat with a solid wax – often carnauba wax – for an ultra-deep, lustrous finish.

Wheel cleaner: Wheel cleaner is more aggressive than car shampoo because it’s designed to remove tough stains like brake dust. It often comes as a convenient spray, but be careful to keep it off of paintwork.

Tire shine: Tire shine or gel will return your treads to that deep black they had when new.

Clay: Auto-detailing clay is a bit of a specialist product, but it's what you need if you're aiming for the kind of finish you find at auto shows. It's used after washing and before waxing. The clay is a bit like kids’ modeling clay in texture, and it's designed to draw out tiny metal particles, brake dust, and industrial pollutants that car shampoos leave in the paint surface.

Comprehensive cleaning solution

Chemical Guys is one of the biggest brands in the business. This top-of-the-line kit has everything you need from a big bucket with grit guard to soft chenille microfiber washing mitt to a rapid absorption drying towel. It also comes with a full set of specific body, wheel, and rim products. If you're serious about preserving the great look of your vehicle, this is where you start.

Car wash kit prices

Individual tools

Individual items like tire brushes can cost anywhere from $5 to $30, depending on quality.

Products

A good set of basic cleaning products for your car's wheels and paintwork will cost around $10 to $15 if you already have the cloths, buckets, and brushes. It's tempting to use items you already have around the house, but car-specific tools are worth the extra investment in the long run. It's convenient to keep them all in one place rather than hunt for them each time you wash the car, and it prevents cross contamination that can damage paint.

Kits

For the home user, buying a complete car wash kit is usually the most economical solution. These run from around $50 (with a small selection of products) to around $80 at the mid-range (our preferred option for first-time buyers) to almost $200 for full professional rigs. There's plenty of choice. Shop around and you should find a quality kit from a recognized brand that suits your needs.

High quality, minimal cost

Many people like to choose cleaning products from a variety of manufacturers, but they still need a proper set of car cleaning tools to apply and remove those products properly. Here's a cheap but very effective solution made up of every wipe, brush, cloth, and scraper you need – and not just for wheels and bodywork but inside as well. It's all backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee to provide unbeatable value.

Tips

  • Take a slow walk around and inspect your car first. Deal with stubborn stains like bugs and tree sap first. Soak and/or apply specialized cleaners if necessary. Be patient.

  • Use two buckets. One with the car wash product and the other with fresh water to rinse your cloth or mitt. This keeps you from putting grit and dirt back on the vehicle. A bucket with a dirt trap is another option. Change the rinse water when it looks muddy or you're just putting dirt back on the car!

  • Don’t wash your car in full sun. You'll likely get water spots, which are surprisingly difficult and frustrating to get rid of.

  • Wash the wheels first if you do a lot of country driving. If you do a lot of city driving, your car is likely subject to a similar level of grime all over. If you drive out in the country, the wheels and wheel arches collect a lot more grit and mud. Clean the wheels first, get rid of the dirty water, then start over from the top.

  • Work slowly, with gentle pressure. A lot of people use a circular motion, but straight lines mean you're not concentrating on one area and so are less likely to leave marks.

  • Dry your vehicle thoroughly. This will prevent water spots and prepare the surface for detailing clay and/or waxing when necessary.

  • Wax once each season. Your vehicle might need two coats. When waxing is done properly, water should bead on the surface.

  • Use your your car wash mitts, cloths, and brushes on your vehicle only. That way you reduce the risk of contaminating them with dirt or chemicals that could damage your paintwork.

Other products we considered

Even the most fastidious of detailing enthusiasts will be happy with the Adam's Polishes Adam’s Essentials Complete Car Detailing Kit. It's expensive, but it includes every conceivable item for making your vehicle spotless and keeping it that way longer. If you already have the mitt, cloths, brushes, and buckets, the experts at Armor All have a Complete Car Care Kit that includes everything from its highly respected protectant through body-, wheel-, and glass-cleaning products. If you have a motorcycle in the garage, you'll want to check out Meguiar's Motorcycle Care Kit, which has a comprehensive collection of paint, plastic, vinyl, and leather products specific to the needs of the biker.

Car wash products aren't just ordinary soaps with different labels. They are specifically designed for different areas of your car and are often far gentler than similar products you use in the home.

FAQ

Q. Can't I just use dish soap to clean my car?

A. There are two products to consider here. Neither is recommended but for different reasons:

Dishwasher detergent contains abrasives to cut through grease and baked-on food. Those same abrasives cut into the clear topcoat of your car's paintwork. You won't notice it at first, but it will eventually dull the surface.

Dish soap that you put in a sink of hot water is not usually abrasive. It's better than not washing your car at all, but it can still contain chemicals that can soften and eat through wax coatings, potentially exposing the paintwork to harm. Many people wear rubber gloves when doing the dishes to protect their hands, so it's not a good idea to put that stuff on your car! Dedicated car shampoos are much gentler.

Q. Do bird droppings really cause much harm to car paint?

A. They do, and you should clean droppings off as soon as possible. Bird droppings can be acidic or alkali and also contain grit and bacteria. Once they start to harden, real damage is being done. This toxic mix reacts with the paint surface, making it shrink. It leaves dull patches in the paint that are extremely difficult to fix. If you didn't get it off before it hardened, soften the spot by leaving a damp cloth over it for 10 or 15 minutes, then carefully clean it off. Avoid spreading the mess further. It's best to dispose of the cloth – bird droppings really are that unpleasant.

Q. How do I clean road tar off my vehicle?

A. Above all, be gentle with it. Don't try to peel or chip it off because you'll likely take off paint at the same time. There are a number of products you can buy that specifically target tar and other sticky substances. WD-40 is often recommended. Most people look at it as a lubricant – a job it does very well – but it was originally designed to penetrate and remove dirt and corrosion. “WD” actually stands for “water displacement.”

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Jacob
    Jacob
    Editorial Manager
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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