The market for car shampoos is huge and it seems like every week there is a new product coming out. If you feel overwhelmed, you might start to ask yourself if you can’t just use normal dish soap to wash your car. Should you do it?
Performing a car hand wash with dish soap is not recommended. Dish soap alone will not destroy the paint, but it does not provide enough lubrication for the hand wash, resulting in scratches in the paint.
So using dish soap for a hand wash is definitely not a good idea. But risking scratches is not the only reason why you should not wash your car with dish soap.
All the reasons why you should not use dish soap for washing your car
By now you know that dish soap is not suitable for a car wash, as it will result in scratches in the very delicate clear coat of your vehicle.
Here are all the other reasons why washing your car with dish soap is not recommended:
Dish soap strips paint protectants
Dish soap is a grease cutter, which is what makes it so effective when washing dishes at home. Grease cutters excel at cleaning protein-based soils and oils.
Protein based soils and oils are commonly found in food, but not on a car (unless the car has paint protectant on it). This can be anything from a high quality car wax to a quick detailer with hydrophobic characteristics.
If dish soap is applied to the protected car paint, it will break it down and strip it off, just like it does to the food on a dirty plate.
If you want your paint protection to stay on your car, do not use dish soap to wash it!
Dish soap does not provide good lubrication
This becomes a big problem once you start bring your wash mitt in contact with your car.
As a general rule of thumb, touching a car is only safe if the car paint is lubricated. This allows the microfiber wash mitt to glide over the clear coat, pulling off dirt and while refraining from scratching the surface. This rule applies all the more when washing, due to the manual pressure required when using the microfiber wash mitt.
Dish soap was not engineered to provide lubrication, but rather to dissolve grease and dirt. It is meant to be used on plates, forks, or other tools used in the kitchen that are not nearly as sensitive to scratches as clear coat. Moreover, dish soap is used in combination with brushes or rough sponges to really get off any dirt and bacteria that could otherwise threaten your health.
So, if you use dish soap on your car and start a hand wash with a microfiber wash mitt, you have a recipe for a disaster or in clearer words: you will scratch your paint a lot.
Scratches can only be removed by polishing, which removes a layer of clear coat and is very expensive. It’s better to buy a good car shampoo and prevent scratches rather than paying hundreds of dollars to get your car polished, just because you wanted to save money on the wrong end.
Scratches in matte cars can sadly not be removed by polishing, so it is crucial that you take special care when cleaning a matte car. There are a lot of things you need to consider, which is why I wrote this in-depth guide about it here. Make sure to check it out!
Dish soap needs a lot of water to be washed off
This might not seem like a real problem if you wash your dishes, but once you wash a large surface with dish soap, you notice how sticky it really is and how long it takes to wash off.
Dish soap is meant to wash away the grease, dirt, and bacteria that is on your dishes. It is also mostly used in a water bath or under running water, so it is not a problem that dish soap is hard to wash off. It is actually a good thing, as this makes sure that your dishes are really clean and safe to eat from again.
If you wash a car with dish soap, you want to spray off any soap residue as fast and with as little water as possible in order to safe time and money. Sticky dish soap will definitely not help with this.
Dish soap works best with hot water
Again, this is great for washing dishes, as it makes sure that they are safe to eat from again and that no harmful bacteria remains behind.
But if you wash your car, either at a car wash or with a pressure washer in your drive way, you most likely do not have hot water at hand. You probably have cold water or lukewarm water available to wash your car.
Using cold or lukewarm water with dish soap not only decreases the effectiveness, but also increases the time to wash the car.
A lot of dish soap is needed to clean a car
Many people argue that car shampoo is way too expensive and dish soap is a much cheaper alternative. And at first glance this seems very logical, given that some car shampoos cost tens of dollar per liter.
What many people tend to forget, however, is that car shampoo comes in extremely high concentrations, so you only need a few milliliters to wash a car. Therefore, a bottle of car shampoo lasts a very long time. I myself recently bought a liter of car shampoo that I also use as a snow foam for a pre-wash treatment.
I needed 5ml with a liter of water to have a great snow foam. If you use it as a shampoo, it is meant to be diluted 1:30, according to the manufacturer. See how high the concentration of active ingredients is in these products?
The active ingredients in dish soap are not nearly as highly concentrated as those in car shampoo are, meaning that a much higher quantity of soap is necessary to have the same effect as the shampoo.
Dish soap is not pH-neutral
This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that dish soap strips wax and other paint protectants. Because dish soap is not pH-neutral, it will dissolve any protective film on the paint.
If you want to remove old wax or another type of sealant, you could theoretically use dish soap to wash your car. But it is better to use an alkaline car shampoo, as these are more effective and refrain from damaging the paint.
Dish soap contains harsh chemicals
To reiterate, dish soap was engineered to free dishes of grease, oils, and bacteria with sponges and hot water. As such, dish soap contains large amounts of quite harsh chemicals.
It is important to get the dishes as clean as possible, as dirty dishes naturally pose a health and hygiene risk. How the soap affects the dishes themselves is of trivial importance and, therefore, a secondary concern.
With cars, it is the other way around. Sure, you want to have your car as clean and shiny as possible, but not at the cost of scratches or other damages to the delicate paint. Dish soap is, therefore, definitely not the answer.
Suitable car shampoo alternatives
So now that you understand why dish soap is not a good alternative to car shampoo, you might wonder if there are any suitable alternatives to car shampoos at all.
Unfortunately, there are no suitable alternatives to car shampoo. Car paint is so delicate and sensitive that any other cleaning product will damage the paint. Using any other cleaning product, like dish soap, hair shampoo, or baking soda, will result in scratches and a loss of shine.
This might sound like an issue, but it’s really not that bad. Car shampoo is not very expensive, it lasts a long time and makes washing your car easier, faster, and more fun. And lastly, it does not scratch your paint, which would require expensive polishing job to get your car shiny again.
But what should you do if you don’t have car shampoo at hand and you want to wash your car?
There’s unfortunately no good alternative to just going out and buying some car shampoo. So, either you wait until you have the correct cleaning supplies and then proceed to perform a proper hand wash, or you can go for a touchless wash and just spray off all visible dirt with a pressure washer. But never ever use another cleaning product on your car than car shampoo.
Here Are All My Favorite Car Detailing Products
Proper car detailing requires a lot of products. Given that the market for car detailing products is huge and there are many different products available, it can be very confusing and hard to find seriously high-quality products online.
I want to make sure that you as my reader get great car detailing products, so I decided to list my favorite products down below. I am sure you and your car will love them! 🙂
Microfiber Wash Mitts: Microfiber wash mitts are the go-to piece of equipment for every car cleaning enthusiast. Without a proper wash mitt cleaning a car is impossible. These are my favorites:
Car Shampoo: Car shampoo is the only suitable shampoo for washing cars safely. Make sure to get a high-quality car shampoo to prevent scratches. Check my favorites here and get yourself a good car shampoo!
Pressure Washers: If you are serious about car detailing and about cleaning your cars properly, there is no way around a high-quality pressure washer. I know that they are expensive, but trust me, a good pressure washer is a game-changer. Check out my recommendations below!
Paint Protection: Paint protection is something that belongs to every car detailing routine. As it is so important, there are many different products and many different use cases. Check the list below to find my favorite paint protection products.