How To: Washing A Car Without A Foam Cannon

Foam cannon is a popular way to wash a car. Mainly because the cannon generates a massive amount of foam which protects the car’s paintwork. However, washing a car without a foam cannon is absolutely feasible. This article is a “How To” guide to cover alternative washing techniques & tools.

Here are the steps to washing a car without a foam cannon: 

  1. Prepare your car
  2. Perform a two bucket method wash
  3. Finishing rinse
  4. Dry the car

Prepare Your Car

It doesn’t matter whether or not foam cannon is utilized. Before you wash your car, you have to prepare it. Basically, you have two options to choose from:

  • Wash the car with high-pressure water. This option is suitable for washing relatively clean cars. Water can handle light to medium soiling with ease. But when it comes to road grime and industrial chemicals, there is nothing water can do. If you barely use your car or live outside of a major city, plain water might do the trick.
  • Carry out a touchless car wash. The essence of the method is to apply a special shampoo to a dirty car. Usually in a foam or emulsion state (bear in mind that foam cannon is only one of the ways to get perform pre-wash). Subsequently, the foam is washed away with water under pressure. Touchless washing is definitely the best way to prepare the car’s body for cleaning procedures. Let’s discuss it in more detail.

How To Perform A Contactless Wash?

Contactless wash is usually performed via foam cannon. But what if you don’t have one?

Luckily, there are other convenient techniques to either apply the foam or wash the car without it(safely). Here are some reliable foam cannon alternatives:

  • Active pump sprayer 
  • Foam gun + garden hose
  • Car detailing kegs (like a beer keg)
  • Waterless wash (spread & wipe)

For example, you can combine a regular garden hose with a special attachment on the nozzle tip (foam gun). Alternatively, it’s advisable to utilize a hand-held pump sprayer. The idea behind it is plain: you create the foam manually by pumping it up. You can even perform a wash without foam with an aid of “waterless” car wash products (with no risk of scratching the paintwork). 

In case you are interested in a waterless wash, read this detailed guide.

Once you’ve chosen the method, dilute the foam according to the manufacturer’s directions. Then apply it to the body, starting with the front fender. Bodywork cleaning is supplemented by washing the hard-to-reach areas: wheels, wheel arches, radiator grille, rubber seals, and badges. Special brushes are used to spread and clean the foam over wheels. In general, you may want to utilize soft-lint brushes (other than rim & tire brushes). Make sure to avoid metal-based handles and any form of metal inserts.

Hint: Detergents, dish soap, and other homemade remedies can damage your car’s paintwork in a fraction of a second. This article makes clear why you shouldn’t even think about car shampoo alternatives.

Such an order of application reduces the exposure time. It’s a big deal because contact with the foam gradually causes the clear plastic to yellow and become micro-cracked. Each area takes a few minutes to be cleaned, so the foam should be spread one at a time. After applying, let the foam react with the dirt. Usually, it takes 4-5 minutes during the winter and 2-3 minutes in the summer. Wash off the foam in the same order, but starting with the front headlights.

Most pre-wash shampoos have a high level of alkalinity (ph) and exceeding the exposure time can cause damage to some elements of the car (clouding of chrome, lacquer, and plastic, destruction of rubber elements, etc.) as well as to protective coatings applied to your car. Do not prolong the contact by more than 5 minutes to avoid material degradation.

Once the car has been cleaned of coarse dirt, it’s necessary to remove a layer of static contamination, which requires direct contact with the surface. For this purpose, you could leverage the so-called two bucket washing technique.

Perform A Two Bucket Method Wash

The name of the method speaks for itself: clean water is poured into one bucket, water with a special shampoo into another. 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Two buckets (large ones, about 5-7 liters each)
  • Grit guards (to prevent paint damage)
  • A pair of wash mitts, microfibers, or special sponges

Many drivers utilize foam rubber sponges. Don’t do that!  Tiny pores of foam rubber sponges trap microparticles and sand left on the surface after a touchless car wash. Even the smallest particle can subsequently cause damage to the paintwork. So, it’s recommended to use wash mitts and microfiber cloth. It doesn’t really matter which one you leverage, the main thing is to change, or wash it periodically.

If you want to know how to perform wash without a sponge, make sure to read this article.

Tip: If the microfiber towel is very dirty even after several washes, leverage a delicate cycle (if your washer has it). Avoid conditioners and temperatures higher than 120°F.

Finishing Rinse

The basic work is done. Now all you have to do is remove any residual chemicals, dirt, and other micro-particles. The easiest way to do this is to use a high-pressure washer. Rinse the car with a strong jet of water for about 5 minutes. 

In the end, visually assess the condition of the car. If you feel there is anything left over, give it a few more minutes.

You can rinse the car from a regular bucket. However, this requires much more available water, time, and effort. Use a bucket only as a last resort (make sure the bucket is perfectly clean and free of fine particles).

Dry The Car

Microfiber towels should be used to wipe your car, they are an effective adsorbent as well as a safe material. In case you miss a small dirty area during washing, the coarse dirt will be safely retained by the fibers of the microfiber towel, while the chamois will drag the sand all over the bodywork, thereby causing damage to the paintwork. To increase the efficiency and safety of car wiping, it is recommended to use quick detailers.

If you want to keep your car shiny & protected, read this article about quick detailing sprays.

Is A Foam Cannon Necessary To Clean A Car? 

in general, a foam cannon is not necessary to clean a car. A foam cannon is the most convenient and effective way to snow foam a car, but there are many alternatives like foam guns that perform the same job. The downside is, that foam guns take longer than foam cannons.

The big advantage of foam cannons is that they are extremely convenient and very powerful. Check the video below to see the thick snow foam that a foam cannon can produce.

The downsides to using a foam cannon include the price, the amount of car shampoo needed and the need for a pressure washer for a great end result.

Moreover, there are good alternatives on the market. You can use a foam gun, which is basically a foam cannon that is powered by hand with a pumping mechanism. They are far cheaper, are portable, and do not require a pressure washer or a hose.

You could also perform rinseless car washes, so a foam cannon is not necessary any longer.

Do You Have To Have A Pressure Washer To Use A Foam Cannon?

In general, a pressure washer will yield the best results when using a foam cannon. Nevertheless, foam cannons can also be used with a garden hose instead of a pressure washer. The downside is that the quality of the foam will suffer, because of the lack of pressure.

A high-pressure washer is undoubtedly one of the best ways to use a foam cannon. 

However, there are a thousand ways to skin a cat. You can either leverage time-tested methods like a garden hose, foam guns, or choose more innovative options. Be it a snow foamer, pump-up foamer, or even high-pressurized car detailing kegs.  

Don’t have a pressure washer but still want your car cleaned? Then make sure to read my article on how to clean a car without a pressure washer!

Key Takeaways

  • A foam cannon is convenient but not necessary
  • A waterless wash is a reliable “no foam” alternative
  • Rinsing a car is as important as washing itself
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge