Everything you need to clean a car: 11 car cleaning products you didn't know you needed

Give your car a full wash, wax and detail with these products

Everything you need to clean a car: 11 essential car cleaning products
(Image credit: Getty)

There’s much more to cleaning a car than pointing a hose pipe at it and hoping for the best. There are buckets, of course – you need two, perhaps even three – plus microfibre towels, brushes and chamois cloths. And all that is before we even get to the cleaning products themselves; the shampoo, polish, wax, clay, snow foam and more.

In this article we’ll walk you through every product you need to give your car a gleaming, showroom-fresh finish. Not every product is compulsory, but each serves a unique purpose and will help bring out the best of your pride and joy.

These products can be bought individually, but often come bundled together. The latter can save you money and often includes a handy bag to store everything in, plus a couple of towels and a sponge. Each product can then be replaced as it runs out.

1. Car shampoo, buckets, brushes and a sponge

Car cleaning

(Image credit: Getty)

Let’s start with the obvious one; shampoo. This is your default cleaning product used to remove dirt from the paintwork and leave an attractive shine. Leading car cleaning product companies like Autoglym and G3 Pro all sell a range of shampoo products. These are usually added in small quantities to a bucket of warm water, then applied to the car using a clean sponge.

If you have a hose pipe or pressure washer to hand, use that first to remove as much dust and dirt from the car as you can before reaching for the shampoo and sponge.

At this point you should employ the two bucket method, where one contains warm water and shampoo and the other is used to rinse your sponge. That way, the sponge is clean every time it touches the car. A third bucket could also be used for particularly dirty areas like the wheels.

Speaking of the wheels, it can be helpful to use a woolly brush to clean in the difficult-to-reach areas between the spokes.

2. What about snow foam?

If you have a pressure washer with the right attachment, you could treat your car to a snow foam pre-wash before applying the shampoo. Snow foam comes in a bottle and is sold by companies like Turtle Wax. Mix with water as per the bottle’s instructions, then apply to the car using a pressure washer. Start on the roof and work your way down, then apply a second layer to dirtier areas like the wheels. Leave for five minutes, then rinse with lots of plain water before starting with the shampoo.

3. Drying cloths and chamois leather

Drying is often an overlooked stage when it comes to car cleaning, but it’s a good way to prevent a streaky finish caused by the water drying naturally. You are best using large microfibre towels or chamois leather, which is designed to lift water from the surface with a wipe.

Detailing

Now the car has been thoroughly washed and dried, it’s time to start detailing. This is the catch-all name given to more detailed cleaning of a car, using specialist products on the bodywork, wheels, tyres, plastic trim, glass and interior to make every component look its best.

4. Clay bar

A clay bar can be a good place to start. These are designed to be wiped over the paintwork, picking up dirt and lifting contaminants from the surface, creating a smooth, glossy finish. The clay bar should be used as per its instructions, which usually asks for lubricant in the form of a detailing spray.

5. Ceramic spray

This bottled spray can be used to protect the paintwork of your car and give it a deep shine. Simply spray it on as per the instructions on the bottle, then buff to a shine. Ceramic spray is hydrophobic which means it repels water and causes rain to gather into beads on the surface then run off. This helps to keep the surface looking cleaner for longer.

6. Aqua wax

Waxing a car can take a long time (and cost a lot of money), but there are shortcuts that can be taken. Autoglym sells Rapid Aqua Wax, which can be sprayed on the still-wet surface of a car after it has been washed, then results in a shiny hard wax finish. First rub the wax into the paintwork with one microfibre cloth, then buff it to a shine with a second. This wax can be applied to all exterior parts of the car, excluding the windscreen.

7. Carnauba wax

It’s possible to spend hundreds of pounds on a good car wax, but in most cases that isn’t necessary. Prices start at under £20 for genuine carnauba wax (which is the one you want), and waxing the car is a simple but time-consuming process. Apply a small amount with a microfibre cloth, leave as per the instructions, then buff to a shine with a second clean cloth.

8. Bumper and trim spray

Next, we’re looking at products designed for specific parts of your car. This one is used to restore the look of black and unpainted plastic panels on the exterior of your vehicle. Spray on and rub into the plastic with a clean microfibre cloth for the best result.

9. Wheels and tyres

There are three products you can use to lift the look of your wheels and tyres. The first is a wheel cleaning spray, which can be applied liberally and rubbed in with a microfiber cloth (you’re going to need quite  few of these as you may have now realised).

Next come the tyres, which can be given a refresh with tyre dressing. This is sold by all the major car cleaning and detailing companies, and all you do is spray it and leave it to dry. Once dry, the tyres will be a nice, shiny black. Finally, apply a wheel protector. This usually comes as an aerosol and can be sprayed liberally on the wheel and left to dry.

One dry, the spray helps to stop brake dust sticking to the wheels, keeping them cleaner for longer.

10. Glass cleaner

Finally, you can use a glass cleaner on the windscreen, windows, lights and mirrors. Just like the windows on your home, this will remove dirt, water and streaks, and leave your glass looking shiny and new.

11. Top-up detailing

We admit that using all of the above products can take a long time, but the results should be long-lasting and can be easily topped-up with a detailing spray. These are sold by several car cleaning companies and are very simple to use. Just spray it on sparingly, spread it over the paintwork with a cloth, then buff to a shine. These can often be used on all external surfaces, including plastic, and won’t remove or affect any polish, wax or sealant already applied.

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Alistair Charlton
Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3.