Style: The best car shampoos

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Car shampoo running off a car wheel © Credits: Photo: Getty Images Car shampoo running off a car wheel

Washing your car at home will save you money – and is the best way to ensure a flawless finish. Automatic car washes have hard bristles that can scratch paintwork, while hand car wash services may use abrasive chemicals for a quicker clean. There are a huge number of car washing products available, but all you really need for a good clean are a wash mitt, two buckets and a quality car shampoo.

But which car shampoo should I buy?

Choosing the right car shampoo can be confusing. Thankfully, we’ve hand-picked the best products to suit different needs and budgets – based on real-world testing and feedback. All will give your car a showroom-fresh finish without the need for too much elbow grease.

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We’ve deliberately steered clear of high-end products used by car detailing experts, focusing instead on excellent shampoos at affordable prices. From wash-and-wax, to snow foam, to hard-water shampoo – we’ve aimed to cover all bases.

So why do you need car shampoo?

You need two liquids to clean your car: water and shampoo. A good shampoo does more than simply remove grit and grime; it also protects paintwork against degradation and corrosion – making your car last longer and enhancing its value. Put the work in with a wash mitt and you’ll reap the rewards at resale time.

Simply washing your car with water won’t be sufficient to remove tough blemishes such as dead bugs and bird mess. Equally, you should never use washing up liquid, which is abrasive and can strip the paint of wax. Car shampoo creates a rich foam that loosens stubborn stains and lubricates the paint surface, reducing swirl marks and helping dirt rinse easily away. It will make your job easier and leave the car cleaner: a win-win.

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Read on for our pick of the best car shampoos available on Amazon – including Gold, Silver and Bronze award winners – plus a buying and washing guide at the end of the article.

Best car shampoo for overall performance and protection

Best car shampoo for overall performance and protection © Provided by Heatworld Best car shampoo for overall performance and protection

Your hair stylist would probably advise against a combined shampoo and conditioner. When it comes to car washing, though, this two-in-one product offers a powerful clean with added paint protection. Autoglym is one of the oldest and most respected names in car care, and even boasts a royal warrant. Its bodywork shampoo and conditioner is pH-neutral and water-repellant, which reduces drying time. And the protective film it leaves after use should make your next wash even easier. It's also highly concentrated and good value for money, particularly in the largest 2.5-litre bottle size.

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Best car shampoo for a sleek, glossy finish

a screenshot of a video game: Best car shampoo for a sleek, glossy finish © Provided by Heatworld Best car shampoo for a sleek, glossy finish

Meguiar's is another well-respected brand with a long history in car cleaning. Gold Class Shampoo and Conditioner lives up to its name, with a rich, foaming action that helps your wash mitt glide effortlessly, plus a glossy finish to leave your car gleaming. It helps enhance the look of paint that has already been waxed, cleaning the surface without removing existing protection. A concentrated formula provides plenty of washes per bottle, although Autoglym's shampoo and conditioner comes in a bigger bottle. Consider Meguiar's NXT Generation shampoo if you live in a hard water area.

Best car shampoo for a value wash and wax

a close up of a sign: Best car shampoo for a value wash and wax © Provided by Heatworld Best car shampoo for a value wash and wax

Ideally, you would wash your car and then treat it to a separate wax. However, if you don't have a couple of hours to spare – or don't require a show-standard clean – Zip Wax Car Wash & Wax does both jobs in one. It's fortified with carnauba waxes (also used for speedboat hulls, surfboards and even dental floss) to leave paintwork shiny and protected. It causes water to bead and run off, for a streak-free finish. We've used Zip Wax many times and been very satisfied with the results. The large, five-litre container is excellent value.

