Can You Wash A Car With Laundry Detergent?

You've probably heard that there are a variety of soaps and detergents you can use to safely wash your vehicle. After all, suds are suds, right? But some of these cleaning agents will do more harm than good, so it's wise to know what you can and cannot use on your paint. If you've ever wondered if laundry detergent can be used for this chore, we can help you. We researched the science behind it so that you'll know for sure if it's okay.

You shouldn't wash a car with laundry detergent. There are active ingredients in this soap that will damage your vehicle's paint.

Now that we know that you shouldn't wash a car with laundry detergent, we'll take a look at why this is harmful. You might also be curious about what you can use at home to wash your vehicle or how you can make homemade car wash soap. For the answers to these questions and more, keep reading this post and see what our research has uncovered.

Why You Should Never Use Laundry Detergent To Wash A Car

Hands of African man holding yellow sponge, washing car wheel with foam. Cleaning of modern rims of luxury yellow car at self car wash service outdoors., Can You Wash A Car With Laundry Detergent?

While laundry detergent works great on soiled fabrics, it can be a huge detriment to the paint job on your car or truck. The layer of paint and protective coatings serve as more than just a cosmetic aesthetic. They serve to keep the body of your vehicle free from rust, so it's best to treat them with care.

Laundry detergents have chemical agents in them that work as degreasers. These work so well at removing stains from clothing that they work too well on the wax and other coatings on your car's paint job. In their effort to remove the dirt and grime, they also eat away at the very things you want to be left intact on the surface of your vehicle.

The soap you dump into your washer isn't the only form of suds in your home that can damage your paint. Most dish soaps have the same chemicals as detergent, so be sure to exercise extreme caution when reaching for soap at home to wash your car. Fortunately, there are things you can use that are safe!

What Can You Use At Home To Wash Your Car?

One approved soap for cars you might have in your home is Dawn. While still a dish soap, it doesn't have the harsh chemical makeup of many of the others you might find on the shelves of the grocery store. A squirt of this in a bucket with warm water added will go a long way in getting your car to shine again.

Click here to see Dawn dish soap on Amazon.

For best results with Dawn, be sure not to overuse it. Dish soaps are pretty sudsy as is, so you shouldn't need more than just a single squirt of it to do the job. Dawn will lather perfectly as you work the soap across the surface of your car or truck, and it will generally come off the paint without leaving pesky streaks.

This soap will work best if you use good car-washing mitts. 

Click here to see this set of car-washing mitts on Amazon.

Asian oldman using yellow sponge washing front fog light of new red car.

How Do You Make Homemade Car Wash Soap?

It's not hard to make your car wash soap. And you very likely have the ingredients to create it right in your cabinets. Let's take a look at how to concoct your soap with common household items.

One method is to use a combination of white vinegar and water. By using a 1:1 ratio of these two liquids, you'll create a cleanser that is harsh enough to dissolve the dirt and grime on your car's surfaces but mellow enough to leave the wax and other coatings intact.

Just be sure to NEVER use more than this ratio, as too much vinegar will damage the coatings.

Baby shampoo is another alternative. This is mellow enough for your baby's skin but suds up enough to do a great job removing all the dirt from your paint. It's also inexpensive and only requires a squirt of it or two. It will work great with any car wash mitts or sponges you bought for the job, too.

baby bath accessories on white table

What's The Fastest Way To Wash A Car At Home?

No one washes a car at home to save time. A thorough hand-washing job will take a bit of time and a lot of care. It also requires some preparation, which eats away a bit at the clock.

The fastest way is to always have the materials you need on hand. Soap, a garden hose, car wash mitts, buckets, and soft cloths for drying is all that you need unless you are planning on doing a coat of wax or two. Start by having what you need, then use a certain technique.  

Rinse the vehicle off to loosen the dirt and grime, beginning from the top and working your way down. Do the same with soaping and scrubbing. Finally, rinse it from the top down. Allowing it to air dry will save a lot more time but will also leave some streaks.

If you're in a hurry, though, it's best to just go to an automatic car wash. This will cost a lot more money, but they can get you in and out in almost no time at all. And as a bonus, most of them have an auto-dryer or staff that will hand-dry your car off with shammies when you're finished. 

Father And Teenage Daughter Washing Car Together

Can I Wash My Car With Just Water And A Rag?

Are you in a position where you don't have any soap on hand? You might think that you can get by with just water from your hose and a rag. But you'll find that this can be a waste of your time.

You will be able to loosen and remove a good amount of the dirt and grime that has built up on your car or truck with the sprayer on your hose, but it won't remove most of it.

Scrubbing the surface of your car with nothing but a rag and water just moves the greasy substances that are accumulated on your paint around instead of removing them. 

In a pinch, it's okay to use just a hose in the winter to spray off the road salt from the undercarriage. Just don't expect to ever get your car clean without some sort of approved soap or cleaner. This will be especially important when you are cleaning the tires and wheels of a dirty car.

Will A Bath Towel Scratch A Car?

It's recommended to always use an approved cloth when drying off your vehicle. While we all know that other towels—like bath towels—do great at drying off people and other objects, they aren't the best when it comes to drying off your car.

A bath towel will not scratch your car's paint. In fact, it will do a good job of removing the water that's on the surface after a thorough washing. But the thickness of a bath towel causes two problems.

First, the bath towel will leave too many streaks on your paint job. It'll be dry, but it won't look its best. Bath towels also leave a lot of lint behind, making the car you just washed look a bit unsightly. 

Pile of clean new towels against grey wall

Final Thoughts

While washing a car or truck at home can be a fun and rewarding chore, you need to use caution when choosing the soap you will use for the job.

Being prepared with all the materials needed will certainly speed up the time it takes to wash your vehicle at home, but it's still a lot faster to visit an automatic car wash. In a pinch, there are some great car wash soap alternatives in your home that you might consider trying sometimes. Drive safe!

Make it this far? We hope this post answered all of your questions. For additional information, we suggest reading the following posts:

How To Make Snow Foam Car Wash DIY [Step By Step With Ingredient List]

How To Remove Glue From Car Paint [Inc. Gorilla Glue And Superglue]

How Many Gallons Of Paint Do I Need To Paint A Car Or Truck? [By Size Class]

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