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Fresher than the fallen snow

a close up of a sign: Fresher than the fallen snow © Provided by Heatworld Fresher than the fallen snow

Snow foam is a relatively new product in the world of car cleaning. The thick blanket of white foam clings to your car's exterior, increasing contact time between the cleaning agents and the paintwork. This helps it break down grime, so it can be easily rinsed away. It's very effective, but is ideally used as a pre-wash – in addition to car shampoo. Also, you will need a pressure washer with a snow foam lance to apply it. If you are looking for a snow foam, we recommend Polar Blast from Autoglym. It's easy to use and removes the majority of grime in one go.

a chain with snow on the ground © Photo: Getty Images

All you really need for car washing

a close up of a logo: All you really need for car washing © Provided by Heatworld All you really need for car washing

Sonax Gloss Shampoo is proof you don't need to spend big for a high quality wash. The German shampoo is phosphate-free and highly concentrated, so you can dilute it at a ratio of 200 to one. It contains anionic surfactants to produce plenty of foam, although it doesn't feel as slick to apply as the premium shampoos here. The Sonax shampoo is just that – it doesn't contain conditioner or wax – but it won't remove existing paint protection either. A great product for the price.

A variable solution for year-round washing

a close up of an elephant: A variable solution for year-round washing © Provided by Heatworld A variable solution for year-round washing

'MAX Power' might bring back memories of a now-defunct car tuning magazine. In fact, it stands for Moderate, Aggressive and Xtreme – the three levels of wash offered by this Turtle Wax shampoo, depending on how much you dilute it. 'Moderate' uses 100ml of concentrate per four-litre bucket of water for a pH-neutral formula to rinse away everyday road grime. 'Aggressive' doubles the dose to 200ml to tackle dead bugs and deeper dirt. And 'Xtreme' (300ml per four litres) increases the pH further for tree sap, brake dust on alloy wheels and removing car wax. For year-round cleaning, this does the job.

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Softens hard water for a clearer finish

Softens hard water for a clearer finish © Provided by Heatworld Softens hard water for a clearer finish

Hard water contains a large concentration of dissolved minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium. It isn't ideal for car washing as it discourages shampoo from foaming, then leaves streaky deposits on glass and paintwork when it dries. If you live in a hard water area, a car shampoo containing water softeners, such as Meguiar's NXT Generation, will combat these effects. We've sampled this product and liked the ease of application and sleek shine it produced. A thick, gel-like consistency makes it harder to measure out than some, however.

How to buy the right car shampoo, and how to use it

As you’ve probably gathered by now, different types of car shampoo suit different needs. Some offer a straightforward clean, some include a level of wax protection, and others are designed to be applied as snow foam. We’ve included a mix of all in the products above.

A pure shampoo, such as the Sonax Gloss Shampoo, is designed simply to cleanse the car’s surface of dirt and other pollutants. In some ways, this is the back-to-basics option – and it’s certainly cheaper as a standalone product. However, a lot of car cleaning obsessives also use a pure shampoo, then apply wax or polish separately.

A wax-based shampoo, such as Zip Wax Car Wash & Wax from Turtle Wax, contains detergents and wax (usually carnauba) for post-wash protection. This will supplement any existing wax on your car’s paintwork. The downside is that wash-and-wax shampoos are slightly compromised in terms of ultimate cleaning ability.

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You will also find some car shampoos designed for heavy-duty washing (e.g. winter use) and others that apply as snow foam. The latter treatment requires a pressure washer and is not a substitute for a proper wash – think of it as a pre-wash to remove the bulk of road grime.

Whether or not you use snow foam, it’s a good idea to rinse your car before washing it. This will help remove dirt particles before you make contact, reducing the risk of light scratches and swirl marks in the paint.

Talking of doubling-up, you also need two buckets: one filled with clear water and the other with diluted car shampoo. The idea is that you dip your wash mitt into the soapy water, then rinse it in the plain water after each application. This should prevent dirt accumulating in the shampoo bucket, which can damage the paintwork (not to mention hampering your efforts to clean the car).

Even if you live in a soft water area, you should still dry the car afterwards. Do so by starting at the top and working downwards. Use a synthetic microfibre towel, rather than a traditional chamois leather, as this will absorb the water more effectively, without leaving any residue. Never use a rubber blade to scrape water off the paintwork – you could be scraping dirt, too.

Good luck and enjoy washing your car. It can be a rewarding process if done right.

What to consider when choosing a car shampoo

What’s your budget? Prices vary widely.

Would you prefer pure shampoo or a wash-and-wax?

Do you want a snow foam product?

Is the shampoo for general washing or heavy-duty use?

Do you need a shampoo with softeners for hard water?

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